Madmartigan in the Mercedes
He was like a man but not quite. He was a fictional character that vanished from my view when I pressed “stop” or “eject.” In this way, he was better than a man.
by Jillian Luft
Selected by L.M. Cole
I don’t know if I loved Val Kilmer at age 8, but I know I loved Willow’s Madmartigan. Even then, I knew what sexy was. Long, dark and greasy tresses. Heavy metal armor. A recovering curmudgeon. A closet romantic. Sexy was Madmartigan. Madmartigan was a sexy man.
I knew I could not yet love a sexy man. Or any man. I could not kiss him or talk to him in a room alone, But I could imagine Madmartigan because he wasn’t real. He was like a man but not quite. He was a fictional character that vanished from my view when I pressed “stop” or “eject.” In this way, he was better than a man.
My mom constantly encouraged me to use my imagination. So fantasizing about Madmartigan felt permissible.. Felt like inventing the best fairy tale I could never share with anyone else. I didn’t mind because I was a solitary and selfish reader anyway who was accustomed to keeping all the best stories to herself.
My family saw Willow three times in the movie theater. We couldn’t get enough of Ron Howard’s low-rent fantasy film. The unlikely hero, Willow. The daikini baby, Elora Danan. Her fetching and fiery daughter, Sorsha. And, of course, the comedic heart(throb) of the film, disgraced knight-turned-studly savior of Tir Asleen, Madmartigan.
From the time I could sit in front of a screen, I dug swarthy swashbuckling types. Still do. Johnny Depp. Poor man’s Johnny Depp, Richard Grieco. Mötley Crüe’s Tommy Lee. Ratt’s Steven Pearcy. Those dark-eyed rebels whose smiles spell out, Mother, won’t you let her sleep with danger? PLEASE. The good kind of danger. The let’s speed on a motorcycle at sunset kind. The let’s sneak into this abandoned asylum and make out surrounded by ghosts, including all the unsaid things that haunt us ‘cause it’ll be fun, I promise kind. Madmartigan was my original bad boy, the template for all future crushes, fleeting infatuations, enduring obsessions. Madmartigan with my first clear object of desire. My first true subject of fantasy.
Publix Supermarkets was, ultimately, to blame for the vivid and exhaustive “romantic” scenarios including Madmartigan. For some inexplicable and ever-fascinating reason, if you bought a box of Velveeta cheese, you’d receive a free Kraft promotional Willow poster. It was a crappily illustrated rendition of all the characters with Madmartigan, front and center, lips parted and eyes brooding. My mom rarely bought fake cheese and quipped that she hoped I was ready to eat a lot of queso as that was the only way she could stand this junk. I couldn’t register my mother’s displeasure. I was too busy squealing while gripping the rolled-up poster in my clammy and over-excited fist. Velveeta was made to melt. And so was I.
The Velveeta poster acted as talisman for my private nightly ritual. After putting down my Illustrated Classics edition of Little Women and turning out the light, I gazed at my cartoonish representation of Madmartigan, sloppily taped on the wall opposite my bed, and channeled my most amorous and animal feelings as well as what I’d seen in PG-13 romantic comedies and MTV Countdowns. My night light glowed faintly and the Top 40 radio played softly. I closed my eyes and listened to what my heart told me to make.
My go-to fantasy featured a Mercedes stretch limo and the song, “Mercedes Boy” by Pebbles. It’s not important if you know the song. What’s important is that you know that the singer asks a boy if he wants to ride in her Mercedes and then what he’ll do to her once he’s in there and that I, more or less, understood what she insinuated.
The Mercedes stretch limo is gleaming black and sleek as a stallion. Sleek as Madmartigan’s dark hair in a ponytail. I am in the limo in my best peplum dress. Neon floral print. The works. Hair done up. Or rather half done-up, half down. It’s just me in the back cruising through a desolate parking garage and singing “Mercedes Boy” at the top of my lungs when I come across Madmartigan walking all by his lonesome. Except he isn’t wearing chainmail. He’s wearing a tuxedo. He’s also wearing his hair half-up, half-down. I ask the driver to approach him. The window rolls down on its own accord, like pantyhose sliding down a leg. Madmartigan smiles. The song continues, scoring our seduction. Do you wanna ride in my Mercedes, boy? And Madmartigan enthusiastically nods and gets in. He sits across from me in the limo, smiling a boyish smile. It isn’t a Mother, can she sleep with danger? smile. It’s a smile of friendly reciprocation and nothing more.
And then…the fantasy ends. It reaches its natural conclusion and I go to sleep satisfied. It’s not that I don’t know of the overtly sexual realm at this time. I’d begun to exhibit curiosity in this area, but it never penetrated these fantasies. What I wanted more from Madmartigan and his dark and handsome brethren was approval. I wanted them to consent to enter my space on the terms I’d set. I wanted them to see me, to accept me. I wanted the opposite of rejection and nothing more. The opposite of rejection was enough. And would continue to be for far too long a time.
Eventually, I loved real and sexy men. Sometimes I’d make-believe I loved any man who seemed to notice me at all. I talked to him in a room alone, I kissed him and more. He kissed me and more. Most of the time these men’s smiles spelled out danger and it was the good kind. Sometimes it wasn’t or sometimes they didn’t say, please. Sometimes I missed nights with Madmartigan in the Mercedes when it was just us dressed up with nowhere to go. Just us enjoying each other’s company with the ability to freeze forever on that warm and mutual feeling accompanied by a frothy pop song. With the ability to “pause” before things got too complicated. Too real.
Jillian Luft is a Florida native currently living in Brooklyn. Her writing has appeared in X-R-A-Y,Rejection Letters, Identity Theory, The Forge Literary Magazine, and other publications. You can follower her on Twitter @JillianLuft or read more of her writing at jillianluft.com.