Malcolm Orange Disappears, page 1
Malcolm Orange Disappears
for Caleb and Izzy,
the original flying children
– Chapter One – Malcolm Orange Disappears
– Chapter Two – Idaho
– Chapter Three – Jesus God
– Chapter Four – Soren James Blue
– Chapter Five – Scientific Investigative Research
– Chapter Six – Cunningham Holt
– Chapter Seven – The People’s Committee for Remembering Songs
– Chapter Eight – Mr Fluff
– Chapter Nine – Drinking and Smoking
– Chapter Ten – Junior Button
– Chapter Eleven – Guns
– Chapter Twelve – Vietnam
– Chapter Thirteen – Disappear Here
– Chapter Fourteen – All Things Go
About the Author
– Chapter One –
Malcolm Orange Disappears
Malcolm Orange was beginning to disappear.
On Monday evening, preoccupied by the tiny perforations which had just that morning appeared all across his forearms, he excused himself from the supper table early.
‘May I be excused, mama?’ he mumbled through a mouthful of Hamburger Helper. ‘I feel sick. I think I’m going to have diarrhea.’
His mother was lying on the sofa watching her Mexican soap operas which she very rarely missed. She claimed to be learning Spanish.
‘You’ll thank me,’ she’d explain, ‘when we go to Spain and I can order anything you want to eat in the restaurants.’
Malcolm Orange had lived in nineteen different states and never eaten in a restaurant where meals could not be ordered simply by pointing at a picture on a laminated display board. He thought it unlikely that Spanish restaurants would have an ordering system significantly less sophisticated than the method favored by the United States of America but said nothing of this to his mother. His mother had never been to Spain.
Malcolm Orange was extremely relieved to see his mother pre-occupied with something aside from sniffling into her sweater sleeves and so he tolerated both the Mexican soap operas and her excruciating attempts at Spanish conversation in the local taqueria.
‘Mama,’ repeated Malcolm, louder now as he competed with the Mexican couple fornicating in grainy colors all over the television screen, ‘can I be excused before I have diarrhea at the table, please?’
‘Sí,’ replied his mother without so much as lifting her eyes.
In the bathroom Malcolm locked the door, stripped down to his tube socks, flushed the toilet twice and turned both faucets on. (It was important to preserve the appearance of diarrhea and so he continued to flush the toilet every two to three minutes for the duration of his stay in the bathroom.)
The bathroom was pastel green and smelt faintly of Nivea cold cream and mildew. The walls, even on the hottest day of a northwestern summer, remained permanently damp to the touch like an elderly man, perspiring even in repose. In its previous life the bathroom had offered a temporary home to some thirteen senior couples who had squatted and scrubbed, pissed and plucked in full view of the pastel green bathroom suite, before being shuffled – fully coherent or comatose – to a more permanent resting place. The ‘pull for assistance’ cord lingered still; a subtle monument to residents now departed. It had recently been knotted up to deter Malcolm from accidentally ‘pulling for assistance’ whilst in pursuit of the light bulb cord.
No self-respecting elderly person, emerging from their morning shower, wishes to be greeted by a full six-foot vision of shriveling, raisin flesh and consequently the bathroom was poorly equipped with mirrors. This was a problem for Malcolm who required not only mirrors but also the privacy of the only lockable room in the entire chalet for a full and intimate examination of his disappearing parts.
Earlier that afternoon an extensive search of the chalet had revealed one compact mirror (ferreted away at the bottom of his mother’s make-up purse), two wall-mounted decorative mirrors, firmly screwed to the bedroom walls and, of course, the mirrored doors of the medicine cupboard which hovered over the bathroom sink and which, despite two decades of accumulating toothpaste flecks and fingerprints, still offered a three-foot-square rectangle of reflective possibility.
Clambering on to the closed toilet lid Malcolm Orange twisted around for a good angle and began to examine himself in the medicine cupboard mirror, one sausage-colored rectangle at a time. For the purpose of medical accuracy he had stolen a battery-powered flashlight from the basement and used this to illuminate each area of flesh as it came under examination. Beginning with his shoulder blades he navigated his way southwards in three-inch segments.
Malcolm Orange had seen more than enough medical dramas, both Mexican and ordinary, to understand the gravity of his situation. There were thousands of holes, millions perhaps, all across his face and belly, speckling his knees like sandpaper. Though he was not yet old enough to look over his own shoulders, Malcolm suspected his back to be equally infested. Fully utilizing the compact mirror and a complex series of acrobatic maneuvers (perfected during the nine years he’d spent living in the back seat of an ancient Volvo), Malcolm could just about read the base of his neck. It was now blessed with an intricate constellation of prick marks.
‘Good grief,’ he thought, ‘I’m covered in tiny holes. The water’s going to get into me when I shower.’
(It would be one week and three days before Malcolm Orange – forced by the unspeakable stench emanating from both armpits – next chanced a full body shower. Even then, anxious about the water getting in and diluting his blood or causing him to balloon like a boy-shaped water bed, Malcolm was extra-specially careful to keep his head outside the cubicle at all times and, for safety’s sake, bandaged up the biggest holes with waterproof Band-Aids.)
