A Day in the Park (draft to be revised)

This is a revised draft of a story that I wrote in 2009 or 2010. It is set in a universe where people have superpowers. I have always loved comics, and I really love comics about superpowered women. In recent years people like Amanda Conner and Kelly-Sue DeConnick have really done wonderful work in this area and made believable female superheroes. This was my try at making that kind of superhero. There is a backstory to Molly Day that will be posted later. Any comments on this are welcome. 

It was the end of March in Alexander Wilson Park in the city of St. Jeanne. The end of March is just before the Season of Eternal Heat in St. Jeanne that lasts at least till October sets in. In March, it’s actually pleasant and springlike, for maybe a month or so, until the humidity and heat falls on your head and pins you to the ground like a vast, fat, sweaty wrestler, and makes it impossible to venture out in the daytime.

So anybody with any sense in St. Jeanne takes advantage of the end of March. This means that there are generally a lot of people in Wilson Park doing things that people do in the spring. You would not necessarily have noticed her in one corner of the park, out of the way and under one of the big live oaks with the spanish moss hanging off it. Even if you were there to watch girls, either openly or clandestinely, there’s a good chance you would not have paid any special attention to this girl, in spite of the fact she was not unattractive at all.

If you did you might have noticed her short blonde hair, her gray Decemberists T-shirt and baggy blue jeans, and that she appeared to be trying to meditate, as she was sitting in a cross-legged position with her eyes closed. None of which is that weird for St. Jeanne in late March. And then you most likely would have been distracted by the volleyball game between stray students from Tulola University, or by the parents racing around and yelling after kids who were also racing around and yelling while they swung around on the playground equipment.

And the girl was also distracted by everything that was going on, but resolutely kept her eyes closed. If there was one thing that she was good at, it was resolute.

My thoughts are all bubbles floating in the ocean of my mind, she reminded herself. They’re just bubbles. That screaming kid is just a bubble. Put it in the bubble and let it go. With an effort, she put the noise in a bubble and let it go away. I am so bored. That thought goes in a bubble too. I will let it go away. That annoying girl screaming Oh my GAHD can’t you serve!? is getting on my nerves and that is going in the bubble. And that is going away.

She concentrated on breathing in through her nose and out through her mouth, letting the breath travel all the way down to her belly (Oh my god my belly, why is it not flat like…and, that’s a thought that goes in a bubble and now it is going away) and then letting it out slowly through her mouth.

She was actually doing pretty good for someone who had only recently bothered to learn how to meditate from a book and a search on the Internet. Gradually her mind settled down. She started seeing it settle down because there were fewer thoughts. All the sounds, she just let them pass through, not noticing them. She had a good bit of practice on that last, because her cousin had taught her how to handle the hearing thing. It’s no good if you can listen to everyone all the time, and do.

Her cousin. That one caught her unexpectedly. It hurt. She gasped instead of breathing and then: I will put that in the bubble and let it go. I won’t forget but I’ll let it go. Let it go, let it go. She started breathing the right way again. The hurt was right beneath her ribcage. She put the hurt in the bubble and let it go too. To her amazement, it went; slowly, but it went. She kept breathing, watching it float away into the imaginary ocean. She felt…not at peace, exactly, because it still hurt to think about her, but it was OK to hurt, and it was OK to be at peace with that hurt.

She kept doggedly at it and finally she was almost, almost there. She didn’t know this but she was smiling a little. If you had been watching, and you probably wouldn’t because you wouldn’t have been interested in watching even a pretty girl sit still for 45 minutes, you would have seen her relaxed, for once.

It was all great until that chick started crying across the park.

***

There are a lot of different kinds of crying. People cry out of anger, they cry out of hopelessness, they cry out of joy, they cry out of fear, they cry at movies, they cry just to let it all out. In her line of work she had heard a lot of crying. You learn, if your hearing is good enough, to tell the difference between them, which ones need attention and which ones don’t. But she always heard it. It seemed to cut through everything else.

“Does that ever happen to you?” she had asked her cousin once. “Do you ever hear it, and it stops whatever you’re doing? And you have to go see?”

