Flowers for Algernon
A week later Carla and I watch as Mr. Waterman makes his way across the lawn and to his car to leave. I hugged him before he left. He was surprised, but didn’t question it, just hugged me back like it was perfectly natural.
I stay outside for a few minutes after he’s left and Carla waits with me. She’s trying to find a way to gently break my already broken heart.
“So—” she begins.
I know what she’s going to say. She’s been gearing up to say it all day. “Please don’t leave me, Carla. I still need you.”
Her eyes are on me but I can’t bear to look at her.
She doesn’t deny what I’ve said, just takes my hand in hers.
“If you really, truly need me to stay, I’ll stay.” She squeezes my fingers. “But you don’t need me.”
“I’ll always need you.” I don’t try to stop the tears from coming.
“But not like before,” she says gently.
Of course she’s right. I don’t need her to be here with me for eight hours a day. I don’t need constant care. But what will I do without her?
My tears turn into enormous sobs and she holds me in her arms and lets me cry until I reach the end of them.
“What will you do?”
She wipes at my face with the sides of her hands. “I might go back to working in a hospital.”
“Did you already tell my mom?”
“What did she say?”
“She thanked me for taking care of you.”
I don’t try to hide my scowl.
She holds my chin. “When are you going to find it in your heart to forgive her?”
“What she did is not forgivable.”
“She was sick, honey. She’s still sick.”
I shake my head. “She took my whole life away from me.” Even now, thinking about all the years I’ve lost makes me feel like I’m on the lip of an enormous chasm, like I could fall in and never come back out.
Carla nudges me back to the present. “Not your whole life,” she says. “You still have a lot left.”
We go back inside. I follow her around, watching her pack her things for the last time
“Did you ever read Flowers for Algernon?” I ask.
“Did you like it?”
“No. Not my kind of book. Not enough hope in it.”
“It made you cry, didn’t it?
She shakes her head no, but then confesses, “OK, yes, like a baby.”
We both laugh.
A week later my mom knocks on my door. I remain where I am on my couch. She knocks again more insistently, and my resentment rises. I’m not sure that our relationship will ever recover. It’s hard for me to forgive her when she doesn’t fully understand her crime.
I fling open the door as she’s about to knock again.
“Now’s not a good time,” I say.
She flinches, but I don’t care. I want to hurt her again and again. My anger is never very far away. I expected it to fade with the passage of time, but it’s still right there under the surface of things.
She takes a breath. “I got you something.” Her voice is small and confused.
I roll my eyes. “You think presents will help?”
I know I’ve hurt her again. The present shakes in her hand. I take it because I just want the conversation to be over. I want to lock myself away from her and not have to feel pity or empathy or compassion or anything.
She turns to go but then stops. “I still love you, Madeline. And you still love me. You have your whole life ahead of you. Don’t waste it. Forgive me.”
The End is the Beginning is the End
I open the present from my mom. It’s a phone. It’s open to a weather app with the forecast for the week—bright and sunny, every day.
I have to get out of the house. I go outside, not knowing where I’m going until I get there. Fortunately, the ladder is right where Olly left it. I climb it up to his roof.
The orrery’s still there and still beautiful. The tinfoil suns and moons and stars dangle and twist and reflect the sun’s rays back out into the bigger universe. I nudge one of the planets and the entire system rotates slowly. I understand why Olly made it. It’s soothing to see an entire world at once—to see the pieces and know how it all fits together.
Was it really just five months ago that I was last up here? It feels like a lifetime ago, like several lifetimes. And the girl that was here? Was that really me? Do I have anything in common with that past Maddy except a strong resemblance and a shared name?
When I was younger one of my favorite activities was imagining alternate-universe versions of myself. Sometimes I was a rosy-cheeked, outdoorsy girl who ate flowers and hiked alone, uphill, for miles. Or I was a skydiving, drag-racing, adrenaline-fueled daredevil. Or a chain mail–wearing, sword-swinging dragon slayer. It was fun to imagine those things because I already knew who I was. Now I don’t know anything. I don’t know who I’m supposed to be in my new world.