Authors: Harry Steinman
Eva treated Mama and Papa with silent hostility. She broke her silence to indict, try, and convict them as accessories in Gergana’s death. “You must pay,” she ruled.
“We lose our daughter and you threaten us? What do you want?” Mama asked.
“Send me to America. I want to be away from you.”
“Impossible. We have no money. We spent everything for your sister’s funeral.”
Eva stared at her mother and then handed her a brochure for a foreign studies program organized by the Hidden Scholar Foundation. The charity sought brilliant children from the most troubled neighborhoods around the world. These they gathered at magnet schools in the United States. Her school’s principal had suggested the program.
“I will go here. You will submit my application.”
Eva’s stellar academic record bolstered the application as did an embarrassing wealth of recommendations from educators who dreaded her return. Fate smiled. The Hidden Scholar Foundation accepted Eva and provided a stipend for all of her expenses. She would enter a high school in America, in East Los Angeles.
Before she left Sofia, Eva kept a promise and returned to see to Coombs. Today he wore a round flat cap, its small brim snapped shut, and pulled low over one eye. Despite his girth and floral necktie, he looked mysterious, as if his hidden eye held a secret.
“You’re leaving?” Coombs asked.
“How did you know?”
Coombs did not answer but beckoned Eva follow him, and the two walked back into his kitchen area. “Tea?”
She nodded and he directed her to a small three-legged stool near one of his bookshelves. There was a newly-framed composition on the wall facing the Pollock grouping. A woman looked out at the viewer. Midway down the work, the woman blended into another, upside down.
“This reminds me of a playing card,” said Eva, “but the upside-down woman is different.”
“How so?” asked Coombs.
“Well, either the artist isn’t very good or he’s trying to paint two different people. The one on the bottom has big arms and her face is, I don’t know, sort of the same, sort of different.”
“Could it be the same person, but two different ways of showing something about her?”
“I don’t know. Their mouths are similar, and the shape of their heads. But one is so muscular and the other one is like a normal lady. It’s like the same person on different days.”
“Very good, Eva. The painting is called ‘Portrait of My Sister and Picasso Figure.’ The artist is Salvador Dalí. He painted things that he saw in dreams and his imagination.”
“What’s it supposed to mean? That his sister was weak and strong?” Eva asked.
“What’s it mean to you?”
Eva frowned and studied the framed work. “This is a print?”
“Oh, my heavens, yes. What I wouldn’t do to have an original Dalí. He is my favorite artist and his paintings are priceless. But, tell me, what does it mean to you?”
“I like that he could tell you two true stories about the same person. Maybe the woman has two different personalities.”
Coombs nodded approval and said, “Tea’s ready. I’ll get some pastries. Meantime, grab the stool and see if you can find a book on the second shelf from the top. It has a light green binding. It’s called
The Secret Garden.
“Here it is,” Eva said. “What’s so good about it?”
“The heroine, Mary Lennox. She reminds me of you. Mary finds a healing garden. I think you need your own secret garden. Please, take the book. There’ll come a time when it might make sense to you. Or if not that one, call me and I’ll find you another.”
Eva examined the book and then replaced it. “Maybe some other time.”
“Please? Humor me. Take the book and read it someday. When you do, call me and tell me I’m a fool. Or ask me for another. I see great things for you, Eva, but I see struggles, too. The better you know yourself, the better you’ll face your struggles.”
“If I read it I’ll let you know.”
At that, Coombs smiled so broadly that his eyes all but disappeared. “My dear Eva, I shall hold you to that promise. And I should be honored if you would consider me a friend.”
Mama and Papa bade no farewell to Eva. Let this new land and its school have her. Mama had come to believe that her baby was a
the demon in Bulgarian lore who tries to consume the sun and moon and end the world.
By her thirty-sixth birthday, Eva would fully justify Mama’s concerns.
THE ROZEN PLAN
WEDNESDAY, MAY 19, 2038
va stared at Jim, waiting for an answer. She heard dogs barking in the kennels. Haven Memorial personnel came and went. Each glanced at her and then looked again, as if to confirm what their eyes had seen. Eva was accustomed to stares and ignored the attention. Anyway, getting Marta and Jim to work with her at NMech was the priority.
