“Aunt Mercy,” I said. Just to be clear, she wasn’t really my aunt, and she couldn’t have been my aunt, because there weren’t any werewolves in the family. But she and Charlie had been friends, so she’d practically been an aunt to me (At the very least she felt more like family than my grandmothers did, since like I said, my grandmas didn’t exist in this reality).
“I thought you were a mugger,” I said.
She laughed at that. “You always were a worry wart. I run around trying to stop muggings, not start them.”
“I guess that’s what superheroes do.”
“You bet your ass it is. Now, c’mon. You want me to walk you to Charlie’s place?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I’d like that.”
“Alright, then. Just promise not to jump at every shadow on the way, okay?”
Mercy walked up to me, putting her furry arm around me. It felt nice, soft. I felt like I was a kid again. She and I started walking.
“Sorry, it’s just that I’ve seen shadows do some weird things, recently. Ran into someone who manipulates darkness. We talked, but I still don’t know what she wants from me.”
“Nemesis or love interest?” Mercy said.
— — —
Mercy left me at Charlie’s steps, claiming she couldn’t stay because she had to patrol the city some more. It might’ve been kind of true, but I didn’t think it was all true. She must’ve figured that Mom and I would need some one-on-one time.
She was right.
I entered the apartment building’s lobby. It felt cramped.
“Sarah,” Larry and Barry said. They both managed the building and they both looked exactly the same. They probably looked the same because they were clones, which meant they really were basically the same.
“How’s school?” the one asked.
“She already graduated, you dumb-ass,” the other replied.
“And what about college?”
“She’s doing the superhero thing.”
“The superhero thing? Since when did you get powers, girl?”
“She doesn’t have powers.”
“Oh, hell. You’re fighting crime without powers?”
“Yeah, Sherlock. As I literally just had to explain to you, she fights crime without powers.”
“That’s a tough road.”
“I’m sure she knows that, and I’m sure she doesn’t need people like you questioning her choices. Look, Sarah. You want to see your mother?” the more likable of the two managers asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “Is she in?”
“She is,” the less likable one said. “You can go on up, now.”
I did, walking up the steps I’d gone up a lot of times, over the past few years. At first they’d felt strange. The staircase was a little narrow and half the steps creaked. But over time I got used to it, in the sort of way that I guess people get used to anything. I started to associate them with Mom. I began to kind of like them.
Reaching the third floor, I got to Charlie’s door, using the same knock as always. It was the one based off of the old song, “Shave and a hair cut…”
Charlie knocked on the door twice, completing the line with “Two bits.” She opened the door.
Mom looked pretty cool, but she wasn’t going to win any fashion of the year awards or anything. Not that she would have wanted to. She wore the same outfit every time I saw her: blue button-down shirt with a red tie. Her hair fell just a little short of her shoulders, and a cigarette dangled between her lips.
“Mom,” I said.
“Sarah,” she said, “Baby. It’s good to see you. Come on in.”
I did. Mom’s place was pretty nice: small, but nice. She barely fit the couch in the living room and didn’t own a TV. The kitchen took up about a quarter of the apartment, and you could see the tiny bedroom as soon as you walked through the front door.
When Mom got kicked off the police force a couple months ago, me and a bunch of her co-workers threw a going-away party. It was hard to fit everyone in here.
“How’s it going with the new team?”
“We took down a bad guy, so I guess it’s going alright?”
“Anyone interesting?” she asked.
“Ick,” Mom said, flashing me a knowing smile.
“It was pretty gross. Also, I took down The Patriot and The Hound.”
“Haha, that’s nice,” she said. “I don’t think I ever ran into them.”
“Yeah, they were funny,” I said, sitting down on Mom’s couch. I felt a little lump in my throat, but still felt I should ask, “How’s everything with you?”
“I’m living,” she said, not looking me in the eyes. “Should be able to get the PI license soon.”
“Yeah,” she said. “Larry and Barry have been good about letting me put off paying the rent, too. So things aren’t so bad.”
I really was glad, too. Mom had been having a hard time over the past couple months, and I didn’t really know how to help her. I’d listen to her tell stories, and I’d listen to her cry. I tried being there for her, but other than that, what else could I do for her? I was glad I came back, though. And I was glad things were looking up for her.
“I actually have something I kind of want to tell you,” I said. It made me nervous even thinking about it, but why? Why should who I was be such a big burden? Why should people freak out about what I was?
“Sure,” Mom said. “You know you can tell me anything.”
“I think I’m–” I began, but then stopped.
“You think you’re what?”
