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Maxine Chernoff

Maxine Chernoff

five possible moments / and a play

Night Thoughts

It’s three in the morning and the baby is crying again. His wife insists that ten month-olds should be able to calm themselves. She’s read a book about it. Why can’t he believe her? Lying next to him, she is breathing so softly that it’s hard to tell she’s alive. Whenever he informs her that Alex woke up in the night, she simply says, “I didn’t hear him.” He feels as if he’s having an affair with this baby and wants to disclose it, and she won’t allow it.

The Heimlich Maneuver

She is a spinner of precise little tales about eating dim sum with one’s old boyfriend during a snowstorm on the day that John Lennon is shot. Seated at lunch next to America’s top short story critic (according to one important journal), she is holding her book on her lap. “I want to give you The Traffic on Mars,” she rehearses to herself.
    “Pass the potatoes,” the famous critic says, “and butter.” He is silent throughout lunch. A handsome man, his eating habits make him less so.
    The writer imagines the story she will write about lunch with the famous critic.

A Valentine

Mario loves Miss Betty Spice more than he thinks imaginable. She is tall and young and pretty, more luscious than his own mother, who doesn’t smell so good now that the baby’s in the house. He can’t wait till Valentine’s Day to pin the heart right on her nipple.

Loving a Short Man

When Sheena sees Gretta with Maurice, she snickers. How could she have loved him? Standing in line for the movie, Maurice’s eyebrows meet Gretta’s chin. Suddenly she feels insulted for Maurice that Gretta is probably noticing that right now. Why are tall women so arrogant?

Simple Gifts

Judy thanked Fred for the Chinese willow laundry basket though she actually hated it. It was so smug of him to give a gift that put her in her place. It was especially odd to receive it on the evening that this was to become, as the story assigned her a fate and him a motive.

The Sound

I hate it when we have sex and you make that sound.

— What sound?

The sound you make when you’re about to have orgasm.

— What sound do you mean?

I can’t describe it. It sounds like no other sound you ever make.

— But why do you hate it?

I think it scares me.

— Why would it scare you?

I guess it’s because we’re at an intimate moment and you make an unfamiliar sound.

— It must be my intimate moment sound.

But it doesn’t sound intimate. It sounds… well… brutal.

— I make a brutal sound?

Yes, I think that’s how I’d describe it.

— Make the sound for me.

I can’t.

— Of course you can. You remember it, don’t you?

I’m embarrassed to make it.

— You’re not embarrassed to tell me, but you’re embarrassed to make it?


— Just try.

All right. It’s something like “Yowwwww-oh-woe-woe.”

— And that sounds brutal to you?

I think it does.

— It sounds to me like I’m very happy.

It doesn’t sound happy to me.

— What sound would you like me to make?

I don’t have an alternative in mind. I just thought I’d tell you that the sound you make, well, it brings me out of the moment. Sex ends for me when I hear that sound.

— That’s good, isn’t it?

Why is it good?

— Because you know I’ve had an orgasm when you hear it, so sex ends for both of us.

But what if I want to do something more to you?

— More? We’ve both finished by then. What more would we do?

What if I still want to kiss you and you’re making that sound?

— Well, I guess you could try and see.

Should I try now?

— Why do you think I want you to kiss me when you can’t stand the sound I make at my most vulnerable moment?

I didn’t mean I couldn’t stand it. I just meant it’s… well… distracting.

— Maybe you should gag me.

Then you’d make the sound but it would be even worse.

— Why would it be worse?

It would sound all muffled and sad, like the voice of someone locked inside of a car trunk.

— So you’d rather I sound brutal than all muffled and sad?

I guess so.

— You must really love me then.

Maxine Chefnoff, 1988. Photo by John Tranter.

Maxine Chernoff
Photo by John Tranter

Maxine Chernoff lives in San Francisco, where she is Chair of Creative Writing at San Francisco State University and co-edits the quarterly New American Writing with her husband Paul Hoover. She has written two books of shorts stories, three novels, and six books of poems. Her most recent novel, still available, is American Heaven (Coffee House Press) and many of her early prose poems are collected in Leap Year Day (ACP), which is only available through Small Press Distribution, 1341 Seventh St., Berkeley, CA 94710, USA.
    Photo (top of page) courtesy The Booksmith book store trading cards, 1644 Haight St, San Francisco CA 94117 USA.

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