Prologue, Part One
First things always come first, maybe.
My name is Eliot Brownlow and my first memory is about Jesus, a lot of talk about Jesus coming back. In my mind is a dusty rock in the middle of a dusty yellow hill and a lot of words said about Jesus. I am sure it’s a remembrance from infancy, pre-weaning. All that Jesus talk has to be coming from my time as a baby. I can’t think of anything happening before that talking, nothing before that hot, bright scene, so I know it’s very early in my life.
Still, I think for years that I have some sort of past life memories from the time of Christ instead of my time as a baby. I think I’m reincarnated, a term I look up in the World Book Encyclopedia we have on a high shelf in the parlor when I am seven years old. The article doesn’t help my memory anyway, being a definition and not an explanation, and is unsatisfying to me. I remember the Jesus time so clearly but at the same time not clearly, like there is a hair net over the remembering.
In seventh grade, on the same top shelf of the bookcase, I find my mother’s King James Version Holy Bible that she received when she joined my father’s church. The cover is white pebbled leather, and there are photographs of the Holy Land in the front and back of the scripture pages. Towards the end of the New Testament photos is a picture of the scene I remember as a baby: a dusty rock in the middle of a dusty hill, only with “Jesus is Risen!” captioned under it. Is this picture implanted in my brain as a baby or is it a real experience and just looks like a modern photograph? Did I live in the time of Christ? Is it just something someone showed me in the Bible? I can’t have lived in Jesus’s time because I remember words in English, and I’m pretty sure Jesus spoke Hebrew or Greek or Latin or something. I know that even though I’m just a stupid kid when I start thinking about those things. You can’t get much past me but maybe Malachi can: I wouldn’t put it past her to try to get something past me. Ha ha.
How much of my memory is real and how much of it is mixed up, a concoction of reality and non-reality Malachi made up trying to tell me something else? I don’t know. I’ll just tell you what I remember, and how I feel, so you can decide what you think is fable and what you think really happened to me. I’ll also tell you who Malachi is, as much as I know. I think you’ll like her.
Prologue, Part Two
By way of explanation, I am continuing initial exposition.
I’m about 18 months old, at least that’s what I hear people say sometimes, mostly my mother when she’s talking to other big people. I’m wearing a pinned cloth Curity diaper covered by textured rubber underpants. On my feet are big white toddler shoes with jingle bell ties on them. I’m standing outside by the chain link fence between us and the poorer family behind us. Their house looks dilapidated even though it is only a few years old. Their back yard is small and crowded with junk and trash, no grass to mow, just dirt to sweep. I’m holding onto a fence which is planted on top of a concrete block retaining wall, and I’m staring at the disheveled yard.
I’m alone. I don’t think anyone knows where I am. The maid, Ollie Mae, I think she’s in the kitchen but I can’t see her. I know she can’t be paying attention to me. The fence I’m hanging on is out of her sight and in poor, rusty shape. I put one of the wires from the chain link fence into my mouth and suck. I have to go potty, then I feel shit running down my legs. I wander around near the fence with my legs spread apart. It makes me feel anxious.
Mama finds me sitting on the patio nearby. She yells. “What are you doing, Eliot?” Her hands find my bottom and she smacks it with a loud but painless pop, mashing the feces out of the sides of my legs even more. She pulls down the diaper, sprays me with cold water from a garden hose, and carries me shaking on her hip into the house to put on fresh clothes.
I don’t know what I’ve done. I don’t remember how I got to the fence. I can’t figure out why Ollie Mae isn’t around. Is she gone? I can still see her old car sitting across the street. She always parks there. My mother won’t allow her to park on our side of the street. I hear her sometimes tell Ollie Mae that there’s no room in our driveway. I’m so young I don’t know how to lie but somehow I know what one is, and Mama lies a lot.
Mama changes my diaper, changes my clothes, and hands me off to Ollie Mae who takes me out of the door to her car. Ollie Mae says she’s taking me to Papa’s house for the afternoon. Papa is my father’s father, and lives a few blocks away.
Later, after coming back from my grandfather’s and being put in my crib for the night, I hear a whisper coming from the dark shadows. I hear a name that I somehow sense I am going to hear all of my life. It’s a name no one else knows about, a name that only I know, and now you do too. Malachi. Malachi Jones. Something whispers the words in my ear: My name is Malachi Jones.” The vocie is raspy, like my father after his morning cough. It’s just a name and it doesn’t scare me. I look around to see who is saying this. The crib is enveloping me in foggy gray darkness as the light fades from the window. I see shadows- purple moving shadows and tiny bright lights. I think they are real things, real people. I can see them so what else can they be but real?
