Well, here's another crazy, Jarrod thought, as the pretty, drunk blonde leaned into his face. He turned his head to escape the fumes, but she stubbornly followed him, clinging to the subway strap and swaying opposite the rocking of the train. She overcompensated and almost fell over, glaring at Jarrod like it was his fault.
"I ast you a quession." she slurred. Her green eyes glittered and Jarrod felt the knife point of panic in his belly. He decided to placate her, to stall her from getting violent until he could get off at the next stop.
"Ok... If I could have any superpower, what would it be, right?" She scoffed.
"I only ast you that like three times, dumbass. Look, you're the last of these lousy jobs I gotta do, then I can get out of this...this... cess pool. So hurry up! Whad'ya wan'? D'ya, d'ya wanna fly? Aw, c'mon...ev'rybody wan's ta fly!"
Jarrod shook his head.
"No. I'm afraid of heights. I can't even ride an escalator without getting sick." She rolled her eyes.
"Coward! Well, how 'bout superstrength? Impress all yer friends...?"
Jarrod thought a moment.
"No, I really don't need that. Besides, everyone would want me to help them move. My friends move a lot... it's New York."
She drunk blonde palmed her face groaning.
"You're so picky. Well, what do you want? X-ray vision?"
"Nah... that's an invasion of other people's privacy." Jarrod glanced up at the lighted crawl...his stop was coming up after this one. He decided to get off now.
"Well, it's been an... interesting ... conversation. But I have to get off now." He gave her a polite nod and moved toward the door. He almost felt sorry for her, she looked so horrified. Well, she'd buttonhole some other sucker with her particular brand of drunken ranting. Able to grant people superpowers... what nonsense!
Jarrod shoved his way off the train and crossed the platform at record speed, running up the stairs and bursting out of the kiosk into the icy January night.
It was relatively quiet, for eleven thirty on a Wednesday night in Manhattan, and Jarrod breathed a sigh of relief.
"Hey! You! Misser Picky!"
Jarrod felt his stomach drop to his shoes and he turned around to see the drunk blonde. She was tapping her highheeled foot, and her arms were crossed. She wasn't even breathing heavily. Jarrod looked back at the stairs, and back at the woman.
"How'd you...how... WHAT???"
She stepped closer and Jarrod backed up. She scoffed again.
"That is what I have been trying to tell you." Her voice sounded less slurred, and the way she bit off each syllable made him think suddenly of a female mantis biting off the head of her mate and eating it. Jarrod looked around for help, but passersby simply ignored them except to give them a wide berth. He swallowed, and turned back to find her face mere inches from his. He made a noise halfway between a gasp and a squeak.
"P-p-please don't kill me! I won't taste good I swear!" She gave him a dirty look and sneered.
"I'm not going to kill you, and I'm certainly not interested in eating you either, you moron! I'm tasked with giving you a special power, so you can use it to fight evil? Or just make a positive difference in somebody's life...You know, like, be a superhero? Instead of being a selfish super LOSER? Which is what you are right now?"
She was sounding both angrier and more sober by the minute, and Jason was bordering on panic. Instead of a pretty but weird drunken coed, the woman in front of him was a pretty, not so drunk psycho who claimed to be able to make him into a superhero. Sure, just another day in the Big Apple, right?
The blonde took a deep breath, and appeared to be counting to ten.
"Okay. We've got to finish this thing like now, before midnight, so I can go home. So here's what we're going to do. I'm going to ask you some questions. You're going to answer them to the best of your ability. Then I'm going to pick a power FOR you, since you can't make up your mind. But if you don't like it, too bad, you're stuck. Okay?"
Jarrod nodded. He was afraid to say no, at this point. The last couple of sentences had been punctuated by her stabbing her finger into his chest. He had felt her sharp fingernail (claw?) even through his jacket. He was pretty sure he was going to faint soon and he hoped no one would steal his wallet while he lay there unconscious.
