Thursday, April 15, 2021

No More Heroes by Melanie Roussel

 Arthur sucked thoughtfully on his few remaining teeth and poked a fork in the direction of his two breakfast companions. “That’s what’s wrong with the world, now. No more heroes.” 

Arthur’s point was typically non-sequitur but delivered in a matter-of-fact way.

George and Eddie raised their heads, complete with frowning faces. The three old men were huddled into a plastic booth. Overhead, fluorescent light flickered, the lingering smell of overcooked sunflower oil and a tinny radio played the same new songs they’d never heard. 

It was warm in the café. Outside, the frosty air crept up the large windows, creating little corners of condensation.

“What’s that got to do with the price of baked beans?” George asked, looking down morosely at his plate. The remains of the full English breakfast had been slightly too burned, slightly too greasy and never enough. The third man, Eddie, watched the conversation unfold in silence, drinking tea from the chipped and stained mug. 

“It’s a fact,” Arthur said, confidently. “I remember the newspaper headlines. They called them a ‘public nuisance’. Destroying buildings with lasers and weather and robot dogs. 

It was 1973 when they got banned. That’s when all the papers ran that headline. No more heroes.” Arthur shook his head, disappointed at the folly of man. “And now baked beans are £1.20 a tin.”

George’s confused face cleared now, nodding sagely, back to a subject he knew well. 

“£1.20. It’s theft. Things were better back then, you know?”

Eddie chased the last couple of beans around the plate and prodded the remaining piece of grisly sausage he decided to leave. 

After the rumination on the lack of superheroes and the price of baked beans had come to a satisfactorily dismal conclusion, the three stood, replacing flat caps and heavy scarfs and well-worn coats. The bill was paid with pension money, Eddie discreetly topping up the little pile of coins when it came up short. 

The three men walked together at a speed approaching an amble. At the end of the high street they parted with a vague nod to one another. As though they were only the merest acquaintances who happened to breakfast together four times a week. Life had a routine in retirement. Breakfast at the Spoon and Fork Café, then a wander down the high street. Maybe a look in at the post office. If the government hadn’t shut it down yet. Then back home to the missus. There was always a shelf to put up, or the garden wanted weeding, or the car engine was having trouble again. The good telly didn’t start until three o’clock anyway. 

Eddie walked in the opposite direction; his hands buried in his pockets to hide the mild shake which had been creeping up on him. His route home always went through the park so he could admire the flowerbeds. But nothing was growing at this time of year. A layer of frost spread across the grass like a gossamer sheet. But earlier in the year, there had been cornflowers in thick blue clumps along the riverbanks.

Despite the chill in the air, children were still playing. Each one of them bulky with coats, hats and gloves with only the merest gap in the fabric for excited eyes and red noses, like mobile marshmallows. A dog was yapping somewhere. Stressed mothers carrying bags of Christmas shopping, hurrying to the carpark. The usual murmur of village life.

But today, there was a shout across the field. A panicked shout.

There was a young man sprinting away from an elderly woman who was on the floor. 

The man was holding a bag which was unlikely to be his, unless he had a softer, flowery side that wasn’t otherwise apparent. The woman seemed to be in a state, shouting after the man. 

Onlookers were only just starting to realise, in that slow way crowds of people do. Some were pulling out phones. A woman ran over to help the old lady up.

Eddie stooped down to the flowerbed, wincing as something in his back clicked, buthis shaking fingers managed to brush, then grab a rock. It took another age of winces to straighten. The mugger was almost at the gate. Eddie blinked. He pulled his arm back and threw.

The stone travelled through the air at a speed that made the eyes water.

Eddie was already following the trail back out of the park when the rock collided with the mugger’s head and he collapsed in a heap.

Ten minutes later, Eddie was pushing open his front door. The two-bedroom house on the top of the hill was small and snug. Snugger than it needed to be thanks to the weight of framed photographs and the huge shag pile rugs on every floor. 

A voice came from the kitchen as he hung up his coat. “Eddie? Eddie, is that you?”

“Aye.”

“Are you back?”

“Aye, I’m back.”

The framed photos which covered every wall dotted around thirty to forty years of life. The wedding, the kids and now grandkids. The various newspaper articles and photographs with Prime Ministers and other world leaders. Eddie barely saw them anymore, walking past the monument of passing years into the small kitchen.

Stella was sitting at the round wooden table. She was wearing a heavy shawl today and the heating was cranked up to a sunny day in Egypt, but Eddie didn’t complain. “Are you as cold as ice?” Eddie asked with a small smile. He avoided Stella’s answering look.

“One day, mister, you’ll get tired of that joke. How were the lads?” she asked.

“Well enough.” Eddie scratched the back of his head, walking across the kitchen. He took out the patterned mugs, filled the kettle and glanced through the window into the garden. Too cold to do anything out there today. “I stopped a mugger in the park.”

“That’s nice, dear.”

“Eighty meters, straight across the park with a stone. Got him in the head. Haven’t thrown like that since I took out Doctor Evil. You remember that?”

“You’ll do your back out again if you’re not careful.”

“Do you remember? In London.”

“It wasn’t Doctor Evil. It was the Hive Mind.”

Eddie frowned. “I thought it was Doctor Evil.”

“When you threw the lamppost across the Thames to knock out the death laser?”

“Yeah.”

“It was the Hive Mind.”

Eddie shrugged. Stella had the better memory for these things. It had been a good throw, either way. And today had felt just as good. A small stone, eighty meters straight to the head without killing them. Still got it, Eddie thought proudly. Who’s an old man now? 

The kettle clicked. 

As he passed the counter, he switched on the radio. The soft sounds of Christmas music filled the warm kitchen. “How was your morning?” he asked.

“Oh, nothing special.”

Eddie sat and pushed the mug over with a wince as the tea slouched. Stella saw the shake but said nothing. She was writing Christmas cards in small, spidery writing. There was a pile of stamped envelopes at her elbow and yet still more to write. Even as their oldest friends… well, most didn’t need a Christmas card anymore. But even as they lost the old guard, their kids had even more kids and the list of Christmas cards only seemed to grow.

“Terry’s kid just had twins,” Stella said. “I said we’d go to the christening in January.”

“Who?”

“Oh Eddie, you know. The Dynamo.”

Eddie smiled. Now he remembered. “Terry! How is he?”

“His daughter had twins. I said we’d go to the christening.”

“That’s nice.”

“And Mary sent a card. She and Hamish are still in Devon, but they’re having a bit of a time. Their grandson’s developed pyrokinesis and keeps setting fire to his bedroom. I said we’d visit them in Easter.”

“Sounds good.”

The soft music from the radio stopped as a local news bulletin came on.

“This is Rise 105.2, County Meadows local radio. This morning at ten past nine, there was an attempted robbery at the Mutual Bank on Chester Avenue. Two masked men threatened staff and customers with guns. However, their escape was foiled when a sudden snap chill froze the engine of their getaway vehicle and sealed them into their own car. The car is apparently still frozen in place outside the bank and the police have cordoned off the area.”

Eddie turned to Stella, who was studiously still writing. “Nothing special this morning, huh?”

She looked up at him with her big, blue eyes which were only magnified by her new spectacle prescription. As cornflower blue as the day they’d met when he’d rescued her from Doctor Evil. Well, that was his version of the story. Stella, or rather, the Black Ice Vixen, would tell you that it was, in fact, she who’d saved Captain Strongarm that day. 

“No more heroes, remember?” Stella said.

Eddie smiled. “You’re mine.”

“Oh, shut up.”


© Melanie Roussel

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