[I wrote this story based on a prompt that a friend gave me: “What if your grandmother had super powers?” I tried my best to take this mediocre concept and turn it into something engaging. I failed. Here’s the messy result.]
The first thing Grandma did when she found she had super powers was beat up her son.
Dad had built walls around her in fits of helpfulness. He’d segregated her backyard with chain-link fences, here a horse pen, here a chicken coop, there pigs. A fence divided the car and the RV, a fence corralled the garden, a third formed an antechamber between the street and house. Then Dad worried about the clutter. Porcelain tea pots, trash bags of old acting costumes, a broken washer/dryer being used as an ironing board, memento pictures in memento picture frames. Every plastic memory. Better get rid of it.
He filled those jumbo storage containers. The ones you get from Staples. In one day, he shipped all her life’s savings to Salvation Army. He’d abused her when he had the advantage. Now the advantage was hers.
Before Grandma acquired super powers she’d suffered from strokes and cancers and a crippled heel. What hadn’t killed her had left a bitterness only the dying can sustain. The youthful cynics, the wanking existentialists, the angsters of a generation that’s never known, we can barely grasp it. Here was a woman finally allowed to catch up.
But how, you might ask? Theories abound. Maybe she consumed painkillers and prescriptions – a chemical medley roasting her body into a fine Superman filet. Maybe God in one of his mad fits transformed entropic sinew into Herculean ideal. Maybe we suffered mass delusion and it all fraud. Maybe it was a next step. An omen.
Popular science, however, credits the meteorite that landed in her backyard – a theory that I agree with out of practically. Really, of all the things to transfer the powers of Superman, a radiated meteorite has been absurdly overdone. In fiction. Now I guess, in a weird way, it’s only really been done once.
I remember the crash. I was working at the registers at El Corral, only a few blocks from her house. I remember the blazing projecting, much like a flare, that fell into the nearby suburb. I remember a flash, and a green sunset, and the quake, and a smell like chalk and burnt paper.
I didn’t know the space rock had found Grandma’s house, had had killed three horses, twenty-three semi-feral cats, fourteen chickens, three pigs, and two incontinent dogs, all organized into neat corrals, but I thought she and all of her neighbors must have been incinerated immediately.
I thought maybe all those Rapture stories my old man would rage about had come true. And I worried another divine smite might be headed for our little Mexican hole-in-the-wall. But nothing else happened, and eventually I was able to reconnect with Grandma at the hospital, where she was bedridden but completely fine.
None of us knew that something had changed in her physiological make-up. There were enough wonders in the world to distract us. Eventually, the city shrugged, closed the crater, moved on. Dad rebuilt the fences over the upturned earth, and Grandma returned to her long phone-calls with distant relatives and to locking Grandpa out on the porch.
We didn’t think much when Grandma ripped out the dishwasher door. It was getting old anyway. When we found her on the roof, soaking wet and complaining about clouds, we had a few troubled nights discussing the early signs of dementia. When Grandma went on longer trips without the use of her cane, when she stopped wobbling and began walking like she was thirty-five, we thought, good for her!
The first thing Grandma did when she realized she had super powers was beat up her son. I wasn’t there when she came. Dad had taken her keys, and I’d been too tired of her nags to drive to the Dollar Tree.
It was sometime around eight or nine, and I was headed home in my bleached-bone car, the one with the busted back window, to discover my house a clatter of police cars and shouting men. It’d been a poker night, a man thing. Dad would toss the camaro and the jeep out on the street to make room in the garage. Grandpa would come bet pension pennies, taking a long cigarette break from his wife. The local men would come, too, all the laborers and contractors and maintenance crews.
Later, Dad would tell me how Grandma had arrived, petite and clutching her purse, how she’d kicked the table over and demanded her keys. Dad had raged in reply. Gram demanded apology, respect; Dad had screamed that she was a terrible mother, a whore. She’d screamed about the fences. A skunk and a whore and a b-. Then Dad was on the lawn and our house was being packed into tupperware and then it was all gone and Grandma was gone and there were sirens, my Dad leaking and groaning, until hands peeled him from the grass and covered his mouth in an oxygen mask.
