Tuesday 16 October 2018

Superhero Worship

By Dawn Knox

Powerade (other sports drinks are available!)

Persephone Perkins fluffed up her blonde hair, smoothed the dress over her hourglass figure and knocked at Mr Chubb’s front door, taking care not to chip her blood-red nail varnish. Her real name was Phyllis but having come to Basilwade with her son – leaving Mr Perkins in another part of the country – she wanted to reinvent herself. And the name Persephone, she decided, rather suited her.
She’d moved into the house next door two weeks before and during that time hadn’t met her neighbour, although a letter addressed to Mr C. Chubb (Churchwarden All Saints), had mistakenly been delivered to her house, informing her of his name. From the uproarious laughter that frequently emanated from next-door, she guessed he was large and jolly, with chubby, red cheeks, so she was surprised when a small, skinny man with round, horn-rimmed glasses opened the door. 

She held out her hand, “Persephone Perkins,” she said, “from next door. Pleased to meet you at last.”
“Charlie Chubb. Likewise,” he said, straightening his glasses and blinking at the goddess before him.
She gave him her most dazzling smile, “I’m sorry to bother you, Charlie, but I wonder if you could do me the teensiest favour…” She held two red nails together to indicate how small the teensiest favour would be, “I’ve got an important meeting and my babysitter’s let me down… So, I wondered if you’d look after my son for a while. I’d be soooo grateful.” She pouted and fluttered her eyelashes.
Charlie’s cheeks reddened. He wasn’t used to women and especially not glamourous females like the one who now stepped forward and removed a speck of dust from his cricket jumper. When Charlie was nervous, he laughed which made him more nervous, until he became hysterical. As he choked back the giggles which were threatening to erupt, Persephone took advantage of the silence.
“What a kind man you are to help me out like this!”

“B…but… I don’t know the first thing about babies… And I’m on my way to a cricket game,” said Charlie, shock managing to stifle the laughter.

“You dear man!” said Persephone, patting his chest as if he’d told a humorous joke, “he’s six-years old and he loves cricket, don’t you?” she said reaching behind herself to drag out a small boy dressed in a yellow and black striped tee-shirt and jeans. 

Persephone patted the small boy on the head, “This is my son, Ulysses. You won’t be any trouble, will you, U?”

The young boy scowled, “I might,” he said. 

Charlie shook his head; eyes wide in panic, “I’m going to play cricket, I won’t be able to look after—” 

“Oh, he loves cricket! Don’t you, U?”

“No,” said the boy.

“And he doesn’t need looking after, he’ll play with his doll—”

“Action figure!” said Ulysses, glowering.

“Action figure,” said Persephone, leaning forward to straighten Charlie’s glasses, “You might need to clean these if you’re going to play cricket,” she said, “the lenses are steaming up.”

Charlie giggled and turned puce. 

Persephone spun on her spiky stiletto heel and after stooping to kiss Ulysses, she minced down the path.

“Behave for Charlie, won’t you, U?”

Ulysses wiped the crimson lipstick smear off his cheek and looked up expectantly at Charlie. 

“My name’s Waspman,” he lisped through the gap where his two front teeth should have been.  

“Quite,” said Charlie, “Well… err… laddie… if you’d like to come in, I’ll get my things.”

“Ah, Mrs Myers!” Charlie said as he entered the cricket pavilion bar, “I wonder if you could do me a favour, please.” He indicated Ulysses, “This is U… err… my next-door neighbour—”

“Waspman!” said Ulysses.

“Quite,” said Charlie with a giggle, “Yes, well, I’m supposed to be looking after him but obviously I can’t while I’m playing. You don’t think you could mind him for me, do you?”

“I don’t need looking after!” said Ulysses, “I’m a Superhero.”

Mrs Myers looked doubtful, “I’m not sure how I’m going to keep a child amused, Mr Chubb.”

“Oh, he’s got a doll… err… an action thing to play with. He’ll be no trouble.”

Mrs Myers scrutinised the action figure, “What on earth is that?” she asked, curling her lip in distaste, “it appears to be dripping something disgusting.”

“It’s Wormwoman,” said Ulysses, “She’s a superhero an’ she can escape from anywhere by exuding slime.” 

“Well, she’d better stop exuding it all over my floor!” said Mrs Myers.

Charlie took the opportunity to back out of the bar and made for the changing room where Mrs Myers couldn’t follow. 

