Picture yourself stepping into a small, cuboid room. In the center
squats an old recliner, upholstered in black vinyl. To the chair's back
is affixed a jointed metal arm, possibly on loan from a desk lamp. At
the end of the arm, where the bulb and shade would have gone, hangs
instead a sparkly gold motorcycle helmet, a vintage, visorless number
with a chin strap.
"It's safer than it looks," the woman standing beside you says, with an
edge of humor. Her eyes and hair verge on black, her skin on white. Her
voice has a hoarseness you might associate with loud bars and lack of
sleep, but other things about her - from her black skirt and blouse to her
low, neatly fastened ponytail - suggest alarm clocks and early-morning
jogs. Her name is Mira, short on the i. Mira Egghart.
Safe isn't the first word that comes to mind. A dozen or so symmetrical
holes have been bored into the helmet's shell, and from each of these
holes protrudes a small metal cylinder, and from the top of each cylinder
sprouts blue and red wires, forming a kind of venous net over the hemisphere.
That first word might be demented. Or menacing. The thing has
the look of some backroom torture apparatus, slapped together from
junk on hand with the aid of a covert operative's field manual.
"Have a seat," says Mira Egghart.
Maybe you're thinking better of it. This could be your last opportunity
to blurt apologies and flee. But just suppose that things haven't been
going well for you lately. Assume, for the sake of argument, that in fact
things have been going very, very badly. I hesitate to say how badly. Let's
say you founded a company that has more or less been stolen from you,
and now you're just about broke. Broke and alone. Having split with
your fiancé months before. And that these circumstances barely even
register because someone very close to you has been losing a battle with
cancer. Or has slipped into a coma. Perhaps this person is your business
partner. Your best friend. Your brother. Your identical twin. Let's go for
broke and say all of it, all the above, and that the thought of being back
out on the busy midday sidewalk - among all those people with places
to go and lives to lead - is enough to make the air turn viscous in your
lungs. Allow for the possibility, too, that - God help you - you're already
a little bit into this Mira Egghart.
Presto. You're Fred Brounian.
Or who he was then.
Fred Brounian sank lower in the chair than he'd anticipated. The
springs were worn. A tear in the vinyl ran along the inner wall of one
of the arms, bleeding yellow foam. He was facing the door, and next to
it, a rectangular window set into the wall, which he only then noticed.
Behind the glass lay another room, smaller still than this one, just deep
enough to fit two office chairs at what must have been a shallow, shelflike
desk supporting the two flatscreen monitors whose backs he could see.
As he watched, a tall, thin, sixtyish man with a gray Roman haircut
floated into view, like a walleye in an aquarium. The man eyed Fred
impassively over the straight edges of a pair of half-frame reading glasses
slightly wider than his head. Then the man, too, lowered himself into a
chair, sinking behind the monitor and out of view.
"We'll be watching over you the whole time," Mira Egghart explained.
She crossed to the other side of the recliner, taking a plastic jar from a steel
serving trolley. "I'm going to stick some electrodes to you. They're just to
record brain waves and vitals. I'll have to apply a little gel for conductivity."
She confronted him with a glistening dollop on her fingertip, and
proceeded to rub cool spots of the stuff onto his temples and the center
of his forehead. Silvery rings adorned at least three of her fingers, moving
too fast and close for him to get a good look. After gelling each point, she
reached down to the table for a poker-chip-sized white pad and stuck
it on. Her eyes avoided his as she worked, darting instead around the
various features of his cranium.
Kenn Nesbitt is new Children's Poet Laureate(Jun 12 2013) Kenn Nesbitt has been named the new Children's Poet Laureate: Consultant in Children's Poetry to the Poetry Foundation, which noted that the two-year position...