Patient H.M.

Patient H.M. by Luke Dittrich Read Free Book Online

Book: Patient H.M. by Luke Dittrich Read Free Book Online
Authors: Luke Dittrich
from below that, yes, it had once been pointy. I pulled myself up onto the summit, staying low so the light show’s audience wouldn’t see me. Then I lay back on the stone and looked up at the throbbing sky.
    I’d been in Egypt for a little more than a year, and that evening was a sort of self-conscious commemoration, a moment to reminisce about where I’d been and to think about where I might be going. I was twenty-four years old, and my résumé was a joke. I’d graduated from college with a degree in U.S. history, mainly because the other degrees I considered—English, economics, sociology—seemed more theory than facts, and my brain tank was ridiculously low on the latter. Since college, I’d had a few different jobs. I’d hauled furniture for Cheap Date Moving in Watertown, Massachusetts, bussed Walter Cronkite’s table at the Docksider restaurant in northeastern Maine, and for the past six months taught English to Egyptian oil rig workers at the Cairo offices of a Kuwaiti-owned, American-named company called the Santa Fe International Corporation. I’d moved to Egypt on a whim, inspired by Lawrence Durrell’s
Alexandria Quartet,
an intricately interwoven series of novels that told a single story from four different perspectives. One of the quartet’s protagonists was an English teacher who had all sorts of romantic adventures in Egypt, and I figured maybe I could do the same. Beyond that, I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. Prior to my move, when people asked, I’d fallen into the habit of saying that I thought I might apprentice myself to a furniture maker, even though I had zero interest in carpentry and even less skill.
    But a few months before the pyramid climb, I’d started doing something that felt different from my previous jobs. I’d started writing. The Egyptian roustabouts I was supposed to be teaching during their vacation days had mounted a campaign of passive resistance, refusing to show up for class, which left me drawing a paycheck in an empty conference room overlooking the Nile. I had lots of free time and used it to draft long letters home. Eventually I decided to repurpose one of my letters to my grandmother—it was about a day I found a dead body while rowing on the Nile—and submitted it to a thrice-weekly newspaper called
The Middle East Times.
Then, armed with my single clip, I decided that my next target would be the
New Yorker
of Cairo’s English-language publications, a glossy monthly called
Egypt Today.
I walked into the magazine’s offices, asked to speak with an editor, and somehow walked out with an assignment: a feature about the statues in Cairo’s public squares.
    In retrospect, that sounds like an incredibly boring story idea, and later the editor told me she’d given the same assignment to dozens of other people, that it was a sort of hazing ritual. But I did my best with it. I roamed the city, notebook in hand, soaking up as much information as I could on a topic I’d previously known absolutely nothing about. I ended up filling the feature with mini-profiles—a man whose job it was to clean the statues, another who slept on the street near a monument to a famous Egyptian poet, a Spanish diplomat who oversaw the installation of the bust of José Martí near his embassy—and, to my surprise, the magazine accepted the story. Not only that, they were short-staffed, so they offered me a full-time job as a writer. My contract with the oil company was almost over, and I’d been planning to return to the States. I’d been thinking of going back to the moving company, working myself up from grunt to driver. The offer from
Egypt Today
had made those plans moot.
    I decided to stay in Egypt, to take the job. For the first time in my life, I felt confident about my future, and that confidence, that sense of heading in the right direction, cried out for some sort of dramatic commemoration. So there I was, up on that pyramid, under that laser-beamed sky,

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