Her cousin looked at her a moment. “Yeah, all the time.” Then she sighed. “That’s a part of the deal, I think. I think that’s what makes us different from some of the people who do what we do. I mean, you and I have the same abilities. There are a lot of people who have abilities. But I think the people who do that, who hear crying that way? They’re different, in a way, even among us.”

She paused. “You know who else does that, and you’d never believe it?” he asked. “Lisa.”

“Nuh uh,” she replied. “It doesn’t happen.”

“Absolutely,” her cousin said. “Trust me on that one. Don’t tell anybody I told you that though, and for goodness’ sake don’t ever tell her I said that. But that’s one of the reasons I like her, in spite of herself. “

She never told. There were a lot of conversations with her cousin that she never told anybody about, especially not Lisa. But she remembered them all.

***

Her ear zoned in and her training cut in at the same time without her even thinking about it. 45 degrees that way, young woman, in her 20’s maybe, her heart is racing. Having trouble breathing, that’s because of the crying. Across the park about 10 yards away. Some guy is there sitting very close and he’s talking and she is sobbing her heart out, dammit, dammit, dammit, where is my concentration oh fuck a bunch of bubbles!

She opened her eyes and looked across quickly, feeling guilty. This wasn’t the kind of crying that needed her attention, not really, but it hit her because she’d cried like that before. And besides, that little voice in her had started. The one that said do something, do something. So she looked. And listened.

***

Valentine Suncrow Danaanchild (who had been Melvin Arnold Slokum before his rebirth at Tulola University) was pissed. But he was trying to be nice. He was a nice guy. That’s how he thought of himself. So he tried to explain, again.

“Look, it’s not that I don’t love you,” he said. “I do, I do. You’re the number one, you’re my, my primary.”

“You do not,” said Star Oracle Lightpath (nee Linda Lu Ladnier). She snuffled loudly. “You do not love me or else you would not have slept with someone else, ever ever ever. Don’t lie to me, you son of a bitch.” She meant that to sound tough, but her voice cracked and went up in pitch until she finally choked on her next sob.

“No, we’re polyamorous,” Val said. “Don’t you see? It wasn’t that I don’t love you. I’m not in love with her. You remember we agreed that we can sleep with whoever we want, but we’re in love with each other.  Right?”

“I thought we had to agree on that,” she hissed. “We were supposed to agree on that. You just did it.” She wiped her nose and tried to say something else, but she choked up.

“Look, look, it’s all part of being free,” he said urgently. “We’re pagans. We’re not bound by all their laws and rules. They invented monogamy.” (He said “monogamy” with the same tone that other people reserve for terms like “lawyer” and “impacted fecal matter.”) “We’re free from all that,” he continued. He was warming up to his subject. Just thinking about monogamy set him off.

“Sex isn’t bad! It’s not forbidden! That’s your mom and dad talking, that’s not you. You’re not talking to me right now, that’s your mom and dad and all that Lutheran church shit, that programming. You’re not really mad at me.”

“What…?” Star managed to choke out.

“You’re mad at the programming,” Val said. “You’re mad and you’re crying because your programming is breaking down! We’re facing an issue of yours right here and now. And that’s great. I mean, it hurts, but it’s great, we’re having a breakthrough. What’s happening is that your inhibitions and your old programming is broken, but you don’t have to cry about it, you can be happy! Look at it, you’re free now and I’m free now. We can share the holy sacrament of sex with whoever we want. It’s not being in love, it’s just sharing that holy sacrament with other people. That’s what pagans do. We share our bodies because we’re not bound by the laws. You’re crying because that old inhibition is broken, but don’t be sad because of that.”

“I’m not crying because of that,” she said. “I’m mad at you for fucking her!”

“That was nothing,” Val said. “We were just high and you were off at your cousin’s, and it was just a thing, you know? Not serious, like what we have. I mean, she’s only a new pagan and you and I have been studying for like five whole months together! You and me, we went to Megacon together, and our spirits are joined, aren’t they? What could compare to that? We were just being free with our bodies and sharing pleasure. I just wanted to show her that’s what pagans do. You can do the same thing if you want! You’re not selfish enough to where you want to impose your parents’ morality on me, are you? I thought you were better than that.”

