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 four pages back until you get to the bottom.
CJ waved to Mr. Jalfroun and said to Job, “I gotta go!”
“We just got here!” he exclaimed.
“Mai Li needs me to do something or get something for her.”
“What’m I s’posed to tell Mr. Jalfroun? He saw you!”
“Tell him my sister called me in sick!”
CJ ran to his bike and unlocked it and sprinted out of the parking lot. He got home in record time, ran into the house and shouted, “Mai Li! Mai Li!”
There was no answer. He dropped his backpack and ran to Mai Li’s room.
“Mai Li!” Silence.
He ran upstairs to Mom’s room.
“Mai Li!” He spun frantically. The rooms were all open and there was no Mai Li. He ran down to the main level – again all the rooms were open and there was no Mai Li. “Mai Li!” He ran to the kitchen then pounded down the steps to his bedroom.
Slumped over his desk was his sister. He didn’t move, waiting for her to sit up. Yell at him about his under-the-bed stash; yell at him for sneaking up on her; yell at him for being her idiot brother.
She didn’t move and he was suddenly afraid to step forward. What if she was dead? He didn’t know if he could handle that. What would he do? Who would he call? Could he call the ambulance? What if Dr. Douchebag got hold of her? He’d dissect her like they’d dissected the frog in science class a few weeks ago!
His feet moved on their own. His hand moved on its own. He touched her shoulder. She sat up slowly, turned to look at him. She held his gaze, blinking slowly. The look wasn’t the Cheerios look, but it wasn’t the ambulance look, either. It was somewhere between.
She was going away from him.
She said suddenly, “What the heck are you looking at?”
“Uhh...” he replied brilliantly.
“Maybe I’ve been wrong all along – maybe you aren’t an idiot and really retarded.”
“Hey!” he flashed, “You called me home and I came! I was at school...”
“Like anything was going to happen there,” she snapped back.
“Fine, then! I’ll go back. You can explain to Mom why I’m tardy, then!”
“Fine! I will, you little idiot!”
He started back up the stairs, stomping as loud as he could.
“You’re acting like a child!”
He turned and shouted, “That’s ‘cause I am a child! What’s your excuse, Lady Genius Smarter Than The Whole World?” He reached the top of the stairs, expecting a verbal spear in the back like that movie THROUGH GATES OF SPLENDOR 3D.
He reached the top and stomped into the kitchen, being sure he hit the floor as hard as he could with each foot. It would be incredibly loud over her head in the basement room. He reached the front door which still stood open after his frantic search for her. “A lot of good that did,” he muttered.
Even so, he stopped with his hand on the door, listening.
“Chris?” she said his name softly with none of the anger from a moment ago.
He went back to the basement door and stood at the top, staring down the steps. He said, “What?”
He took a step down, softly this time. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m pretty sure I’m dying and I can’t do anything about it.”
Three more steps, “You’re not dying – maybe going back to what you were before the nanomachines.”
Long pause, then she said, “Explain to me how that’s not the same thing as dying.”
CJ didn’t have an answer. Instead, he knew he was selfish but couldn’t keep the question inside, “Am I going to still be able to read when...when...the nanomachines are done rebuilding your brain?”
Mai Li snorted and said, “Nah, idiot brother. You learned how to read all by yourself.” Long pause, “Me? I needed the nanos to make me, and now they’re going to unmake me. What have I got to whine about?”
Without knowing exactly why, CJ stepped down all the way, went to his sister and started bawling like a toddler who skinned his knee for the first time.