"So," the young girl said, looking at the Leonard's orange
tights, "what exactly do you do?"
"I can fly."
"Boring," she drew out the "r".
"I can see through walls."
"Big whoop," she yawned.
"Aren't you a bit young for sarcasm?"
"Aren't you a bit lame for a superhero?"
She folded her arms and looked down the bread aisle. "My mom told me
to wait for her here."
"You can wait over there," he pointed to a spot next to the snack
"No. She said right here," she stamped the linoleum on the exact
Leonard sat down on the folding chair under the banner which read, "Meet
Leonard - Westchester's Superhero!" The girl, her red hair and pointy
chin, stood in front of him, making faces.
On the intercom, over the ticker of cash registers and the squeaking of
a loose shopping cart wheel, the store manager announced Leonard's appearance:
"Ladies and gentlemen, Save-A-Lot would like to remind everyone that
hot French bread is baked daily in our bakery. And don't forget to stop
by and shake hands with Leonard Callum, Westchester's only superhero. Remember,
hot French bread every day." An older man in a gray cardigan and pushing
a cart picked up a can of green beans off the shelf behind him.
"Hi," Leonard said.
The man nodded, "Hello." He continued toward the produce.
The red-head badgered on, "If you take off the stupid cape can you
"Yes," Leonard said, looking over his shoulder at the yellow satin
cape with the red script "L."
"Then why do you wear it?"
"I think it's dumb. Dumb, dumb, dumb."
"Yeah, well, look, nobody was asking you."
"And you're fat."
Silently, Leonard agreed, he was putting on some pounds. But, he reasoned,
that's what happened when you reached forty. The tights didn't fit like
they used to, and his shirt was showing signs of fatigue around the gut.
The red-head skipped in place and sang, "Fatty-boombalatty, fatty-boombalatty."
"Tubby, tubby, two by four."
"Be quiet," he pleaded through clenched teeth. He gripped the
seat of the brown chair.
"You're a nasty little girl."
"What are you going to do, sit on me?"
The metal crumpled in his hands, "What do you want?"
"I want you to fly."
"Why not? Too fat?"
"There's no room in here."
"You can't do it," she taunted, "you can't do it."
"If I do, will you shut up?"
She considered this, "Mmmmaybe."
Leonard stood up and walked to the canned vegetable aisle. It was clear.
"Hold your horses."
Leonard ran, gaining speed as he neared the stewed tomatoes. And he leaped
right before the Del Monte peas. Up, up, up he went, above the shelves,
above the directional signs hanging from the ceiling. Past the breads and
over the breakfast cereals, his cape whisking over the Captain Crunch on
the top shelf.
Leonard saw the girl staring up at him, open-mouthed as he continued to
zip across the supermarket. He dropped near the freezers and readied to
land, turning the corner where the tortillas laid stacked and slammed into
the side of a young mother's shopping cart.
He broadsided her groceries, and the cart toppled over. Boxes of oats and
bread crumbs flew. Jars of jams, jellies, peanut butter and pickles shattered
across the floor. Leonard fell to the floor and his head smacked against
the tile with a clack. Silently, he tried to blend into the slip-proof rubber
laid in front of the produce as an older woman stared down on him and the
produce splattered over him.
Finally, he attempted to regain his composure as the woman collected the
spilt groceries. The manager, his wiry mustache bristling and his skinny
arms akimbo, stormed toward Leonard, who was wiping wet cabbage and carrots
off his arms.
"I've got another hour on my contract," Leonard protested.
"No," the manager huffed. "You leave now."
Leonard sat up. The red-headed girl stood near the banner, pointing at him
and laughing. The woman bent over and righted her cart and, one by one,
picked up her cereals, dairy products, meats and fruits and vegetables.
"Pay me and I'll be on my way."
"No, Sir," the manager, his hands planted firmly on his hips,
twisted his elbows out so that they pointed forward. "You've done enough
damage. No money."
Leonard stood up. He sucked his gut in, stood over the little manager and
lowered his brow.
"Don't threaten me," the manager yipped. "You've got an image
Walking slowly and gracefully past the bagels and canned vegetables toward
the exit, he attempted to regain his dignity. The red-haired girl, singing
"Can't fit through the kitchen door," trailed him to the cash
registers where the cashiers and customers stared at him out of the corners
of their eyes, over the racks of tabloids and chewing gum.
As the electric front door swung open, Leonard turned to the people waiting
to pay for their groceries. Their gazes immediately turned elsewhere.
There was a time when they loved him. There was a time when they didn't
take him for granted like a fire hydrant or a stoplight. Ten years ago,
when he first arrived in Northern Vermont, when he foiled that bank robbery
and diverted the swelling river, they shook his hand and hoisted him onto
their shoulders. Sure, when Leonard first moved into town, they were glad
to have a superhero; they were ecstatic to have won the bidding war for
his services. But since those first few months, he had yet to receive a
raise, he had yet to receive the key to the city, and he had yet to be given
any sort of thanks.
