Fiction / Issue 8

Fiction by Stephanie Barbe Hammer

 

That You Were Meant for Great Things

Today Margaret from Ascertain Awareness calls about helping her do all-natural teeth whitening at the LA County Fair.

She says. “I’ll train you and you can make some money.”

I tell her I’ll consider.

I’m busy working on my Aunt May costume for the Spider-Man convention in Santa Ana next week.

This is the older Aunt May. She has a kind voice and piercing, yet sympathetic eyes.

And she’s classy. That’s important in a person.

Dark Knight jumps on the computer desk, meowing. I ignore him but Magneto jumps on the desk too. So do the Phoenix and Jimmy Olsen.

I tell Jimmy that he needs to jump down because 4 is an inauspicious number according to my friend Joanne. Joanne’s into Chinese numerology and she cosplays Katniss because she was on the archery team at the camp that she attended before her parents’ Korean Barbeque restaurant went bankrupt.

“Not all Koreans are instantly successful,” Joanne says. I know this is true, because people don’t correspond to stereotypes, and many of us are such mixtures of things that you don’t even know what stereotype you are supposed to correspond to.

People are always surprised I don’t speak Spanish although my last name is Torres. My father was Latino, but he didn’t speak Spanish either. My mom was from the Ukraine but both she and my dad said something interesting one time over frozen waffles.  “It doesn’t matter so much,” they told me as I passed the syrup.  “Because what we really are is poor.”

But poor people can dream. Poor people can be creative, and poor people can even own houses, like I do.

Although I owe property taxes I can’t afford to pay.

My ex-professor of comp lit, Dean Bell, called me from France yesterday to nag me about the taxes.

“Dear Jennifer,” she said. “The government waxes wroth when you don’t pay them.”

I walk down to the kitchen, and the cats plus the dogs Flash and Lois Lane follow me, jumping on the table and chairs, which is not easy to do because every surface is covered with shopping bags filled with my dad’s comic books.

That’s when the firefighters ring the doorbell.

There are 5 of them (auspicious!) and they are all handsome.

The handsomest says “Hi, I’m Captain…”

I say, “I know – you’re Captain America!”  I smile.

Just because I’m a hoarder and poor doesn’t mean I don’t have sexual feelings.

Captain America laughs. “Are you the home owner?” He leans on the doorjamb.

“You look too young to own a house.”

I nod. Then I take a deep breath because, as handsome as he is, this part is hard.

“This is my house,” I say. “My parents are dead.”

“No siblings?” says Captain America’s assistant – who is just as handsome as the Falcon guy in the movie.

“No,” I say. “It’s just my superhero companions and me.”

“Well, then,” says Captain A. “You’re the person to talk with about weed abatement.”

The five take me outside.

“This growth has to be cleared,” Captain America says.

I’m about to say, “I’ll get to it,” when the Falcon says, “We’re here because you haven’t answered the correspondence from the city and the city will fine you if you don’t comply with this issue because it is a fire hazard.”

I say, “what correspondence?”

They give me a form that explains I have 30 days to comply or else I get fined. Then they get in their fire truck and drive away. They wave.

I walk back inside. On my dad’s kitchen desk there’s a lot of mail. I don’t look through it. My dad died two years ago and I’m just beginning to get used to it. My mom died 5 years ago, but I’m still not used to that. If I don’t go through the mail, and if I don’t throw away their stuff, they are still alive somehow.

Ascertain Awareness classes say people don’t die, but I can’t see them.

What would Aunt May do?

I finish my costume. I phone Margaret.

She comes and gets me.

“Great outfit,” she says. “Classy.”

 

In the tent at the LA County Fair, Margaret tells everyone about all-natural teeth whitening and Ascertain Awareness as a mindful exercise in self-care.

In my Aunt May costume I demonstrate how coconut oil leaches the stains off, and the more courageous customers try the charcoal and that really works.

A young guy has his teeth done. He’s wearing a pink shirt, and he’s got a tiny monkey with him. The monkey sits on his shoulder the whole time.

When I’m done, he says quietly:

“Aunt May, I want to hire you.”

I narrow my eyes. “Which version of Aunt May?” I ask.

The monkey says, “I think you look like Rosemary Harris,” and I’m impressed by that answer.

“You really are well educated,” I tell the monkey.

He says, “Thank you,” and executes a very elegant bow.

The guy in the pink shirt continues, “I have a friend in trouble in Europe and she needs someone with your qualifications.”

“Teeth cleaning or super-hero helping?” I ask.

“Both,” he says. Then he tells me I need to cut my shift short, get my passport and go to the airport so I can fly to France.

On one hand, I’m excited.

Before my dad died, he got so depressed, he wouldn’t talk or eat. He just sat around the house. He wouldn’t do dishes or laundry. I had to do it all.

If I learned anything, it’s this: You have to keep doing things.

OTOH this is a real gig, not a cosplay gig…. Reality is hard.

