SUBHERO • by Alison McBain

Even though it’s been a long time and I live in California now, I still see him on the news. My kids don’t know that it’s grandpa up there who’s a famous superhero, and I pray to God every day that they never got the gene. Some things you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy, let alone your own flesh and blood.

I was lucky — my parents divorced by the time I was six. Neither one had the personality to be a side-kick. They were second to none, not even someone they professed to love.

That left me, the aftermath of their marriage. Mostly, I stayed at my grandma’s while my parents saved the world. When the two of them split, my mom moved to Tampa, so I didn’t see her at all — sometimes, a postcard arrived in the mail or a newspaper clipping from one of her victories. But as more time passed, not so much. I only found out years later she had died in that huge fight down south. You know the one — when Orlando was destroyed.

And my dad — what to say about him? About once a year, he would stop by to visit his old mum and me. In he would come, shiny teeth and hair, eyes slightly unfocused as if he were already somewhere else. The visits never lasted long, and I would sit there, silent and uncomfortable, as he spoke.

Grandma never seemed to say much either during these visits, and these were the times when her eyes were the most sad. Like when she watched the news and my dad was in an epic battle with a super villain. Each time she saw him, she faded a bit more, become more frayed around the edges. When I was a teenager, I swear I could see right through her in the sunlight.

She never spoke about it, and I never asked. I was afraid if I said something, her change would become real, would become permanent. I knew she would never want to leave me like my parents had. Not of her own free will.

I should have talked to her. I still carry the guilt of the day I came home from high school and she was gone. Just faded right out of existence, worn out with the burden of her son. Only the feel of her presence lingered in the house — an acrid scent from the last remnants of her sorrow.

That was it for me. I went upstairs to my room, packed clothes in a duffel bag along with some photos of my grandma and me, and I split.

I wonder what my dad thought when he next came for a visit. Honestly, he probably never even noticed. I can picture him sitting on the couch, same as always, droning on and on and on, while no one answers. Like his family, the empty air doesn’t talk back.

***

But I love my kids. I tell them so every day. If they’ve been cursed with the gene, I’ll take on the role that my grandma did — I’ll stand between. I’ll be the buffer who protects them with my life.

And when I fade away, maybe she’ll be there waiting there for me. Maybe our job will finally be done. Maybe it’ll just be the two of us again — the only ones who know the real cost of what it takes to save the world.


Alison McBain is an award-winning author with more than fifty short stories and poems published/forthcoming, including work in Flash Fiction Online, Abyss & Apex and Litro. When not writing, she puts on her Book Reviews Editor hat for Bewildering Stories.


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