As he considered the long-term implications of swimming, showering and torrential rain, Malcolm’s thoughts were disturbed by his own mother, raising Hell outside the bathroom door.
‘Malcolm,’ shouted Mrs Orange, trying the door handle, ‘What’s going on in there? You know I don’t like you locking the door when you’re in the bathroom.’
‘Mama!’ exclaimed Malcolm Orange, hastily pumping the toilet flush, once, twice, three times for effect, ‘I’m almost twelve. I can lock the door of the bathroom if I want to.’
‘You could have a fit in there or fall and knock yourself out against the bath tub or drown and I wouldn’t be able to help you. I’d have to call the fire department to break down the bathroom door and that could take half an hour or more. You could be dead before I get to you, drowned in the bath and dead. Please, please, please don’t lock the door, Malcolm!’
Even through the bathroom door with the toilet flushing every thirty seconds Malcolm Orange could tell his mother was about to cry. Lately his mother had developed the uncanny ability to cry at almost anything from a locked bathroom door to an empty spaghetti pot or the fact that Ross, now approaching three months, was beginning to grow out of the sock drawer and might very soon require a bigger crib; an orange crate or grocery cart for example.
‘Don’t cry, mama. I’m not going to drown. I’m not even in the bath. I’m just having diarrhea and it’s starting to slow down. I’ll be out in five minutes.’
‘OK, Malcolm.’ A long, papery silence followed, during which Malcolm Orange considered the necessity of another alibi-grounding toilet flush. ‘You know I love you, Malcolm? I only get worried because I love you so much.’
Malcolm Orange could hear his mother kissing the back of the bathroom door before returning
Malcolm Orange removed his ear from the bathroom door, climbed back onto the toilet seat and resumed his examinations. He poked at his chest, just south of the left nipple, delicately at first (expecting to experience the dull satisfaction of a fresh bruise), and then with a growing recklessness as he realized the perforations were not the slightest bit painful. They weren’t itchy either. This came as an enormous relief to Malcolm, who knew all about itchy, and also scabs.
Malcolm Orange was the only child in the history of the Pacific Northwest unfortunate enough to have suffered from chicken pox on three separate occasions. The first bout had been early enough to leave not so much as the smallest dent on his memory but the second and third occurrences had stayed with him, itching like the Devil himself was trying to burrow out of both elbows.
When the third set of welts began to appear around his eight-year-old belly Malcolm Orange’s mother automatically assumed eczema brought on by the recent stress of losing a grandmother in the bathroom of a downtown Dairy Queen.
‘It’s OK to be sad, Malcolm,’ she’d explained, rubbing her own anti-aging moisturizer into his scaly belly, ‘old people die and it doesn’t even bother them. They just get tired of talking about the same stuff over and over. Everyone dies when they get done with not being dead. It’s nothing to get stressed about.’
‘I’m not stressed about Grandma dying,’ replied Malcolm. ‘There’s more room in the backseat of the car without her.’
When it became clear that neither good advice nor Oil of Olay were having the slightest effect upon the ever-expanding patch of scabs, Mrs Orange finally realized that this was no ordinary case of grief-related eczema; her firstborn had once again been stricken with the chicken pox.
This seemed something of a miracle in reverse and, as such, more than worthy of celebration. Malcolm’s mother walked to the phone booth on the corner and called the local press who quickly retaliated with thirty-two lines on the little boy who’d suffered and survived full-body chicken pox three times before his ninth birthday. ‘Local Kid Shingled Out for Third Bout of the Pox’, ran the headline. It had been a slow news day in the suburbs of Tucson and the miracle of Malcolm Orange featured only slightly less prominently than a truckload of cows tipped across downtown I-10.
For one long April weekend Malcolm Orange enjoyed a certain level of neighborhood celebrity. Had he been well enough to leave the living room sofa and wander down to the corner store he might have found himself plied with offers of free ice cream sandwiches and candy bars or, for the first time ever, ushered into a soccer game by the older Mexican kids who hung out on the gas station wall, spitting and scraping cigarette butts off the sidewalk. Unfortunately for Malcolm, by the time his chicken pox had itched and scabbed its way into remission the fickle finger of local fame had passed on to a pair of twin girls, born with complete sets of extendable wings attached at the shoulder. Malcolm Orange could hardly complain. Given the choice he himself would have chosen angel babies over chicken pox any day of the week.
His disappointment was tempered somewhat when, the following Friday morning, with little more than a half hour’s warning, the entire Orange family upped and moved to Kentucky.
