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Richard House’s The Kills is currently longlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize. We published this short story by Richard back in 2010, a compelling slice of obsession and loss.
He finds him, Max405, Max, but not that Max, the same name but not the same person. Not quite. Similar features, to be sure: that mouth, that shorn red hair, those bright blue eyes, the achingly familiar incline to his shoulders. Max, who walked away without explanation, just upped and disappeared.
He tracks the profile for one week then deletes it from his favourites for no good reason. The proximity of this uncannily familiar face, the very same name, the oddness of it just exhausts him.
Two days later he runs a search and picks him out from 34 pages of Max and Maxims, amazed again, gutted, by this double. His mouth, his eyes: Max405, haughty and distant. He searches on Facebook, on MSN, and finds similar profiles under the same name, Max405, Max but not his Max. The information becomes confusing; details do not tally between the accounts: Max405 on Man2Man lives in London; Max405 on Facebook lives in Rome; Max504 on Gaydar lives in Berlin. He waits to catch him online. A green button in the top left corner. Green: I’m here. Red: I am away. Within one hour Max405 changes his location from London, to Rome, to Berlin, to New York, to Moscow. He sends a message: where are you? and receives a reply within the hour: I am in Moscow – Verkhnyaya Khokhlovka. And you?
He closes his laptop, is halfway across the room before he changes his mind and returns to the profile, adds Max405 as a favourite, saves the message, makes sure not to lose him again, then downloads the three photographs from each of the profiles, which he opens in Photoshop. After increasing the image size, he doubles the pixels, trebles them, but this isn’t the movies, it isn’t CSI, and he can’t add information where nothing exists. He examines these photographs, off and on, for two entire days. Moscow, London, Rome, Berlin? The fuzz surrounding Max’s head tells him only what he already knows: Max405 stands on an external balcony, a grey sky beside him, indicative of no particular place. The apartment unscrolls behind him, the same balconies, the same windows, with no distinct information that tells him this is Moscow; this is not London, Rome, Berlin, or New York.
Max405 stands on a balcony. The sky not grey so much, but certainly not white. His clothes, a marine-blue tracksuit top, Adidas, which might in Russia be an indication of status. In other photographs Max405 leans backward, shoulders against a plastered wall, his top open to show a honed body that carries a little extra weight. Max at the beach, his eyes blue, the sky blue, the camera lowered. His hands, just the fingertips, tuck under the waistband of his shorts. His skin is pale, almost dusty. His hair, a heavy red, is beginning to grow from one look into another. There is the suggestion of a beard.
He pays to join the site. Gains access to a series of private photos, an album. He isn’t sure what he expects, a photograph of Red Square, Max405 outside the Kremlin? He uploads a photograph of himself and sends it to Max with the message I am in London.
In two days he has more concrete information: Max405 lives in Russia, his days are spent in Moscow, in some outer park ringed with apartment blocks. Max405 works as a bouncer for a nightclub, and as a personal trainer for a health club, and is a certified masseur. He is not a prostitute. The photographs were taken by a private client, at a client’s apartment. Max405 prefers men a little older than himself, by one or two years. He does not have a type but prefers men who are active, men who look after themselves, men who are dominant, men who are not feminine. Max405 practices safe sex and says that he is versatile, he does not smoke, he does not take drugs, he does not like the smell of poppers. He lives in a similar apartment to the one in the photographs, which he shares with his sister. He swims twice a week in the summer in an outdoor pool. He takes morning runs through a grove of silver birch. Moscow has been hot this year, plagued with smog and smoke, but he has taken his morning run every day, despite the smoke, despite the heat. He keeps himself in shape, speaks three languages and wants to leave the city. Max405 has relatives in the Crimea, in Istanbul, in Berlin. Max405 likes to kiss and wrestle. He hopes one day for a steady long-term partner, although, right now, it is hard to meet men, and when he does the encounters are unsatisfying. He does not know exactly why, but he feels himself to be different when he is online. Max405 was beaten, humiliated at school, because of this he is stronger now, physically and in mind. He works for himself, he says, because this is easier. One day soon he hopes to visit London, Rome, Berlin, New York.
Max405 marks him as a friend, a favourite, adds a star to his profile, and when they talk he takes off his shirt and sits in front of his computer flexing, proud of himself. You are handsome, he writes, I know you.
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Richard House’s The Kills is shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize. An epic literary project spanning three interlinking novels, it's set to be one of the literary events of the year. His previous novels, Bruiser and Uninvited, are published by Serpent's Tail. His collaborative projects with Chicago-based group Haha are documented online at hahahaha.org. His fiction and co-authored short films have received support from the Arts Council and the UK Film Council. He lectures in creative writing at the University of Birmingham.