This short story is in response to
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How it works: Raven supplies two sets of words (or phrases) to use in a piece of writing. One can choose the ten- or five-word challenge ---or combine both into a fifteen word mega-challenge.
Tibetan sky, symbols, won’t you come home Bill Baily, shadow figures, brain cortex, practice makes perfect, life, start of school, lavender, chow down, mental hospital, falling leaves, apple cider, packing crates, clues
(Words from the challenge are in bold face in the story.)
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The adventures of Matty and Clem continue.
It took Matty and Clem nearly a week to cover Clem’s living room with foil, but only a few days for the kitchen, bedroom and bath. The old saying, “practice makes perfect” kept looping through Matty’s head.
Thursday evening, after completing the foil, they emptied the packing crates that held Clem’s belongings. In one Matty found a dozen new lavender T-shirts. Matty surmised that lavender had to be Clem’s favorite color, but Clem admitted he had purchased the shirts at a flea market, twelve for five dollars. Lavender was the only color in his size.
One crate held ten hand-woven throw rugs featuring unusual designs and symbols. Another held a small statue of Buddha. In his high school yearbook he was listed as Clement Altan Gyatso, an unusual name, Matty thought. Beside his photo, it said that Clem had been voted the most likely to become the next Dalai Lama. Each find seemed to be a clue to Clem’s life, although he didn’t talk about himself much. But Matty couldn’t put the clues together.
As usual Clem cooked dinner. He made enchiladas with chicken, beans, rice, cheese, and homemade salsa. Matty couldn’t help but chow down the delicious meal, but as usual, Clem seemed indifferent to his dinner once he started to eat.
When he walked her to her door, Clem invited Matty to accompany him to the mental hospital the next morning. All she could think about was the horrible three days she had spent in one of those places when her mother tried to have her committed, but Clem convinced her that he would make sure they didn’t try to keep her there.
Friday morning, Clem arrived holding two knitted caps, each lined with foil. He also carried a small cooler and suggested they have lunch in the park after his appointment.
Afraid to enter the hospital, Matty decided to sit outside while Clem saw his doctor. Several patients wandered the grounds. One asked her if her name were Bill. She shook her head. The patient stared at her for a full minute, then said, “Won’t you come home Bill Baily?” over and over. Matty had no idea what he meant, but figured the man himself might not know either. She was glad she wasn’t crazy like he was. It was everyone else, all those people trying to steal her thoughts who were deranged.
The park was quiet. There were a few adults pushing toddlers in strollers, but with the start of school, no other children were present.
They sat at a picnic table on the top of a hill that made it seem to Matty like they were on the highest peak in the world. Falling leaves floated around them, their colors vibrant in the sun. After they ate ham sandwiches and pumpkin cookies Clem had prepared, Clem sat staring at the horizon sipping from a small bottle of apple cider. Matty thought he might be in his usual mealtime grump, but then he started to talk.
“It looks like a Tibetan sky, today,” he said.
Matty snickered. “Like you’d know what the sky looks like in Tibet,” she said.
“Tibet has the highest average elevation of all the countries in the world, over three miles high. Tibet is called ‘the roof of the world.’”
“How do you know stuff like that?” Matty asked.
“I was born there. My mother was an American mountain climber who explored the Himalayas and my father was a Sherpa who helped the climbers. My parents raised sheep. My grandmother spun the wool and made the rugs we unpacked last night. She sold most of them to tourists.”
Matty said nothing. She just stared at Clem wondering what other interesting things she would learn from him.
“Occasionally, my father would still go to the mountains. On one expedition, three people plunged into a ravine, including my father. So my mother, sisters and I moved back here to live with my mother’s parents.”
“I’m sorry about your dad,” Matty said. Clem continued to stare the sky.
A few minutes later Matty asked, “So what do you mean that it looks like a Tibetan sky ?” She nodded toward the horizon.
“I was only five when we left Tibet, so I don’t remember much. My grandparents, even my father, seem like shadow figures to me now. But I do remember the skies. We were so high up, that the clouds were always low, just above the horizon, never high above us like they are here.”
Matty saw that all the clouds were near the horizon that day. They sat in near silence until a cold wind kicked up.
About half way home, Clem said, “I saw my doctor about test results. I had a brain scan several weeks ago.”
“Oh, no.” Matty stopped walking. Ringing her hands nervously, she said, “They stole your thoughts, didn’t they?”
“The court ruled if I didn’t have the tests they’d commit me, so I had to let them do it. Dr. Wallace promised he would erase all my thoughts from the results and would return them to me before any government people could get hold of them.”
“And you believed him?” Matty asked shrilly. “Oh, Clem. Oh, no.”
“He proved to me that he did what he said he would. He asked me a dozen questions before the test and I still knew the answers afterward. So they couldn’t have taken my thoughts away, could they, if I could still think?”
Matty nodded. That made some sense.
“So, the tests show that I have a thick cerebral cortex.”
Matty looked puzzled.
“That’s the brain cortex, the part of the brain that controls memory, among other things. The doctor said that thickness usually indicates intelligence. My IQ tests were above 150. I asked if my cortex is thick enough, if it would be very difficult for the government to steal my memory, my thoughts. He says I shouldn’t have to wear a foil cap any more.” He took off his hat. “What do you think about that?”
“Please put your cap back on. See that woman walking toward us? She’s pretending to use her cell phone. She’s trying to send radio signals to our brains. I can tell because I feel a buzzing in my ear.”
Clem quickly replaced his hat. “The other thing they found was that I have, uh...” He pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and read, “Dysgeusia.”
“That sounds terrible.”
“Because of a zinc deficiency my sense of taste is distorted or decreased. That’s why I don’t enjoy eating. The doc gave me a prescription which he says should help.”
Finally they arrived at the apartment building. It had been the longest Matty had been outside at one time for years and suddenly, she felt exhausted. She was glad to get home to her cat, who had managed to remove his aluminum helmet. Matty tied it under his chin again and crawled into bed for a nap, but she couldn’t sleep.
Matty worried that if Clem no longer needed to wear a foil cap, he might not want to hang out with her anymore. Or if he removed the foil in his apartment, she wouldn’t be able to visit him anymore. Or what if he stopped wearing his helmet and then his memory was stolen? He would no longer be Clem. And he might stop working on his brain-wave blocking machine.
Matty finally decided no matter how frightening it was for her, Clem was a very smart man and he would make the right decisions. But she was still worried sick about him.
(©2009, C.J. Peiffer)