At the time Kentucky had seemed like the sort of state worth anchoring into. To the eight-year-old Malcolm (whose only previous knowledge of the Bluegrass State had been a brief and greasy love affair with the fried chicken joint of the same name), Kentucky sounded like an enormous castle of a state, fashioned entirely from ordinary sticks, popsicle sticks and over-chewed gum. He imagined his father building a semi-permanent popsicle cabin, digging his own foundations with a disposable plastic spoon and fashioning windows from Ziploc baggies. This spit and stickle notion of a non-transient home was Malcolm Orange’s own particular brand of pornography and he held fast to its elbows for the better part of a month, digging his heels into the bubbling Kentucky asphalt when everything began to slide.
It was only several months in, after the Volvo’s backseat had evolved into a one-bed trailer by the sewage works; after his step-Nana had passed away, bolt upright and undetected for ninety minutes during a two-buck matinee of Ghostbusters; after the dust, and the flatness, and the air conditioning gone to shit and nonsense; in fact it was only after the second of three dead dogs, curdling in the storm drain, that Malcolm Orange finally began to reconsider Kentucky.
Thankfully, by this stage the bottom had already fallen out of the southern tire market. ‘Let’s get rolling, Oranges,’ Malcolm’s father had said, slapping the hood of the Volvo, careful to avoid the constellation of rust marks around the headlights. ‘Let’s head east. There’s an honest-to-God fortune waiting for the Oranges on the east coast.’ Malcolm Orange had not even bothered to plead for his second-hand bicycle, having long since come to realize the futility of asking for anything less necessary than a microwave oven.
By the time the Oranges had arrived on the east coast only the worst of Malcolm’s chicken pox scars remained, bearing permanent testimony to the family’s misadventures in the south. The year was nineteen hundred and ninety three. Malcolm Orange was approaching double figures and much too old for miracles. He would never again be blessed with an infectious skin disease of any kind. However, the chicken pox trilogy had left him with a lifelong wariness of prominent rashes including acne, sunburn and various trifling skin irritations.
Though Malcolm’s chicken pox scabs had peeled off in increasingly outlandish shapes (giving his fingers something worth thinking about when he couldn’t pick his nose), the itchiness had driven him to big time cursing and bad temper. To mark the moment, Malcolm Orange had collected and kept a matchbox full of chicken pox scabs as a permanent reminder of the cruel things God will visit on kids, just because he can.
Someday he hoped to do something useful with his scabs – make a piece of art perhaps, or bury them under a just-planted tree – but, for the time being, Malcolm held on to the matchbox and the chicken pox scabs, keeping the whole precious package bundled up inside an old pillow case. From time to time, when he’d almost got to trusting God again, Malcolm Orange took out his scabs, balanced one on the end of a finger – like he’d seen in a contact lens commercial – and thought about all the things God had taken away from him.
The list was substantial: nineteen states before his twelfth birthday, eight whole grandparents (this number, though biologically impossible, included step-grandparents, parents of grandparents and at least one older person of ill-defined relation who, for ease of use, Malcolm Orange had come to call grandparent), three dogs – one wanted, the second and third unwanted and subsequently un-mourned – fifteen thrift store bicycles (luxury items which, when it came to packing the Volvo’s trunk, had been giving precedence to towels, saucepans and undead grandparents, for the better part of a decade), the entire nail of his second largest toe and one absconded father, who’d made it as far as Portland, Oregon before disappearing quietly and without warning in the general direction of Mexico.
Malcolm Orange was not yet old enough to articulate his God-rage but he did from time to wonder what the Almighty could possibly be wanting with all those bicycles and mean as Hell old folk. Right there in the chalet’s pastel green bathroom, confronting the possibility of his own imminent disappearance, Malcolm began to suspect that this latest theft was yet another incidence of God’s unending greed.
After several minutes of examining himself in the medicine cabinet door – backwards, side-wards, full-frontal and an ill-fated attempt at upside
The previous evening Malcolm Orange was absolutely, one hundred and fifty-three percent certain they had not been there for, during his nightly game of Wimbledon, played against the gable wall of the chalet, he had worked up enough of a sweat to necessitate a shower. After this shower Malcolm had completed his customary mustache check and was, as usual, disappointed to find his upper lip not only smooth as a hard-boiled egg but also absolutely, definitely free of perforations.
(It was this attention to detail, perfected over the previous two years of biweekly mustache checks, which would later reassure Malcolm Orange that he’d only been disappearing for twenty-four hours at very most.)
Malcolm Orange climbed off the toilet lid and began to dress himself. As he pulled his pants over his knees, buckling them firmly about his skimpy middle, his head got to considering where these holes might have appeared from.
‘Perhaps,’ he conjectured, ‘every young man, approaching puberty, is temporarily struck down with perforations and I, with my absent father and not-quite-right-in-the-head mother, have simply never been warned.’
This seemed like a logical explanation, yet Malcolm Orange struggled to picture his father – a brick of a man even at twelve years old – all shot through with tiny holes. Furthermore, Malcolm had indulged in more than his fair share of experimental glancing in the school showers and though his left eye – Hell-bent on veering permanently northeast – made it difficult to be certain of anything more complex than his own ankles, he was pretty sure none of the other junior high boys were perforated.