A MAXIMUS STORY
By Jo Anzalone
Carolyn stood just
inside her door, holding the square brown box her mailman had delivered. The
return address read 'Studio City, CA'. It had come. It had really come and she
had the box in her hands. She just stood there a moment, holding the box, a big
smile on her face as anticipation rose within her. Then she walked to her
kitchen, setting it on the counter, a knife poised to slice the sealing tape.
It was packed in bubble wrap as though it might break. Around and around the wrap went, encasing it in a cocoon of protection. She had spent $400 on it, so the wrapping was fine with her. Not that the item was in good condition to begin with. It was actually quite battered and scarred, had been sweated in, polished so that the brown had smeared on the cream lining,
part of it was bent
completely double, and it had old, very dried horse manure stuck to its bottom.
Not much, but still it was definitely horse manure. And completely worth $400.
It was a boot, one boot, the left of the pair. That, too, was all right. Even the one was more than she'd ever expected to come into her possession. As the last of the bubble wrap fell away and
she had the boot right there in her hands, she began to chuckle at the near absurdity that she
did have it. She
chuckled for nearly a full minute before she was able to begin examining the
It was brown leather, fourteen inches tall, with long suede laces and a wide, folded cuff at its
top. It was a Roman boot. It was...his...boot. Not that Russell Crowe had worn it, though that
was a truly nice thought, but that...he...had worn it. Maximus. Maximus Decimus Meridius
had had this boot on his foot during the opening battle in Germania. That was why it was so worn, so scarred. One had only to watch him fighting for his life in the mud to explain why
the heel of the sole was bent like that, why there were traces of dark mud lingering still here
and there. She couldn't resist. She smelled it. There was no scent of manure remaining at all,
not after so long.
It was only the leather that still smelled, always a lovely, evocative scent.
Inside was written Russell's name and the fact that this was from the pair of boots marked number one, the first pair he wore in Gladiator. Though he had on brown boots also in the cleaned-up gladiator scene in Zucchabar and during his rooftop talk with Juba, those boots
were neat, had not been through what these had. In Rome, though the same style, his boots
were black. These were the Germania boots...the General's boots. Carolyn found she liked
She posed it here and there, taking pictures, first by a statue of Maximus she had atop a bookcase, then carrying it into her bedroom. Carolyn loved Victorian things, especially things with full-blown roses in shades of pink, and had a large collection of antique plates and tea sets. In her room was a round table, topped by a triple set of cloths, and one of her favorite tea sets.
artificial rose lay beside the set. As she stood there, the boot in her hands,
she decided to take a picture of it on the table for the sheer contrast it would
make. She set the boot carefully on the lace square that topped the round pink
satin cloth. The boot would not stand straight on its own, but folded at the
ankle as it was made of soft leather, so she propped
it against the tall chocolate pot that matched her tea set. Then she posed the rose with it and stepped back, studying the effect. It was an entirely masculine thing resting there in a bed of femininity. She smiled and took a picture.
Carolyn was 38 and lived alone, her marriage at 23 having lasted only three years. She was an editor for a small publishing company and had an office off her bedroom where she did most
of her work. In her
spare time, she wrote her own books, two of which had made it into print.
Leaving the boot for a while on the table, she went and looked at herself in the
white-framed mirror over her dressing table. Her long, still naturally-blonde
hair was pulled up in a loose ponytail, a small side curve of bangs waving a bit
to soften the look around her face. She had large, round, medium blue eyes and
when she smiled, she flashed perfectly-aligned white teeth. She was, however, in
her opinion, not at all cool and regal like Lucilla had been.
Her room was an indulgence of shabby-chic femininity. Why not? It was her room. She looked back at the boot in its place of repose. Such a very, very male thing. She liked it there among
the pink and white,
among the roses and the lace, and thought that until she could get a proper
glass display case for it, she just might leave it there.
She went through the wide, doorless opening to her office and sat at her computer, editing the final chapter of a novel...someone else's novel. Then she tried to add some more to a short story she was writing, but was distracted by thoughts of the boot just through the doorway behind
her. It was no use. She'd known from the moment she'd bought it that she would have to try it on. It would, of course, be way too big but she simply needed to put her foot in it, to put it where Maximus' had been. She had been a fan of Russell Crowe's for many years now, had seen, owned, all of his movies, but Gladiator remained her great favorite. Maximus in his humanity,
in his manhood, in his pain, his ability had captured both her imagination and her heart. It
was why she wanted
the boot. She wanted him, that was what she really wanted, but that being
impossible, something that he had worn was as close as she could get.
