Malcolm Disarray’s eyesight decayed over the course of ten years, beginning when he was thirty-one years old, at the rate of less than six percent per year. By the time he was forty-one, he was nearly blind. What little he could see was black and white, like smudges left on one’s clothing after handling the remnants of partially burned firewood. Despite evaluations by the country’s best ophthalmologists and neurologists, no one could find even a hint of a reason for his loss of sight. All the medical professionals who examined him agreed on one thing, though: his diminished eyesight must be related in some way to his simultaneous loss of the ability to taste and smell.  Unlike his eyesight, though, those senses were completely gone by his forty-first birthday.

While Malcolm’s eyesight and sense of taste and smell degraded slowly degraded, his remaining senses sharpened. His hearing improved significantly; he could tell who was in the room just listening to a single breath. He could tell by the flutter of their wings what kinds of birds were flying near. Malcolm’s sense of touch improved so enormously it compensated for others. The change was so dramatic and so sudden it surprised him. And it surprised his wife.

“The red sauce is good but the green sauce is absolutely out of this world!” Malcolm smiled as he nodded in his wife’s direction.  A wrinkle knotted Linda’s forehead as she looked up from her plate to see Malcolm’s fingers touching the enchiladas on his plate. “Wh-wh-what? What are you doing to your food?”

“I can see the colors on my plate and I can smell and taste the food,” he replied. “But it’s not like it was before I lost my senses.  I can do it with my fingers, but it’s more intense. It’s hard to explain.”

A look of alarm crossed Linda’s face. She opened her mouth as if to speak, but didn’t make any sounds. Finally, words escaped. “I don’t understand. You can taste and smell with your fingers?”

“Yeah. It sounds crazy, but I can. And when I brush my fingers across your face,” he said as he smeared his sauce-laden fingers across her check, “I can see you clearly, too. I can see the color of your skin and I can tell that you’re wearing a green blouse. And I can smell a hint of Proraso aftershave on your neck…”

Suddenly, Malcolm’s previously joyous expression turned dark. “Where did that aroma come from? I don’t use Proraso.”

“You’re mistaken, Hon, I’m not wearing any aftershave!” A hollow, artificial chuckle accompanied Linda’s words. Her eyes narrowed and beads of sweat seemed to erupt from her forehead.

“I didn’t say you were wearing it. I said I smell a hint of it. Like you’ve been with someone who was wearing it. Who would that be?”

“This is crazy, Malcolm! First, you surprise me with the revelation that you can see and smell and taste by touch and next you suggest I’ve been with another man because you think you smell aftershave! Get a grip!”

Malcolm sighed deeply. “Okay. You’re right. It is crazy. I’m sorry. I just felt this sudden burst of sensations…they’re just overwhelming…I don’t know…” His voice trailed off and his head slumped forward.

Linda reach across the table and put her hand on his shoulder. “Let’s focus on what you’ve just discovered. That you’re able to actually replaced senses you lost long ago!”


Four months to the day after smearing enchilada sauce over his wife’s cheeks, Malcolm Disarray was involuntarily committed to a psychological hospital in Syracuse, New York, well over one hundred miles from his home in Poughkeepsie. It wasn’t his claimed abilities to “see” and “smell” and “taste” through his fingers that got him placed there. Those remarkable abilities were clearly real for anyone to witness. What got him placed in a psychiatric hospital was his insistence that his wife and her unknown lover were plotting his demise. He had no evidence, only a “feeling” that his murder was being planned.

“Just like I can see her by touch, I can feel their planning with my fingers.” That sentence, alone, convinced Judge Armory Mason to grant the order of commitment. As he was being led from the courtroom, Malcolm screamed at the judge, “They’re going to try to make it look like suicide! You just wait, they’ll find me hanging by a bedsheet within a matter of days or weeks!”

And they did. But there’s more to the story than that. There must be. Mustn’t there?

I think the story went off the tracks before it reached the station. But it was moderately fun while it lasted.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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