Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The League of Absolutely Ordinary Superheroes Part 1


When your IQ is so far off the scale that scientists are lining up to create new tests to measure it and Mensa is knocking on your door, there are only two ways to go in life. You can embrace your nerdly glory and live a life condemned to exist on the fringes, without any real human contact, or you can pretend. Or you can be an arrogant jerk like Greg, but he’s practically an entire category to himself no matter which way you slice it.

Like any other normal teenager, I just wanted to belong. Okay, at first it was frustrating that the rest of the class would take hours to understand what I’d figured out in three seconds, but that was easily dealt with: I just ignored school altogether. My real education happened in my spare time anyway; school was just somewhere I had to be, with people who I desperately wanted to like me.

They didn’t, of course. I mean, to begin with they accepted me and all, but there was always this vague sense of unease, like they knew I was hiding something, but couldn’t figure out what. And then bloody Mr Hangley had to perform what was tantamount to abuse on that poor, unsuspecting tangent secant theorem, and I couldn’t help myself: before I knew what I was doing, I’d opened my big gob and corrected him, and once the words started they just kept pouring out, a torrent I’d been hiding inside for so many years that when they finally spilled over, they flooded everyone within a five mile radius.

Actually, I can only vouch for the fact that they drowned my classmates, and very nearly Mr Hangley, who stood staring at me like I’d grown horns and started tap-dancing naked on the desk. Which, thinking back, may have been the smarter thing to do.

After that, there was no going back.

Megan cornered me right after class, fists on hips and eyes flashing. “What was that, then?” she demanded.

I did my best to shrink, to blend back into the crowd – but the crowd was no longer there. Instead, guys I’d just half an hour ago called mates were edging away from me, pointing and whispering, and I stood out like I’d always known I’d eventually have to, raw and naked and alone. So, eloquently, I shrugged and tried to pretend like I had no idea what she was talking about. Like lecturing your maths teacher on the subtleties of advanced trig was normal.

“I’m serious,” she said, tossing her hair. Man, you do not want to get Megan riled up. I swear, she’s part terrier or something, because once she’s latched onto something she does not let go, and she is scary. “What was up with that?”

“With what?” I snapped, shoving midgety year sevens aside so I could stomp away. Sure, that’s right, I thought. It’s not enough that my cover’s blown and I’m back to being Chris-fit again, bloody brunette Barbie has to come and rub it in, just to make sure I got the point.

“Your dazzling display of brilliance,” Megan said archly, tagging along at my shoulder.

I ground my teeth, staring fixedly at the far corner of the building, around which ladies never durst trod.

“Come off it, Chris,” she said, doing that hair-toss thing again. How do girls do that while they’re walking? How do they not lose their balance? I’ve seen even the most uncoordinated of girls manage the hair-toss feat without a problem. It must be another one of those mysterious things they get taught at Girl School.

“That was no act,” Megan continued. “You can’t possibly have made that up on the spot. I mean, anyone who knows anything at all about geometry could see Mr Hang-me was wrong from a mile away, but the cross products? Even I hadn’t thought about how that connected.”

Somewhere in all of that, I’d trailed to a halt, eyes wide and mouth gaping, frozen halfway through a step. Quickly, I wiped my mouth on the back of my sleeve and quit the zombie impersonation. “What the hell?” I said. “You understood that?”

Megan shot me a scathing look that left me cowering. “Just because you’ve been too busy trying to be a dick to notice the rest of us.” She did that ‘tsh’ thing that girls do when they’re exasperated and stalked away, leaving me once again doing my zombie act at her back.

“Wait, what?” I said, hurrying to catch up. “The rest of us? The rest of us what?”

Megan pressed her lips together and glanced sideways at me. “You’re not the only smart kid in the school, you know.”

“I…” I trailed off. I’d been going to say that I knew that, of course – only clearly I didn’t. All this time I’d thought I was the only freakazoid hiding out in this teenage shark pit, alone and misunderstood, when really… I shook my head like a dog twitching away a fly. “How many?” I asked as I tagged along at Megan’s shoulder. I had no idea where she was going, but she hadn’t told me to get lost yet, and that was something.

Megan murmured something too soft to catch, then stopped, hands fisted at her sides, staring at me.

I caught myself shrinking away from her again and forced myself to straighten. Geez, I was twice her height, and even if she was smart enough to understand what I’d said back in maths, I was still arrogant enough to know I was smarter than her. I didn’t need to shrink from her.

“Four,” she said, laser-sights blazing. “Five, if we’ll have you.”

“If you’ll… have me?” Once more, I found myself wrong-footed and gaping. I should have realised then what that meant, but no guy jumps to the conclusion that a tidgey girl half his size could whip him arse over nostrils with his own intelligence and then run three times around the metaphorical block before he’d even got his feet under him again. I’m not saying it can’t happen – bloody hell, Megan is a monster – I’m just saying it’s not expected, all right? I’m not sexist. Megan’d eat me alive if I was.

“Yes, if we’ll have you. And just because you’re smart, don’t think we will. You’ve been enough of a dickhead the last three years that Greg’ll blow his nut when he sees you tagging along.” She spun around and marched off again.

“Wait, what?” I said, beginning to feel that that might be a fairly standard comeback to any conversation Megan was in charge of. “Tagging along to what?

“You’ll see,” she said primly, turning a corner and shouldering her way through a glass door.

