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Eye Quest

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Eye Quest

by Jeffrey Freedman

Eyes—all he could see were her eyes and eyebrows, nothing else. Cat-like eyes. Seductive, beautiful eyes, green eyes below sharp, straight jet-black eyebrows. He could spend an eternity staring into those hypnotic eyes. They began to move away, and he followed them. He saw the flash of her inviting mouth, and he chased. Long flowing blonde hair bounced off her bare neck. He reached and missed. Two perfect breasts flashed before his eyes, and then her discarded negligee flew into his face. He pulled it away from his face…and stared at a green translucent rectangular thing in the center of his dish.

I know what that is. I’m sure I know what that is. He tapped the side of the plate, and the vibration jiggled the green square. What is it called? I know it. I know, I know what it is, but I can’t remember.

A tall man in a white lab jacket entered the room, escorting a young woman dressed in a red blouse and skirt. She smiled and held out her hands. “Mother,” he sobbed as she enfolded him in her arms. He looked up and saw the garbage truck careening toward the driver’s side door, her door. “Look!” he yelled, pointing. But she wasn’t looking, and she wasn’t listening. Instead, she yelled, “No, you listen to me—” Everything moved in slow motion. He could see her hand pointing aggressively and a hint of a blue sleeve. Then his world imploded.

“Aaaaa!” Bob screamed, shooting up out of bed. His body straightened, and pain radiated down his back. As he rotated his shoulders, the pain intensified and traveled up his spine. He looked out the window, but it was still dark. Then he glanced at the clock on the end table.

Damn. It was just past 3:00 a.m.

He closed his eyes and tried to remember the dream. This time, he had seen her breasts, lovely, beautiful breasts. He closed his eyes and tried to picture them again, but the memory was fading fast. He picked up a pencil and pad and began to sketch quickly before the memory faded. He had seen her in more detail. Dozens of images of the same catlike eyes hung about the room, as if all watching to observe Bob’s progress. Some were partial faces, which included lips and hair. A few even had chins and cheeks.

He put the pencil down and examined his new masterpiece. This time, he had also sketched the curve of her neck, her long flowing hair, and those perfect breasts. This was his best sketch yet, with by far the most detail. He studied the sketch carefully and wondered who she was. How could have I remembered her breasts? he wondered. Could she have been my lover? He must have known her just before the accident. He couldn’t remember, but he intuitively felt the connection. If his mother knew anything, she didn’t want him to know the truth. But he thought that he had seen a hint of recognition in his mother’s eyes when he’d asked and she’d denied knowing anything about the girl. Bob remembered his mother awkwardly avoiding eye contact and looking uncomfortably at her hands—highly suspicious, but not definitive proof.

It was possible he’d had a crush on the girl from afar, but he knew his feelings were real. Every time he stared into her eyes, his heart ached, and his body yearned for her. If only he could remember who she was, perhaps he could find her. But his mother seemed to be hiding all evidence of the girl. They had moved across the country immediately after the accident, and he couldn’t persuade his mother to visit their old neighborhood. She had insisted that he was too weak to travel and that she was just trying to protect him. He found that impossible to believe.

Bob looked again at the clock—it was 3:35 a.m.—and he thought about the room. He smiled. He could search the room today. His heart raced at the thought. He carefully put the sketch under his mattress, stumbled out of bed and pulled on a pair of pants.

His mother always kept the room locked. There had to be something great hidden inside. Why else would she have locked it? She claimed she was storing her grandfather’s stuff while he was being cared for in a nursing home, and she wanted to respect his privacy. Maybe. But Bob intuitively felt that clues to his past were hidden behind those doors. Perhaps there was some information about his father. Perhaps there were pictures of his dream girl. Bob didn’t know, but he had to find out.

He had originally planned to get into the room during the day by faking an illness to stay home from school. A year ago, he wouldn’t have considered missing a class, but now school was easy. After his car accident, he had been virtually a vegetable. All memories of his life before the accident had been erased. The doctors called it a traumatic brain injury. But he had gone through extensive rehabilitative therapy for his body and his mind. After one year, he had relearned how to read, write, and do basic math. By the end of the second year, he was already better at math and physics than his teachers. Concepts came quickly to him. It was almost as if the injuries to his brain had somehow enhanced his abilities and transformed him from an ordinary student before the accident into a genius afterward. He didn’t need school. He was smarter than all his teachers.

However, in the end, he had decided against staying home from school. His mother kept the motion detectors in the attic activated during the day. It was only in the evening when she was home that she turned off the alarm. That meant he would have to break in at night while she was asleep. And this could be the night. His heart raced at the thought. He imagined finding an address, buying a plane ticket, and traveling across the country to meet his dream girl. They would tear off each other’s clothes and…Bob shook his head. He had to stop daydreaming and get into the room before his mother woke up.

