The Superhero Reaches Adolescence

by Ken Poyner

grass field at night where superhero lands

You would never imagine how truly awkward this cape is. It is standard schlock for a superhero, so I use it. You would not expect a man who could deftly see through stone, deflect both dull lead and classy copper clad bullets, and bend-without-breaking riotous egg shells with his thoughts, to show up in a polo shirt and stone washed jeans. If I came up to a dizzying disaster scene dressed like that, I’d have a hard time convincing anyone that I were anything but a freak; someone with, yes, a few misguided powers, but only circus powers that get in the way of the good work that needs to be performed at that given moment.  A man in a polo shirt and jeans, no matter how gifted, is not the solution to your problems.

So, I have these tights I got at a Halloween store a few years ago, and a fearful little cape I actually had custom made. Some sort of red satiny material, sewn by a nice retired lady who lives two doors down and who thinks I am just the nicest young man she has ever met: what, with all my flying about and setting back into place things that get knocked down, bringing her the morning paper, and taking her groceries from the dreary delivery boy to her front porch. I knew the cape would be a problem, and, even with my best adaptive care, it still is. It is too short to provide protection from the weather, too thin to hold temperature in:  but it looks really star-spanking good when I fly. I can actually adjust the amount of wave in the cloth by dipping my shoulders, or flexing the angle of my turn. I’ve seen myself on video:  it is impressive.

I guess the silly suit is just advertisement. In a suit like this, how could anyone be other than storybook good?  Look at this cape. How could I not spend my spare time zipping about in low atmosphere looking for over-boiling evil to right, wrongs to repair, dire circumstances to effortlessly smooth?  The suit creates public expectations: I evolve to match those expectations.

But, now and again, I do go away from the cumbersome city, away from the ever-productive source of grappling wrongs to right. I take a random night off and veer to the near woods, to a stretch of dark in the middle of bug-infested nowhere, and do simple, idle things:  knock over trees, roll boulders up hills, spook stray livestock.  Truth be told, I’ve even knocked over a few power poles, once moved a farmer’s dumbstruck cows into his neighbor’s manicured front yard. Can you blame me for being now and again a bit powerfully mischievous?   Everybody gets bored with the same set of weary options day after day. Right versus wrong. Right versus wrong. Next time you need me to put out a building fire or get your grandmother out of a tree, you won’t care that whether my utility is positive – in the rural community two counties over – is actually debated.

Not that I care. What are you going to do, anyway?  Kryptonite affects a different superhero. Gamma rays pull the majesty right out of yet another.  I can’t find my own weaknesses. To the best of my calculations, you are stuck with me being wildly superior to everyone on the planet for as long as I live:  which quite probably will be a really, really long time.

Tonight, as I was bounding about a field of fresh grass, knocking over a random tree here or there, thinking about placing someone’s cows on someone’s roof, I came upon a car parked at the end of one of those country lanes that just unknowingly drifts along so far, and then peters out into some loveless, dark field. The car looked like a second or third hand cinderblock relic that had seen better days – probably held together by some middleman’s repair-manual understanding of artificial locomotion:  one of those cars where you expect the driver side door must be opened by reaching outside and pressing, with a thumb strained flat, a reluctant exterior door handle button fiercely and stubbornly in.

Inside that car, with my super sensitive eyes, I could see two bodies hard at the rubbing and mouthing and pressing that usually sums up teenage sex. Oh, I’ve seen it plenty of times before:  hovering outside of city apartments or swooping over parked cars at the end of cul-de-sacs. That furious unknowing, mixed with the nail-driven mission, excites the super in me: a smash of two disparate things leading to a rush that, after the high point of gloriously spilt energy, ends with but a promise of the future refinement in the method just used, and no other great understanding. It is a conundrum. A shiny bauble just out of reach that makes you wonder:  why do I like shiny baubles?

Such is not for me. I have no such casual summation. I have no equally constrained other being to match me. I am the last bookend standing. I have no level playing field. However you might want to put it:  I can’t be matched, no matter the matter that currently matters. But as I watch, from a respectable or not respectable distance, this heavily padded wrestling match choreographed between biological opposites, I think:  who would know?  Here I am, invincible, shielded by tonight’s doldrums of dark, more of a man than any man anywhere to be found. And the world owes me. All those reduced insurance premiums; all the deductibles not required. All the house pets saved and the families reunited. Wrongs righted, wrongs righted. All the lives knocked without fee off the course of their worst-case scenarios. Imagine how astounding I could be at something as simple as this!  If I had some simple, super breathing time to myself; if I covered my tracks with my super abilities; if I were careful to keep the best of me in check, who would know?   Who could begrudge me?

Moral decisions, most of the time I have come to find out, are just reflections of the likelihood for success in any possibly profitable series of actions. All of my actions are successful. I do not know failure.

I pull my cape around to the front and finger whip the restraining string. As I fold it I wish I had pockets, but wherever I leave it I can afterwards pick it out just as I can pick out the movement of a single moth as it samples the dark for flame. I can imagine that old woman spinning cloth this way and that on her electric sewing machine: her eyes squinting into mere calculating lines: deciding this line, then that line, then this line, and then a stitch to keep it in place. The finished cape cannot define me:  I can put it on, I can take it off. I am thinking:  do I drop casually in, lean against the passenger door, say “Hello”, and expect to win boundless favor with my super human reputation and amazingly casual and slyly humble personality; or should I just land thundering on the hood – as impressive as hurled volcanic stone – rip out the surprised and shattered windshield, and set directly to elementary work. It is my decision; and on my every decision a world hangs.

Category: Featured, Fiction, Short Story