Star heard one voice in her head saying dump this freaky creep, and another one saying, no, listen to him, he’s right, you’re free just like he says, you can let him sleep with other girls, it’s just fucking, and besides we are free from rules aren’t we? aren’t we? and he is so different from the guys in Biloxi, and he can play guitar and sing and I feel so good when I’m around him, when he’s not doing stuff like this…

***

At that point, the girl under the tree was seething. She knew that seethe. It was a part of her and it was why she was meditating, or why she had been meditating. That seethe had gotten her in trouble many, many times, even when she was trying to do something right.

It had made her punch too hard, kick too fast, move too quick and judge too soon. She knew that seethe very well and it was part of why she was sitting under a tree in St. Jeanne trying, and failing, to meditate. And when she seethed, she knew she would explode, and she knew when she exploded, sometimes other things did too.

She swallowed the lump in her throat and her cousin’s voice came to mind.

“Save it, save it,” the calm voice urged. “Save it for the big stuff. If you spend all your energy on the creeps you won’t have any left for the really big events, the really bad people, the ones that we’re supposed to take on. We can’t take on every little jerk that lifts their heads above the hedges. “

“But some of ’em do, ” she had insisted. “They take on all the creeps and assholes.”

“Yes, but we have more responsibility than them,” her cousin insisted. Always sincere, those green eyes looking right into hers, not an ounce of guile. “We have more… abilities than they do, and so we have more responsibility than some of them. I know some of them stick close to home, but they aren’t…” She trailed off.

Her cousin was always uncomfortable talking in terms of us and them, because she didn’t believe in us and them, in general; that was what had made people love her. “Look, we need to spread our influence and our, our, oh, our power all over the world and focus on the big things.”

“When I started out I took on all the little guys,” she said. “The bank robbers and the drug dealers and the pimps and stuff like that. It was easy and it was fun. I could do 10 or 12 of them in a day. I used to count how many I did in one day, and keep totals. Until a plane went down in the middle of Fairfield City.”

Her cousin had teared up then, those beautiful green eyes wet, her perfect face sorrowful. “400 people on that plane and 1205 in the office building that it hit. Killed. And all the people who were injured and maimed. If I had been paying attention, if I hadn’t been racking up totals like it was some stupid  game, I could have done something. I could have stopped it from happening. I know I could have. So don’t waste your time! Don’t waste your talents! Save it for the big bad guys. Join a team, learn your stuff, learn how to cooperate. I know you want to be different from me and make your own way. Do it that way. But don’t waste it on the little stuff, please.”

Her cousin was perfect. The girl under the tree held her cousin as a hero, just like everyone else did. Everybody loved her. I loved her. What would she have done, right here, right now? the girl under the tree thought.

Then the seethe came back in a wave. She’s gone. She’s gone, and I’m here, right here, right now, and I have to do what I think is right. She’s not here any more, and I’m not her. I never was. But I can do what I can do.

She opened her eyes again, and looked across, adjusting her vision to bring him in close. What a perfect loser. An honest to God trustafarian. I bet he’s majoring in Philosophy and Religion. His goatee was braided and beaded, and she flinched at the triple nose piercing. He could have gotten a few more in that honker. Her acute sense of smell cut in and recoiled. And Jesus, look at that hair. Are those supposed to be dreadlocks?

Then it hit her, and she grinned. She had a sideways grin that could be cute or devilish, and right now, the girl under the tree looked a bit devilish.

Let’s see if I can do this one little thing, she thought. She looked at him and brought the long, ugly pseudo-dreadlock on the left side of his head into focus. The one that looked like a hairy tentacle. She narrowed her eyes and looked at the very end of it, right past the little tassel he had tied on it.

Not too much now, she cautioned herself. Just a little…

***

It’s working, Val thought to himself. It’s really working. She’s shutting up and she’s listening. Star was looking at him through teary eyes and only hiccupping every once in a while now. It was working.

“Our bodies are for pleasure,” he said. “We were put here by the Goddess to enjoy sex, to enjoy sensuality. That’s why you’re crying, is because that last barrier is breaking down. You’re not really angry with me, you’re just having a breakthrough. You’ll understand after you quit crying. You can even maybe share her with me.” He mentally congratulated himself; he’d managed to get that in there, plant that idea in her head. Fuck you, Derek Mills, for calling me a fag back in Elmont High in 9th grade, I’m gonna have two chicks in bed together if I play this right.