She got up and went to the table, running a fingertip down the leather, not even feeling silly at all for what the boot meant to her. Contact. Yes, that was it. When she touched the boot she had some sense of contact with this marvelous, made-up man she adored. Picking it up, she sat down on a light green velvet chair and took off her white tennis shoe. She turned it again in her hands, thinking that all the marks, the wear and tear, had happened to it as he wore it in battle. What she wanted to do, she decided, was wear the boot and watch the extended version of Gladiator. She wanted to prop it up on the footrest of her recliner and study the boot in the movie as she had the actual thing in her line of vision. Yes, that was what she wanted to do. She wanted to look back and forth from the boot on his foot to the boot on her foot and feel the connection inherent in that.
Almost holding her breath, Carolyn pointed her toes and slipped her foot inside the length of
the boot, straightening the long leather tongue which seemed to want to slip off to the right,
and finally tying the suede lacings. There! It was on! She held her leg straight, turning her ankle, staring at the boot. Then she stood, got her camera again, and took a picture looking straight down her own leg. That did make her chuckle at herself again, but she was used to chuckling at herself and didn't mind. No one else's opinion of her buying the boot really mattered. It was her boot. No, that wasn't quite right. Somehow it was still his boot. She just had it with her, but it belonged, would always belong...to him.
The living room and kitchen lay between her bedroom and the den where her television was.
She would make a cup of tea on her way. As she crossed the dark green living room carpeting, she wondered if she might be leaving little traces of horse manure in her wake, but shrugged it off as unimportant. She was opening the cabinet where she kept her teabags when everything went dark. She clutched at the countertop, a nauseating dizziness overtaking her. The only
she could manage was that she didn't want to throw up on the boot.
Had she fallen, fainted...what? No, she was on her feet, shaking, trembling from head to toe,
her vision still blurry, but she was on her feet. Her arms were around something cool and tall, with a sharply square corner that pressed too hard into her flesh. There was nothing like that
in her kitchen, nothing even remotely like that. She closed her eyes, hoping the blurriness would clear, and in that now self-imposed darkness could swear she heard the sound of the sea. No,
that couldn't be
right. It took her seven hours to drive to the sea.
Her forehead was leaning against whatever she was holding onto and she opened her eyes, pulling her head back just enough to look at it. Stone. White stone, fairly smooth, yet with some aged pockmarks here and there. A column? Was she holding onto some sort of column? Would she fall if she let go of it? Her knees still felt somewhat rubbery, but she had to know what this thing was. Slowly she released her grip and stepped back, swayed slightly, and reached out
with her left hand to steady herself. Breathing deeply, slowly, she waited another moment, then stepped further back.
It was huge, white and rectangular and huge. It had every appearance of being a door, only there was no building, not the slightest trace even of a wall. There was just...this...backdropped by the bluest sky she'd ever seen. She backed even more so she could study it. There were only three parts to it, two uprights and then the crosspiece. It stood upon two separate, matching rectangular stones with a few odd blocks scattered here and there about its base. But it was obviously a door. It had to be a door! But...where? To what? Had she come through it? Was
that what had
happened? How far was she from her kitchen? Where WAS her kitchen? Where was
Was she asleep and this a dream? No, she'd been in her kitchen, about to make tea, not in bed. Then the sound of the sea penetrated her consciousness again and she looked off to the side of
the doorway, discovering it was set atop a hill that sloped down to waters as blue as the sky. There were no boats, though, nor any beach with bathers. A few, very distant islands lay near the horizon. There was a starkness to the whole thing, the smooth squareness of the unattached doorway, the total cloudlessness of the sky, the quiet expanse of sea.
Her knees felt trembly again and she sat down on one of the smaller stone blocks, covering her face with her hands. Perhaps she'd read one too many books? This was way too fictional. Things like this did not happen to people in real life. But then, the characters in books always thought
that, too, didn't
"Are you injured, my lady?" The voice was deep, oddly familiar, but she kept her hands spread over her face, fearing for her sanity.
"My lady? Are you unwell?"
She peered downward through cracked fingers, seeing that the boot was still on her foot, then letting her gaze move outward. "Oh, God!" she gasped as she saw the same boot on the speaker's foot. Then she simply began to topple sideways off the stone block, sinking safely into padded
darkness, not having to deal with the fact that she had lost her mind.
ON TO PART 2