Malty sat up in his cot and stared at his blank cement grey walls. He tried to imagine what he would put on them if he could decorate his cell. He decided he wasn’t that interested in art. He never really understood what people got out of staring at paintings of things. It had never really done anything for him besides make him feel stupid for not getting this strange inside joke that the rich and intellectual seemed to share. He thought maybe photographs of friends and family would be nice, but he didn’t have either really, and it seemed creepy to put up pictures of strangers, even if they were just models in magazines. He decided movie poster’s would be more his taste. He liked action movies and stupid, over-the-top comedies where people fell down a lot. He thought maybe a couple of posters and then a photo of his deceased mother, for sentiment. That seemed good, and maybe a red pillow on his bed, for decoration. “A splash of color! That’s what this room needs.” his much older cousin Vinnie used to say when he would come visit over the summer. Vinnie loved interior design, now he lived three cells down from Malty, waiting for a death sentence that was fast approaching for blowing up a bus of school children. “A splash of color!”
Malty looked down at his hands, Suave for Men 2 in 1 Shampoo/Conditioner mysteriously in them. He stared at it. “Men’s 2-in-1 Shampoo and Conditioner has a fresh, clean, masculine smell.” He put it in his basket and walked down the aisle to where the toothpastes were. He stared at the rows and rows of toothpaste and wondered which one would be the most likely to keep the remainder of his teeth hanging on to his swollen, red gums. Maybe I should get a new toothbrush, too. His current toothbrush’s bristles where all frayed out and soft. It was the same toothbrush he’d had before he went to prison. When he got out he was somewhat surprised to see it in the little brown suitcase Vinnie must have packed for him after he’d been detained. It also had two old tee-shirts, a pair of jeans, a pair of shoes and a strange watch that he wasn’t sure was a gift or an accident, but was grateful to have something to pawn upon getting out so he could get some extra cash. He needed every cent he could get. Finding a job was going to be next to impossible. No one would want to hire a repeat-felon.
“Hey, Mister! Do you got .50 cents? I wanna gumball!” a small brown child said, tugging on Malty’s shirt. Malty jumped back and stared at the kid, whose mother had just reached the end of the perpendicular aisle, her cart full of similarly brown children, who hit each other and screamed loudly.
“Jimmy, leave dat man alone. Jimmy, git back over here! Jimmy, I’m not gonna say it again, git back over here!” She yelled. Jimmy turned back sheepishly and his mother slapped his face. Malty watched, eyes wide, jaw opened.
The mother looked right at Malty, “Whatchu lookin’ at bum?” and she turned her cart full of children around and hulled them toward the checkout.
Malty turned back towards the toothpaste, but the aisle had disappeared and instead he found a dinner table in front of him, a plate of peas and rice, a glass of milk and his own mother staring at him, staring back at her.
“What are you lookin’ at bubba?” She asked, a kind smile cracking over her face, which had only recently begun to show any sign of age.
“I don’t wanna go home with Vinnie.” Young Malty said, “He makes me- he makes me catch toads and kill them.”
“Yuck!” His mother squealed, as if she were a little girl and some boy had just tossed one of those dead toads down her shirt. “Well, I’ll have a talk with your Aunt Mindy about that and I’m sure he’ll straighten up.”
“Why do you gotta go away anyway?”
“Malty, you know I gotta get some rest. I’m sick. I gotta sleep, right?”
“Yeah, but I could sleep all summer too. You wouldn’t even notice me, I’d be so quiet.”
“You’re a young boy, you shouldn’t be so quiet. You should be outside running around, chasing girls, and building forts. No, it’s all settled, Malty and I don’t wanna hear another word about it, you got that?”
“Who you callin’ Momma, perv?” a big Mexican with a scar in the place of his left ear yelled at Malty from his jail cell as he was being taken through the prison to his first cell, for the first time. He had been crying as quietly as he could contain, for his mother. He was only 17 that time, legally tried as an adult, but inside he still felt about 7 years old. He didn’t know then that his Mother had already passed, and still hoped she would find him and rescue him out of that godforsaken nightmare.
Malty’s first year went by even slower there he feared it would. After receiving the news about his mother’s passing, he gave up any hope of being bailed out early and resigned himself to passing the time as best could for the 5 years that would follow. He thought often about girls. Any girl he could recall. The one he saw at the super market on Franklin with the short yellow skirt and tight white shirt that showed her black and pink leopard print bra underneath. She had great legs. She was probably around 13, but it didn’t matter, it wasn’t illegal in your imagination. In your imagination you could do anything you wanted, and he did everything he wanted to her. He also recalled Suzy Meisner from his school who was always so kind to him, even though he knew she wasn’t really interested in him, she was just obsessed with Christianity and practiced “being kind” to a fault. He felt a little guilty about the things he would do to her in his imagination, so he didn’t use her as much as the yellow skirted stranger.
