I read the play version of Daniel Keyes’ FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON when I was in eighth grade. It has stayed with me for decades, a haunting symbol for both the overwhelming possibilities of the human intellect and the overwhelming impossibilities faced by a profoundly challenged human mind. I’ve started and stopped this novel a half a dozen times in eleven years. I want to bring the original idea into the present millennium. To read RECONSTRUCTION from beginning to here, click on the label to the right and scroll to the bottom.
The Junior High Mathematics League Tournament was exactly like the senior high version. “Only lamer,” muttered Job Doe, CJ Hastings’ best friend.
“Don’t let Coach Bates hear you say that,” said Sentury Millner, smartest girl in eighth grade and the only person on the team who REALLY didn’t like CJ. “Or he’ll kick Christopher off the team.” She gave him a vulpine smile – vulpine meant carnivorous, fox, like she wanted to eat him alive and then she sauntered away to talk to Mr. Bates.
Job glared after her and muttered, “She thinks she’s so smart.” She cut through the cafeteria. The first round of the Tournament – a test with fifteen questions that got harder and harder as they went on. The competitors were waiting for the first round posting. They were supposed to be eating lunch, but so far most of what they’d done was sit at tables and stand in lines leading to the food.
CJ looked at him and then at her and said softly, “Uh…she is.” Job glared at him, stood up and stalked away. CJ said, “But she is!”
He stood up and went to stand in line. Sighing, he knelt down to tie his shoe. A pair of pink Converse All-Stars suddenly appeared standing toes to his toe. He stood up and nearly fell over backward. Jude Hildebrandt was standing so close he had to step away. She was smiling her gigantic, metallic smile as she said, “Hi! Can I wait in the lunch line with you?”
“It’s not exactly lunch,” he said. Over Jude’s shoulder, a black man dressed in black, wearing a skinny tie and sunglasses was facing him.
Jude looked over her shoulder, then back at him. “Somebody said the governor’s kid is here at the Tournament. That’s why the secret agents are here.”
“Secret Service,” CJ said automatically. “It’s the Secret Service that protects the President and the Governor.”
She flicked the correction away and said, “So, how’d you think you did? Has Mr. Bates’ new reading method helped at all?”
CJ rolled his eyes. Coach had sat him down yesterday to listen to a series of CDs about reading better. He was so excited about the possibilities of helping CJ read better, CJ didn’t have the heart to tell him that his sister had done the job already.
But it DID give him an excuse to read better. The test had been a breeze. Last year he’d almost thrown up on the paper when he got it. Job had helped him by using a system of sign language to help. Even so, it had been almost impossible. He’d done fine in the middle round – but that was just for fun. He’d bombed the final exam.
He didn’t expect to blow it this year. In fact, if he wasn’t careful and pretend he couldn’t read as well as he could…
He opened his mouth to reply to her when one of the Secret Service agents cut into the line right in front of him. “Hey!” Jude exclaimed.
The agent glared down at her, lifting his glasses to direct his laser beam eyes at her. Jude closed her lips over her braces, turned and hurried away. He turned around, and fixed CJ with the same glare. He said suddenly, “How much did you hate your sister?”
“What?” CJ exclaimed.
“It would be easy for a strapping young stud like you to murder your little sister and stuff her into a garbage bin somewhere.”
“Why would I do that?”
“I don’t know – why don’t you tell me,” he said, lifting his glasses with a broad, thick callused index finger.
“I didn’t kill Mai!” His voice caught in his throat and he managed, “I love her…” He spun away from the agent and marched back to the table. His stomach rumbled, but it wasn’t just because he was hungry. He felt suddenly like he wanted to cry. Why? Nothing had changed – except that Mai was a super-hyper-genius-babe, she hated him and Mom, she wanted revenge – and he might never see her again.
From the far end of the cafeteria, someone walked out with a trumpet and blew on it – pretty badly, CJ thought. Another person announced, “The Tests have been scored! Prepare for the Major Event!”
The mob of junior high and middle school kids surged toward the trumpet, and CJ suddenly found himself alone.