“It’s pretty up here.” Caroline ran a finger along the inside wall of the ivory tower in which she stood. She looked out the tiny window at the people on the sidewalk.
“They look small down there, don’t they?” Derrick sneered. “Small and insignificant.” “You would too, from sixty feet up.” Caroline crossed the room and picked up a book from the stack on his desk. “How did you come to be here, anyway?”
She sat in the tower’s lone chair and crossed her arms. “Try me.”
He leaned against the wall. “I lived in an orphanage.” “How long?”
“Since I was two days old.” “I’m sorry…”
Derrick waved away her comment. “You don’t need to be. I know nothing else. Besides,” he left the window and went to his desk. He straightened the book Caroline had just set down. “My father was a thief. I have no time for criminals.” “But your mother. Couldn’t she…?”
“Died giving birth to me. Also a thief, I’m told. No relatives on either side. I was a clean slate.” “What about foster homes? Surely someone…”
“I was too different, Caroline. They called me strange; off, somehow. I was a quiet child. A well-mannered child. A lonely child.” He smiled. Nobody wanted to befriend a literate three year old.”
“Surely you didn't read at three."
“I was ignored at the orphanage. Left to my own devices. I taught myself to read. To learn. To think. By the time I was four, I knew more than the janitor. By the time I was six, I knew more than the cooks. Every day at lunchtime, I looked at them standing there behind that line, those little automatons with slotted serving spoons. Every day they scooped diced carrots and wrinkled peas upon my tray, even though I told them time and again that I despised peas. They told me I didn’t know what was good for me; that peas would make me grow big and strong. They didn’t listen to me. I doubt they even saw me. Watching them, I told myself that beneath their green hair nets they had brains no bigger than those wrinkled peas. “They were just trying to help you, Derrick.”
“I would eat my lunch and return to my room and read. Nobody liked me, Caroline.” He glanced at her. “And so, books became my friends. I could count on books.” “But people…”
“Despised me. The more I knew, the more people hated me. They were jealous; jealous of my mind.” He gestured around his tower. “And so I came here. Book by book, I built this place.” “Don’t you get lonely up here?”
“Everything I need is here.” “You can’t eat thoughts. You can’t fall in love with ideas.”
“Oh, but I can, Caroline.” “But people…” She pointed towards the window. “Out there is life and love. Out there, people walk their dogs and argue and make up and laugh. People pay their bills and go to parties and paint their houses.”
“All illusory. There is nothing out there that I need.” “But I need you.”
He shook his head. “I’m sorry.” “You came back.” Derrick smiled. “I knew you would like it better here.” “I found your father.”
“You wasted your time.”
“For one year,” she said, voice trembling, “I went from jail to jail. I reviewed court documents. I wrote letters. I interviewed judges.” Again, she ran a finger along the wall of the tower. This time it felt cold and uninviting and sterile. “He’s close by.” “My father is a criminal.”
She held out a letter. “I’m not so sure that he is.” Derrick glanced at it. “His handwriting is atrocious.”
“I don’t care.”
Caroline tore open the envelope. She began to read: Derrick,
Do you know your mother always called you her little professor? She would be proud of you. And I am. Proud of you. Three books to your name already! Like you, I wanted to be a doctor. A medical doctor, not one of those fancy doctors you are. Caroline told me a little bit about it, but I’ve been a bit out of touch for quite some time. I don’t understand everything you do. But it sounds noble and good and just and I think you’ll understand the reasons why…”
Derrick held up his hand. “Here’s the part where he makes excuses. Spare me, Caroline.” He turned and looked out the window at the little people below. “…why I did it. Your mother was ill. She was going to die. But they wouldn’t give me the medicine she needed; the insurance company wouldn’t pay; they told me the supplies were limited; that it was an experimental drug. But I knew, Derrick. I knew who was getting that drug. The rich and famous were.”
Derrick turned, frowning. “Yes, I stole that drug. It was easy. The big guys; those guys who think they’re all important—the docs; the CEOs; the nurses—they don’t see guys like me. They see the broom and the ring of keys when they need a door unlocked. Yeah, I unlocked the door that night. I stole that drug to save the life of your mother. I did it to save the life of my child. But it was too late. Your mother died. They told me you died with her. The hospital pressed charges. They had me put in jail. I went from being an insignificant janitor to a criminal. And they still didn’t see me. They didn’t hear my explanations.”
“I…” Derrick blinked back tears. His ivory tower crumbled around him. Caroline smiled to herself.
That night, Derrick burned his books. He burned his desk. He burned his notes. He headed to the hospital, intending to burn that next. And so, on the day that his father was released from jail, Derrick was sentenced to forty years of solitary confinement.
He never touched a book again.
For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week,<Airicka Phoenix challenged me with "Re-write Rapunzel, but no girl locked in the tower, no long golden hair. This time, it’s the guy in the tower. How does our girl rescue the prince (no long hair)? I challenged Bewildered Bug with "the flatness of it all."
Before tackling this prompt, I re-read a translation of the original Rapunzel, which is somewhat different from the modern version. In the original version, Rapunzel intends to escape with the prince via a silk ladder she’s weaving. The witch, learning of these plans, cuts off Rapunzel’s hair and removes her from the tower to a desolate place far away. When the prince goes to visit Rapunzel, it’s the witch who meets him inside the tower. To save himself, he leaps from the tower and is blinded when he falls in a patch of thorns. For one year, the blind prince wanders, until he finally finds Rapunzel and their twin babies. Upon seeing him, she weeps. Two of her tears fall into his eyes, restoring his sight.
Labels: Fiction, IndieInk