She starves herself, and with the cash she saves, buys tickets to Comic Con. They catch the bus. Superman, in his school shoes, claims the window seat. She found his costume in a charity shop, its faded fabric bearing the marks, not quite washed out, of another boyhood, its red and yellow shield part melted by a too hot iron. She has stitched an old pillowcase to the shoulders to make a cape, praying he won’t realise he’s wearing pyjamas. He looks at her with his good eye as the other slides sideways. He won’t wear his glasses. Not when he’s being Superman.
He asks where her costume is. It’s in a carrier bag at her feet, tomato sauce stained from the last time. She says she’s maintaining her civilian identity.
Behind her, someone shakes a can and opens it, spraying the back of her neck.
Stiffening, she stares ahead.
Superman swivels to look. She hears sniggering.
Her breathing quickens.
She hears her heart.
She thinks of sticks and stones and how, no matter what her Gran said, words hurt most of all. Superman wriggles in his seat. Uncertain now, he searches her face for reassurance. His hand finds hers. She squeezes it.
A tugging at his cape. Stitches tear. Superman sobs.
Laughter. Raucous, sneering laughter.
She spins, suddenly strong, suddenly sword-sharp, her words slicing the air. Make-believe men lean back into their seats as she spits her venom, making them shamefaced schoolboys, snivelling, sorry, staring at their hands, too scared to meet her eye.
Superman smiles. She smiles back. To him, at least, and at least for now, she is Wonder Woman.
Alison Wassell is a short story, flash and micro fiction writer with absolutely no ambition to write a novel. She has been published by Reflex Fiction, Bath Flash Fiction Award, Retreat West, NFFD and The Cabinet of Heed.
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