He put on his most sincere face, because he was a nice guy after all. “I know this hurts, but this is only your last barrier breaking down,” he said gently. “You’re too good and too beautiful for jealousy. I couldn’t love somebody who was jealous. That’s not what the Goddess wants.”

***

The girl under the tree’s jaw tightened. I’ve met gods and goddesses, you ass, she thought furiously, and they’d… Her eyes narrowed a bit more.

***

He had her now. She’d even stopped crying. She was staring at him with her mouth open. “It’s all part of the Goddess’s plan for us to share our bodies and share pleasure,” he said. “That’s how we’re going to change the world to make people be as one.” He paused for her to respond.

Star said, “There’s something…your hair is smoking…?”

***

Whatever it was that Valentine/Melvin had put in his hair was not as natural as the packaging said it was, because at that precise moment his entire hairstyle went up in flames with a noise that sounded a lot like PTOWFFF. He shrieked and Star did too.

***

Oh shit, oh shit shit shit, the girl under the tree thought. Running on autopilot, she inhaled quickly and blew in their direction.

***

The sudden and intense gust of wind blew his hair out, and knocked him over the back of the park bench as leaves and dust went into Star’s face. When she had gotten everything out of her face he was back on his feet.

He looked like a Hanna-Barbera cartoon character who ended up on the wrong end of a cannon. His face was ashy and sooty, and a huge portion of his hair was completely gone. Even his medieval peasant shirt was a bit scorched around the collar. His eyes were wide open, and in one hand he held a still-smoking dreadlock.

She couldn’t help it. Star exploded with laughter. He looked like an idiot. Suddenly it all came together in her head; what he had been trying to do, who he really was, everything. He was an idiot. She began laughing in earnest.

Val looked at the dreadlock in his left hand and felt the top of his head with the other. Nothing.  Nothing. Just a few here and there. The top of my head is bald. Like my dad.

“MY HAIR, MY FUCKIN’ DREADS,” he yelled. “AH HOLY SHIT MY FUCKIN’ DREADS!”

This sent Star off into peals of laughter.

“Don’t laugh at me,” Val said. She couldn’t see for laughing. But something in his tone made her look up.

Val’s face had changed. “Don’t you laugh at me, you fuckin’ bitch,” he snarled. “Don’t you laugh at me, or…” The hand that wasn’t holding a dreadlock drew back. Star’s eyes widened.

“Or you’ll do what,” a cool voice cut in. Star didn’t know where she’d come from, but a chunky blonde girl with a short hairdo was suddenly standing behind the park bench, facing Val. She’d never been more glad to have somebody there in her life.

“Stay out of this,” Val said. “This is between me and her. You can stay the fuck out of it. She did this to me.”

“Maybe whatever it was you were putting on your sad-ass hair just caught fire in the sun,” the blonde girl said, with contempt dripping from every syllable. “You should have bought the good stuff.”

“Fuck you,” Val said. “You can…” Then some instinct made him look down at the blonde girl’s hands, where they were resting on the back of the iron park bench. She pressed her fingers down, ever so lightly, on the iron railing, and then crossed her arms. He saw the imprint of her fingers, sunk into the iron. He looked up, into her unblinking and very cold green eyes. Her gaze said, I have kicked the ass of ten-foot-tall, four-armed beings from dimensions that your highest levels of mathematics don’t even know about. You are less than dirt to me. Everything Derek Mills ever said about him in 9th grade paled in comparison to that gaze.

“He was going to hit me,” Star gasped. She hadn’t noticed the fingerprints. She stared at Val, one fist raised and the other still holding his dreadlock. “He was really going to hit me.”

The blonde girl held Val’s gaze. “He’s not going to do that now,” she said levelly. “I think that what he is going to do is take his broke-dick-dog ass out of here. I think he’ll stay a good long way away from you. Like, forever. Don’t you think that’s what’s going to happen?”

