BY ANNA LEA JANCEWICZ
Sheila was startled when Walter slipped his hand down the front of her Levi’s. It was not what she was expecting in broad daylight, at a church picnic. His hand was a warm dry octopus in her pants— granted, one that had been horribly disfigured in a tragic tryst with some fisherman’s propeller, having lost three of its tentacles. But it wriggled and groped just the same.
It was not unpleasant. And Sheila had, in fact, composed a list just the night before, Things I Could Do To Make Walter Love Me. Number one on her list was Be extraordinary, and she hadn’t even gotten around to doing that yet, so the hand thing seemed like pretty good dumb luck.
Sheila’s back was pressed up against a magnolia tree that served to shield her and Walter from Reverend Bender and the rest of the congregation as they piled their Styrofoam plates with German potato salad and that kind of Jell-O with nuts and marshmallows and stuff in it. Her eyes were rolling back into her skull, but Sheila had enough of her wits about her to hope that she’d still get a chance to snag one of Merilee Jenkins’s prize-winning brownies before they were all gone. They were so moist. But now, so was Sheila.
Objectively, she knew that Walter was not the most conventionally handsome boy in their class. He wasn’t one of the boys that the Four Jennifers and One Tina invited to their pool parties. He certainly wasn’t the most intellectual, either. He’d flunked algebra twice. But Sheila felt he had certain bewitching qualities. His ears flattened back against his head like a cat’s when he smiled, and that made her want to scratch him under the chin and make him purr. His eyes were the exact color of the warm green water in Sheila’s favorite summer swimming hole. Plus, he had a really badass jean jacket with a hand-drawn Sonic Youth back patch, and how fucking cool was that?
Sheila wanted to tell Walter things, not necessarily even deep dark secret things, just the kind of real things that would make him understand who she was. Sheila wanted to tell Walter that when her mother left, she took all the nice furniture with her, so Sheila and her father now sat on pillows on the living room floor to watch television at night, eating their microwaved dinners on top of overturned cardboard boxes. Sheila’s father was always sad. She wanted to tell Walter how she remembered really good times, way back before her mother started taking pottery classes and French lessons and belly dance, before she found herself, when she used to pop popcorn on the stovetop in a big pot and the whole family would all cuddle together on the plaid couch and watch Welcome Back, Kotter reruns. There was real melted butter on the popcorn, and Sheila would search for and dig out the soggiest pieces. She wanted to tell Walter that now, most times, when she tried to sleep at night, she felt her limbs growing bigger and bigger, her tongue swelling gigantic, while the real little her of her stayed small small small like a black pearl buried deep inside all her monstrous flesh.
Sheila wanted Walter to find that pearl. Sheila wanted to tell Walter that she’d been waiting for him to be her first kiss, but that he’d skipped right over that part, as if the vinyl record of her and him had a big scratch. Sheila couldn’t bring herself to say that weirdo thing, so instead she reached up and put her hand on the back of his sweaty neck. She pulled his face closer to hers. She opened her mouth.
Whoa. Wow, okay Walter said. Your breath. It’s, uh, powerful.
Sheila’s jaw snapped shut. She felt like the whole world should have stopped right then, that the earth should have quit its spinning through space, or at least that all the chatter and laughter of the picnic should have screeched to a halt. But it didn’t.
The tentacles in her underwear stilled and drooped. The octopus scuttled backwards in a hurry, leaving a slime trail on Sheila’s belly. Walter sniffed at his fingers and wiped them across the thigh of his jeans.
This was the moment. The moment Sheila knew she would be a supervillain.
Of course it didn’t happen overnight. It took a lot of effort. She had to pull up her GPA, for starters. But she graduated with a very respectable class rank, and got a partial scholarship to the Hero Academy. She worked nights at a bowling alley, a gas station, a comic book shop. She crammed for her exams and survived on ramen and saltine packets and free condiments. She learned all the tricks of the trade, she knew her enemies and kept them close. She aced her courses, completing mock rescues of adorable puppies and bewildered old ladies and ridiculously naïve damsels with broken heels wandering blinkingly on train tracks. Inside, Sheila seethed, but to all observers she was perfectly benign.
Sheila got a good-girl haircut, with blunt bangs and upturned ends. She wore headbands, for fuck’s sake. But secretly she mastered the art of liquid eyeliner, knowing that a sultry cat-squint would be absolutely necessary for evildoing. She stitched together the sluttiest costume she could imagine, with purple leather hot pants and thigh-high boots with spikes and skulls. She hid it in the back of her closet behind the pleated skirts and pastel blouses with Peter Pan collars. After she earned her BA, she took a shitty internship with Fantastic Man, who was the absolute worst. Sheila powered through it, swallowing her pride and more than a little Fantastic semen. Every time he signed one of Sheila’s pitiful paychecks, she socked away cash for buying deep-discounted defective death rays and various pre-owned torture devices on the darknet black markets. She learned to repair that shit herself, using damaged electronics she got for free on Craigslist. That really boosted Sheila’s self-esteem.
She waited out the fucked-up real estate situation while she slaved away as an adjunct at the Academy, loathing her students and their bright-eyed optimism until she found a great deal on a foreclosed-on lair. She had to decorate it with all the lame half-assed-evil things she could scrounge at thrift-stores and flea markets, but really it looked pretty cool. Sheila did kind of love that black light poster of the dueling dragons. She never did get around to reading the hardcover set of Ayn Rand books, but they sure did look classy and ominous there on the shelf next to the ratty paperback Necronomicon and printed-out copy of The Anarchist’s Cookbook.
Finally all of Sheila’s hard work and sacrifices paid off.
She donned her costume, she held a functioning-enough death ray. Her eye make-up was banging. She scheduled her big world debut carefully, so that she wouldn’t be on her period. No pockets for tampons needed on her kick-ass utility belt! Sheila made her way to the top of the tallest skyscraper within a ten-mile radius of her lair. It wasn’t the most impressive building ever, but it was pretty good. Fourteen stories. She pointed her sonic laser cannon at the moon. The moon! Sheila knew that The Fantastic League was at that moment receiving word of her perfectly timed press release. She took a deep breath and whispered Bring it on, fuckers.
Then, of course, Sheila couldn’t help but think of Walter. Of looking up into his big dumb face at that moment, the moment when she knew that this was her destiny. She could have left the church picnic wallowing in that morass of humiliation. She could have shrunken into herself, sloshing along in her soggy panties crying tears of surrender to the cruelty of the world. But instead, Sheila held her head high. She was already scheming. She was already gritting her teeth and rubbing the word revenge hard against the roof of her mouth with her tongue, imagining its unbelievably sweet taste.
She got home in one piece, in more of one piece than she’d been in ages, and she sailed right by her father eating his Hungry Man dinner on his cardboard box. Sheila didn’t feel pity for him anymore. It wouldn’t have killed him to learn how to scramble some eggs or stir-fry some vegetables. Sheila went to her room and got out her sparkly purple gel pen, and she sat her ass down on the pink unicorn bedspread that she would later that night torch in the dumpster behind the elementary school, along with that stupid list she’d made the night before. Sheila made a new list, Things I Could Do To Make The World Pay. Number one on her list was Be extraordinary.
Sheila got around to it this time.
Anna Lea Jancewicz lives in Norfolk, Virginia, where she homeschools her children and haunts the public libraries. She is an editor for Cease, Cows and her writing has appeared or is forthcoming at Burrow Press Review, The Fem, The Forge, Lockjaw, and many other venues. Her flash fiction "Marriage" was chosen for The Best Small Fictions 2015. Say it: Yahnt-SEV-ich. More at: http://annajancewicz.wordpress.com/