Borderlands

Note: Based on Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon. Yep, this is a fanfiction alright.

 

In the yellow twilight, New York burns in silence. A city more eternal than Rome, it is concrete, with skyscrapers that stretch taller than gods. It is the marble of the pillars, of singing-masters’ altars and of senate steps. A place of knowledge and enlightenment–the new Athens of the world, countless possibilities. There are lights behind me, all hollow save the one in Norma’s kitchen.

I sit with her in the emptiness. The house is dark–a mausoleum for the living.

I’m so glad you’re back again, Norma says.

I’ll visit whenever I can, I reply.

A thin-boned crane perching uneasily–my sister, my mother’s carbon copy. She looks at me with the same eyes, but with more affection than hysterical desperation. Did it hurt for him to remember? She asks.

For whom, to remember what?

For little Charlie to remember the times mother screamed at him for his stupidity, the “Dummy Gordon” names, and when mother almost stabbed him. I mean–I’m asking about the little Charlie, because he’s gone and you’re not the moron Charlie. You’re smart.

Is it how it is, sister? I want to implore. Is your affection for me all false pretenses? Would you have treated me the same way if I were the feeble-minded Charlie? Of course not, I told her, old Charlie was too stupid to even know what being sad is.

She clutches her bony arms to her chest. If old Charlie was smart he would never have gone through that.

I nod in agreement and she disintegrates.

 

I sit in the library now with Alice. She wears a long green dress that is reminiscent of Demeter. I read to her heroic chronicles, pages to lips to words in the air.

Does your intelligence cause you sadness? She asks.

I want to tell her that when I was stupid I didn’t remember how mother had hated me, and I was too imbecilic to see that the insults thrown in my face were insults. But I was so blissful, so free, so full of hope.

I tell her that knowledge gives me joy, which is true.

I wish you happiness, she says. She looks away. Why don’t you take Algernon to the city? He loves the movies.

But Algernon is dead, I tell her. We buried him in the backyard.

The city crumples. The lights turn off first. In the stretching greyness I see Algernon’s maze. He lies there unmoving, little paws stretched forward as though he is running. The lightbulbs in the maze has an afterglow. Was he powering the city? The concrete turns to soot and marble to snow.

I reach out my hand, only for my fingers to touch a glass pane. Of course this is a dream. This city is not eternal, like Algernon’s life, like my intelligence. I’m only meant to have a fleeting glance at the lights,

Small Charlie materializes by my side. He stares at me–dear Lord, those huge eyes. The terror is unbearable; I run.

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