His name was Milt. I was too young to understand that. I heard Melt. Melt was what looked to be happening to his face and arms, and the noises from his throat suggested his voice was melting along with his face. I scarcely remember Milt and his wife Cleo, though I have the impression that my mother was fond of them, and they of our family.
My clearest memory of them is the night we visited Melt in the hospital. He wore a spotted-pattern gown and wires, and when we walked into his room he wore a smile. He was drinking a carton of milk with a straw in it and he asked if I wanted to drink. He said it was skim milk. The word that I heard him say was skin. I imagined skin floating in the milk like pulp in orange juice. Years later, while I still drank milk, I couldn’t overcome an aversion to skim milk, imagining the skin-pulp. I may not have said a word in reply (I was a shy child) but I didn’t take Melt up on the offer.
There’s not much else I remember of Melt and Cleo beside their being two kind and gentle people. I remember the night; whatever time of year it was it was not a cold night.
I suppose as children we enjoy some immunity from prosecution for the limits of our language, and in our elder years we overcome the zeal to prosecute. I may be thinking of ideals. Children learn early to ridicule and not every old person masters the thrill of it.
If Melt or Cleo or even my mother learned my malapropisms, if I ever voiced them, no one teased me for them, and I never felt embarrassment for having misheard the words when I learned better. My memories of the night and of Melt are warm. I am given to believe the one thing is related to the other.