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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
Progress Report 14
The next day’s headlines are all about how the "Moron Genius and Mouse Go Berserk." Charlie is astonished to read a news item about his sister who had thought him dead until the Beckman University asked for her permission for the experiment on him. He finds that his father is living separately, with a barbershop in the Bronx. Charlie wants to meet him in the time available to him. His mind hesitates to conjure up Rose’s face because he both feared and loved her. She used to alternate between tenderness and fierce outbursts till Norma’s birth. Then, while "Norma flowered in our garden I became a weed, allowed to exist only where I would not be seen, in corners and dark places." He is suddenly filled with hate for her, but he still needs to see her, perhaps to trace his past or to just show her that he is better than normal. A flash of memory reminds him of the painful incident, when she insists that he go the Warren State Home. His father resists, furious that "Now you’ve got her, you’ve decided you don’t want him any more." She however remains unmoved saying that, she is "not going to sacrifice her daughter for him." Charlie burns with anger at the memory and decides he can’t see her till he has worked out his feelings.
Charlie checks into a hotel, with his small savings, and Algernon. He feels guilty about Nemur and Strauss, but consoles himself by the fact that he is still recording his project reports. He has a hard time preventing himself from calling up Alice.
He calls her once and hangs up even before she picks up the telephone. He moves into a rented apartment with a separate room for Algernon. He plans to build him more interesting mazes "to keep in shape" but with rewards other than food. For himself, he plans to read and discover himself.
Charlie meets his unconventional neighbor, Fay Lillman. Locked out of his flat, he approaches her to let him use the fire escape. He finds a slender blonde dressed only in bra and panties, standing before an easel, with a brush in her hand. Contrary to Charlie, she is quite unconcerned about her state of undress. He expects her to remember her state suddenly and start screaming. She however asks him into her messy, paint filled home and offers him a drink of beer or ale. Her home is filled with her paintings some of which, are nudes of herself. He is interested in her because of, "her robust, athletic movements," her preference for sitting on the floor and her avoidance of people "who come to sneer." She coolly follows him onto the fire escape saying, "Let’s see your place." Having seen it, she is horrified by its neatness! "All the straight lines in the walls, on the floors, in the corners that turn into boxes-like coffins----ugh! If I lived here I would have to stay drunk all the time."
Her moods change like quicksilver. She strums his piano, asks for a five-dollar loan and teases him about Algernon’s mazes, all in a few minutes. Suddenly, recalling a date, she dashes off onto the fire escape, promising to repay him when her alimony arrives. Charlie can’t believe he has someone so attractive, so full of life and excitements, "just a fire escape away."
Charlie is excited at the thought of meeting his father, Matt. He approves of Matt having given up a salesman’s job in favour of having his own barber shop. Rose had opposed this tooth-and- nail, and Matt’s walking out on her had freed him to do what he always wanted. Charlie has warm memories of Matt who always protected and accepted him as he was, without reservations. He longs to meet his father in order to share his new life with him.
Matt does not recognize Charlie and takes him to be a customer. Charlie is too keyed up to confess and meekly asks for "the works." While sitting under the suntan lamp, Charlie’s memory flashes back to the last time he had seen his mother.
His mother’s shrieking wakes him up. He overhears her demanding his father that he should take him to the Warren State Home that very night. When his father protests, she picks up a kitchen knife saying, "He’s better off dead." A desperate Matt promises to take him to his Uncle Herman’s immediately, till other arrangements can be made. Charlie is hurried away by Matt. Charlie remembers his mother turning away from him as he is leaving. This is the last time that he had sen her.
After his shave, Charlie asks Matt if he knows him, but he doesn’t - "What is this? A gag?" Then the familiar nausea and fear overcome Charlie. He doesn’t want to be sick before Matt. What he really wants is for his father to be proud of him, to boast about him to his customers-"the old glow of satisfaction that came to his face when I learned to tie my own shoelaces and button my sweater." But at the end, Charlie chickens out. He doesn’t want Matt to "resent me-as the others at the bakery resented me- because my growth diminished him." He walks out forgetting to pay. A suspicious Matt summons him back, and Charlie in his embarrassment, gives him a large tip.
Algernon easily masters Charlie’s new mazes. He does not seem to require the reward of either food or water. He now learns only to succeed. But he still has fits of rage, throwing himself against the walls of the maze. Is it frustration or something else? Wonders Charlie.
One day Fay brings home a female white mouse, a partner for Algernon. She takes Charlie away from the maze after putting "Minnie" in, accusing him of having "no sense of romance."
Next day, Fay brings a man home from the Stardust Ballroom where she loves to dance. She introduces him to Charlie and then they both go into her room. Charlie sits down to read but is unable to concentrate as he pictures Fay and the man in bed. But an hour later he hears sounds of a fight, and the man leaves, cursing. Fay casually visits Charlie and complains about the man’s advances. She rejects Charlie’s view that she had given him the wrong signals. Later she hints that, her response would have been different if Charlie were involved. He is uneasy and she asks if he’s homosexual. She incites him and he tries to respond. The old awareness of a third person watching them returns, this time without the old panic. He puts Fay off, but agrees to a drink. The next thing he knows is that he’s got up with a hangover next morning. Fay tells him that he acted "strange" the previous night. He had told her he couldn’t play with her, as his mother would take away his peanuts and put him in a cage. Fay was frightened of him, yet she had stayed-"you were like a scared little kid. I was sure you wouldn’t hurt me, but I thought you might hurt yourself."
Charlie is horrified on hearing about how he had behaved. He longs to reach out for her but it is obvious to him that, "Charlie was still with me."
Charlie goes on a binge of watching movies. He moves from one cinema house to another. He dare not drink for fear of the old Charlie surfacing once again. Then in a sudden revelation, he understands that it is not the movies, but the audiences that he needs. Sitting with crowd of relaxed people in the dark makes him feel that he is a part of them. This gives him a sense of belonging, something, which he craves. Otherwise, his life has become aimless. Until one evening, he visits a diner. The teenaged boy, who has recently been appointed to wash the dishes, is similar to what he was before the operation. The boy suddenly drops a stack of dishes, breaking them. His fear followed by uncertain grins when the customers joke about him, reminds Charlie unbearably of himself. He reacts furiously -‘for God’s sake, have some respect! He’s a human being!" He walks out feeling ashamed on behalf of both of them.
The incident gives him a new determination. Charlie decides to get back to the Welberg Foundation for permission to work on increasing human intelligence, in order to help others, who are like him. He decides to share this with Alice.
Alice welcomes Charlie warmly and scolds him for disappearing earlier. He explains that he had to find some answers. He tells her that he had locked out the ‘old Charlie Gordon’ but couldn’t succeed and that, "Charlie exists now in me and around me." It had not been his increasing intelligence, which had come between them, but his persona of Charlie "the little boy who’s afraid of women because of what his mother did to him." He pours out his fears and discoveries to Alice until she is in tears. He longs to make love to her and decides to pretend she is Fay. He feels that "Charlie" is afraid of Alice, not of Fay. But, in spite of their feverish efforts, he can’t go ahead. He is shattered but decides not to run away this time. He tells Alice that he loves her. He leaves, gets drunk, and seeks Fay. But she is not at home. Charlie waits impatiently for her and at last, Fay comes home. Charlie asks her to help him "erase the straight lines," which bothers her so much. Fay however is doubtful. She doesn’t want this time to end in the same frustration as before. Charlie is impetuous and determined and promises her that it won’t recur. He still sees the old Charlie watching them make love, but this time he is able to ignore him and find fulfillment.