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I Can Be a Hero Too

Carol Scheina is a deaf speculative fiction author who also works as a technical editor in the Washington, D.C. suburbs. You can find more of her writings and a sadly neglected blog at carolscheina.wordpress.com.
Daddy fingers the sturdy laces on the seven-league boots like he used to finger Mama's rough, black hair. Like gold strands. Priceless.
"Oh, Besslynn, your Mama would've been so proud," Daddy says, helping me string the laces up. "Who would've thought our people could ever own a magic item like this."
He's kneeling on the fraying carpet Mama found in the rubbage bin behind the Grand Hotel. When heroes come to town for a villain vanquishing or troll tromping, they always stay at the Grand Hotel. Room and board includes a free uniform washing. Meanwhile, sidekicks and background characters stay at the Treeside Motel, where there's no free washing and the furniture looks like it's been through a number of adventures.
Back when Mama worked at the Grand Hotel, she'd scour the dumpster for lamps with missing shades, cracked end tables, tablecloths with stains she bleached clean. Stuff too worn for heroes, but just fine for us secondary characters.
The seven-league boots are used too, but you definitely won't find something like that in a trash bin. Not those precious heirlooms. My feet slosh around inside the worn leather toecaps.
Daddy helps me maneuver so I don't accidentally take a step until I'm ready. He kicks the front door at the base, as it always gets stuck just so, and it opens to let in the familiar breeze of hot asphalt stirred with musky sweat.
The rowhouses on our street have always been kind of tipsy, and now it seems like they're leaning forward in curiosity. Curtains ruffle as neighbors peek out.
Daddy's eyes are bright. "Go, show everybody you're a hero."
I blow a kiss at Daddy and take a step.
Winds sting my cheeks. I catch scents that whiff by too fast for my nose to recognize, except for the cinnamon rolls. Sweet and yeasty, like Mama used to make, and gone too soon. I stop seven leagues across town in Monument Park, where the fresh-cut grass and trimmed trees cool the air. Stumbling a bit into a spraying fountain, the splash on my face tastes like Mama's cleaning solution. Tastes a bit like victory, too. My first time in magic boots.
I look up at the stone heroes of the past, lined up between fountains and square-trimmed shrubs. They stand with hands on their hips, some with swords held high. My fist poses at my side, and I stand still and tall, like I'm a carving too.
Then a man spits at my face, taking great care not to hit the boots. Not those precious boots, worn by many a storybook hero to save the day.
"Uppity side character," he sneers, flashing his bowler cap and sharp-cut suit as he passes.
My lips taste the hate he's left there. The next step forward seems so far away.
It seems like when life made the mold for heroes, they got the better parts. Us background characters were the plain sugar cookies; heroes got icing and glittering sprinkles. They got the magical items. Charmed swords, enchanted cloaks, wands, and talking frogs that granted wishes. The kind of treasures that got passed down from grandpappy to kid to grandkid, 'cause you didn't want to lose that once it got into the family. Heroes got stories told about them and everyone ate the tales up like they were the sweetest thing ever.
No one's supposed to notice background characters like me. Like no one noticed Mama.
My eyes itch with a bit of tears.
Mama served as a sidekick when the hero Ignado went to battle against the dragon ravaging the edges of town. We'd needed the extra money, so she signed up.
Before she left, she stroked my head and kissed me goodnight.
I whispered, "You're like a hero, Mama."
"No, I'm not, sugarplum." The shadows made lines across her face, like a cape flowing, and little me didn't recognize the worry there.
I can see Ignado's statue in Monument Park, a marble dragon's head beneath his feet, the replica of his magic sword above his head. The sword that always found the heart of the enemy, so of course the hero was triumphant.
But for Ignado's sidekicks, three didn't make it back. Mama was one of them.
Her death was a sidenote in the hero's story. No one really paid mind, except me and Daddy. We sure noticed. A lot.
Heroes like Ignado had powerful stuff to protect them, but that was the way back then. Things have changed, what with the sidekick protests. Daddy and me marched down fancy cobblestone streets, holding up Mama's picture. Now there's Decree Number 14, stating magical items like swords and wands are for the benefit of the whole kingdom, not just the families lucky enough to inherit them. And here's the kicker: the law says anyone can earn the right to wield a magic item.
We side characters can rise up to be heroes too. I worked hard for my seven-league boots.
It's a big thing, though, stepping forward. The boots feel heavy on my feet. The whole world watching me. People like the bowler cap man expecting me to fail.
Though I can finally stay at the Grand Hotel now, I'm not even sure I want to. I probably will, just to see Daddy's smiling eyes.
He's right, Mama would be proud of me. I picture her tapping my chin up, "Besslynn, you don't let anything get you down."
I remember her head was high as she walked out of my bedroom that last time, her black hair woven like a shoelace pattern. No magic sword, nothing but her own courage and dignity, more solid than any marble statue.
Somewhere out there, past Monument Park, I hear a faint, "Help!"
One step forward with my boots, and I fly seven leagues forward. That's what heroes do.
But really, I'm just following in the footsteps of the real hero. I know who that is.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, March 9th, 2021
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