Sometimes, Malty even thought of his Aunt Mindy. She was a lot older than him; her son, his cousin Vinnie, was old enough to be Malty’s father, sometimes Malty even wondered if he was his father since he didn’t actually know who his was. One day Vinnie showed Malty a photo of Aunt Mindy when she was in her early 20’s in a swimsuit. It was an old photo, black and white and crinkled, but her boobs and hips were gloriously curvy. He wondered why he never saw women with curves like that anymore. Malty beat his penis in the night and tried to stay quiet. If any of the other cellmates heard him, he didn’t want to know what they would do.
“Paper or plastic?” the bored cashier asked and Malty muttered, “That’s fine,” as he reached into his back pocket hoping to find enough money to cover the expense of hygiene. He was $1.50 short. Toothpaste or Shampoo/Conditioner? If I just keep my lips over my teeth, no one will ever notice my teeth, but I could also just wear a hat to cover my balding head. Bald’s not that bad. Lots of men are bald, some even shave their heads on purpose. I could shave my head… Toothpaste it is. “I’ll just take the toothpaste.” So much for that clean, masculine smell.
Malty walked out of the store, his hand through the plastic loops of the bag. He stood just out the door and wondered what he should do next. Go back to the shelter? Go look for a job? Brush his teeth? Try to find food? The possibilities weren’t endless, but they were enough to confuse him, just like the plethora of shampoos and toothpastes. He hadn’t recalled there being so many choices in the world before his prison years. Back then it seemed there was only one choice: to survive by any means necessary. Thinking back, Malty decided that had been his first mistake. Thinking that surviving was the most important thing, that is. He now knew better. Surviving is something we do by instinct, a leftover gene of evolution no longer necessary in this new, rapidly over-populated age. Now, surviving was a privilege and the most important thing was… was…
“What was it?” Vinnie asked Malty as he clumsily hurried back in the already running car and sped off down the side street, narrowly missing a stray kitten who looked to have already been hit once before. “Nothing,” Malty answered, clutching their newly acquired bag of money tightly in his shaking hands. “Don’t give me that bullshit, Malty. Did they see you or didn’t they? Think!” Vinnie screamed, speeding up with every influx. “No, I don’t think… it was just a boy…” Malty trailed off, panic attempting to raise his already accelerated heart rate. “A boy!? A Goddamned boy? How old?” Vinnie screamed, the car reaching speeds in the 60’s, 70’s… Malty tried to think of an age that would seem unthreatening. Malty was a terrible liar. “Malty! This is important! How old was that goddamned boy?!” “I don’t know! 16, or, I don’t know!” Malty spat out, immediately hitting himself as hard as he could in his leg, which made him scream a little. “What the fuck! What the fuck! A fucking MAN saw you hold up the fucking 7-11 and you didn’t take care of it? Inside or out!?” Vinnie was already turning the car around and Malty’s heart felt like it was jumping out of his chest. “What?” Malty asked, genuinely confused. “Was the Man inside or outside of the store, Malty? In or out!?” Vinnie zoomed passed the scared kitten again. “Out- in- I mean out.” Malty stuttered. “Well, which was it? What direction was he headed? Did he have a cell phone?” “How should I know, Vinnie?” as soon as Malty said Vinnie’s name he regretted it. It had made his question sound like he was questioning Vinnie’s questioning, which meant that Vinnie would think he was questioning Vinnie’s power, which would mean something would have to be done about that. Vinnie put on the screeching breaks and stopped the car a block from the 7-11 and stared at Malty. “You’re one dumb fuck, you know that?” Malty nodded his head. “Alright, now look around. You see him?” Malty looked out the window, but was distracted by Vinnie grabbing over his lap into the glove compartment, loading the gun.
