“Have you seen Tom?”
We are a few drinks in. Ryan is staring right through his beer. Raising one eyebrow, absent-minded poking his tongue against his cheek. “Have you seen him lately?” he asks again.
This is our table at ‘Ye Olde Cock’, a tavern from the old continent. Marty’s dad brought it over, across the ocean just before the war. Piece by piece. All of it. Including the sign with the fucked up rooster. It smells like musty beer breath and centuries-old alehouse wisdom in here. My wife says it stinks. Pubs aren’t her thing. It’s a dark hole. I love it. Even the floorboards came from England. Drunk aristocrats and rag-tag peasants have hugged them and kissed them and barfed their guts and grit and sorrow all over them. That’s what I imagine. The Cock has been our go-to watering hole since I moved here.
They don’t serve cock ale anymore, but they throw an egg into most of their house concoctions. Which is good. Ryan is working on his fourth egged ale, I’m sipping the creamy froth off my whisky sour. Marty still runs the place. He looks like he’s a hundred years old. He’s probably older. He is still good on his feet; serves his drinks before the foam breaks down. That’s important to him. It’s important to us. That’s why we come here. That’s one reason.
It’s nice to be back. It feels good. It’s been five months. More or less. The virus had kept us down, locked away. Still does. Some more, some less. What gives. Anyway. I have my mask folded right in front of me. Ryan’s is crumpled up into a little ball, next to his phone, next to his drink, next to his worn-out self. I have my worn-out self tucked away. For now.
Only six or seven tables in here these days. Half capacity and half empty. We support Marty by drinking double. At least. We will probably drink more. We will see.
Ryan still has it. I can tell. He used to hypnotize people. Stare them down. That says it better. Any distance. All the way across a room the size of a basketball court if he wanted to. Guys would stay put, stay away, leave us alone. Girls would come over. On their own. He really had that power. Just by staring at them. Staring, that’s what I call it. I don’t know if that’s the right word. I have no idea how he did it. Imagine a tractor beam. He could beam people right over. Or away. Just by the force of his piercing glance. We called him Scotty. Ha, ha. That was his superpower. True hero.
As for myself, well, I used to be more of a bullshitter. In a good way. Obviously. A smooth talker you could say. Chat with people, make them like me. Make them want to be my friend, our friend. That kind of thing. I never thought of it as a skill. But they always sent me when we got into trouble. Or needed a favor. Talk the problem away. Make things happen. My talent I guess. No big deal.
Tom, however, had real superpowers. Superhuman strength. No joke!
We would do this: Ryan would tractor-beam a girl over. Her and her crew. Deep stare. Zooooom! Girls, girls, girls. Ha, ha, ha.
Then me, my talk. Sweet talk. Sweet like chocolate-covered fairy poems slowly poured from a warm honey jar. That’s right baby!
Then Tom. He was made to impress. So he impressed. He could grab a chair by its leg and lift it up. With a person on it. With one arm. Seriously! Mostly girls. They weigh less. But still. That’s how it happened. I kid you not! Superhuman superhero. Goddamn legend.
That’s what we would do. Other things too, of course. Superhero things, I suppose. I guess you could call it that. That’s how I remember it. The whiskey is beginning to think for me. The older we get the better it was, I suppose. But that’s all right.
Ryan is staring at his beer. Still looking good, I think. His gaze I mean. He’s still got it. That’s what it looks like to me. For me, there isn’t much to do right now. No talking. Nothing to smooth over. No one to convince. Nothing to say. Nothing, except:
“Half the man he used to be.” that’s what I say. I had bumped into Tom about 4 months ago. He didn’t look great. Grey. Bland. Colorless. Almost white.
“No shit. He’s almost transparent now.” Ryan replies, still staring down his drink.
“Transparent?” When I saw Tom he looked pale. Thoroughly pale. Like a pastel version of himself. Not transparent. Not yet anyway. “Damn!”
“Yeah,” Ryan mutters absently.
He looks up and raises his eyebrows: “He said it’s ok. He said he is fine with it now.”
We all get there. At some point we do. We lose our superpowers. I mean that’s what they are, right? No question about it! They start to fade. We start to fade. I mean, we all know that. The way of the hero is the way of the dodo. But you forget. Until you notice. Then you remember. First, it happens slowly, and then all at once. I forgot. Now I remember.
“I saw right through him. He had his hand on the table. Just resting there. I saw the menu. I was looking at it. Right through his fucking hand. I could see right through! Can you believe it?”
I don’t answer. Ryan empties his beer. He looks at Marty behind the bar. Eye contact. Another round, Marty! The power of his gaze. Still good enough to summon drinks, I guess. He’s still got it. I told you so.
“You know what he said?” Ryan doesn’t wait for my answer, “He said, it’s his superpower now. His new superpower.”
“His new superpower?” I repeat. With a question mark.