He opened the top drawer of his oak dresser and pulled out a six-inch by three-inch metal plate labeled “Flat Monkey”. Bob put the monkey in his pocket and carefully walked into the hallway. As quietly as he could, he crept up the wooden staircase. The top of the staircase opened up into an unfinished room with slanted rafters that gave it the look of a prism with pink insulation stapled between the joists in and on the floor. Bob walked as quietly as he could along a narrow plank in the center that prevented him from stepping through the ceiling. He reached the door at the end of the room and carefully placed the monkey at the foot of the door. In its current configuration, the monkey looked like a rectangular block of metal only half an inch thick, but when Bob touched the back, a tiny leg popped out of each of the four corners. Bob put on his control glasses and clicked on the arm to initiate the motion. Inside the glasses, he could see everything the monkey saw. He controlled the monkey using hand gestures and head movements as observed by the control glasses, which he had used many times to control his Dragon Destroyer video games. With no dragons to battle, controlling the monkey was easy.

Bob maneuvered the monkey under the door. Once on the other side, the monkey unfolded into a one-foot-tall, fully articulated robot with two legs, two arms, two hands, and a camera for a head. The monkey climbed up a two-by-four and leapt onto the door handle. Then it unlocked the door. Bob’s heart raced as he carefully pushed the door open and looked inside. He dared not turn on the light. Instead, he pulled the monkey off the door and shone its pencil light around the room. Boxes of all shapes and sizes filled the interior. This was it! His past was almost certainly hidden in one of these boxes.

Bob saw a box that looked different from the others. It was newer, and a different shape. Curious, Bob opened it, looked inside and began to riffle through the papers and junk in the box. Bob picked up a picture frame and slowly flipped it over, expecting to see an image of his mother and his real father. But it was a picture of a group of three young men, two women, and a small child congregated in front of a brick house. Bob didn’t recognize any of them, but the house seemed familiar.

He picked up what looked like a small white jewelry box. He opened it and saw a gold chain necklace attached to a flat circular gold compass with its needle pointing to his left. Next to the needle, a red light blinked slowly. Under the light was the number 33. Bob turned the compass in his hand, and the needle rotated so that it continued to point to his left. Very strange, Bob thought. North was to his back, not to his left. He noticed a small clasp on the bottom of the compass, like a locket, and carefully opened it. His heart skipped a beat. Inside he saw catlike eyes staring back at him as if from his dreams. He wanted to reach out and caress her cheek and her beautiful blonde hair. A flood of remembered emotions overwhelmed him. He could not remember specific events, but he felt joy, longing, and despair at not being with her. He closed his eyes and could almost smell her. He had no doubt that this was her, the woman in his dreams. Beneath the photo of her amazing angelic face, he read the inscription:


Robert,
I am yours forever.
Love,
Cindy

Cindy. Yes. That was right. The name felt right. Bob smiled. Now he had a name to go with the face. They had been lovers, he remembered. He closed his eyes and remembered her naked in bed at his side, smiling seductively. He had to have her. He had to touch her. He had to be near her. Then, with a sudden jolt, he realized that he could find her. He could find her today. The compass pointed the way. Thirty-three meant that she was only 33 miles away. She wore an identical compass around her neck, and they pointed toward each other. His heart raced. He would ride his bicycle to the ends of the Earth to find her.

#

Cathy stumbled out of her room and paused in the doorway, trying to force her body to wake up. She casually glanced at her watch. Damn. She’d never make it to the meeting on time. Why the hell did I wake up so late? Usually, Bob woke her up as he scrounged around in the kitchen for breakfast. That boy could wake the dead with all the racket he made. Cathy smiled, thinking about Bob. She could see dramatic improvements every day. He was already brilliant again. Now she was certain that she had done the right thing. She was actually starting to think of him as her real son. Now they were a family, and she hoped he would never find out or remember the truth.

Bob’s door was still closed. That’s odd. He must have slept in. She knocked. “Bob,” she called. “Wake up! You have to get ready for school. You only have another 10 minutes…Bob?”

Cathy opened the door and saw his empty bed. “Bob!” she yelled. No answer.

She went back into her bedroom and sat down at her computer console. She typed a few keys and activated the tracking system that located the GPS chip embedded under Bob’s skin. The map on the screen zoomed out from her house so that she could see a detailed map from space. Where the hell are you? she wondered. Then she saw a red dot flashing on the map. Terror rose through her body.

Oh God! No. He must have remembered something from his past. He was heading toward the home he had lived in for most of his life. What would happen to him when he got there? Cathy closed her eyes and imagined him finding out the truth. Her stomach tightened into a knot. I can’t let that happen! Somehow she had to find him and stop him.