“I’ll listen to your proposal, but no promises—even for an old friend. If Marta agrees, where would you start?” Jim asked. “Do you have a project in mind? Where are you going to find the capital to do the research, the manufacturing, and the trials?”
Eva waved away his questions. “All worked out. We can stay profitable and she can attack some of the issues that are important to her. I don’t run a charity, but if she gives me what I need, then she can go help poor people all she wants.”
“Do you mean it, Eva?”
“Ever known me to lie?”
“Not to me. What do you want?”
“Three things,” said Eva. “First,” she held up a stubby index finger. “Give me a control system for the nanomeds, something from a central source. Magnetism or magic, I don’t care. But I need control.”
“Let’s say that’s possible. What else?”
Eva held up a second finger, ticking off her list. “Help me introduce NMech’s first health product.”
Jim looked puzzled. “Medicine is a long-term deal. You’ve got simulations and trials. That could take years.”
“Trust me, it won’t,” Eva replied.
“How can you be so sure?”
“I have a plan.”
Jim chuckled. “The famous Rozen Plan. What’s the third thing?”
“I need your wife. She’ll listen to you. Get her on board.”
“You sure you want to work with her again?” Jim stared. “I thought that you and she—”
“That’s history. Disregard it. I need her. She’s got some weird juju. She takes a walk in the park, comes back with a cure for something. She started by looking for a remedy for her JRA and now she has the largest library of plant-based meds in the world. I know about the work she did in Floresta Amazonica and the Borneo-Mekong. She even has friends in the Dzanga-Sangha Park in the Congo.”
“For two people who haven’t spoken in years, you seem to be up on her career.”
“She knows what plants have medicinal properties. I want that. If it takes public health to get Marta to grace us with her knowledge, then the masses will have their day.”
Jim shrugged. “Eva, this might work. Where will you start? How will you fund the research and the trials?”
Eva held up her hand again, another communications protocol gesture. This time Jim mimicked the gesture. Eva’s cue told Jim that she was about to transmit a file. Jim’s cue indicated willingness to receive. Eva subvocalized the commands to her sleeve. It emitted a focused electronic burst. Jim’s sleeve interrogated to confirm the nature, source, and safety of the transmission, then pinged acceptance.
Eva studied Jim as he peered into a holographic heads-up display that projected from his dataslate. His eyes tracked back and forth as they scanned. Corneal implants, a bit like contact lenses of a prior generation, allowed him to read the holographic text. His eyes widened and narrowed as they pored over the file. His brows pulled down—first puzzled, then annoyed, and then angry.
“Eva. What the hell is this? You call this public health?”
“No, you idiot. It’s exactly what it looks like: a simple over-the-counter remedy to fix a medically unimportant problem that no one has addressed. We don’t need FDA trials for this. Labeling? Public process? Panel review? Yes. But clinical trials? No. The active ingredients are already approved. Just read a little further and you’ll see why I picked this to start.”
Jim shook his head. “Eva, you know something? You can be a real pain in the ass.”
She beamed. It was her habit to get the better of others lest they get the better of her. It wasn’t easy with Jim, but she counted coup.
At first, Jim’s face betrayed no expression as he read on, then he grinned and started to laugh. Eva stiffened.
He thinks this is a joke
, she thought. She flushed and turned to leave. Now even the quiet Voices were raucous. Mama shrieked in derision.
“No, Eva,” Jim managed to get the words out. “Stop.” He threw an arm around Eva’s shoulders and gave a fraternal squeeze. Eva stiffened for a moment, then softened and leaned into Jim’s half embrace.
“Eva, you’re too much. This is great.” Jim was still chuckling. “I underestimated you. You’re two steps ahead of us, as usual. I’ll talk to Plant Lady tonight.”
Marta Cruz was steeping herbs when Jim palmed open the front door of their Brookline apartment. The low-grade fever was back. Fatigue and pain pulled the muscles in her face tight. She rubbed young stinging nettle leaves on her skin to produce an irritation that brought blood to the surface and reduced the swelling. Then she sipped her tea: false garlic, cascarilla, and chinchona bark. She’d been taught the remedy by her grandmother, her
The brew had little to recommend by way of taste, but it would ease the pain.