‘Our Hero’ by Shannon Neeley

Stories of legends and mythic creatures fighting against all the evils that dare come our way filled our ears. The importance of these battles and these warriors gliding over the ice embeds itself into our identities just as the crest they bear on their suits of armour becomes marked on to them.

He had been one of the golden few, a legend who had helped to bring glories of yore that now hung high above in the rafters. Over the clattering of idle chatter, the clinking of spoons and knives scraping butter over slightly blackened toast, our hero came into focus over a lazy Sunday breakfast.

Bleary eyed and lamenting my early wake-up call, I imagined my still sheet-lined face burrowing back into my soft pillow. From the comfort of this dreamy haze I watched my parents flipping through the pile of weekly circulars as they engaged in banal chatter designed for morning civilities. Between bites of toast, a small announcement nestled below the specials advertising Cheerios and discounted detergent took command of my drifting gaze. Behind some straying crumbs was the bold lettering of his name, only familiar to me from the tales I had heard told so many times.

“I saw Bob at the dépanneur. He said Mary wanted him to invite us over for dinner Tuesday.”  my father sputtered as he sopped up the last few drops of syrup on his plate with burnt toast crust.

I began to frantically scan the announcement for more pertinent details, while my mother, lost somewhere between her thoughts and song, half-hummed her response to my father:

Mmhmm, that sounds nice. Can someone pass me that pen. No, the purple one. As long as he’s not drinking, you know how he gets…”

A need for confirmation to squelch my lingering hesitation.

“Completely ruined Mary’s fortieth. Where’s my list? I just had the thing in my hand.” My mother hummed on.

My mouth had gone dry. I clenched my jaw and attempted to swallow, hoping to push this bubbling news I had swelling within me back into the depths of my turning gut.

“Can SOMEBODY pass the syrup?” barked my father.

Until I was certain, his name would not pass my lips. I could not bear it.

“TABERNAC! Will you go easy with that…you know in some countries that stuff is liquid gold.” my father continued as he snatched the syrup can mid-pour from my younger brother’s heavy hands.

My lips quivered. Gently, they unfurled and began moving hesitantly toward forming actual words. My impatient mind, unsatisfied with my lingering, quickly intervened and overrode my sluggish body.

I erupted with sound…“Next Saturday. Two o’clock.”

There was something strange about seeing his name on this discount plastered flyer.

After some deep breaths and inquisitive snatchings of the flyer the now cold, half-eaten eggs and bits of fat-flecked bacon had been abandoned.

The childlike twinkle in my father’s eyes confirmed it. We would be there.

Stories were relayed, moments in time crystallized for us to help understand the importance of it all.

The importance of this day. Of how the past would enter our world. It was almost too much. Yes, far too much to convey simply by words.

The aura that the old card radiated was one of triumph. I held it gently between my fingertips, careful to not bend the crisp corners like I had been taught. Hope.

Stick in hand, the stance of a warrior ready for battle. Confident and comforting with a slight grin curling at the edge of his mouth. The cocky reassurance of a true pro.

The automatic doors parted slowly, apparently unaware of the monumental event taking place within these unassuming grey walls.

Still breathing deeply and recovering from the sting of winter’s chilling whispers, I watched the remaining traces of snow melt from my boots and slide down to the floor, leaving small puddles of water pooling on tan tiles.

It was quiet.

CRAASHK-BOOM-CRAASHK-BOOM

Calling us to attention in a disarming cacophony, my mother had shaken loose a cart from its brothers in their pen and plunked her purse in the divider where a young child would typically sit.

A large sign with that familiar bright red bold lettering beamed its message to the wide-eyed dutiful and pointed us in the right direction. The countdown had begun.

The crowd that had gathered was being ushered into a reluctant line by a portly, middle-aged employee relishing this rare occasion for power. With his chest puffed out to comical proportions, his sharp barks to “form a line!” sent waves of sound into the abyss of our industrial retail surroundings.

This was just part of the game. Suffer through it and then you get the prize.

My mother, not wanting to waste any more time simply standing in line, took off in search of deals. Her footsteps echoed as she clicked along the rows of goods. I watched her until something appeared to catch her hawk-like eyes. A quick snap of her neck and a precision maneuver of her rickety, steel steed saw her disappear down an aisle.

Left with all those who had also made the pilgrimage, we stood and waited.

Perched on the tips of my toes, I became uncomfortably aware of the limitations of my stumpy neck and frame. Stretching with every ounce of my being, a fold-up table, the kind usually reserved for bake sales and the overflow at family dinners, was visible. There was a large banner welcoming our hero with some red and white balloons added to distract from the boxes of lawn furniture and crates of soda that were encroaching on the makeshift shrine. The store employee stood at the front of the line now, asking for silence as there was an important announcement to be made. As though divinely designed to discredit the employee further, a starkly contrasted tall young man stood over him wearing a crisp suit and an exhausted expression. “Today’s proceedings will go as follows,” he informed us. “Two hundred people will be granted access… No pictures! And keep the line moving, please.”

Due to a matter beyond their control, only a select few would be able to secure the highly sought-after autograph – proof of the meeting and a memory to cling to.  The cut off was made far enough past us to make our early arrival seem sensible, but not so far back as to dampen our feeling of good luck to be on the right end of the line.

Head down, he walked to his seat without acknowledging those gathered. He paused as the employee, relishing the moment, bowed and repeatedly swept his arm in an awkward gesture of grandeur. Pulling back the fold-up chair, our hero reached out and braced himself against the skeletal back of the shabby throne and slowly eased into his place of honour.

The line quickly started to move. Lurching in small bursts as the first few secured his signature and were sent on their way.

Something fell flat…

This man was not the same one staring back with the stance of a warrior. This man had the yellow tinged hair and tired, watery eyes of an old man. One who was not particularly pleased to have found himself foisted back onto his designated pedestal in history.

The past had collided with the present, leaving me with a barely legible signature from a man who had filled so many stories with the simple inclusion of his name.

Reality had seeped through in a most unsavoury manner and claimed our hero.

Under the flickering scrutiny of harsh fluorescent lighting, gods are exposed for the mere mortals we wish they weren’t. It is here, sandwiched between the discount bin and express check out, where our heroes come to die.

 


SHANNON NEELEY hails from Quebec’s beautiful Eastern Townships, and recently graduated from Bishop’s University. As a freelance writer she contributes to online music publications in her spare time. Shannon loves to surround herself with music, writing, fashion and art and stays busy by working on her creative projects. Her heart lies in all-day breakfast joints and she also happens to be mildly obsessed with pugs!

Copyright © 2018 by Shannon Neeley. All rights reserved.