This has been difficult to compress. At one point it was four pages, single spaced–have no fear, I did trim it down to a reasonable size. I’m rereading Les Miserables, so I blame Victor Hugo.
(This is a rant and totally unnecessary for understanding the story. Feel free to skip.)
The silly man feels that to set up a single scene between two secondary characters at the Battle of Waterloo, he must take his readers through a detailed description of the geography of Waterloo, an account of the battle itself, an analysis of the meaning of victory, the nature and qualities of the combating nations, and some thoughts on the commanders of the two armies before finally getting to the scene with his characters. With all that rolling around in my head, how am I supposed to be brief and punchy and modern?
And welcome to Garden Terrace Retirement Home. I’ll be revisiting this place.
Patrick Smiley, age 35, sat on the front porch of Garden Terrace Retirement Center and Nursing home and listened to the nurses behind him whisper about him. This was not difficult as he had extremely acute hearing, a fact often overlooked in contrast to his other gifts.
“Phyllis, Patrick’s in a mood. He was bullying Andrew again, and now I have to take him his lunch. Can’t you do it? I’ll cover your night shift next week!”
The head nurse gave a heavy sigh.
Patrick had the porch to himself, of course. Just a minute before he’d found Andrew Clarkson, once called The Wolf, sitting out here.
“Hey Andy, could you open a pickle jar for me?” Patrick mocked. “Oh, wait, you can’t because you’ve voluntarily destroyed your own hands. What a pity.”
Andrew, a tall old man with masses of white scar tissue running along his knuckles, wordlessly got up and left, which was exactly what Patrick wanted. Every time The Wolf extended the claws hidden in his hands for battle, they ripped open his skin, and after decades of service, his hands were so scarred they were nearly unusable.
But Andrew was not the only superhero not allowed to share space with Patrick Smiley. Even the residents with decent powers like Mr. Fireball and Captain Electro stayed away from the porch when Patrick wanted to have a seat.
He’d never cared for the dramatic superhero names and he was too powerful to need a secret identity. Patrick Smiley, that’s all he’d ever been. He didn’t need to brand himself, he didn’t need to advertise to find work, he didn’t even need a catchphrase or a cool name. Patrick could transmit a fatal virus at will with a single touch, he could burn through reinforced steel with laser vision, he could see perfectly in the dark, he had telekinesis, he could fly, he could sense metal far as 100 yards away and change it from a solid to a liquid or gas, he was impervious to bullets, knives, and snake bites, his clothes never wrinkled and (as mentioned) he had exceptionally good hearing.
And yet…at thirty-five he was the youngest resident at Garden Terrace by over a decade. He was slim and healthy. His only noticeable failings were thinning hair and his unpleasant sense of humor.
He had quit active duty abruptly and without explanation on his thirtieth birthday. The Department of Defense still sent envoys over to him asking him to come out of retirement. Sometimes he was sarcastic with them: “Oh, come out of retirement to get yanked around by some greasy politician? Why, sounds like a treat!” And other times, he just slammed the door in their faces. On their last visit, he had thrown a lamp and screamed at them and they hadn’t been back.
Everyone assumed he had some traumatic experience in the field (the DoD used to send psychiatrists to him, too, but after he started singeing their clipboards with his laser vision, they refused to visit him) but it wasn’t true. The reason was much simpler than anyone suspected.
Patrick Smiley was achingly, mind numbingly, excruciatingly lonely.
Patrick didn’t know he was lonely. Even inactive he was the most feared, unstoppable superhero in the world—that was the pinnacle of success, successful people are happy, ergo, he was happy.
So now he sat, at thirty-five, alone on the front porch of a retirement home and told himself he was amused that the nurses were afraid to bring him his lunch.
Not thirty seconds later, his entire life changed because of a loose board in the Garden Terrace porch.
The Amazing Goo Woman, coming back from her weekly hair appointment, tripped coming up the steps to the front porch and in her flailing attempt to recover her balance, shot a great blob of her iridescent, bubblegum scented adhesive straight at Patrick.
The nurses rushed out to assist her, but Patrick stayed where he was, howling with laughter. There is a certain stripe of person that finds humor in an eighty year old woman wearing platform boots and purple spandex tripping on a loose board. But it would have been better had he moved to help her—by the time she was upright Patrick was immobilized, glued to his chair by her goo.
