That, in a nutshell, is Malchus One Ear. He claims he lost his ear in the Garden of Gethsemane when Peter cut it off, but Jesus healed it. Malchus is a physical anomaly, an intellectual enigma, and a spiritual paradox all rolled up in a psychotic mystery. He's also God's prophet and Messiah in waiting.
When a young woman conceives and gives birth to a son, she sees that he is a strange baby. When she can no longer hide the baby in her tenement, she sets him afloat on the East River in New York City. When he is discovered, he is taken to Bellevue Hospital. Who is Malchus and what does he mean to our world?
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MALCHUS ONE EARA Novel
By R. Gordon Zyne
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 R. Gordon Zyne
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMALCHUS ONE EAR LOOKED AT HIS REFLECTION in the mirror of a subway restroom in Manhattan. He sighed, adjusted his hat, and returned to the platform to wait for the next train. When the train arrived, he ran to the front end of the first car and stuck his face against the window so he could gaze down the dark tunnel. Malchus often spoke with angels who entered the subway trains in Manhattan on their way to the Bronx.
Malchus pressed his nose against the glass window. His floppy hat covered a large hydrocephalic water-filled head. His delicate translucent hands were like those of a tiny tree frog clutching the glass on the inside wall of an aquarium. His lips pressed against the filthy glass and he appeared to be making love to the door at the front end of the car. He hoped that the motorman wouldn't see him, and he dreaded arguing with the transit cops as they tried to arrest him for lewd behavior. He'd point to the signs on the wall and yell in his own defense, "I'm not spitting!" When he was arrested, they'd keep him locked up for the night and then call a psychiatric social worker who would check his medication and then send him on his way.
Malchus knew the New York City subway system well and memorized the maze of routes and stations. He could smell the difference between upper Manhattan and the Bronx while traveling at forty miles per hour beneath the Harlem River. He asked strangers on the platforms for spare change, and he waited for his messiah who would, he claimed, arrive on a train from Coney Island.
In a vision, a prophet had once instructed him to take two Hershey's Kisses and turn them into a basketful of candy bars to feed the hungry, grumpy commuters. Some would accept his gifts with pleasure, while others would simply cast the candy onto the tracks as if it were poison. It didn't matter to Malchus whether they accepted his gifts. It didn't matter whether they smiled or cursed him to his face. He carried his books in a tiny suitcase filled with his mortal belongings and told the world how Peter had cut off his ear in the Garden of Gethsemane and how Jesus had healed it.
Malchus' strange behavior, even in the subways of New York City, was especially odd and troublesome. He looked weird, like something out of a book of medical anomalies. A doctor had told him that he was born without a brain; that his unusually large head was merely filled with spinal fluid and a thin membrane that contained a few brain cells, but nothing more. That Malchus walked, talked, and spoke with exquisite clarity was truly miraculous. His intense visions were an endless source of terror and ecstasy. He couldn't tell the difference between his benign mystical visions and his demonic hallucinations. Even his body seemed to exhibit various physical states. Some days Malchus would be solid and walk the streets of the city banging into people on the street just to see how they reacted. Other days he would be a liquid and slide between the cracks of doors and flow down pavement gutters. Sometimes he thought of himself as lubricating oil for the wheels on subway cars or even as mustard to be squeezed out on hot dogs. When Malchus was a gas, he was invisible and could go anywhere he wanted. He would stand on the subway platform or in the middle of the sidewalk and make grotesque faces at the people walking by. They didn't even notice him.
Malchus stood on the vacant subway platform and cursed God. "Why have you made me like this?" he screamed. "They told me I couldn't think, so I prayed. The doctors told me I'd never walk or talk either, and if I don't have a brain, how is it possible that I think?"
The poor little man was confused. He stuck his finger in the hole on the side of his head pushing it in as far as it could go so that he might feel his brain, or at least, touch the slippery fluid that supposedly sloshed in his cranium.
Malchus read books on his subway rides, especially large tomes on philosophy and theology. He demanded that God stop his visions and hallucinations. He didn't need a messenger from Satan to torment him. Malchus appealed to God hundreds of times, but God just sent back the same message written on the subway wall: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness."
Malchus could have spent his entire life inside the walls of a New York City psychiatric hospital. He was a perfect specimen for long- term institutionalization: a ward of the state, destitute, psychiatrically disabled, physically disabled, and chronically ill. His thirty years as a patient were spent behind closed doors in the presence of clinical professionals, brutish guards, and severely impaired minds. But times were changing, and the mammoth institutions that housed thousands of mentally ill patients were now routinely sending them into the world and into the arms of a society that couldn't hold them. Science was changing, too, and the human mind was no longer considered just an ethereal construct, but a biochemical factory and physical entity just a bit more complex and interesting than the liver. Out of this scientific revolution came miracle drugs that helped put demons back in their holes. The quiet psychotic was now leaving his cell and wandering into the neighbor's backyard. Some would roam the landscape as helpless sheep, only to be slaughtered by hungry wolves. Others would burrow underground and be forgotten. Some would actually find homes and productive work in caring communities. For the most part, however, the world was just too busy for them. The institutions were shrinking or shutting down. The big mental hospitals were a casualty of the times, but nobody really cared.