The mask’s air, he’d said, had smelled like clean hands.
Grandma had displayed a few of her powers in no particular order: super strength, super speed, the ability to fly. Later we would discover she could shoot lasers from her eyes and taste time.
After these events, Grandma flew East.
Grandpa’s thin hands, marked with black spots like cigarette burns, had packed the car with cans of preserved meatballs and spaghetti. It was understood what we were to do. Grandpa was of folk who say little, act little. They have a perfect genetic disposition to mind their own business. In fact, Gramps had spent most of his genetics sitting in the yard, smoking Lucky Strikes, weathering cancers and headaches with a tired stubbornness. For most of his life he’d been the ultimate Buddhist.
We drove. For a long time, we followed a swarm of protocol: trucks, tanks, helicopters, humvees, keeping orderly distances from each other and all of them orderly distance from a lady-shaped blot in the sky. There were no plans of engagement for there was no weakness to be found. Grandma led, and the military followed, and we followed the military. When Grandma figured out how to fly faster, we followed the news.
There were sightings. The stuff of legend. She became somewhat a champion of the elderly in those few weeks. Retirement homes liberated of sour orderlies, snatched purses snatched back. A heavy-set lady in Oklahoma stole a parking space and found a handicapped sign stuck through her windshield. A horn-happy CEO found his Ford Ranger wrapped around a tree.
There’s still that statue of her in Florida, although she never got that far.
One night Grandpa made a few calls. And although the sightings continued East, we turned down toward Louisiana. I remember that last night driving through dark roads and backcountry. How the roadward reflectors caught our head beams; the only indication we hadn’t slipped into the sky. For most the night I meditated on the lonesome road, soaked in the buzz of voices on NPR, and wholesomely wrapped in a pungent helix of cigarette smoke. It ended at a hospital. Grandpa parked the car and leaned out the driver’s side but didn’t get out.
The hospital was two stories with flaking white walls and a mud parking lot. Grandpa, for all his quiet urgency, didn’t seem to want to go anywhere.
“I saw her in a show,” he said. “She was the whore. The kitchen whore. In the show. Afterwards, we ran into each other at a dive. Some place with ugly palm trees on the walls. She was with the male lead, who was still in his makeup like an old man. She told me she was thinking of inviting him up to a cabin for the weekend, a little get-away that her family owned, but she was scared, too, of what that’d mean for them. They’d been friends for so long. Later we slipped away, and after our first night together, she invited me instead.”
Grandpa smoked the cigarette like it would last awhile, but it was down to the filter. He stared up at the hospital like it was a rich girl’s country house. “I don’t think it took us long to realize it’d been a mistake. We fought and I left in my motorbike back to town, but there was water on the road and I fell. I guess she was driving, too, because she found me stretched out on the road some ten minutes later. She brought me down to the hospital, to the ER, and we stayed together for a few weeks just holding hands and…”
“She expected too much of me,” he said. “And here I’d had such a rough life already.”
A black nurse directed me up. The actor who’d been my Grandma’s male lead, and greatest fear, was an old silver-maned lion, his feet cracked as canyons, bed sores running across his flesh turning green and purple and white.
Then she was there with faraway eyes. She didn’t notice me, and as she passed I wondered what enigmatic symbols were zipping beneath her balding hair, her yellowed sun spots. What unbearable sadness, what frosty roads?
“The lady from the news,” the actor said. He sounded a powerful man crippled too quickly. “But I used to call you by a different name.”
She held his hands, and they spoke like lovers do.
After awhile, the nurse touched my shoulder to tell me the cops were on their way. The military, the news vans. “Hurry. Shoo her off. That lady’s helping people,” the nurse pleaded. “Tell her go on.” But Grandma would take no shooing. No one could hurt her anymore.