Magic Kingdom, by Margo McCall
Last night, it rained oranges: a citrus circus of fruit knocked from branches, sent spinning into orbit, landing hard on the grass. The spindly dwarf citrus planted in the park by Walt himself hurled their burden of golden globes in the four directions: Toontown, Fantasyland, Adventureland, and Tomorrowland. And as the skies wrenched and rocked above, delivering wind—real wind, not something manufactured, some transparent trick of light and sensation—Tamaya was already winding into a state of anticipation of the windfall of sweetness.
He spent his days in a dark cave of eternal wetness. In cool and clammy quiet, away from the noise and motion of the crowd. Times when he contemplated the perfection of his situation, he was vaguely aware of his intelligence. It wasn’t something he thought of much, going about his nightly business of mastication, procreation, and exploration. Tamaya didn’t know where it came from. His mother and father were squeaking fruit trash who did their best to teach him and his squalling littermates the basics. It was a long time ago now, he thought—long, long, long as the days in the park, the incessant parade of color and noise that were stroller-pushing people in shorts and t-shirts; long as their screams as they careened down Splash Mountain; long as the lines that curled around Rocket Rods or Indiana Jones.
Long as his journey. Tamaya had scurried far from his roots—from the orange groves that once dotted the flatlands of Anaheim in the century before the Magic Kingdom, mixed with the lushness of bean fields.
Tamaya had left his parents there, in the shadow of the bulldozer, as soon as he learned to groom himself, as soon as he learned the sweet secret of life. Came north with the rest of them, that tide of life spreading from mountains to sea.
Sweet, yes, the oranges would taste sweet and tangy on his tongue, like each time was his first, and the juice would dribble down his chin, and yes, he was in love with the dimpled skin into which he dug his claws, hanging on as though his life depended on it, which it did. An embrace of sweetness, chewing, the rip of flesh and roll of jaw. The act each time returned him to the grove, where the oranges swung like golden lanterns, where sweet promise scented the air in springtime, where storms like last night’s whipped up a torrent of swirling leaves and oranges rotating in mysterious orbits.
So up from his dank den Tamaya scampered. He and all the others, crawling on their bellies, looking on both sides for the sharp-clawed felines that may pounce on them, shake them by their necks, then parade their limp bodies like prizes. Few cats overcame their instinctive dislike of water to venture into the musty lair of the Pirates of the Caribbean. So wet, so shiny wet, mold hanging in the air; the smell of dank rot. Yo ho. Yo ho. A rodent’s life for them.
Silence as they crawled. Palpable, pulpy as citrus in season. So quiet after all the people left, after the tide of guests slowed to a trickle. It was the after Tamaya and his kind were after. After the day was over, after all the rides had been ridden, the popcorn popped, the pretzels chewed, the strollers pushed. They were after what was left at the end of the day. Grains of grain that had slipped outside the sweepers’ reaches, the bounty of popcorn and half-eaten French fries.
The humans with broomsticks were as much an enemy as the prowling felines who preyed on the small innocents. Sweeping, sweeping. Preoccupied with something called clean. The infernal motion of sweeping food into small dustpans. Tamaya had watched their habits. The slight bend of the hip as they brushed scraps into dustpans, as choreographed as the dolls in It’s a Small World. Hatred. It used to fill Tamaya with anger as he saw the sweepers wielding their brooms. The sense of power they displayed in sentencing him and his kind to days of hunger, nights of frenzied searches for something to put in their mouths, their small bellies that cried out for sustenance.
Tamaya’s eyes were weak, red beacons, especially during the day in the blinding sheen of sunlight. Darkness was preferable, that black cave of moist comfort. But his nose was alive, twitching with hot sensation. He sniffed out the trash cans and dumpsters where the sweepers—no better than pirates—stashed their bounty, just as he smelled the wetness of rain even as the storm sat stalled a hundred miles out to sea, as he smelled the crushed citrus leaves and the oranges that spun through the air and landed, smashed down hard.
That is not to say the pink pad of Tamaya’s nose was the center of his being. No, his ears, tissue-paper thin, a matrix of threaded veins twitched nearly as much as his nose, except during moments of dusk or dawn when the giant cats lurked nearby, waiting, waiting for a single move to give away his hiding spot, give it all up to sharp teeth and claws. He heard the first cars driving up in the morning, the clink of the gates opening—sounds that filled him with dread. He heard the ocean—had never seen it, was only instinctually aware of what it was—but sensed the water surging over the sand. He’d heard his own heartbeat, spent dark lonely days contemplating what he considered to be one of life’s greatest mysteries. When he told his cellar mates he’d heard the thump of his own heart, they snickered.
“Oh Tamaya. So full of himself, so full of shit,” they laughed. And he’d turn inward and find a quiet place to hide and shiver. If he’d known how to cry he would have, would have shed the tears building up over a lifetime. Maybe one day he would learn that, too.
Emptiness of late had become an obsession. Tamaya was smart enough to know that this was the existential state in which most living creatures existed. Perhaps he wasn’t stupid enough to accept his lot. He mused that perhaps this was his central flaw.
Everything looked ugly. He was tired of seeing Dumbo’s stupid smiling face, ears suspended in thin air, feet splayed, flying through the air filled with screaming children. Even the carousel looked tawdry. The magic kingdom was losing its magic. Someone, perhaps the sorcerer, had blown on the fairy dust, scattering it to the four winds.
And then he saw her. Skin as smooth and perfect as uncurdled cream. Lips like a ripe strawberry. Hand fluttering like a bird as she waved to visitors right outside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Oh, to climb up her dress and rest his head on her shoulder. Tamaya was sure she would not hate him. Look at how she smiled at everyone. Look how she bent to touch the heads of children.
His heart beat harder, expanding with something glorious and foreign, like the fireworks exploding over the Electric Parade. And just like a starburst, he shot out of his dank daytime hiding spot, veering around rubber sneakers, under strollers, and over one little boy’s foot, flinging himself through the air and onto her satin skirt, claws gaining purchase as he clambered higher.
Focused on reaching those ruby-red lips, he was only vaguely aware of the roaring crowd, the pandemonium, the women’s screams and children’s cries, some men yelling. He was at her waist, admiring her blue velvet bodice, when one of the pale hands that had been waving lashed out, sending him sailing through the air.
Later, it was her scowl he would remember, not the security guards rushing to catch him or the snickering of his friends. But those strawberry lips turning downward and her placid eyes filling with disgust. After that, the oranges would forever taste sour.
She was an actress. She was as unreal as the snowy peaks of the Matterhorn, the fairytale castle, the tattered birds in the Enchanted Tiki Room, and the elephants and gorillas on the Jungle Cruise. A trick of costuming. And in this way Tamaya learned of heartache.
Margo’s short stories have appeared in Pacific Review, Heliotrope, In*tense, Sidewalks, Rockhurst Review, Toasted Cheese, and other journals. Margo’s nonfiction has appeared in Herizons, Lifeboat: A Journal of Memoir, Pilgrimage, the Los Angeles Times, and a variety of other publications. A graduate of the M.A. creative writing program at California State University Northridge, Margo lives in the port town of Long Beach, California. For more information, visit http://www.margomccall.com.