For a millisecond, I froze, mouth open like some gobbing goldfish, staring at the door. She had not just gone through that door without opening it. No way. I blinked. No, of course she hadn’t; there she was, holding the door open for me, impatience clearer than daylight. Of course she hadn’t gone through the door. Dimwit.

“Come on,” she said, continuing her march down the corridor. Before I could open my mouth and make an idiot of myself yet again – which would be what, like ten times in as many minutes? Dude, seriously: what was going on with the world? – she stopped outside a classroom door and took a deep breath. Her commando-queen fa├žade slipped for a moment and she shot me a nervous glance. “Ready?”

I shrugged. “As I’ll ever be.”

[To be continued next month...]

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Glass

Isabelle took off her glasses, squinting in an attempt to see the hand she held outstretched in front of her face. All that her eyes showed was a great blur. Frustrated, she returned the glasses to their accustomed place and stared at her fingers thoughtfully.

‘How could you think they are artist’s hands?’ her mother’s voice echoed through her mind. ‘It is quite obvious that they are a pianist’s hands. Anyone could see that.’

‘It’s true,’ Isabelle’s father had agreed, adjusting his glasses. ‘No-one could mistake it.’

“Well, I obviously could.” Isabelle grumbled to herself. “Why can’t they see what I see?” Sighing, she picked up her pencil, began to draw.

In the town of Un Vue, named so because the view from the nearby hill, while not as great as the town of La Vue, was still somewhat spectacular, each and every person wore glasses. Upon the week of their first spoken sentence, every child would receive brand-new glasses and, upon the day of their death, those glasses would be buried with them. As if to mediocritize everything more, all of the glasses were the same, from colour to shape, not a single thing differed among them. Because of this universal similarity, not a single person noticed the presence of their glasses in any particular way, just as no-one would really notice that another person had two eyes. It was the way everyone was, from generation to generation.

Now, Isabelle was slightly unique among the rest of the town. She did not begin to speak at all for the longest time and so, unlike anyone else, could remember slightly what it was like not to wear glasses. Therefore, this particular instance of her taking them off in order to see differently could occur within the realm of possibility. She never did so in public, however, where the absence of glasses would be noticed like the loss of a limb. No-one would understand because no-one could remember that there had been another way of seeing things. But Isabelle could no longer see in that way. The blur in front of her face was evidence of that.

Then why? She thought. Why do my parents and I see so differently? All I want to be is an artist, but no matter how well I can draw, no matter what kind of art I create, Mama always frowns upon it. She thinks it’s stupid, and she doesn’t care if I know. The only thing she has wanted from me is that I become a pianist, just like her. Never mind the fact that I can barely tell one note from another, or the concept that black dots on a page somehow mean music is completely beyond my understanding. Isabelle drew angrily, having to stop and erase each time she accidentally made a line that was too dark or too thick. The slowly developing image on her page was that of a girl sitting in a dark room, her head flowering, glowing with ideas and impressions.

You can’t make me, Mama, she told herself fiercely. You can’t make me.
   
They are pianist’s hands,’ repeated her mother, followed again by her father’s affirmation.

No! Isabelle threw her pencil onto her desk with such vigour that it nearly broke. Unable to focus, she stood, running her fingers through her hair, repositioning her glasses. Why can’t they see what I see?
Outside Isabelle’s window, a gentle sunset delicately painted the sky a pink that was slowly deepening to purple, then to black. It mocked her with its very tranquility. She made a face at it and turned away. Everyone else in her family had gone to sleep earlier, and Isabelle wondered if she should do the same. Staying awake was accomplishing nothing here, only frustration.

Why can’t they see what I see? For some irrational reason, Isabelle felt she would be unable to go to sleep unless she was able to answer that question. “Go away,” she told it, hoping that, by doing so, she could ignore the problem. She tried to turn her mind to sleep, to her drawing, to something that would not take a hold of her mind in the way this question was. Instead, Isabelle found those seven small words growing in her mind, disturbing her attempted self-distraction. It seemed incomprehensible that her she and her mother could look at the very same thing, yet see it in two completely different ways. They both had eyes that worked, they both wore the same kind of glasses, the world should look no different to them. Even if they switched glasses –

A sudden wild thought entered Isabelle’s mind. Without a word, without even another thought, she left her room, stepping quickly and quietly down the hall to her parent’s bedroom. Easing the door open, she slipped in, her eyes scanning the room for her mother’s glasses. She spotted them quickly and nimbly picked them up, lifting them in such a careful manner as to not make the slightest sound.

This is preposterous! Her mind cried indignantly. Looking through her glasses won’t change things in the least! You idiot, they’re exactly the same!

Nevertheless, Isabelle returned to her room with the glasses, almost proud at they way she had been able to move so silently.

“Okay,” she breathed, “Now.” With a swift motion, Isabelle removed her glasses and put her mother’s on. Immediately, she noticed a change in the room. All the things her mother had scorned now seemed scornful. Isabelle’s most cherished drawings were now colourless, insipid, worthless. She looked down at her hands, now hanging nearly lifelessly at the shock of what her eyes were showing her. Pianist’s hands, to be sure. Her very fingers seemed able to conjure beauty out of even the most out of tune upright.

Slowly, Isabelle replaced her mother’s glasses with her own and sat down at her desk. Picking up her pencil, she continued to draw until the picture was completed, returned her mother’s glasses, changed, and went to bed. The drawing still showed the girl sitting, the same thoughts growing out of her mind.

But she wore no glasses.