He was your average, run-of-the-mill superhero with no powers the kids hadn't
already read about in Marvel Comics. And, he could only thwart one hundred
break-ins before it became nothing special. The unnatural strengths he was
born with were nothing new or interesting any longer.
From the supermarket, he drove his four year old, blue Geo Metro to his
one room apartment over his landlord's garage. The same apartment he moved
into ten years ago figuring that he would buy a house after saving up a
down payment. Now, with inflation and skyrocketing housing prices, he was
lucky to make his rent every month. He had to take jobs like that supermarket
grand opening just to make ends meet.
There was no class in being a superhero.
He sat down in front of his thirteen inch color television, turned on golfing
and watched the picture scroll upward. He took off the canary cape, unbuckled
the thick, shiny black belt and unfurled his gut over the top of his orange
tights. There was no food in the refrigerator; tomorrow was the first and
with it his check from the city.
But he was happy now, sitting on his worn out brown sofa watching television
like a normal person. There were no requirements and no expectations.
Until the phone rang. Chief Wilson, he was sure, since nobody else had that
number. Wilson had at one point proposed renting a beeper for Leonard, but
the city could never find room in their budget. Slowly, Leonard walked across
the small room and picked up the receiver.
"Leonard, thank God you're home." Police Chief Wilson.
Leonard clipped his voice, "Chief Wilson, what a pleasant surprise
to call me on my day off."
"Mute-a's on a rampage. She was sighted downtown, near King's Sporting
Goods, and God knows what kind of havoc she'll wreak."
"So, what do you want me to do?"
Wilson sputtered, "You're a goddamn superhero: get out there and stop
"It's my day off."
"Need I remind you that I haven't signed your paycheck yet?"
Leonard ran his hand through his hair, slowly giving in, "What happened?"
"Her Taurus was seen double parked in front of Ace Hardware, and she
threw a Butterfingers wrapper on the ground by King's."
"She's a mutant, Leonard. She must be stopped."
"She's not so bad," argued Leonard.
"Excuse me, but have you seen those ears?" the chief asked. "She's
a mutant, plain and simple. And we can't tolerate mutants terrorizing the
people of our town."
"Why can't the police take care of this for once?"
"Those ears, for crying out loud!"
"All she did was double park," Leonard argued.
"And litter. Need I remind you, Leonard, that she is your arch-enemy?"
Leonard gave up. He buckled his belt and cradled the receiver between his
shoulder and ear. "Where is she?"
"In the abandoned warehouse district."
Leonard's arch-enemy. The media started that myth shortly after the nuclear
plant accident two years ago. Mute-a, née Mary Elizabeth Parks, was
caught in the plant during the leak, and her ears mutated. She was once
a beautiful young woman, but those hideous appendages turned the public
against her. Unattractive to look at, social outcast, and therefore a villain,
is what the people of this small town decided. And being that the city had
a superhero, they decided, she had to be his antithesis, his foil, his arch-enemy.
He really didn't have much say in the matter. In fact, to him, she seemed
like all right. A little hard to look at, and perhaps a bit bitter, but
who wouldn't be after a nuclear accident? And here, about once a month,
he found himself tracking her down and dragging her to the police station
on some misdemeanor charge.
"Am I getting mileage?"
"For driving all the way down there. That's twenty miles round-trip
to the warehouses."
"I don't like flying if I don't have to. I get all of that crap stuck
in my teeth."
"Tough-o Bean-o," the line clicked and there was a dial tone.
Leonard hung up the phone, picked up his cape and tied it around his neck.
The superhero business was finally getting on his nerves.
He drove his blue subcompact across town, avoiding the freeway. The low-fuel
indicator lit up and burned orange on his dashboard, as he pulled into the
abandoned warehouse district.
The abandoned warehouse district was where the police could find every criminal,
drafting his next spree behind the faded, cracked walls of the huge, empty
buildings. No businesses had ever been legitimately housed here, but the
town council had them built to add character and history to the region.
Ideally, the council members wanted them on the wharves, but there was no
ocean in Northern Vermont, only lumber.
Mute-a preferred storehouse 14B, which was on the other side of the railroad
tracks, the bad side. Invariably, Leonard would find her standing in the
dusty shadows with a lit cigarette in hand and some devilish plan for his
demise hatching between those -- those ears. She didn't smoke, but once
said that the cigarette enhanced her bad girl image.
Leonard parked his Metro in the loading bay and ripped off the recently
replaced corrugated steel door. Light filtered across the uneven concrete
floor and illuminated the dust hung indefinitely in space.