 Val was shaking now. “Fuck you, fuck all of you bitches,” Val said. “Fuck YOU, Star. We’re THROUGH. You did this to me! You cast a black magic spell on me! I’ll have you thrown out of the coven!”

“FUCK YOU, YOU FAKE ASS PRICK!” Star yelled. It was all pent up and tangled up, and now it all came out. The blonde girl understood the feeling. All the fear and heartbreak finally honing itself into anger, that beautiful righteous anger that could be directed right at someone who needs it. And Star was doing just that.

Star stood up, knelt down and grabbed a handful of dirt and gravel. “GET OUT OF HERE AND NEVER TALK TO ME AGAIN,” she yelled, and threw the whole handful at Val.

If you had been looking you might have seen someone’s cheeks puff just slightly as the dirt and rocks seemed to accelerate, smacking into Val’s face hard, getting into his eyes and mouth.

Star grabbed a double handful, stepped toward him and flung more at him. She seemed to be throwing really hard, and really well. Val stumbled backwards, coughing through a mouthful of dust.

“GO TO HELL, MELVIN!” Star yelled. “HEY, EVERYBODY, THIS GUY’S NAME IS MELVIN AND HE’S A FUCKING PRICK! THAT HITS WOMEN! “

Those few people in the park who weren’t already watching while this was going on were now staring at the lanky, ugly guy with half his hair gone and the other half in blackened dreadlocks. Melvin, as he would now be known for the rest of his short career at Tulola, looked around in the silence.  He saw all the eyes fixed on him, noting his face and name.  He saw the cell phones already out and in hand. He saw, and hauled ass.

When he was out of sight, Star fell back on the bench. “Oh Jesus, oh Goddess, he was really going to hit me,” she said. The girl who was once under the tree came up behind her and touched her shoulder. “Hey,” she said. “Hey, he’s gone.”

“He would have hit me if you hadn’t been there,” Star said.

“I don’t think he had the nuts for it,” the blonde girl said. “He’s just a loser compensating for the size of his tiny equipment. He seemed like he was full of shit if you ask me. Besides, you hit him pretty good with those rocks.”

“That’s gotta hurt,” said a sorority girl who had come up from the volleyball game. “Did you really catch his hair on fire?”

“No,” Star said. “It just did it by itself.”

“Wow,” the sorority girl said. “I think I know that guy. We call him Roquefort. He hangs around the sorority house sometimes playing guitar and singing weird folk songs about cherries and shit.”

“That’s him,” Star said. She stood up, and the girl from under the tree said, “Are you OK?”

“Yeah,” Star said. “And no.  I think so. I think I am much better right now.”

“Cool,” the sorority girl said. “I really like how you got that blue streak going in your hair. That was really great when you threw the rocks in his face.”

A security guard appeared, jogging up from back in the trees. “Miss? We had a report that something was going on here?”

The girl from under the tree spoke up. “This woman,” she said, nodding at Star, “ was being harassed, I think, and then the guy’s hair caught on fire from some sort of hairspray he was using, and then he tried to hit her. She threw some rocks at him and he ran off.  I saw it.”

“Do you know who it was?” the cop said.

“Melvin Slokum,” Star and the blonde girl replied in unison.

“How did you know…” Star turned and looked at the girl from under the tree. She shrugged. “I’ve seen him around,” she said, which was a much better answer than I looked at his wallet with my x-ray vision and read the name off his student I.D.

“Would you like to make a report?” the cop said.

20 minutes later, after a lot of scribbling, walkie-talkie conversation and an extensive dialogue between the guard, Star, the blonde girl, and the sorority girl, it was over.  The policeman walked off, and Star, the girl from under the tree and the sorority girl looked at each other.

“I bet he was hitting on everyone on campus,” Star said to nobody in particular. 

“Ew,” the sorority girl said. “Look, if you’re OK I’m going back to my game, but be safe, ‘kay?”

“Yeah,” Star said. “Thanks.” Then she turned to the girl from under the tree. “Thanks for being there.”

“It was no problem,” the blonde girl said. “It looked like you took care of yourself pretty good though.”

Star made a decision. This girl looked like someone she could talk to. Star was never shy about talking about herself, and right now she really, really wanted to talk. “You want to go for some coffee?” she offered. “There’s a place near here called The Fine Grind. What’s your name?”