And Malachi. Real and is not a boy despite her name. When I see her the first time, she’s a tiny old woman. Her sweet oil scent is strong but seems faint and fleeting at the same time, hard to hold on to. Her long dress covers her legs. Her feet dangle below the hem as she hovers in a dark corner in my peripheral vision, only moving into full sight when she wants to say something to me. After she reveals herself, she starts telling me what to dream. She tells me where to look so I can see the purple shadow people waving and dancing like Saturday morning cartoons, only darker. She protects me from the other night things, the attackers, the unsafe things that live under my bed and in my closet. She teaches me over time how to smell peoples’ unguarded thoughts and feelings. She’s the one who whispers me to sleep, and then whispers me awake.
Okay. So like I’m not telling you I am psychic or precocious in any way, or even that I have a spirit guide. The tiny woman never really said what she was because she only told me her name, nothing more. It might sound like a spirit guide, but since I don’t really know how other people experience life, everyone might have someone like her in some way. I’ll tell you how I see the world, when Malachi Jones taught me to sense things, and my grip on the serendipitous.
Malachi spends the next five years after she introduces herself being overt, moving things, whispering to me, making sure I know the truth over what Mama and Daddy tell me, things like Santa is a fraud and Father Does Not Always Know Best. Truth and reality aren’t the same thing because the reality is that parents lie to their children, just for fun apparently. It’s how children learn to lie- from example.
So now I am sitting in a second grade class with Scott Foresman who is not a person- it’s a reading book with Dick, Jane, Sally, and all their nameless and lame friends. They are always so good, so kind to everyone, so bland. I take a black crayon and color over all their eyes. They don’t see what silly, bland people that they are so why should they be able to see anything else? Malachi makes their watercolor stories animate in my head, like watching a movie while I read. Dick and Jane’s adventures roll on, their bodies flesh out, their pointless intentions become clearer. Their stories want indoctrinate (Malachi says so): those little watercolor blobs are trying to get me to bend to the will of someone I can’t see. If it’s in the books, is that how we are supposed to act? I tell my little old lady. “Is this book about how we are supposed to live? Is that story about what is normal? Then I’m not normal. I can prove it.”
I don’t live in a white clapboard house with a white picket fence.
My dog is named Rusty not Spot, and he always humps anything that doesn’t run faster than him which I don’t. Spot just chases a blue ball.
I can’t comprehend being so formal to my parents that I call them Father and Mother.
My sister is a self-centered, scared girl, and totally manipulated by my mother who is not DickJaneSally nice but sort of a shrew who comes from my needy and wronged grandmother who also lives with us.
Daddy doesn’t mow the grass in a shirt and tie like Mister DickJaneSally’s Father, He pushes the lawnmower wearing a dirty t-shirt and saggy pants.
As far as I can see those Scott Foresman kids do not have anyone like Malachi. They’re the watercolor definition of someone else’s normal.
And I am so far from that normal. Besides the visits from Malachi, I have other secret quirks. I believe in fairytales. I see them so clearly in my head, like the dreams that Malachi tells me to dream. Maybe she’s secretly telling me that these dreams are true, whispering hypnotic suggestions into my ear at night when I am sleeping. And time is my secret too. Time always mixes itself up inside me. One minute I’m in my crib meeting Malachi, and the next I’m 75 years old sitting in an unimagined future in the dark mourning what could have been my life. Wasn’t I just in Idaho riding in the back of a Blue Bird school bus full of Boy Scouts? Am I in a gay leather bar? Where am I is my normal state of mind. I’ve learner this much from Malachi: Time is relative; life is experiential; and memory is fluid so I can be anywhere I want to be. It’s as easy as tasting a small cookie or smelling the pages of a magazine- poof there you are, just where you were.
Malachi explains this concept of time to me a lot. She whispers that since I can pretty much remember everything by smell or taste that it’s easy for me to go back with my mind, and that’s reality too.
I once ask her if everyone has a Malachi Jones. She says no, that I’m special for her. She also says that I ask a lot of questions, so she guesses she’d better be ready with the answers.
So let’s go. Let’s see if I can give you some answers I have figured out. Here’s the first real tale. Remember, time is relative, so verb tenses count for nothing.