“He had read this story, he said. An article in a magazine. Something about male powers, and how no one needs them. Not anymore. Obsolete, you know. Old school. They say that superpowers are obnoxious and offensive and pathetic and all that. Privilege they say. That’s what the article says. That’s what he said.”
Marty reaches over to put fresh drinks in front of us. That’s his superpower. Stealthy and quick. Like a panther. A one-hundred-year-old pub-panther. That’s what I think when I see him. You wouldn’t think that. But I do. After a few drinks, I do.
“I looked it up,” Ryan says,” it’s called ‘Unnoticability.’”
“No shit! It’s a thing. Google it!”
I google it.
“They seriously call it a superpower now. Unnoticeability. Check it out.” Ryan continues.
“The ability to be unnoticed and ignored in presence and actions,” I read from the website that appears on my phone, “That’s an ability now?”
“A superpower!” he insists, “officially! Go unnoticed, stay quiet. In the background. Don’t say the wrong thing. Or anything. Fit in. Be there but not really.…can you believe it?”
I don’t want to believe it. Tom believes it.
Supernatural vs. Superpower
Liquor makes me think straight. Makes me cherish my thoughts. One at a time. And then ignore them. And forget them. All of them at once. Over and over again. No residue. It’s perfect. Think, cherish, ignore, forget, sip, repeat.
I look into my glass; the barrel of my boozy gun, ready to shoot. The drink is half empty. Foam gone. Superpowers gone. Or changed. Replaced. Whatever.
I wasn’t aware. It came slowly and then all at once. I hadn’t noticed. So I thought. But it’s been there, right in front of my eyes all along. I had noticed.
“We’re fading…” I mutter to myself, “I’ve noticed that at home, you know. That’s where I first noticed it. Long ago. I realize that now.”
Ryan takes a sip.
“You know, when she sees right through you. I mean, doesn’t notice you anymore. Only your bullshit. That’s the only thing she notices.”
Ryan looks up.
“I’ve tried,” I say. “I have actually tried to go unnoticed. Be unnoticeable, you know.”
Ryan straightens his back.
“But she notices every time. Tracks me down and finds me. She sees me hiding in my dark spots. Tucked away in the shadows. In all the places. All my places. There’s no cover, no disguise. No hiding away. No going unnoticed.”
“Supernatural senses.” Ryan says, “Wives have supernatural senses, buddy. That’s what it’s called. You don’t know this. I don’t know this. None of the guys knows this. No one tells you this. Until you find out.”
My brain tries to follow. It’s slow. The booze. That’s a downside. A downside to booze I mean. There aren’t many. This is one. Let’s continue.
He continues, “they don’t notice us like they used to. The world doesn’t, I mean. No one does. When we’re gray. When we start to fade. Not seen anymore. Unnoticed. But our wives,” he presses his lips together, a disobedient puff of breath escapes….pfffff…. “You can’t hide. We fade from them. From their sight, from their admiration, from their praise. From their soul. But they will always see you. They see through you, but they see you. They see all your bullshit.”
“What’s this? Supernatural Senses?” I ask. He seems to know. Maybe he doesn’t. We’ve had a few. A few too many, maybe. Drinks I mean. Maybe too many. Maybe not. Who’s to judge. Right here, I mean. Right now. Who’s here to judge. My thoughts get a life of their own. Sometimes they do. This one seems to. Anyhow, my question, that’s what I ask him.
“I’ll read it to you,” he says. He grabs his phone from next to his drink, from next to his mask, from next to his worn-out self. He starts to read, “the users’ sense of sight, taste, hearing, touch, and smell are glaringly, obviously and unnaturally more acute than other beings in the universe. They can see kilometers away with immense resolution, track things too fast for the natural eye, hear through dense walls perfectly, listen to sweat drop from someone’s face in another room, smell anything over vast distances up to and including individual molecules and atoms, taste the smallest details to the extent of distinguishing at a molecular level, and feel the slightest vibration in the air, ground, and water.”
He looks up from the screen, looks at me, and asks, “sound familiar?”
“Christ!” I moan.
“Women have all the tricks,” he laughs, “we don’t have any.”
I let my thoughts catch up.
“What can you do,” Ryan says without a question mark. He’s stopped laughing. I think this is a statement.
“Everything!” I say. I add an exclamation mark! This is a statement!
“I’m still a hero. A superhero. And so are you. We all are, goddammit! Everyone has their champion. Everyone is a champion. I’m not going to fade. I’m not going to go unnoticed. Fuck Unnoticeability! This is bullshit and you know it. We all know it. How come no one is doing anything about it? We will do something about it! I’m Nick Lions and I will fucking do something about it!”
Ryan starts laughing. It’s a happy laugh. That’s what it sounds like to me.
I start laughing.
Marty arrives with another round. The three of us are laughing. We’re laughing the laughter of future superheroes. That’s right! Future superheroes! Ha, ha, ha.
We clink our glasses.
I’ll remember this tomorrow. I’ll try.