I am honored to have been included in the latest zine issue (#5) of Plots by Clots titled Bots & Tots, dedicated to childhood memories and growing up. My contribution, Vinnie Malone, is a work of fiction, but based on an experience I had when I was six. One name has not been changed. Can you guess which one?
“Frantic. I’m frantic!” Vinnie Malone’s dad is standing outside our front door yelling at my mother even louder than he did at Mrs. Malone when she shrunk his special pants – the one’s he wore when Mr. Kennedy became president last year.
She slips me behind her full skirt, probably so I don’t get whacked by accident. He looks like the bird I saw last week pecking at a dead squirrel in the middle of the road. Every time a car whizzed by it flapped its wings and hopped to the curb so it wouldn’t get smushed.
“Vinnie’s missing.” Mr. Malone runs a hand over his shiny head. I wonder how his knuckles can be so hairy when his head isn’t.
Mom’s eyebrows scrunch together. They look like the pipe-cleaner caterpillars I’m making for a butterfly project. Maybe she doesn’t know what frantic means either. If it has anything to do with having a shaky voice, a sweaty face the color of a stop sign, and gobs of spit sticking to the corners of your mouth, then it makes sense that Mr. Malone would call himself that.
“Calm down, Frank.” She steps forward and grabs his hand – the one that’s not wiping his nose.
I want to ask her to explain to me again why she can call Mr. Malone by his first name and I can’t, but she pulls him inside and slams the door shut before I have the chance. Then she leads him down the hallway to a kitchen chair, the one next to the window where she can read LIFE magazine and watch me ride my bike at the same time.
“Come. Sit. What are you talking about?” Now her hand is squeezing his shoulder and she’s looking straight into his eyes. That’s what makes her really good at getting to the bottom of things. Daddy always said he couldn’t resist those baby blues, not for nothing in the world. Her stare even got me to fess up to tripping Fred McNutt accidentally on purpose. It cost me one week without TV, too. It didn’t matter that one of Fred’s spitballs nearly choked me to death.
“Vinnie didn’t come home for dinner.” Mr. Malone shakes his head. “No matter what that boy is up to, he always makes sure he’s home for dinner.” Cause when Mr. Malone’s food gets cold, Vinnie’s butt gets tanned. That’s what their neighbor Mrs. Vogelbaum calls it. I don’t believe it though. Mine turns red after a spanking. And so does everybody else’s I’ve asked.
I poke her leg. “Vinnie’s not—”
“Shush, Darlin’!” She swats the air cause I see what’s coming and duck.
“I’ve looked everywhere,” says Mr. Malone. “Everywhere!”
His face is getting redder and all puffy, too. He’s almost scarier than Uncle Eddy was when he dressed up like a ghoul last Halloween.
I tug at her apron—the one Daddy helped me pick out for her for Christmas when I was four years old. The chocolate stains on it remind me of the brownies she made for my birthday when I was in kindergarten. Everybody loved them. Too bad it was the last time she ever baked. “I need scissors. Real ones.”
She runs her hand up and down Mr. Malone’s back. Kinda’ the same way she does mine when I’m sick. He buries his face in his hands. “Where could he be, Ilona?” is the only thing he says that I can understand.
“Can I have—”
Her lips look exactly like her eyebrows did before. “No. No sharp objects. Now, be a dear and go to your room.” She points at the hallway as if I need directions, then walks toward the sink. “Did you call the police?” She snatches a glass from the drain board with one hand and reaches for the cabinet door underneath the sink with the other. Grabbing a bottle, the one she calls medicine – the one with a pirate ship on the label – she turns and brings it back to the table.
I press my whole body up against her leg.
She pinches my cheek. “You’re not being a very good listener today.”
I want to shout, neither are you, but I don’t like the taste of Ivory soap. “Pleease. I need—”
“Enough!” says her lips. No dessert tonight says her eyeballs as she unscrews the cap and pours the medicine into the glass, filling it halfway. The smell stings my eyes.
“When’s the last time you saw him?” She puts the glass up to Mr. Malone’s lips. He looks like a little baby learning how to drink from a cup. After a loud gulp and a quiet burp, he wipes his mouth on his shirtsleeve.
By the time I hear Mr. Malone tell her “This morning before work,” I have a knife in my hand and I’m running out the door. It’s what I came home for in the first place. Before it got dark. And before I was forced to wash my hands, eat dinner, and do my math homework without an argument, or else I wouldn’t be allowed to play with Vinnie Malone after school for a week.
It’s what I came home for because the knot in the rope I tied Vinnie Malone to the telephone pole with wouldn’t come loose. Neither would the bandana I tied his mouth shut with.
If there’s one thing I’m good at when we play The Lone Ranger, it’s tying tight knots.
Thank you to all The Clots for your encouragement.