Her tired eyes lifted from the months-old magazine that she’d been trying unsuccessfully to read. The nurse stood in the doorway, patiently waiting for a response. “I’m here.”
Marion dragged her carcass from the uncomfortable, pleather chair and adjusted her cape into a more comfortable position, knowing that others in the waiting room judged her every move. Ignoring the stares wasn’t easy, but she followed the nurse into the bowels of the clinic.
The rituals of admission were completed: weight—ten pounds too many, temperature—normal-ish, blood pressure—elevated. Questions were answered: “What medications are you taking?” and “What brings you in today?” Satisfied, the nurse left Marion with a promise that the doctor would be in soon.
A knock barely preceded the door opening. “Good afternoon, Marion. What seems to be the problem?”
With a heavy sigh, Marion laid bare her symptoms, “I’m tired, Doc. Everything aches. It takes me forever to get up in the morning, then I crash land by midday. My vision isn’t as sharp as it normally is. Instead of helping people, I’m afraid I’ll hurt them.”
The doctor asked Marion to demonstrate her abilities. She jumped but didn’t crash through the ceiling. She flew, but her feet dragged the ground. The trash can smoked under her laser vision, but not enough to trigger a fire alarm. No matter how hard she tried, her superskills weren’t super.
The doctor eyed her, “How long have you been a superhero? What have you been doing recently?”
Marion thought back. “I’ve been saving the world since I left Hero High ten years ago. Last week, I diverted a lava flow away from a village, I flew through a hurricane to save a fisherman and his catch, I pulled a little boy out from in front of a moving train. Oh, and I helped my kids with their math homework and lifted the car so my husband could change the oil. But yesterday, I could barely put out a dumpster fire.”
“That’s impressive, Marion,” The doctor gave her a knowing smile. “I think I know what the problem is.”
“Really?! That’s great, Doc? What do I need to do?”
“You need to take off the cape.”
Marion froze. “I can’t do that, Doc! It’s part of me. I’ve never taken it off.”
The doctor smiled knowingly, “If you want to get better, Marion, you have to remove the cape. I’ll leave you to think about it.”
Alone, Marion curled into her beloved cape, clinging to its security. She trusted Doc, but she also remembered the promises she had made when she graduated from Hero High. The cape came with a commitment to put others before herself, and her valedictorian speech spoke to the dedication required to be a superhero. She had embraced the challenge before her and welcomed the responsibility of being a superhero, even if it meant she was exhausted from flying from one disaster to another.
Then she remembered the friends who had seen Doc. They seemed so happy and relaxed. She wanted that, too.
Slowly, Marion opened her hands and let the cape fall away. Her fingers fumbled with the buckles, catching a piece of metal as it broke off. When the headmaster had fastened the cape around her shoulders, the brass buckles had sparkled in the sun. The buckle was no longer shiny and strong, but dull and brittle. Just like her.
She removed the rest of the cape and looked it over. The red satin was threadbare around the shoulders and torn in several places. The frayed edges were coated with mud and gunk from disasters past. How had she never noticed its condition?
Her arms grew tired from the weight of the garment. She’d not noticed the heaviness before, but now she did. It smelled of fire, and flood waters, and…was that brimstone?
Marion laid the cape onto the examination table, then stepped away. She took a deep breath. Then another.
The doctor walked back in but stopped at the door. “Congratulations, Marion! I see you’re cured. How does it feel to fly without the burdens you’ve been carrying?”
Confused, Marion spun around. Her feet no longer touched the ground. She was floating. No—she was flying. She had never flown without the cape, but now she was.
She was lighter. She could breathe. She felt better.
“I feel free!” Marion exclaimed, “But how do I keep this feeling?”
Doc chuckled, “Remove the cape as much as possible. They get dirty and wear out, not to mention they increase wind drag and weigh you down.”
“Can I still be a superhero?” The thought of not doing her job gave Marion pause.
“Of course! You don’t have to have a cape to be a superhero, Marion,” the doctor assured her. “But the cape is a symbol and reminds you of who you are, but it’s not meant to be worn all the time. It should be taken off and washed to remove the toxic sludge. When it gets torn, it should be mended. And sometimes a new cape is needed as the old no longer suits the job. Change is good and necessary.”
Marion flew from the clinic with an energy she hadn’t felt in years. She hefted the bag containing her cape and considered throwing it into a dumpster. Memories of all the good she had done while wearing the cape flooded her mind. She decided to keep the cape and the stories it could tell as a testament to her career. A new cape would be in her future, but she would search for the one that suited her—maybe a little lighter, more aerodynamic.
In the meantime, she had a world to save.