Zephyr 12.2 “Oral History”
IT’S BEEN A while, but the labyrinthine walls of the mad monks’ fortress remain eerily familiar as I step from the shower that appears practically the moment I step aboard, some subtle indicator as if from the castle itself at just how rank I’ve become. I couldn’t give a shit (not any more, anyway). A fresh white towel is streaked with soot marks and Tessa’s electric shaver she uses on her hair downstairs has done the job up top and I am borderline trim, taut and terrific once more. I meet her in her new leathery Windsong garb at the exit as another doorway appears and Tessa leads me through into a creamy white chamber part living room and part infirmary. There’s a bed, a widescreen TV on the pale wall and an Ikea table for my few remaining things. God alone knows what ever happened to the room I once had myself in here.
“How are you feeling?” she asks.
“I dunno. How do I look?” I ask and raise my arms, nothing but the towel about my waist.
“You always seem to do alright.” She says it in that downbeat way I know is meant to elicit guilt and god damn it she is right because it does.
“You look really good, dad. Always do.”
I scratch my bulging tricep, even leaner than ever thanks to the past week’s diet and death regime. The bruises are fading rapidly. Tessa’s latest costume is unconsciously similar to mine, the leather a dusty grey, no moniker but a swirling black design on her chest that the TVs won’t pick up, but she’s too young still to understand that. She is a chunky, curvy, increasingly muscular-looking bundle packed into her five-foot-two frame which I feel I should apologise to her about, obviously somehow the grandmother’s genetics sneaking through despite my potted and sometimes querulous family tree. I barely notice when she pulls a fresh set of my leather uniform, the gold zed now too gaudy a bangle in my post-Titania funk.
For the first time I wonder if my mood is a kind of withdrawal symptom from not being around Titania and her magnetic personality (and great ass). Yet it’s not her who my mind keeps turning back to. My guilt about Loren knows no bounds. I don’t know what else to say.
“I had this replicated for you. Something to wear,” Tessa says.
“Gee, thanks,” I say.
A monk comes in, faceless in the hooded cowl. He makes a pretty poor stewardess as he deposits a tray with covered bowls and two Cokes on the bedside table, seemingly glaring at me before he withdraws. I smile weakly and crack one of the drinks, practically inhaling the chemicals and nutrients directly in my body rather than simply drinking. Then I crumple the can and nod to the costume as Tessa dunks it on the bed.
“I should leave you be,” she says.
“No. Stay. Hang on.”
I can’t resist lifting the lid on one of the pots and scoop the sandwich up. It looks like a hamburger designed by Japanese archaeologists from the year 3000 with only the oral history and fossil evidence to guide them. It’s still gloriously fat-soaked carbohydrates for my starved system and I start wolfing it down as Tessa hovers in the door frame, tousled hair midway down her back now as she looks at me with what I once thought were my other grandmother’s eyes. Now I know this is a lie, like so much else that seemed solid and has now, as Marx would’ve put it, melted into air.
SHE IS STILL a minor, but Tessa regards me from thickly-coated mascara lashes, her chiselled cheekbones at odds with her wide, still sometimes babyish face that I guess is always going to be like that on account of her compact, wide-hipped physiognomy. Surrounded by tall and leggy, some might say skeletal action heroes, I don’t know if it burns her or not. Given her persuasions with which I am all too familiar – and far more intimately than any father really should be – I wouldn’t be surprised if she had worked her way through half their beds already, although I don’t know how she does this since her mother’s banned her from superheroing on school nights and, as her unspoken tone suggests, the issue of custody remains a pressing one. Obviously today’s young dykes don’t have the same taboos against make-up and skin-tight leather as they did in days of yore. I don’t know if Tessa as Windsong is liberated and Old New York chic or just in the queue for exploitation like all the rest of them and thus, as her father, whether I’m ultimately to blame.
“Thanks for the costume.”
I lick my fingers and pick up the zip-across jacket, the bolted-on gold emblem gently chiming off my inadvertent fingernail. I look down a moment, my vague reflection swimming on the shimmering metal, and into that gap of sorrow I imagine an ocean of tears might fall were I to let it. Instead, I softly growl and prise the brassy zed from the leather and toss it into a corner where it clangs and Tessa’s lukewarm fug vanishes instantly as she stands up straight and puts her hands to her hips.
“What are you doing?”
“I don’t like it.”
“You had it like that only a month or so ago. Before you lost your powers.”
I am reminded of that. It seems like an age since I’ve been back in the air just doing the friendly neighbourhood superhero thing, but of course there was a seemingly timeless chasm in which my entire life fell in a hole thanks to Spectra and her thuggish little minions. Again my thoughts turn to Loren and I snap them back from the brink like some master magician almost showing the rabbit is nothing more than a particularly well-greased sock puppet.
“I know. Things have changed since then.”
“I know it mustn’t’ve been easy to see the world go to hell,” Tessa says in the kind of voice one reserves for gently trying to make an uncomfortable point by ceding just a little common ground first. Ah, here it comes: “Everyone’s been going through tough times. Me included. It’s like there’s some kind of thing at the moment.”
“I did speak to a lawyer,” I say sincerely, even though I am strangling the truth more than a little.
The burst of hope in her eyes is more reward than I deserve.
“It’s going to be a slow process.”
Almost a girl again, Tessa flops down on the bunk beside me and sinks her forehead into my shoulder. I put an arm about her and she gives a single sob, though there’s no actual tears. I think she stopped needing me for that further back than I realised. My only consolation was I lasted longer than her mother.
“You okay?” I ask.
“Oh it’s your turn, is it?” She laughs shrewdly and stands, smoothing back her desultory hair in one of those practised, sultry moves that terrifies any parent. “I’m fine, dad. Things are okay, really. Mum’s stressing me out. Vulcana’s being a bitch. I really hope you can make some headway with mum’s lawyers. It’s still freaking me out. I mean, England?”
“How’s your school work?”
She stares at me a moment like an Alzheimer’s victim, the meaning of the word forgotten until she snaps into a quick smile, not quite pulling the wool over my eyes that that part of her life’s probably already on the scrap heap. As I recall, the fees are paid up till halfway through the next century thanks to my dead mother’s estate.
“It’s cool. Don’t worry. I’m just keeping my options open, okay?”
“What, you’re going to pay?”
“There are these things called scholarships, you know.”
“Oh yeah,” Tessa says and gives a gutsy laugh. “I’ll go for the varsity, you know. They must have a fee-free program for ass-kicking?” She pouts, turns, a cupie doll for a moment. Still my little girl.
“Don’t get too hung up on college just because you never got to go, dad.”
“I didn’t go to college because I spent seven nights a week dressing up in spandex,” I say more gruffly than I should. Also shouldn’t mention the word spandex, which dates me a little as Tessa’s fey smirk says.