“Molly,” the girl replied. “Molly Day.”

“I’m Star,” the other girl said. “Let’s go talk. I can’t believe his hair went on fire like that.”

“Strange things happen all the time,” Molly said. “Sometimes to people who deserve them.”

“I like when that happens,” said Star. “Let’s go, you want to take my car?”

Molly resisted the urge to say I’ll fly over and meet you there. “Sure,” she said.

5 Comments

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5 responses to “A Day in the Park (draft to be revised)

  1. I was hoping your other friends had commented first, so I could see if we all like the same things and such, but here goes…

    One of my favorite parts of this story is the pagan social commentary. I know someone the cheating-while-polyamorous thing happened to so I admit I felt thrilled at what happened to Melvin Slokum. I don’t know what happened afterwards to the real life Melvin I knew, but I feel enough schadenfreude that I’d like to draw out his punishment a little more. I want to see the smoke sloooowly snake up his dreadock and encircle his head before his hair makes the noise you hear when fire catches. Because, yes, I’m evil that way. 😀

    I also like the conversation with the cousin. I like the clues about her appearance, and I’d like to see a little of whatever else might be quirky-sweet about her before I find out she’s dead–though I was sad and sort of disappointed to find that out. Which would be a good thing because I like the cousin and I think I want to like her more before I find out so I can empathize with your main character more. I’m not sure you need the asterisks between the segments of conversation, but I’m not sure you don’t, either. You could always try using a transition instead of the asterisks and see how it works with the flow of your story. In fact, as I look further on, when your main character is swallowing the lump in her throat, I see that you did do it, and it worked pretty well.

    I like the way you use italics for thoughts. It’s another of my favorite things. I like it a whole lot better than other ways of dealing with thoughts and point of view. I don’t know if it’s just me being all ADD, but I do get distracted with breaks between italic and regular font style. I think Stephen King uses them the way you are so I guess you could compare and see. The only thing is, I am not sure about using italics for speech if you’re using them for thoughts, especially since you do such a good job saying things like, “He said ‘monogamy’ with the same tone that other people reserve for terms like ‘lawyer’ and ‘impacted fecal matter.'” In fact that bit is witty enough it does what you want without italics. (I was so amused think I snorted when I first read that.)

    I noticed something that I think could help you most with your story, which
    is what I’ve seen with other writers: your second paragraph really seems to start your story. I like the first sentence of that paragraph as the first sentence of the whole story. If you could combine the essential details from the first paragraph into the second and start with that first sentence, it could really work well for you. You wouldn’t have to sacrifice detail or economy. Combining like that’s the sort of thing you might be able to use as a tool throughout. It’s just intuition on my part because I haven’t worked it out all the way through, but it might be helpful enough to try and see. You can always scrap it if it doesn’t work for you.

    All in all, I enjoyed your story and I definitely want to see more of your main character. I know you have a reason for not spelling out what she’s like just yet, so I can wait. 🙂 I am especially fond of the way you ended. Again, your intelligence and humor are clearly evident, but you don’t beat anyone upside the head with your wit so it’s not distracting or too showy.

    Hope that helps! Let me know if you want more.

  2. OK, I changed my mind about the italics re: thoughts. It is me being all ADD. I’ve been reading Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Avalon series again, and she does italics for thoughts the way you do. It distracts me when she does it, too, but it’s obviously just fine. As long as you’re consistent when you do use something like that, it’ll fly.

    Sorry about waffling like that.

  3. Kimmaline

    I could say a lot….but the short one will be demanding one or more of my breasts in the near future.

    So I will say:

    A) love that she was wearing a Decemberists T-shirt.

    2) my overriding feeling about this piece is that I very, very much want to read more. I have, as you well know, precious little downtime at the moment….and this was an AWESOME way to spend it. My chief complaint is that it has now created a bit of a Firefly Phenomenon…..I like it SO much that I almost wish I hadn’t found it in the first place, for longing for more of the characters and storyline.

    III) please write more. You really are an amazing fiction writer. Although, that comes from someone who can’t write fiction to save my life. Hence why I never ran for public office.

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