It is sunset. The sky is splendid through the panes of my bedroom window; billowing layers of cumulous blazing with refracted oranges and reds. I think if only it weren’t for the glass, I could reach out and touch the cloudscape, perhaps leave my own trail of turbulence in the swirling patterns that will soon deepen to indigo.
But the window is there, and I feel trapped.
Behind me my parents and a specialist from the neurological research institute are sitting on folding chairs they’ve brought in from the kitchen, quietly discussing my future. They do not know I am listening. They think that, because I do not choose to respond, I do not notice they are there.
“Would there be side effects?” My father asks. In the oppressive heat of the evening, I hear the quiet Zzzap of his shoulder laser as it targets mosquitoes. The device is not as effective as it was two years ago: the mosquitoes are getting faster.
My father is a believer in technology, and that is why he contacted the research institute. He wants to fix me. He is certain there is a way.
“There would be no side effects in the traditional sense,” the specialist says. I like him even though his presence makes me uncomfortable. He chooses his words very precisely. “We’re talking about direct synaptic grafting, not drugs. The process is akin to bending a sapling to influence the shape of the grown tree. We boost the strength of key dendritic connections and allow brain development to continue naturally. Young neurons are very malleable.”
“And you’ve done this before?” I do not have to look to know my mother is frowning.
My mother does not trust technology. She has spent the last ten years trying to coax me into social behavior by gentler means. She loves me, but she does not understand me. She thinks I cannot be happy unless I am smiling and laughing and running along the beach with other teenagers.
“The procedure is still new, but our first subject was a young woman about the same age as your daughter. Afterwards, she integrated wonderfully. She was never an exceptional student, but she began speaking more and had an easier time following classroom procedure.”
“What about Hannah’s... talents?” my mother asks. I know she is thinking about my dancing; also the way I remember facts and numbers without trying. “Would she lose those?”
The specialist’s voice is very firm, and I like the way he delivers the facts without trying to cushion them. “It’s a matter of trade-offs, Mrs. Didier. The brain cannot be optimized for everything at once. Without treatment, some children like Hannah develop into extraordinary individuals. They become famous, change the world, learn to integrate their abilities into the structures of society. But only a very few are that lucky. The others never learn to make friends, hold a job, or live outside of institutions.”
“And... with treatment?”
“I cannot promise anything, but the chances are very good that Hannah will lead a normal life.”
I have pressed my hand to the window. The glass feels cold and smooth beneath my palm. It appears motionless although I know at the molecular level it is flowing. Its atoms slide past each other slowly, so slowly; a transformation no less inevitable for its tempo. I like glass — also stone — because it does not change very quickly. I will be dead, and so will all of my relatives and their descendants, before the deformations will be visible without a microscope.
I feel my mother’s hands on my shoulders. She has come up behind me and now she turns me so that I must either look in her eyes or pull away. I look in her eyes because I love her and because I am calm enough right now to handle it. She speaks softly and slowly.
“Would you like that, Hannah? Would you like to be more like other teenagers?”
Neither yes nor no seems appropriate, so I do not say anything. Words are such fleeting, indefinite things. They slip through the spaces between my thoughts and are lost.
She keeps looking at me, and I consider giving her an answer I’ve been saving. Two weeks ago she asked me whether I would like a new pair of dancing shoes and if so, what color. I have collected the proper words in my mind, smooth and firm like pebbles, but I decide it is not worth speaking them. Usually by the time I answer a question, people have forgotten that they asked it.
The word they have made for my condition is temporal autism. I do not like it, both because it is a word and because I am not certain I have anything in common with autists beyond a disinclination for speech.
They are right about the temporal part, though.
My mother waits twelve-point-five seconds before releasing my shoulders and returning to sit on the folding chair. I can tell she is unhappy with me, so I climb down from the window ledge an -- [End of Preview.]