K. C. Ball
At Both Ends
“Mind if I ask you something?”
It took me by surprise. I hadn’t noticed the guy standing next to me, there in the multiplex lobby. Minutes before, Lucille and I had been strolling toward the doors after seeing the new Spider-Man movie; then she let go of my hand and made her way toward the ladies’ room.
“Nature calls,” she said over her shoulder.
After fourteen years married to Lucille, I knew how to play the game. I stepped to the wall, leaned against a poster advertising George Clooney’s next flick, and settled in to wait. And this guy pops that question.
“You waiting, too?” I asked.
“You could say that,” he replied. “You mind if I ask some questions while we wait?”
“Ask away,” I said. I’m a bartender, and I’ve heard it all, so I figured there wasn’t much the fellow could say to surprise me.
“You just saw Spider-Man, right?”
“What do you think?”
“I’m no movie critic,” I said.
“Not what I meant,” he said. “What they always say the uncle said, about responsibility and power, what do you think?”
I took a long, hard gander then. He looked to be your regular comic book geek: tall and skinny, almost as thin as those girls who don’t want to eat, with hair that looked like he just stepped out of the wind. Safe enough.
“I don’t know,” I said. “It’s corny, but I figure it’s true. I mean, we all got to do what we can to make the world better, right?” The guy nodded.
“If you could, would you save people?” he asked.
“You a Roller?”
I get my share of Holy Rollers in the bar. Most are the harmless sort, just out to bring the world to Jesus, but they’re impossible to get rid of, like roaches. Once in awhile I get a troublemaker. Lucille would not be happy if I had collected a Roller. He waved my concern away.
“Not what I meant,” he said. “If you could, would you rescue someone in trouble?”
“What kind of trouble?” I asked, and then I saw where he was headed. “You mean if I was a superhero!”
He inched closer; I was speaking his language.
“That’s it. Would you help?”
I was on familiar ground now. I heard that sort of thing all the time at the bar. ‘Who’s faster: Flash or Quicksilver?’ ‘How come no one recognizes that Clark Kent is Superman, just because he puts on glasses?’ ‘Would you rather be Batman or the Green Lantern?’
Everybody knows there’s no superheroes, but I think folks talk about them so much because we all wish they were real. I expect everybody would sleep better most nights, knowing there were heroes watching out for us. I know I would.
“Sure, I’d help,” I said. “Wouldn’t you?”
“But how much?”
“Much as I could. A guy’s got to sleep and eat. Take a leak once in awhile. You can’t be everywhere, all the time.”
“What if you could? What if you could move so fast you could be almost everywhere in the world, at almost the same instant?”
I got to admit, he had my imagination sparking now; I used to read the comic books, back in my day.
“Time would go that slow for everybody else?” I asked.
“But not for you?”
“No. It can’t, if you want to be everywhere.”
“Where’s the percentage?” I asked. “Seems to me you’d be on the go twenty-four and seven. A guy’s got to have some time to himself. You’d go crazy if you never slowed down, never took a break.”
“That could happen,” he said.
“But I expect it would get to you, wouldn’t it?” I said. “Thinking about all the people you didn’t help, because you stopped to sleep and eat, to kiss a girl or see a movie.”
I watched as this fat slob lumbered toward us, jumbo soda in one hand and paper box of nachos and cheese dip in the other. Maybe he stepped on a piece of ice or a greasy napkin; it didn’t matter. He was coming fast, out-of-control, and if he didn’t hit me, the soda and the cheese sauce would.
I didn’t have time to flinch. One second he and I were on a collision course; the next second fatso was back to his balance, slowing down, and every drop of soda, every stale nacho, and every glob of sorry yellow sauce was in its place.
“Excuse me,” he said, and waddled past.
“Wow!” I said. “Did you see that?”
“Who are you talking to?” I turned, and it was Lucille. There was no sign of the skinny guy.
“Where’d he go?” I asked.
“Who?” she asked.
“The guy with the wild hair.”
“I didn’t see anybody else. Just that tub of lard that almost plastered you to the wall with soda and cheese dip.”
“Yeah, but — ” I said. Lucille interrupted, grabbed my hand, and tugged me toward the daylight.
“Let’s get out of here,” she said. “I swear, sometimes I wonder who takes care of you when I’m not around.”
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About the Author
K. C. Ball
K.C. Ball grew up in Ohio, with her nose in a book, and now resides in Seattle, a stone’s throw from Puget Sound. Her fiction has appeared online at The Absent Willow Review, Boston Literary Magazine, Every Day Fiction, and various other sites, and in print in Murky Depths #8 and the 2008 Best of Every Day Fiction collection. She is a Finalist in the 1st Quarter 2009 Writers of the Future competition. K.C. blogs about writing at http://kcball.wordpress.com.
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