“Brenda!” yelled Mrs Myers.

Brenda Baskin came rushing from the kitchen, wiping soapy hands on her apron. She was almost as tall as she was round with a smile which lit up her face. 

“Ah, Brenda!” said Mrs Myers, “You’re used to children, aren’t you? There’s a little chap here who we need to look after for Mr Chubb.” She hurried into the kitchen leaving Brenda to deal with the boy. 

“What’ve you done with him?” Mrs Myers asked when Brenda came into the kitchen.

“Poor lamb,” said Brenda, “apparently his mother’s dumped him on Charlie so she can have her nails done.”

“Yes, yes! But what’s he doing now? He’s not still dripping slime over the floor, is he?”

“Don’t you worry, Mrs Myers, he’s playing nicely with that doll. I’ve told him I’ll take him a biscuit when I’ve found the pickled onions. Vicar’ll create like anything if there aren’t any of those strong ones he likes for tea.”

Brenda placed a bowl of super-strength pickled onions on the table in the gap between the vol-au-vents and sausage rolls. She could have sworn the cucumber sandwiches had been there. Perhaps Mrs Myers had moved them. She had a few biscuits for the boy – but he was nowhere to be seen. Rushing to the door, she asked the spectators who were outside watching the match if they’d seen a boy leave the bar, but if he had, no one had noticed. As she turned around, she saw the flicker of a shadow beneath the enormous table on which the tea was being set. She gently raised the tablecloth. 

“What’re you doing under there? And why’ve you dismantled Mrs Myers’ cucumber sandwiches?” she asked, pointing at the empty plate, the heap of thinly sliced cucumber next to his knee and the buttered bread triangles which were scattered on the floor. 

“Cucumber’s disgusting,” he said flicking the pile with his finger.

“Well,” said Brenda gathering everything up and piling it on the plate, “lots of people do like cucumber sandwiches, so I’ll thank you to leave them alone. Here, these are for you.” She handed him the biscuits. “Keep your hands off the food and don’t touch the pickled onions or you’ll have Reverend Forbes-Snell to answer to.” 

Ulysses took the biscuits.

“What d’you say?” asked Brenda. She had seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, so she knew about teaching manners.

“When can I go home?” said Ulysses, spitting biscuit crumbs through the gap in his teeth. 

“Why are you washing those cucumber slices?” Mrs Myers asked.

“Health and Safety. You can’t be too careful these days,” Brenda muttered, placing her considerable girth between Mrs Myer’s inquisitive eyes and the plate of opened and empty sandwiches. If she was careful, she’d be able to clean the fluff and grit off the cucumber and reassemble the sandwiches before Mrs Myers realised what had happened. Brenda remembered the slime on the boy’s hands and wondered whether the buttered triangles would stand a quick dip in the washing up bowl but decided they’d probably disintegrate. She’d just have to check each piece as she reassembled the sandwiches and scrape off any slime if necessary. The last sandwich had just been placed on the plate, when she heard choking coming from the bar. 

“I told you to keep your hands off those pickled onions!” Brenda said when she took in the scene of the upturned pickled onion bowl and the stricken, heaving boy with his mouth open and hands wrapped round his throat. 

“Oh, lordy!” she said, rushing towards him. Wrapping her arms round the boy from behind, she pulled him into her cushion-like body, performing the Heimlich Manoeuvre. Ulysses gagged, forcibly ejecting the onion from his throat. It bounced twice and rolled under the table. 

“Well, I shan’t be washing that one!” she said, scooping up the other onions and dropping them in the bowl. “Now, sit down and wait for me to clean these up.”

To her relief, when she returned, Ulysses was sitting where she’d left him, although he was subdued after his recent encounter with the pickled onion. She wasn’t sure if the tears in his eyes were as a result of choking, the indignity of being seized in the Heimlich Manoeuvre or because of vicar’s extra-strength onions.

“Why don’t you go outside and watch the cricket?” she asked in her best grandmotherly tone.
“’S boring. I hate cricket!” His sulky expression returned. 

“I see. Well, why don’t you tell me all about… that?” she asked, pointing at Wormwoman, trying to disguise her distaste at the Barbie-like doll dressed in a brown, shiny outfit which was smeared with goo. 

For the first time since he’d arrived, Ulysses became animated and told her about Superhero Wormwoman and her exploits.