“Marty!” an old lady yelled, clutching his arm with her free hand, while the other one held tightly to her walker. It was Mrs. Gibbens, Malty’s 10th grade History Teacher who always called him “Marty” thinking that she was Americanizing his name- even though he was as American as they came; he just had a creative mother. “Hello, Mrs. Gibbens.” Malty said. He was still standing in the parking lot of Wal-Mart. “I heard you were getting out. How are you doing?” “Good, Mrs. Gibbens. Thank you. How are you?” “Oh, I’m just fine. You know, I always enjoyed having you in my class. You keep your nose on the straight and narrow, now you hear? You gotta pull yourself up by the bootstraps. You’ve gotta second chance now to do right by your Momma and you best honor her memory, right? “ “Yes, ma’am.” “Alright. You’re a good kid, Marty, a good kid. You’ll come for potluck brunch this Sunday at church, right? I want to see you there. I’m making my ham and cheese casserole. “ “Yes, ma’am.” “Okay.” She squeezed his arm and gave him a little wink or maybe it was just a twitch, it was hard to tell the difference. Mrs. Gibbens hobbled in to Wal-Mart to grab the ingredients for her delicious ham and cheese casserole, a recipe she loved to tell her students she got from her second cousin, twice removed, Martha Stewart.
How did it happen again? Malty never could quiet remember the minutes after Vinnie had asked Malty to look for the boy who’d seen see him rob the 7-11. The next thing he remembered after seeing Vinnie load the gun was being pulled out of the car by the police, still clutching the bag of guilty money in his hands like a security blanket. He remembered he hadn’t even tried to stop them, he was so disoriented he just kept asking them where he was and why he was there. They didn’t have those answers, just told him he had a right to keep his mouth fucking shut.
The second time Malty got arrested was much clearer in his mind. Well, of course it was; it was the only time he’d ever had sex and at 42 years now, he was pretty certain he was the closest thing to the oldest living male virgin who wasn’t a priest. Though, he’d met a handful of priests in the slammer who had quiet the backlog of sexual experiences, so he guessed that being a priest wasn’t all that it used to be, or rather, it was quiet a lot better than it used to be.
Marilyn Monroe was his “victim’s” name. It really was, he found out as she was sworn into court on the day of his hearing. That could explain part of the reason he thought she was a hooker, all the other coincidences that followed were later cleared up, too. Malty had been out of jail for only two months when he met her walking down Hollywood Blvd. no less. Her hair: platinum blonde. Her dress: white, low-cut, billowing in the breeze. Her voice: sexy. Her lips: red. You would think that if your name were Marilyn Monroe and you weren’t trying to make your profession impersonating the sex icon, that you would either change your name, or avoid looking anything like her, and definitely would stay the hell away from Hollywood Blvd., but there she was.
“Hey, sexy. Do you need some help?” She’d asked, her light eyes sparkling intently into his.
Malty’s heart had jumped and raced, just as it had that fateful day in Vinnie’s get-away car. “Uhhhh, yeah. Thank you, Miss.” Malty pulled out a ratty piece of paper with an address on it. “I can’t find this building. I’m supposed to go there today to apply for a job and I….” They both stood facing the Chinese Theater and looked up and down the street, trying to find the numbers on the address.
“I think it’s this way, sweetie. Follow me.” She grabbed his arm in hers and they began walking south, her heels clapping the sidewalk loudly with each step.
Malty followed her, though he felt pretty sure they were going the wrong way. What did it matter, though? This was the closest he’d been to a woman since his mother hugged him goodbye outside Aunt Mindy and Cousin Vinnie’s house. His skin felt tingly and his pants were growing tight and sweaty. He couldn’t help put get excited. He was 22 and recently freed! This felt like his moment and he was determined not to ruin it for anything.
Malty sat on his cot at the shelter and the sound of that squeaky, old mattress brought him back to present time. How did I get back here? The shelter was 4 miles from Wal-Mart. Did I take a bus? Malty checked his back pocket and counted his change. Nope, I’ve still got .75 cents. Did I walk? Malty touched his forehead and felt a dozen beads of sweat and noticed then that he was slightly out of breath. Must have walked. Malty sat there a moment. The walls at the shelter were slightly yellow and had posters with supposedly encouraging phrases on them like, “Persistence is resisting evil!” That one didn’t have a picture with it to help it make any more sense. The ceiling was growing what appeared to be mold. The floor was full of dust bunnies, but all of these factors were positive to Malty, they signaled that life was around him; mold, dust, words, paint. These were his friends and he embraced them. It wasn’t like in prison, where everything was cement slabs and sanitary cleanliness. No, the prison was a desert and in the desert there is only death. The shelter was a prairie, empty in it’s own way, but with more life and at least a couple drops of hope.