She began to grill him
"Do you like animals?"
"Do you like to swim?"
"I never learned."
"How about running?"
"Well, is there anything you DO like?"
"I like to eat. I'm a foodie"
"I can't turn gluttony into a superpower. I'm supposed to make you a superhero, not a super gyro."
"Well, I can't help it that I'm fat and boring."
"You're not that fat... you're a little boring, but I've seen a lot worse. You're problem is that you've got low self-esteem. That's why you can't think of any superpower you want... you've psyched yourself into being a perpetual underachiever so you won't ever have to deal with success OR disappointment."
Jarrod couldn't disagree with that. Even when he was a kid, his mother had always been the one to tell him "Oh, just get a passing grade. It doesn't matter." Never a "Go for your dreams!" Never a "You can achieve whatever you want in life!" Dreams were unattainable. One lived in reality, and if you were poor, like they were when he was a kid, the reality was that there was no place for big dreams, or any dreams at all. Dreams of college, a real career, a home in the suburbs.
A family of his own someday. He had stopped dreaming at all years ago, drifting along in a cocoon of numbness. It was easier than the perpetual disappointment when his hopes got squashed yet again. But her persistent questions had shaken something loose inside.
"I thought of something I'd like...but I don't know if it's a superpower.
I'd like to be a dad. Not just any dad, but the kind of dad that always finds time to go to school plays, or play catch in the backyard. I want to be the kind of husband that has a job good enough to pay for a nice house with a real yard. To put the kids through school without my wife having to go back to work unless she wants to. I want to be the kind of parent that tells their kids it's ok to dream and dream big. And gives them the tools to use towards making those dreams come true."
The girl stared at him.
"So your superpower would be to become a dad from a fifties sit-com? To be Ward Cleaver?" She sounded incredulous. Jarrod nodded.
"Yeah. I want to be able to give my family the life I never had...never saw. Happy. Secure. You can't dream if nothing in your life gives you hope. And I want any kids that I have to be able to dream of being something big. Of doing something great, like being an astronaut. Or a doctor. Or maybe even President. Nothing to hold them back. Instead of wondering if there will be any food that night. Or knowing all the workers at the homeless shelter by name 'cause you're there so much. Can you do that?"
The blonde looked at him, straight in the eye, and took a deep breath. Jarrod braced himself for a rush of magic.
"Nope. Only you have the power to do that."
She turned and walked away, leaving Jarrod staring after her.
Slowly, he started walking. And thinking. A light snow began to fall, and he went over the evening's events. It was weird even by New York standards, and he was shaken by the encounter. But she was right. Only he could change his current life for the one of his long-ago dreams.
Maybe it was time he thought about moving. He was killing himself working two jobs here, and for what? Exorbitant rent on a tiny apartment shared with three other guys. He couldn't remember the last time he went out on a date or ate a home cooked meal. Or saw the stars.
So he didn't have much money put back, how much would he need if he went....to Iowa, or something? He had a good work history, and there were fast food restaurants all over...he might be able to get a transfer with one of his current jobs. Heck, he might even be able to get a manager's job.
He continued thinking about his plans, walking into the snow as it swirled and sparkled like fairy dust around him.
"Well, that was a close one, wasn't it?" The blonde nodded at her colleague's statement.
"I didn't think I was ever going to get it out of him. One of the worst cases of dead dreams I've ever seen."
The portly older man smiled at her.
"Oh, I can think of a couple that were worse. I came near to losing my first case. You just terrorized yours into blurting out his heart's desire." The blonde rolled her eyes.
"Gee thanks, Clarence. Can we go now?" Clarence nodded.
"Of course Sheri. We don't want to be late for your graduation ceremony, do we?"
The two linked arms and strolled toward the intersection, reaching the corner then blinking out of sight.
Jarrod looked around, puzzled. For a second there, he thought he heard the tinkling of a bell. Well, it was New York... anything was possible.