"Mute-a! Where are you?"
"Leonard. I've been expecting you," came her response from the
"Yeah, well, no shit."
She moved forward from the dark, the light striking first the long, ebony
cigarette holder between her fingers and then her black skirt, black blouse,
black cat ears.
"What's with the cat get-up?"
"Not so much. Besides, I think it's been done."
"Yeah," she said, sounding dejected. She pulled off the cap, revealing
her disfigured ears, her horribly maimed, chillingly grotesque ears. "With
so many nuts out there, it's growing difficult to be original."
Her awful ears were the color and texture of cauliflower. They popped out
from the sides of her head as though her brains had exploded. These, massive,
clumpy hunks of melted flesh made her undesirable not only to prospective
husbands but also society. Leonard winced at first, as most people did,
but he was for the most part accustomed to them by this time.
Leonard stepped toward her, "I'm here to take you downtown."
She leaped back, "Not so fast!"
He yawned, "Of course."
"You won't take me so easily."
"I know. I never do."
"Precisely," she stubbed out her cigarette.
Leonard walked to an overturned paint bucket and sat down. "What do
you have in store for me?"
"Torture, misery," they rolled off her tongue, "and ultimately,
He nodded, "You enjoy that, don't you?"
"It's a minor pleasure," she shrugged. "I mean. let's face
it. I don't have a whole lot to look forward to other than this."
"Well, how do you propose to kill me?"
She began to pace across the concrete, her voice echoing across the draughty
hall, "That's a problem. I'm not sure. I tried boiling you in oil,
I tried blowing you up with dynamite, I even ran you over that one time.
I'm plum out of ideas."
"I know what you mean. I'm getting real bored with this whole thing,
"Sometimes I wonder if I'm not cut out for this villainness role. I
wouldn't even bother, except that I can't get any other jobs."
"Why not?" he adjusted the legs of his tights, which were pinching
"These ears. Nobody wants to hire a mutant."
"Come on now. You're a good looking woman. You're not giving yourself
She nearly barked, "You go out and try finding a job with these things."
She covered her ears with her hands.
"Maybe it's your attitude. You know, you have a tendency to be negative."
"I'm a goddamn villain!"
"All right, all right," he held up his hands as though to deflect
her venom. "No need to get testy. I mean, I know where you're coming
from. I'm sick of being the keeper of justice, myself. I don't want to be
a superhero anymore. I'd rather just be able to work nine to five, go home,
kick up my feet and be a super-regular-guy."
"At least you have supernatural abilities. I have to be your arch enemy
without the benefit of special training or skills."
"You've got those ears."
"You don't have to remind me."
Leonard stood up, "We both have it rough. We both have a hard time
"Yeah," she said wistfully. "But at least now I know I'm
not alone. I wondered if I was crazy for resenting my position as criminal."
"Me too," he chuckled. "Sometimes I feel like such a jerk
for wanting to be average. I get damn tired of helping the ungrateful citizen-s
in this town."
The sunlight from outside slid in through the broken door parallel to the
floor now, the afternoon had almost vanished.
"I guess we should get on with this," said Leonard. He walked
over to her and grabbed her by the wrist.
She pulled away, "You'll never take me."
"Come on, just this once?" he pleaded. "I wouldn't mind getting
home at a decent hour, you know."
"No, I at least need to make an effort."
He threw his arms up, "Fine. How do you want to escape?"
"I've got this," she pulled a pistol from her waist and drew a
bead on him.
He stared down the barrel of the gray metal gun, it's tip aimed directly
between his eyes. "Well, I doubt you'll hurt me with that."
She wrapped her index finger around the trigger and steadied her hand, "I
know, but this way I can say I tried."
Leonard shrugged, "It's just that guns and stuff don't really do much
The gun went off and the bullet slammed into the bridge of Leonard's nose.
His head rocked back from the impact, and the bullet fell to the floor with
Mute-a dropped the gun. "Jesus, I'm sorry. Did that hurt?"
He pressed his thumb between his eyes, the skin was still hot from the lead.
"Surprisingly, yes." He shook his head, trying to shake off the
"That was totally my fault. I take the blame."
"Don't worry about it, I'll be fine."
She rolled her eyes upward, "I guess the police chief is wondering
where we are."
"So, you'll probably be wanting to take me in now."
He bent over and picked up the bullet, its tip squashed. "I don't think
so. I think I want to go to the Denny's and get some coffee like regular
people do. You want to join me?"
She smiled, "Sure. In fact, I'll buy."
They walked out of the warehouse and into the setting sun. At the edge of
the loading dock, Leonard stopped and rubbed his forehead.
"Are you all right?" Mute-a asked.
"Yeah, except I've got this headache."