“Hey!” He shouted, as they helped Goo Woman inside, “Hey, I’m stuck!”
Phyllis, the nurse carrying Goo Woman’s purse for her turned around with a raised eyebrow. She was a large woman with a frizz of black hair pulled back into a ponytail. “Um, break out of it. Can’t you do that? Super strength and all?”
Patrick rolled his eyes. “I have the laser vision, not the super strength, which you would know, if you kept up with the resident profiles like you’re supposed to, Phyllis.”
Phyllis’s lips tightened. “Alright, Mr. Smiley. I’ll be out to help you in a few minutes.”
And she went inside. The door shut. The sun had fallen behind the trees and the porch was in cool purple shadow. Patrick tried to wriggle free of the glue but couldn’t even shift under his clothes—the glue had soaked through the (unwrinkled) fabric and adhered to his skin, rendering him completely immobile. He started to hyperventilate.
“I could use some help out here!” Patrick shouted. Nobody answered. He fumed, taking refuge in anger.
“Do you know who I am?!” He yelled. “I could destroy this place!” He considered doing it right then—just lasering down the whole front office, but then he had a momentary vision of himself, glued to a chair, stuck on a burning porch and unable to get away. That would be a humiliating way for the greatest superhero to die. He’d wait till he unstuck before he burnt anything.
And then the thought occurred to him—would he ever unstick? He tried to remember if he knew anything about Goo Woman’s powers, but he had never paid much attention to other superheroes, and he didn’t know.
Do you count as the most powerful superhero if an eighty-year-old woman can glue you to a chair for eternity?
The air was cool and clammy by the time Phyllis came back out. “Goo Woman says the glue will eventually break down, but she doesn’t remember how long it’ll be. Will you need help using the bathroom?”
The details of managing to use the bathroom while being glued to a chair were difficult and embarrassing. At one point, Patrick found himself tipped upside down as a janitor took a hacksaw to the bottom of the rocking chair. He dangled there, face red, covered in bubblegum scented glue, and looked at the impassive, upside down faces of the people around him. No one cared.
For the first time in his life, Patrick Smiley knew he was lonely.
But the realization did him no good—in fact, in a paroxysm of anxiety the next morning, he shouted at Phyllis when she came in to help him. From there he proceeded to stare in stony silence at the meal lady when she came to feed him his supper (he didn’t know how to talk to other superheroes, let alone normal civilians) and made an offensive joke to Goo Woman when she dropped by to apologize. He offended her so much, she glued his remote to his coffee table and stormed out.
This continued for two days. The glue held him fast. Every part of him ached from immobility. Each minute that passed left him more panicked. Since Goo Woman, no one had asked how he was or dropped by to see him.
Finally, one morning after he’d been sarcastic and snippy to Phyllis all morning, she drew herself up and planted her hands on her hips.
“You are a pathetic creature, Mr. Smiley.”
And to their mutual surprise, he said meekly, “I know.”
She stared at him. “Come again?”
Patrick regretted his honesty and changed the subject. “Can you leave my door open today?”
She narrowed her eyes at him and pursed her mouth like she had something to say, but silently did as he asked.
He sat in his recliner, staring out at the people that passed. There was Andrew, The Wolf, making his slow way down the hallway, massive shoulders bowed. He stopped and spoke to the Ice Queen. She was inching along, her hands perpetually frozen to her walker, her hair so thin and white it looked like a cloud around her head, but she smiled up at Andrew and answered him in cheerful tones.
Patrick watched Andrew slowly lumber on and felt a tug of jealousy. True, Andrew Clarkson had one of the most self-destructive powers Patrick had ever heard of. And yet, the man had been the terror of sex trafficking rings worldwide. He looked at his own, thin, dexterous hands and imagined ripping them open every time he tried to fight someone, and doing it repeatedly for decades. What motivated that?
“Mr. Clarkson?” Patrick called, and his voice cracked.
The big man turned and walked back to Patrick’s door, looking in at him with sad eyes. “Mr. Smiley.”
Patrick blushed, coughed and said, “Um, would you care if I joined you on the porch? I wondered if you could tell me some about your career.”