Malchus was not one of the first to leave the confines of the psychiatric prison, but he was one of the last. He didn't know about the outside world because no outside world existed for him. His entire universe consisted of his hospital ward and his bed. Then one day, they opened the doors of the hospital and put him out with his bottle of pills, a few dollars, a child's suitcase filled with his books, a list of phone numbers to call, and a one-way ticket to an intermediate care rehabilitation facility in Brooklyn called the Brewery by its residents. They told him to take the subway, but he had never been on a train before. So they put him on a train, and he sat and rode it for nearly three days. The little man was told to go out and discover his new world, but he thought the subway was his new world. He slept in the cars, peed on the tracks, and ate stale candy bars from the vending machines. When he walked through the stations, he would hold his hat in front of him and people would throw in their loose change. This was Malchus' new home, and he was quite content to travel the city and meet the people beneath the streets of New York.
Occasionally, Malchus was arrested for disorderly conduct and they would bring him in to be observed by a psychiatric social worker. Most of the time, however, Malchus just needed to take his medication, which kept him calm and rational. When he didn't take it, he was a raving lunatic.
Once, after four days hallucinating in a lavatory in the South Bronx, he got into a subway car stark naked and swung from the overhead strap handles. When he was subdued and arrested, he told the magistrate that he was just making an aesthetic statement. He threatened to sue the city for defamation of character and for suppressing his right to free speech and expression.
Malchus' intelligence and rational behavior impressed the judge, but the social worker knew that Malchus had become a master of manipulation. So they took him back to the psychiatric hospital for a few days, filled him with medicine, and then sent him on his way back into the subway.
Human beings are not piles of refuse, but when enough of them get together in a drunken stupor or in a psychotic rage, society tends to treat them like garbage. Malchus was certainly not garbage. He was not filth, and as good fortune would have it, he was not a forgotten soul. By chance, a slovenly but good-natured social worker named Naphtali Ropshitz-Tali for short-shared a box of Goobers with Malchus at the Fulton Street station in Brooklyn. The two became good buddies.
Tali was a converted Hasidic Jew who embraced Taoism, but still had a deep craving for potato knishes and his mother's cooking. He spent two years as a member of the Hare Krishna in the late sixties and handed out flowers at airports. He shaved his head and danced in the streets. Tali was also a devotee of transcendental meditation and claimed to have spent time in India with the Beatles. When Tali had too much to drink, he believed that he was the reincarnation of Israel Baal Shem Tov, the greatest of all Hasidic masters. There was nobody on the face of the earth that Tali didn't love. He even told people that if he and Adolf Hitler had been childhood friends, he would know how to make the devil into a saint! There was so much love in Naphtali Ropshitz's heart that he was fired by the city's Department of Social Services for being too compassionate.
Tali's father was a rabbi in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. He disowned his son, but still sent him a five hundred dollar gift during Hanukkah. Tali had good connections and became a self-styled street consultant working with the men in the rescue missions and in the flophouses. He roamed from one center to the next. He received free meals and a cot wherever he went. The mission workers loved him and were impressed by his abilities to motivate destitute men. He was a true twentieth century prophet on the streets of New York City. He got men jobs, picked them off the street when they were drunk, and said Kaddish for them when they died. He pointed to people with his big fat finger and told them that the messiah was coming on the train from Coney Island and that they'd better be ready. Now that the mental hospitals were unloading their patients by the thousands, he had his work cut out for him. Even the local parishes praised his street work and they made him an honorary Catholic.
Tali helped to keep Malchus sane and found a place for him at the Brewery, a rehabilitation center in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn. He brought Malchus into the big facility and told the old-time residents that Malchus was an Aborigine from a south sea island in the Pacific. Malchus became something of a celebrity and entertained the men with his strange wit and physical acrobatics. He sorted rags and pulled out cotton cloth from hundreds of bags of home discards. The cotton was a source of revenue for the Brewery. It was bundled and compressed into huge bales and sold to foreign buyers. He worked in a thrift store for a while, but was too short to handle the cash register. He couldn't drive a truck because his feet didn't reach the pedals. He couldn't haul a sofa or a refrigerator, so they put him in the kitchen where he peeled potatoes, made salads, and baked cookies. He'd even feed some of the old sick men who were bedridden. Malchus became a successful human being despite himself.