“Aunt May,” says the monkey. “clearly, you are a person more at home in higher, transcendent realms than in this paltry incarnation. But you need money to preserve your ancestral home in Rancho Cucamonga and honoring the ancestors is important. As well as caring for your various creatures. So, you should accept this real adventure.”

“Will I inspire?” I say.

I ask because Aunt May is ALL ABOUT INSPIRING PEOPLE.

“You will,” monkey and man say simultaneously.

I say. “Ok, then.”

 

Well, Margaret doesn’t exactly take the news lying down. She insists that I work the rest of the day, and I have to go outside and explain to the man who is waiting outside with some cotton candy (sugary but does not stain teeth!) that I can’t leave early, and then I give him my address where he can come pick me up, and then I have to go back in and whiten a bunch more teeth. I get paid like 100 dollars, which is great because I’ll probably need what my mom called “mad money,” in case, you know I want to buy something on a whim that isn’t covered by my I guess expense account.

“I just hope you know what you’re doing Jennifer,” Margaret says to me as she starts working on the next customer. “You’re good at teeth-whitening, so why trust this weird man? You could end up in sex slave situation.”

The customer has their mouth open but they make a noise of agreement.

I don’t think this is a sex slave situation.

Still, I walk home to think it over.

I’m about to change out of my costume, but I realize that my costume is a great travelling outfit so I keep it on.

The guy comes in a car to pick me up.

“Um, “ I say, as I hand my very small suitcase to the chauffeur. “What’s your name anyway?”

He hands me his card.

 Henry Holbein

abetterworld@gmail.com

 

I look at Henry Holbein, and he seems unscary, and ok, and the monkey knew who I was!

“Jennifer Torres,” I say to him. “I cosplay a number of characters besides Aunt May, but she is my favorite.”

“And I,” said the monkey, “am Sun Wukong.”

In my class with Professor Bell, we read a book called Journey to the West.

“You’re one of the first super heroes!” I tell him.

He bows again. I can tell he’s pleased.

“My goodness,” says the chauffeur, as he’s closing the trunk. “Look at all these cats!”

“The cats!” I say.  “Wait a minute.”

I run back in the house, almost tripping over the shopping bags filled with science fiction books. My dad collected those too.

I pour food into the cat bowls.

I come back out.

The dogs!

“Wait!” I say. The chauffeur nods, and the guy, Henry, I guess his name is, gets out of the car and starts doing some slow motion-y kinds of exercise.

I get the Flash and Felix and I bring the dogs over to the neighbors, Sue and Sue. I explain that I have to go help someone in Europe, and they say sure that makes sense.

“I guess your adventure has come for you,” Sue1 says.

Sue2 takes a look at Henry, the monkey, and the chauffeur.

She nods. “My Ascertain Awareness sense tells me they’re ok,” she says.

Sue1 agrees. “Sometimes you have to just trust people.”

I remember something else. Aunt May is an excellent judge of character.

I get in the car.

We start to drive away.

“Wait!” I say. The car pulls over.

“No, I mean – keep driving, I just need to contact my sidekicks — I mean friends.”

The car pulls back out and drives as I text Joanne what’s happening.

I’m going 2 Europe on a job!

Kewl. will try 2 meet u there.

don’t bring Katniss’s bow and arrow

lol

bring ur Lois Lane get up

k. may need time 2 raise $

I sign off with a smiley-face. Joanne is determined, and she’ll get the money together I think.

Then I text my Facebook friends Mimi and Madeleine and Jerry who are Agent Carter cosplayers in France and in England, because one thing that’s cool about cosplay is you get to know people everywhere.

I hope I can make enough money to deal with the weed abatement.

And I dare to hope — because I’m gutsy – that I’ll get to see Captain America again of the firefighters.

“What’s the job exactly?” I ask Henry and Sun Wukong.

“The job is to help when it’s necessary,” Henry Holbein says.

When my mother died in the hospital, I couldn’t help. When my dad got so depressed and died, I couldn’t help either. It’s a terrible feeling not to be able to do anything to fix a situation.

If I could really and truly be helpful, that would be awesome.

If I can help a superhero, that will be even awesomer.

Here’s hoping.

dingbatsmaller

Stephanie Barbé Hammer is a 4 time nominee for the Pushcart Prize in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Her work has appeared in Pearl, Hayden’s Ferry, the Bellevue Literary Review and S/tick among other places.  She was a comp lit scholar for many years, but then decided she wanted to make creative work, rather than just talk about it. Born in New York City she now lives mostly on Whidbey Island, but sometimes in Los Angeles too, where she writes flash fiction, poetry, and occasional essays and teaches creative writing at community colleges and non-profits. She is the author of a novel The Puppet Turners of Narrow Interior (Urban Farmhouse Press in 2015),  a poetry collection How Formal? (Spout Hill Press, 2014), and a chapbook, Sex with Buildings(Dancing Girl Press, 2012).  She’s working on a new fabulist novel about a repentant drug dealer and a new poetry collection about being a city dweller attempting to deal with nature. Selected by Ryka Aoki.

Image copyright Geoffrey Fairchild via Flickr Creative Commons.

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