Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Escape (01/02/06)
TITLE: The Great "S" Cape
By Lisa McMillion
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The felt had faded from rich vermillion to the pink of old candy canes, melting and reforming in a forgotten attic box. Its carefully stitched “S” insignia had stood the test of time though, speaking more to his mother’s handiwork and the meticulousness that defined her years of honorable homemaking duties than to any qualitative standard of the fabric.
“Michael, what are you doing?” she’d asked when he was five, racing through the crowded maze of furniture in their small but comfortable home. “I’m zooming, Mama,” he remembered saying. “I could zoom right out of here if I had the equipment.” “Equipment?” she’d echoed, half considering his meaning, half his choice of big words. “I’d like an “S” cape, too,” he said. She thought for a moment; Michael could see her mentally writing his spoken request on the indestructible, internalized list of things she must do, the one that catalogued what pantry items were missing with a single, scanning glance. She hadn’t asked what had prompted his sudden request, and he’d imagined later that she thought he wanted to be Superman.
Sure enough and just like that, Michael opened his bedroom door three days afterward to find a black cape bought from the local costume store and a perfect, hand-sewn red “S” to give it its magic. In the wonderful way that belief makes sense to a five-year-old, the cape worked most days. When Carrie, his sister ran away from home planning to marry against his parent’s wishes, he zoomed to his room in the “S” cape, made himself invisible under it, and by the time he came out to breathe untainted air, Carrie was on the other end of the phone, his mother sobbing the tears of reconciliation and making arrangements for Dad to pick her up. When he sprinted one day on the freshly mowed grass expelling its green juices to dye the white soles of his sneakers, he leapt into the air thinking he might fly, and landed squarely on his tailbone, howling. When his mother caught him up in her arms, she was sure a fall like his must’ve cracked something, but he was none the worse for the crash-landing (the cape had kept him barely aloft like an early Wright brothers aircraft, he imagined.) Or the day when his father said, “I’m leaving” and the door shut with a sickening thud of finality, and he heard his mother sobbing like someone had died. He crawled beneath his “S” cape and when he came out, she was on her knees in the living room by the couch; her crying stopped. It was like she had reached into her comprehensive pantry and opened a jar of peace.
Now, Michael made his way from the attic to his patio door as a man. The early morning mist from the lake covered his face like a spider web as he slid the door behind him and moved toward the reclining figure on the lawn. “I’m dying, Michael,” his mother had said. “I want to see the sun rise.” Her robust figure had dwindled indoors over the last few years to a brittleness that reminded Michael of the deciduous foliage surrounding them, each leaf a beautiful tragedy on its way to the ground. “At least let me get you another blanket,” he said to her, heading back to the attic where his linens were stored and to the box that held his childhood treasure. As he placed the cape over her sleeping frame, he recalled the words she said to a friend on the phone so long ago, unaware of his peeking, kindergarten presence and inspiring him to ask for the heroic emblem, even if by mistake. “I don’t know, Sally. I just pray when it gets to be too much. It takes me to another place, another realm, no matter what my circumstances are here. I love my family, I do the best I can for them everyday, but sometimes I’d just like an escape. Everybody needs an escape now and then.”
Michael’s mother had jumped into life and started working with both hands and feet. It hadn’t always been easy and she hadn’t been perfect at it, but at least she’d never taken the easy way out of anything. Even if she dreamed it, she’d never allowed a selfish thought to materialize, at least in front of him. Michael hunkered beside his mother, stealing a corner of the cape for himself, disappearing again.
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