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Papa’s blood runs hot, a carryover from the Sicilian sun, Mama says. Temperatures rise, and storms brew, feeding off the latent heat. The fury of God in man. Our lot is to weather storms, she says. Hold tight; shelter’s king. Wait for a cooling breeze.
Mama’s crying in the bedroom again. Her sobs are rain to Papa’s thunder. On my island, it rarely stops storming. Blankets stave off wind, but not the rising tides. The couch has already swept out to sea. I dip a toe into the murky waters, hold my breath and dive.
Mama used to lock the bathroom door, cradle me in the bathtub like a rescue boat, her bony arms wrapped around me. Shelter in the cold.
“He won’t hurt you. Nothing will,” she’d whisper. “You’re too special.”
“What about you?” I’d ask, holding a towel to the cut on her head. Or lip. Or elbow. The blood ran like rivers into our rescue boat, thick and sticky. Deep enough to sink us both.
“I’m weak,” she said.
“I’m weak, too,” I said.
“No. You’re different. Invincible. You can weather any storm.”
I tiptoe to the door, skirting squeaky floorboards, my blanket wrapped around me like a cape. I’m Captain Invincible. Treading water is a cinch when superpowers thrum in your veins. Fury only feeds my strength.
After school, when the heat got turned off, Mama made hot chocolate with marshmallows and read me stories of heroes, big and small. From cardboard boxes and tin foil, we fashioned shields and swords, practiced fighting until we laughed too hard to swing or charge.
“You’ll be ready,” she said, “when the enemy comes.” She crouched, slipping our weapons under the sofa where I slept.
“You take them. You need them more,” I said.
Her lip quivered — an earthquake on her steady face, but it shook me hard, a heart tremor. I buried my face in her shoulder. Sometimes even heroes got scared.
The door rattles with the hurricane of Papa’s shouts, dirty words that huff and sizzle. Her whispers are no match for his fury.
Mama said to wait it out, but Papa’s heat passed to me, and I’m done waiting. Fire in word and deed. Two can play at that game.
“Stop!” I boom, bounding across the threshold, shielding Mama with my body, my cardboard and tin foil.
It’s hot, that Sicilian fire, scorching under Papa’s lightning blows. But I’m electro-proof. I won’t let Mama fall. I’ll quiet those screams, even though they’re my kryptonite. Down here, on my knees, I wonder . . . do heroes sometimes die?
“Captain Invincible,” I whisper, teeth gritted, fists steeled.
Then her cooling hand meets mine. A steady strength, new and emblazoned. And I know we can beat this as one. Hero and sidekick. I reach up, and together we fly, lifted on the wind.
Dakota Canon’s work can be found, either published or forthcoming, in Witness, Smokelong Quarterly, Hobart, Moon City Review, Cheap Pop, Fiction Southeast, Literary Orphans, The MacGuffin, Citron Review, Gone Lawn, Bending Genres, North Dakota Quarterly, Wigleaf’s 2020 longlist and elsewhere. Her novel, The Unmaking of Eden, won the 2019 Caledonia Novel Award and the 2018 Hastings Litfest Crime Novel Contest, placed second in the 2019 First Novel Prize, reached the finals of the 2019 James Jones First Novel Fellowship, and was long-listed in the 2019 BPA First Novel Award and the 2018 Yeovil Literary Prize, among other prizes. She’s received mention in the Manchester Fiction Prize and the Writer’s Digest Annual Short Story Contest and has served on staff for Cease, Cows.