This is the first post in the 1,000 Word Challenge. The picture was supplied by my good friend Missie. Apparently, this picture is worth 1,048 words, as that is what I have written. I could easily trim it down by 48 words, but I like it as it is. So, I bend my rules. I do this so that characters can interject things like “So…” and “eh?” 🙂 Yeah, yeah… I’m making excuses.
“So, you still have that problem, eh?” Kevin looked at me through his sunglasses; I always hate people that try to have conversation while wearing sunglasses, ‘cause you can’t see their eyes. Eyes tell a lot about a person, and being a former superhero, I’ve grown accustomed to always establishing eye contact.
“It’s not really a problem. I got it under control.”
“Come on Rick! Then what’s with the warning signs, buddy?” Kevin poked at the graphics on my t-shirt. I frowned deeply; when I got pulled over once, a state trooper found out that I could explode at will and pushed through a law which required me to wear the proper Haz-Mat signage.
“It’s just some crap I have to go through.”
“So you’re in control of your power now? That’s good.” Kevin smiled, but I didn’t know if he was happy or uncomfortable because of his obtrusive sunglasses. “Well, I got to go mingle a bit. Have a good time at the reunion, man!” Kevin disappeared into a crowd of squawking women that had been our cheerleading squad back in ’78. The thirty years hadn’t treated most of them too badly, but some of them looked like tanned mummies with tall bleached blonde hair.
I looked around for a seat and was greeted by a cheerful woman in an orange tank top. “Hey Rick! I didn’t expect to see you here.” she said, attempting a hug.
“Hey Susan. It’s been a while.” Susan and I were an item back then, but my unique calling pushed her away from me. She had tried to convince me to join the army, but I wanted to stay stateside. War wouldn’t have suited me, and with the development of the neutron bomb, my skill would have been nearly useless.
“Are you still doing the hero thing?” she asked; I was suspicious that she was just making polite small talk like everyone else at the reunion, but she seemed honestly interested. Her eyes were fixed on me with curiosity.
“No, I’m too old for that now. Mostly, I work for a demolitions company. I help take down buildings and all that.” I tried to seem unenthusiastic, worried that she might think I’ve become some kind of exploding psychopath that enjoys blowing up buildings.
“That’s interesting. Did you ever get married?” She was drawing closer, close enough for me to smell a bit of alcohol on her breath. I had to wonder if she ever thought about what could have been.
“Nah. When I was working under the mask I was too busy. Now, well, I just don’t know a lot of people. How about you?”
“Married twice and divorced twice. I have a couple kids; they’re off to college now and once the nest is empty, it seems really empty.” Susan laughed at herself, “Of course an empty nest is empty. What else would it be?” We shared a smile and then there was a profound silence. I could feel the question floating in the air, fueled by cheap beer and nostalgia.
“Are you happy?” she asked, taking me off guard.
“I’m happy enough. I do honest work for fairly good pay. I mean, the money they save by having an indestructible, exploding man blow up a building for them has to go somewhere, right?” I laughed heartily.
“But are you happy not having been married? Not having kids?”
“I don’t think about it very much, Sue. My life, well, it just isn’t normal. I never had the same expectations as everyone else. Take Kevin; he was good at football, and his big dream was to join a pro team. He played a bit in college and in semi-pro teams, but he eventually settled into a middle management job at Stuyvesant Industries. That kind of thing isn’t really available to an exploding man. I mean, my vocation was pretty much handed to me at birth. I’m an exploding man, so I explode, you know?”
“I wish I could have had that kind of direction in life. I just feel like I’m like a butterfly, flitting around from place to place without any plan. When we were together, it was different; I had a dream. We could have been something. Me and the exploding man; imagine that.” Susan smiled, her cheeks flushed.
“We could have been something, but we weren’t. It wasn’t meant to be, Sue.” I couldn’t believe what I was saying; this was the girl I had always wanted to be with and always wondered what would have happened, yet I was pushing her away. It wasn’t that she had grown older; in fact, she was more beautiful than ever. I just thought about the men that she had been with before me, instead of me, and I felt the explosion start growing inside of me.
“We could be something still, Rick. We aren’t dead yet.”
“No, but you are drunk.”
“I’m not drunk, just a little buzzed. I’m buzzed and I’m seeing clearly.”
“Don’t do this, Sue.” I began to remember why I hadn’t let anyone into my life since Susan. The explosion was pushing at the lining of my stomach; the explosion was made of the anguish I felt when she dumped me for Edward Fay. It was made of the disgust I felt when I learned she had sex with him on their first date. It was made of the fear I felt about having a lonely life without love. When I tried thinking of Susan’s proposition in a positive light, I just thought of her children: living proof of her relationships with other men.
“What’s wrong Rick?” she asked in a tender tone that grated against the building explosion.
“I need to go Sue. This was a bad idea.” I walked away from her, looking back to see her standing alone, looking as though I just smacked her. Swiftly, I walked through the park where the reunion was being held and broke into a run when I saw a large pond. Leaping into it, I felt the water’s cool embrace. I let the explosion go, and it sent a torrent of water fifty feet into the sky. As the water rained back down, I decided that this would be the last high school reunion I’d attend.