32. The Lion’s Mane

The symbols we absorb as children, the ideas that we accept as true, become the symbols by which we find shapes and meaning in the world around ourselves as adults. This is why it’s said that children’s toys shape adult’s world. Perhaps why the generation of children that grew up with Buck Rogers made the rockets that took to the stars, or the children that grew up with Star Trek made mobile phones, and the generation that grew up with Gummi Bears spent their adult lives wondering how to do something useful with their lives.

>Consider the child who grows up with dolls given to her by her mother and father, pink dresses and songs about princesses. The concern was that she had an odd name. She would grow up with a complex, so she should be given opportunities to be a normal girl.

Consider in turn, the child that grew up with her father’s superhero figurines. The stories of caped crusaders. A bucket of lego that, at first, was bigger than she was. A tub of toys with logos and insignias, robots that turned into trucks and trucks that turned into guns. Flowing fabric only in the flavour of a cape, hoods and masks and cops and robbers. There was no thought of what it would do to her. There was thought about finally getting some use of the huge trunk of toys that her father had been keeping since he left home.

One of those children grew up to scorn girlish things. She wore shorts when she could, she wore the boy’s uniform at school. She swam and she laughed and she even boxed, when she could. She was loud and raucous and shameless and she partook of the family’s rituals with aplomb and even memorised them and mocked them.

The other child grew up to love her girlish things. She smoothed down her skirts and collected berets and scarves and she indulged tastes in fashion. She liked pink. She liked her hair. She strove to fit in at school, then rose to the top, being sweet, talented, and acrobatic. She was smart, too, but for some reason, nobody ever noticed it.

Nobody ever noticed that the cheerleader named Barbie had never owned a Barbie doll in her life; nobody cared that the tomboy named Innogen had pictures from her fourth birthday wearing pink frills and a princess hat. Who would? Who cared?

Those two children tell us nothing useful at all about any other children, but they do tell us that once upon a time, the girl named Barbara leapt around the backyard with a towel around her shoulders.

The burglary had awoken something inside Barbara. Sure – she’d messed up a bit. She’d nearly concussed a man with an indestructable mobile phone. There were broken windows and locks, and, overall, probably as much damage as just letting the burglars things and run. The roar that had run through her, though, when she’d stood up; when she had, inside herself, decided no, this doesn’t happen.

Heady. Rich. It was like the sip of her father’s liquor.

The burglary had been a mess. The assault in an alleyway had not been at all. Two drunken brawlers had almost turned ugly when both pulled their guns, when a practiced arc of bright green fire blasted through the space between them, melting gun barrels off, fusing mechanisms, and lighting the whole alleyway with its spattering sparks of sickly green.

They’d run. That was fine. That was enough. Two guys with guns who’d been about to kill one another was hardly the avatar of justice, but it had been a good proof of concept.

The third had been an attempted home invasion. Aikon had been quite irritated about it, about her literally wandering the neighbourhood. But the wall was easy to climb; the thin brickwork thicker than a balance beam, and she’d stood on wider and done handstands. The man had come to the front door of his ex-wife’s house, a gun stuffed in the back of his pants, and a butcher’s knife in his hand, the slight lurching of alcohol betrayed as he stopped at the door.

Barbara had reflected, in the moonlight, masked and hooded, above the man’s head, looking down at his shiny, shiny bald spot, that the whole world looked different when you just stepped out of what you were told it was like. The thin brickwork was secure under her sneakered feet. A dense, big city like this, she’d have her nights cut out, and people always with guns, always, always, always. That was just how it went.

The green fire had arced from her hand with ease, spinning the knife out of his grip and into the patio, where it melted into the floor. She’d dropped down to land on the ceiling above him, and growled out her one-word-warning:

“Run.”

It’s what she said; it’s not what he heard. What he heard was something deeper, more primal, more fundamental, where the very voice of the earth and the stars drew breath and bellowed in his face, tearing the sky and uttering a primal roar in the shape of the lion, outlined around Barbara as stars.

The figure of a man that fat, running away in terror was quite something to behold, in that odd, Humptyish way.

The fourth, fifth, and sixth taught her that sometimes escalation could de-escalate problems. The seventh taught her that some people would always see her as a potential victim, and the eighth showed her that her town was so large that she couldn’t patrol it all. She needed to sleep, after all.

And eating bacon and potatoes and a little malted liquor with her father, she’d sat back and contented herself, wondering about what nine and ten would be.

Barbara would have been able to spend her whole life like that.

*

Every time the bellowing happened, Barbara felt it. She didn’t even hear it – they were so far from the Atlantic ocean that she didn’t even connect the events.

But the notes played onwards.

And Aikon started to worry.

Comments are closed.