Chapter TwoJACOB KORETZ SAT ON THE FRONT STOOP of his apartment building, blood gushing from a fresh wound in his forehead. The old man cursed the assailant who had thrown a beer bottle at him from the welfare hotel across the street. Jacob was a good target and a big one at that, especially at seven o'clock in the morning when people were cranky and just getting out of bed. The old man was fond of walking up and down Washington Avenue, spewing blessings and curses upon his neighbors. The bleeding stopped. Daniel Aarons, Jacob's nephew, sat next to him and tugged lovingly at the old man's beard.
"Uncle, you need a shave. You'll be tripping over that damned beard in a few days. Why don't you get it trimmed?"
The old man nodded and grudgingly agreed to visit a barber. Jacob Koretz wasn't really an old man, but he had seen enough misery and suffering in his life of sixty-five years to fill a dozen novels. Most of the time, his mind was in exile beyond the Euphrates River, languishing in a medieval rabbinical yeshiva in Babylon. The sight of him on the street evoked reverence by some and disdain by others. He was the wandering prophet of the streets, the wild crazy man who talked to himself. His long beard had become a symbol of his suffering and a mark of his triumph. It had become an unkempt mass of knots, dried food, and insects. Daniel declared him a public health nuisance and demanded that he do something about the beard.
Daniel Aarons was a scholar and adjunct professor of psychology, sociology, and social work at Brooklyn College. That morning he told his uncle Jacob that he was going for a job interview that would change his life. Daniel assured Jacob that he was following a divine calling and listening to a still small voice.
In truth, Daniel Aarons was a mouse caught in an old trap, a trap that had been set behind the refrigerator many years ago and had not been noticed by the new tenants. The cheese was long gone, but Daniel stepped on this device and trapped himself. He was a live mouse with his neck not yet broken, but still very much a prisoner of a blind, mindless contraption that was not originally intended for him. The city was his trap. His mind was his trap. His uncle was his trap. His books, his science, his intellect were all his traps. He felt called by some higher power, but his tiny mouse legs just kicked the dark air behind the refrigerator.
"What a mind!" his uncle would say. "You could be a concert pianist, a great surgeon, a brilliant lawyer. But no, you just explore the anuses of fleas and then you ponder the dust that collects under the bed."
Daniel Aarons was an explorer of minutia, the spaces between letters on a page and the fine line that separates the wife from the lover. He was a creator of goals, sub-goals, sub-sets of objectives, and endless tasks. Daniel thought he was an explorer, but he set sail with Columbus only to discover that the world was actually flat and that he was living on the wrong side. His view was always from the underside, from the bottom up. He recognized people from the soles of their feet, from the warts on the underside of their chins, from the wrinkles on their elbows. But what do you expect from a man who was found on the top of a pile of corpses in a concentration camp-a newborn infant-by a couple of American GIs in 1945? Daniel Aarons was simply a miracle, but not a happy miracle. He wanted to be immersed in fire and be purified. He wanted to burn so brightly that the whole world would know that he was truly an instrument of a higher power, a tool of the Almighty!
Daniel looked at his uncle Jacob, his mother's only brother, and told him he'd be back in a few hours.
"Jacob, I'm going to my interview now. Please remember to take your medication and call Dr. Katz for an appointment. You know you need to get the prescription changed on your glasses. I've seen how you've been tripping over all the junk on the floor."
"I'd stop tripping over the junk if you'd pick up your damn books," Jacob said, defending his territory. He waved at his nephew as if to say, "Get lost. Don't bother coming back to my house with your crazy ideas. Get a real job."
Daniel thought about the anuses of fleas and specks of dust and cursed his uncle's creative metaphors.
He took the subway to Greenpoint and stepped off into a bleak landscape of warehouses, gray commercial buildings, and urban decay. The trapped mouse with the broken neck thought himself to be a sophisticated New Yorker, a man of high intellectual ability and strong moral character. He was a man of ability and action with the rod of the Almighty in his right hand and the knowledge of the universe tucked away in a dark, hidden cerebral cavity miles beneath the surface of his skull. He would take broken men and turn them into fine specimens of humanity. He would implement social policy to heal their mental afflictions. He would delve into the depths of their tormented souls and pull out their demons. A surge of energy suddenly came over him as he wound his way through this wretched part of the borough. He was coming to the Holy Land, like a crusader on his way to Jerusalem.
Daniel's head swelled until a sharp pain filled his skull. He felt as if his forehead was pressing against a solid wall of wind. His ears popped like windows in an airplane about to burst open after decompression. The back of his head was an overflowing Dumpster. He prayed and his head shrunk and shriveled like a spent balloon.
Excerpted from MALCHUS ONE EAR by R. Gordon Zyne Copyright © 2010 by R. Gordon Zyne. Excerpted by permission.
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