“I see,” said Brenda, feigning interest, “So that goo helps her escape from her enemies.”

“Yeah! It comes out here,” he said pointing to a small hole in her back “and I can fill the slime extruder here,” he said opening a small flap beneath the hole. “But Mum wouldn’t let me bring my spare slime.” He frowned. “Wormwoman’s got other tricks too!” he added.

“Are they as messy?” Brenda asked, frowning at the slime on the floor.

Ulysses ignored her question. “An’ I’ve got Spiderman, Waspman, Bugboy an’ Grubgirl at home! But Mum wouldn’t let me bring them.”

“That’s an awful lot of creepy-crawly Superheroes,” she said.

“Brenda! Where are you?” called Mrs Myers from the kitchen although from her tone, she might just as well have said “Brenda! Come here!” 

“Why don’t you take Wormwoman outside for some fresh air while I help Mrs Myers?” she asked the boy.

He looked doubtful but before he could speak, there was a deafening crash. 

“Oooh!” gasped the spectators outside and someone shouted, “Six! Good old Chubby!”

Brenda hurried to the door and poked her head outside, “Well, Charlie’s on form! That’s another six he’s scored and it’s the third window he’s broken in the pavilion this season. He’ll be Man of the Match… again and I expect we’ll slaughter Wickleston… again.”

“What?” Ulysses asked, his voice rising in incredulity, “That weedy man from next-door broke a window?”

Brenda nodded.

“He hit the ball all that way?” He pointed at the far-off figure of Charlie standing by the wicket, giggling uncontrollably.

“Charlie’s a demon batsman. Mind you, he’s a demon bowler too. You wouldn’t think it to look at him, would you?” 

“He doesn’t look like he’s good at anything,” Ulysses said, “I thought he was a wimp.”

“Well, I always find appearances can be deceptive,” she said tartly.

“Is he some kind of Superhero?” Ulysses asked in awe.

“Absolutely,” said Brenda, “in fact…” she paused and looking right and left as if checking for eavesdroppers, she whispered, “Don’t tell anyone but he’s actually Cricketman.”

“Cricketman!” said Ulysses, his eyes wide and his mouth open. “Can I go and watch him play?”

“Absolutely,” said Brenda with relief as Mrs Myers bellowed from the kitchen. “Brenda! Why are vicar’s pickled onions in the washing up bowl?”

Persephone balanced her mobile phone against her ear with her shoulder and splaying her fingers in front of her, she studied her nails. 

“Hello,” came the disembodied voice from the phone’s speaker, “Phyllis?”

“Hi, Mum. I’m Persephone now, by the way, not Phyllis. Please try to remember.”

“Well, how are you and little Ulysses? You haven’t answered my last few calls? Are you settling in okay?”

“I’m fine, thanks, Mum. I’ve just been so busy.” She pulled a tendril of hair and allowed it to spring back into place. 

“And how’s Ulysses?”

“He’s fine.”

“Can I speak to him?”

“He’s at the cricket club with his new friend, I’m afraid.”

“Oh, lovely, he’s found a friend!”

“Yes.” Persephone stroked an eyebrow back into position, “Charlie Chubb from next-door. U thinks he’s wonderful.” 

“That’s good. Do they go to the same school?”

“School? Oh, no! Charlie’s an adult. Between you and me, I think there’s a bit of hero-worship going on which is rather odd because Charlie’s such a puny little man. Definitely not hero-material but apparently, he’s a brilliant cricketer. But the good news is, U doesn’t play with those Superhero dolls as often – not now he’s taken up cricket.”

“How marvellous! He’s never shown any interest in sport before.”

“I know! I’m not sure he’s any good at it but he wanted me to buy him cricket gear and he wears it all the time which is a bit of a pain as it needs a lot of washing to keep it white. I drew the line at buying him horn-rimmed glasses like Charlie though.”

“Ulysses doesn’t need glasses, does he?”

“Oh no, he just seems to like copying Charlie. I don’t mind the cricket but I wish he wouldn’t imitate Charlie’s laugh. It’s driving me crazy…”

About the author

Dawn’s third book ‘Extraordinary’ was published by Chapeltown in October 2017. She has had three other books published as well as stories in various anthologies, including horror and speculative fiction, and romances in women's magazines. Dawn has written a play to commemorate World War One, which has been performed in England, Germany and France. www.dawnknox.com

No comments:

Post a Comment