“I think I’m a–” I said again, only to stop.
“You think you’re a what?”
“You know Ellen DeGeneres?”
She smiled, tilting her head and looking at me, “C’mon. Baby. What’s up?”
“I think I like ladies and I asked my teammate out and The Patriot and The Hound said homosexuality was immoral but really isn’t shooting at people or wearing Speedos in public a little more immoral I mean I don’t want to knock people’s fashion choices I’m not Joan Rivers or anything but I’m just saying ladies liking ladies isn’t the worst thing in the world.”
I took a breath.
“You’re a lesbian?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I said. My heart was pounding. Even then I knew it was ridiculous to be so nervous. Mom was like the queerest person I knew. Mom had to be where my gay gene or whatever came from. But it was still just so nerve-wracking to say it out loud. Saying it out loud made it all too real.
“Must run in the family,” she said, wearing a smirk.
“So it’s not a problem,” I said.
“A problem? A problem!” she said. “No, it’s not a problem. Why, just this morning — or I guess it was mid-afternoon, but since I’d just woken up I thought of it as morning — I ran into a postal worker as she was placing the mail into the mailboxes of everyone who lived here, shoving magazines and letters into the mail slots, like she was the sort of woman who knew her way around a hole. And as she shoved those letters into the mail slots, I couldn’t help but reflect on what those letters might spell out. ‘L’ ‘O’ ‘V’ ‘E’? Or ‘L’ ‘U’ ‘S’ ‘T’? It could’ve been either, but I was so smitten by her curves that I didn’t pause much to think about it.
“No, I didn’t pause much at all. My heart, especially. My heart sped up like it was in a drag race, blowing through every stop sign and screaming for a break. But the thing about drag racing is, you don’t break until everything’s over. And the thing about drag racing is that the cars don’t really express genders, so what’s the point of a drag show for cars, anyway? I’m all for drag shows, but if an inanimate object doesn’t have a gender, what’s the point? But then again, what about sentient cars? Never seen one, but I know they exist. Was I denying their genders? Did they have genders?
“While I pondered the plight of those gender-confused cars, I leaned against the wall and gave the dame a look-over.
“‘Hey,’ I said, looking her over.
“‘Hey,’ she said back to me, like a siren who just so happened to work for the US Postal Service.
“‘What’re you doing?’ I asked, letting my heart go even faster, breaking the sound barrier while also trying to break the love barrier.
“‘Delivering the mail,’ she said, ‘And a few packages.’ Of course it didn’t matter how many packages she was carrying. I just wanted her to put on a package–a plastic one–and use it to thrust her way into my heart. But my heart was already gone and there wasn’t a stop sign in sight. I knew it. I knew it. I knew–”
“Mom?” I said, breaking into her story.
“Yeah?” she said.
“You’re monologuing again.”
She paused for a moment, collecting her thoughts and snapping back into reality.
“Sorry,” she said, “You know how I get.”
I did. She got monologue-y sometimes. And when she got monologue-y, she got incredibly gay. Or maybe it was the other way around. I’m really not sure.
“Yeah,” I said. “I’m glad you’re cool with the gay thing. I’m glad it’s not, like, going to make things weird or anything.”
“Of course it won’t,” she said. “You really can come to me with anything. You know that, right?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I do.”
There was a lull in the conversation, but it didn’t make me too uncomfortable. She was my mother, so I knew she had my back. There was no reason to be so uncomfortable.
“I’m not sure I’m cut out to be a superhero,” I blurted.
Without skipping a beat, she asked, “What makes you say that?”
“I–” I paused, skipping a couple of beats. After trying to convince myself that I was a superhero and failing, it was weird to think about it the other way around. Why wasn’t I a superhero? I went with the simplest answer I could think of: “I don’t have superpowers.”
“So?” she asked.
“So, it’s hard to be a superhero when you don’t have superpowers.”
“A lot of things are hard,” Mom told me. “Who says that makes them impossible? I don’t have superpowers, Prometheus doesn’t have superpowers, the Red Knight doesn’t have superpowers. A lot of us don’t have superpowers.”
“I guess the problem’s that I don’t feel like a superhero,” I said.
“Why don’t you?”
“I just don’t know if I’ve got any good reason to be a superhero.”
“Do you still want to be a superhero?” she asked.
“Well, yeah,” I said.
“That’s a good reason,” she said.
“But I’m bad at fighting.”
“So you’ll just have to train and get better.”
“I’m a really anxious person.”
