January 3, 2013


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 several pages back until you get to the bottom first entry – which happens to be Chapter 2...

CJ reached the stairs first, the paramedic right behind him.

That was a good thing, because CJ almost didn’t make it up the stairs, teetering at the top and leaning back far enough that Darryl had to push him forward with a hand in the small of his back.

Job was waiting for him at the top of the stairs. He grabbed his best friend’s T-shirt and pulled himself up. Job shouted, “Hey! This is my best Green Lantern shirt!”

CJ staggered past him, Darryl close behind with Mom bringing up the rear. Mom dashed past Darryl then as she and CJ ran up the stairs together. Mai Li screamed again when they reached her room.

CJ’s sister was thrashing on her bed, her eyes wide and wild. He and his mom reached her at the same time. Mom sliding her arm under Mai Li’s head. CJ vaulted over her bed, landing on the other side, panting, the world swinging around him wildly. He thought he was gonna barf again, but swallowed hard and didn’t. Mom said, “Mai Li, sweetheart. We’re here. Mom and CJ are here.”

Darryl and Job stood in the doorway, panting.

Mai Li stopped screaming. She stopped struggling. She looked at Mom, then looked at CJ. She smiled at him, reached out and put her hand along the side of his face. She hauled off and slapped him. “Idiot! Why did you leave me? I’ve got so much to tell you! I think I know how to fix the nanomachines so that they won’t start to retro-construct my brain. You’re gonna be the only one who can fix it, kiddo.”

“Me?” CJ exclaimed. He looked up at Mom, who was looking at him, too. “I can’t hardly read without a coach! What makes you think I can do what you did?”

She smiled and reached out for his face again. He flinched when she put her hand back where it had been. “Sorry about that. I’m not really in control anymore.” For a minute, her eyes went vague. Her hand fell back to her side and for a horrible and thrilling moment, CJ saw her old self. Not the arrogant, Lady Genius Smarter Than The Whole World, but the sister he’d grown up with. The one who could barely pick up her Oat Ring cereal. The one who drooled.

The one who needed him and Mom.

An instant later, Mai Li the Lady Genius was looking at him. She said, “The nanos are eating my brain, idiot brother. There’s nothing I can do about it. But the research is sound – it’s just that Dr. Douchebag was in it to make a buck and get the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.”

“But I’m not a genius!”

Mai Li smiled and pulled her hand back as if to slap him. He jerked away. She grabbed his hand and pulled him closer. “You aren’t the kind of genius I am, idiot little brother, but you’re still a genius. Now that you can read decently, there’s nothing that will stand in your way.” She let go of him and he fell backwards. Job caught him. His best friend always had his back.

She lay quiet for a while, her eyes open, staring at the ceiling. She turned to Mom and held out her hand. Mom took it as Mai Li said, “Mai Li loves her mommy. Even when she’s pulling her hair. The only reason she does that is to get closer to her mommy. She doesn’t mean to hurt. Just to be close. Don’t be mad, mommy. Please don’t be mad.”

Mai Li closed her eyes. Her breathing slowed. Then stopped.

Mai Li was dead.

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