#

Dressed in shorts and a bike helmet, Bob raced his bike down the suburban street, following the compass heading. The trip odometer read 40 miles and, according to the compass, he still had another 10 to go. It was difficult navigating with only “as the crow flies” directions to guide him. He had a GPS attached to his steering wheel, but he didn’t have a destination to enter. He had already run into several cul-de-sacs.

Bob looked at the street sign and stopped to study the GPS map to see if turning left would lead to a dead end. A young boy and a girl chased a ball around a yard shaded by a brick Mae West house. The ball bounced across the sidewalk, and Bob stopped it with his foot. As he bent over, pain shot up through his back. He used the bike to push himself to an upright position and tossed the ball to the children. He looked at the other children playing in the other yards and wondered what it would be like to live the rest of his life with Cindy.

An eclectic mix of Mae West homes filled the community. The builder had designed each house in a different style. Several had brick exteriors, others had a more contemporary look, and Bob had even seen one built in a Tudor style. However, they all had the same basic shape that maximized outdoor yard space and indoor floor space. Like Mae West herself, the buildings curved in at the waist, although you had to imagine that the below-ground basement represented her hips. Bob had seen a picture of the interior of a Mae West house in a magazine. The ground floor was nothing more than staircases that led up to the second floor and down to the basement. It was only about ten feet wide by fifteen feet deep, leaving plenty of room for outdoor yard space.

Anticipating his meeting with Cindy, he began to feel nervousness in the pit of his stomach. Had someone told her he was dead? Had she gone on with her life? It was a distinct possibility. She had apparently never tried to find him. Or perhaps she had tried but couldn’t. Maybe she had searched fruitlessly and had found no trace of him. Then Bob thought about the compass. She must have known where I was. Why didn’t she visit?

Bob opened the compass. Studying her face, he realized that she looked older than a 15-year-old girl. Much older. She looked more like 20 or maybe even 30. Bob had a sudden revelation. He had been dating his teacher. That explained everything. He had read about students having affairs with their teachers. That was why his mother had hidden the past from him. That was why Cindy hadn’t come to find him. They had been secret lovers. It all made sense now. Bob’s heart soared now that he had finally figured out the truth. Once he found her, they’d have to escape to a foreign country with less strict morality laws. Maybe Tahiti. It didn’t matter as long as they were together.

#

Cathy gripped the steering wheel so tightly her fingers turned white. She had to find Bob before anything happened, before he found out anything. All she cared about was finding Bob, bringing him home safely, and preventing him from finding out the truth. Her son, Bob. Yes, damn it, her son.

She pulled the car into the intelligent highway’s acceleration lane, and the car took control. The car accelerated to 120 and pulled into the fast lane. Cathy pried her hands off the steering wheel and lay back in the seat.

Cathy closed her eyes and prayed that Bob was still okay. Why now? He was so happy and finally fitting in at school. Almost normal. Cathy held her face in her hands. How much of the truth did he remember?

She recalled that day three years earlier when she had first entered the mental rehabilitation center. A dozen children, all with traumatic brain injuries, filled the first room she passed. From the outside, at least, they appeared happy, all playing together in some kind of supervised recess.

Cathy held her head in her hand and tried not to think about it. What would happen if he learned the truth? She knew that he didn’t have much time left, and she prayed with all her soul that his last years would be happy years.

#

Bob saw the small brick building, stopped the bike, and looked at the compass. He had another half mile to go, but he recognized the building. It was the building in the photo he had found in the box. Bob stared at the house and began to imagine himself walking through the doorway. He crossed the foyer and saw a nondescript woman wearing an apron walking into the kitchen. On the table, he saw three cooked chickens, a bowl of mashed potatoes, and a salad. The countertops were covered with cakes, cookies, pastries, candies, and chocolates.

The woman in the apron picked up a plate of chicken and began to walk toward him, but he couldn’t see her face. A dozen small children raced by, pushing him aside. Someone bumped against him, and he turned to see an infectious smile. His mother’s smile…but it wasn’t his mother. Bob clearly pictured a young child with his mother’s face racing away through a familiar home. How can that be?

He remembered the child. Cathy? As the realization of the truth flooded his thoughts his face fell.

He looked at the compass, which told him only half a mile further. He now knew what he would find a half a mile away in the direction of the arrow. No…please, no…it can’t be. Bob felt as if his world were collapsing around him.

He got on his bike and raced as fast as he could down the street. He didn’t bother looking at the compass. He knew instinctively where to go. He rode up the driveway surrounded by the large metal gates. Bob looked at the compass, and his heart sank. He was less than a tenth of a mile from her. He pedaled down the path and stopped at the site. He awkwardly got off the bike and let it fall to the ground.

Bob closed his eyes and could see the garbage truck careening toward the driver’s side door, her door. Then she turned toward him, and he could clearly see her catlike eyes before the truck smashed into the side of the car. “No…! he screamed.