Marilyn stopped Malty in front of a green building on Descano Street. How the hell did we get here? Weren’t we walking…Malty’s thoughts stopped as he realized she was watching him and he figured he’d better pay attention to whatever she may say next. “Malty? I’m thirsty. Are you?” She asked. “Yes.” He answered. “Good. Let’s go inside and have some lemonade, take a load off. It’s awfully hot out here to be tromping around looking for places that- well-“ She laughed and Malty smiled, it was the most beautiful laugh he had ever heard, “-well, may or may not even exist!” She grabbed his hand and Malty lost his breath. He was holding a girl’s hand- well, she was holding his, but still. She pulled him up the stairs and down the dark hallway and into an apartment that seemed a lot more promising from the outside. Inside, it was falling apart.
“How do you feel today, Malty?” Dr. Sciocco asked, adjusting her hips in the prison’s finest, though still ratty, leather chair and reaching for her pen. Oh, right. My evaluation. Before Malty was released from prison this last time, a journalist who had interviewed him after his first arrest asked to come and interview him again. She was more interested in his experience for personal reasons than professional, she said. He really didn’t know what about his experience would be of interest to her personally or professionally, but she was someone to talk to, someone willing to listen and that’s mighty hard to come by, even if you haven’t just spent several years in and out of solitary confinement.
“I feel…empty.” Malty said.
“Empty?” Dr. Sciocco wrote that down. E-M-P-T-Y, “Why?”
“Why?” Malty furrowed his brow, asked himself “why?” and came up with, Because I have no life, only my thoughts and they aren’t as imaginative as they once were. I have nothing left to think of, to hope for, to dream about. My family gone, my friends- I never had any, really. I have no skills. I have only this body, but no place to put it once I get out. I’m empty. Then just repeated, “Empty” with a shrug of eluding ignorance.
“Empty.” She repeated, underlining it, while never losing eye contact with Malty, almost as though she’d heard his thoughts instead of his spoken attempt to cover them up. Malty, self-conscious, broke away to look towards the window. Outside seemed like another planet. What’s happening out there? What are people talking about? What are they doing?
“Malty, is beer okay?” Marilyn asked, already cracking one open and putting it in his hand. “Malty?”
Malty looked away from the window and took the beer. It felt so good in his hand, like a piece that had been missing from his body, like a limb. He took a gulp. God, that’s good.
Marilyn watched him. “You’re very mysterious, Malty. What kind of a name is that anyway? Swedish?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well…” Marilyn walked into her bedroom and turned on a record- Frank Sinatra sang and Marilyn came back with her shoes off. She sat on the couch in a huff. “We’ll find that place of yours, Malty. Don’t you worry. I’m real good at findin’ stuff. I know this town really well. “
“Mmm Hmm.” He said, slowly edging closing and closer to the couch. Was this really happening? Was he really standing in some beautiful, strange woman’s apartment? Was he really about to… become a man?
Malty sat down on the couch next to her and she looked at him. “Well-“ she began, but he didn’t let her finish before he was on top of her, his lips smothering hers as she tried to scream and his hands went up her dress, straight to the clit. It felt so good, he knew he wouldn’t be able to stop himself. He thought of Suzy Meisner and of the things he had done to her in his head. She was such a sweet girl that Suzy. Marilyn reminded him of her, but … dirtier. Marilyn was asking for it. Her name was Marilyn Monroe for god sakes! She’d invited him into her apartment, promising lemonade, but giving beer!
Malty attacked Marilyn’s body like a savage, he just wanted to be a man so bad. He wanted to join society in at least one common act. By the time he had finished, she had stopped fighting him and just lay there. Cum all over her thighs and stomach and breasts, tears wetting her cheeks. Malty stood up and put his pants back on.
“Thank you for the beer, Ms. Marilyn. I’m sorry I don’t have very much cash on me.” He mumbled, reaching in his pocket and pulling out a $10, he set it on her coffee table, that was being held up by old, empty wine bottles. He reached the door and as he walked out she screamed, “FUCKKKKK YOUUUUU!!!!!!!!!!!”
And he smiled, because someone finally had.
Malty had felt a little guilty, since he knew she didn’t want it, but what could he do? He couldn’t stop himself, no one could. Besides, it was sex- everyone did it, right? It’s not like he’d killed anyone. No one got hurt, right? It was his first time, so he was probably a little rough with the hooker, but he’d given her his last $10. He’d said, “Thank you.”
“Malty Fontaine, how do you plead?” The judge asked.
“Guilty.” He said.
And they’d all agreed. Guilty on all accounts, which now included the murder of a young child the Police had found in Marilyn’s bathtub. Malty really couldn’t recall even seeing a child, but then, there were a lot of things he couldn’t really recall.
Malty looked up at that poster on the shelter wall again, “Persistence is resisting evil!” The clock next to it read 5:00pm, they’d be serving dinner at the soup kitchen now. That was a 2-mile walk.