“I know anxiety is a big deal,” she said. “But it can’t stop you from doing anything. You just have to control your fears. Do some breathing exercises, get some medication if you have to. Follow your dreams, and realize that you’re capable of anything.”
That made me feel fuzzy. There was something nice about having a person who really cared for me, who really wanted to see me succeed. Mom gave me strength when I didn’t have any.
“Thanks,” I said. “I really needed all that.”
“That’s what I’m here for. That, and drinking. Speaking of, you want a drink?” she asked, moving towards her liquor cabinet.
“Mom?” I said.
“What? It’s after 5 o’clock. It’s no crime.”
“Yeah, but I’m not 21.”
She laughed at that, bringing over two glasses and a bottle of brandy. When she looked up at me, she said, “Oh, you’re serious. You know I’m not a cop anymore, right?”
“Yeah. I guess I just– OK. Yeah. I’ll have a drink.”
Mom nodded her head, pouring a glass of brandy. She handed it to me, then poured one for herself.
“You worry so much about labels, kiddo,” Mom said, “Superhero, civilian. Gay, straight. Drunk, sober. Why not just live life? Do what you want to do, love who you want to love. Then, when it’s all said and done, you can let other people put labels on you.”
That sounded like a nice way to live, actually.
“A toast,” Mom said, raising her glass, “To giving up labels, to saying and doing whatever you want to. And, of course, a toast to my beautifully gay daughter.”
I smiled. Mom did, too. We clinked our glasses, and I said, “To all of that. And also, to the coolest Mom who ever Momed.”
She laughed, saying, “I can always count on my girl.”
— — —
Apparently, Mom was a heavy drinker. Also apparently, I had a very low tolerance. These two things became super clear when I woke up in Mom’s bed, to the sound of her snoring in another room.
“I–” I said, trying to lift myself up. It was a painful attempt, so I decided to lay in bed for a bit longer.
“Oh my god,” I said, head throbbing. “Actually, if there is a God, I guess you’re pretty ticked off at me, because of the whole gay thing. Which, now that I think about it, is pretty unfair. Don’t be a dick about it. Seriously.”
I tried to get out of bed again, but this time I took things more slowly. Gently lifting the covers off, I sort of rolled out of bed. It was hard to make myself vertical, but I managed.
“Why do people do this to themselves?” I asked myself. “Wait, is this why Mom talks to herself? Is she just really hungover all the time?” The idea made a little too much sense to me.
I shambled to the kitchen, looking for breakfast while Mom snored on. In the cabinets I managed to find a half-eaten Pop-Tart, a box of Rice Crispies, and some Cinnamon Toast Crunch. It was nice to know I wasn’t alone with the whole ‘Bad Eating Habits’ thing. Really, bad eating habits were my birthright, my family’s legacy.
I thought about all that while pouring the cereal into an empty mug.
Mom was a super-light sleeper, probably because she occasionally had to deal with supervillains breaking into her house and trying to kill her. So she woke up by the time I got to the couch.
“What time is it?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. Then I looked at the clock that lay on the floor. “10:00 AM.”
“You wake up this early?” she asked. “Where did I go wrong as a parent?”
“Why did we drink so much?” I asked.
“That’s what adults do,” Mom said, “They drink and commiserate.”
“That’s what being an adult’s all about?”
“That’s what being this adult’s all about,” Mom said, pointing to herself. “There are so many downsides to getting older. Might as well appreciate the one upside, which is that you can drink as much as you want.”
“Why would you want to drink so much?”
“Really,” Mom said, chuckling as she looked at me. “Where did I go wrong as a parent? You can be honest.”
I looked down at my mug of sugary cereal, which was now half-empty. “Eating habits. You definitely messed up on that one.”
“Nobody’s perfect,” she said. “You still think you want to check out Sum Industries?”
“Last night you said you thought you might try and investigate Sum Industries. You changed your mind?”
“I forgot I said that,” I said. “Actually, I still don’t remember saying that.”
“First time you got drunk and you can’t even remember it,” Mom said, with a smile on her face. “That’s where I went right as a parent.”
“I said I would go and investigate Sum Industries?”
“Yeah. You said you wanted to go check them out, since your roommate who you also had a crush on was working for them.”
“Oh god I told you that, too.”
“You can tell me anything,” Mom said.
“Yeah, but I really shouldn’t,” I said.
“I told you about the time I banged Plastique,” she said.
“Yes, you did,” I said. “Can we agree to never talk about that again?”
“What? She was hot! Had tits the size of–”
“I have to go,” I blurted, flinging myself in the direction of the door.