He opened his eyes and stumbled toward the tombstone. He read the inscription and the fifty year old date of her death. Then he fell to his knees and wept.

#

Tears streamed down Cathy’s face as she entered the old neighborhood. The GPS tracker indicated that Bob was still a half a mile away. He had passed by the house and was heading toward the cemetery. He must have remembered everything.

She had always been afraid of this day. That was why she had mixed feelings about his progress in school. Everything had started to come back to him. His teachers thought that he might be some kind of savant but, in fact, he had been starting to recall subjects that he had already learned. And that was when Cathy suspected that he might eventually learn the truth.

She thought again about that day three years ago. In spite of everything, she did not regret her decision. She remembered passing the pediatric ward and then entering Bob’s wing. The doctor had escorted her into his room.

Cathy had stared at the pitiful old man lying propped up in his hospital bed staring blankly at a cube of green Jell-O.

She had felt the blood drain from her face. She hadn’t seen him in years, and he looked nothing like his former vibrant self. He had been a brilliant, respected man, the chief technology officer of a large communications engineering firm. He had given lectures around the world, and people had paid to hear him. Today, he probably didn’t know his own name.

She regretted not traveling to visit him before. She had been his only grandchild and now he was her only living relative.

Cathy recalled all the wonderful presents he had given her over the years from all the exotic places he had visited: masks from Africa, boomerangs from Australia, a stuffed Beefeater bear from London. Cathy smiled; the stuffed bear still kept guard on her bed. Even when he couldn’t visit her in person, her grandfather would always send something in the mail.

But it wasn’t just the presents. He had been a wonderful grandfather. When she was 12 years old, he had taken her camping for the weekend. They had slept in tents and cooked marshmallows on an open flame. Even when the thunderstorm hit and everything had gotten wet, she had been happy just being close to him. Cathy recalled that even back then she had seen some of the first signs of the disease. He couldn’t remember the word “marshmallow.” Cathy bit her lip, trying to keep herself from showing too much emotion in front of the doctor.

The doctor walked to her grandfather’s bedside. “I would really love to help you. But his insurance runs out in five days,” he said. “But you’ll be happy to know that he is completely cured.”

“How can he be cured? He has the mental acuity of a two-year-old.” Cathy remembered saying. “What am I going to do? He can’t talk. He doesn’t know his name. How can you say he’s cured?”

The doctor had folded his arms and looked thoughtful. “The Alzheimer’s is cured, but the brain damage is already done. Once a brain cell is dead, it stays dead. It would take years to train him. Your grandfather is an old man. He has lived his life. And his insurance won’t cover rehabilitation. Can you afford a nursing home?”

Cathy didn’t respond, but the doctor saw the look in her eyes and smiled sympathetically. “I’m sorry. He’s too old. The young kids have their whole lives in front of them. That’s why they’re covered. We keep them here for a year of therapy, and then we put them into public schools. But they’re children. I’m sorry there’s nothing I can do.”

Cathy’s grandfather looked at her with large puppy-dog eyes. “Mother?” he cried feebly.

Oh God, he thinks I’m his mother, Cathy thought pityingly. She enfolded him in her arms. He pulled away and stared at the lamp perched on an end table. “Look!” he yelled, pushing her away as he ducked his head. Cathy knew he was reliving the car accident that had killed her grandmother nearly 50 years earlier. Oh, Grandpa…how can your worst nightmare be your only clear memory?

That was when Cathy brought her grandfather home with her and decided to feed him youth pills. She had been offered stolen youth pills from Susan, one of her coworkers at StarCross Pharmaceuticals. Apparently they were the result of a research project that had been stopped after several test subjects died of organ failure.

Susan explained that the physical manifestations of aging were primarily driven by cells with damaged DNA, lipids, and proteins. The youth drug introduced a genetically engineered virus that targeted and destroyed cells with significant damage while leaving undamaged youthful cells intact. With the damaged cells removed, the remaining relatively healthy cells would receive all the nutrients and could thrive and, in some cases, divide and produce new healthy cells.

Bob’s looks changed slowly over a six-month period. His skin tightened. His muscles shrank in size but their strength and definition improved. Even his hair began to grow back, colored black after undamaged cells in his hair follicles apparently reproduced. However, since his bones didn’t shrink significantly, he began to look like a gawky adolescent.

Cathy parked the car in the cemetery parking lot, got out, and began walking to the grave site. Poor Bob lay fast asleep on the grave. She knelt down and gently shook his shoulder. “Honey, wake up. It’s time to go home.”

Bob looked back at her wearily. “Mother?” he asked weakly. She could see the dried tear tracks on his face. She hugged him tightly and then helped him up to his feet. Together, they walked silently to the car.

©2010

 

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