The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: “Girl Power and Other Short-Short Stories” by Katie Cortese


“The Junior Superheroes Club of Tallahassee, Florida”

We formed the club after Geraldine Marshall drowned in the pool on John Knox. It was high time. If Frog Boy was in business two weeks ago, when Geraldine tried a triple-flip and knocked her head against the board, she might still be here today. We don’t give him a hard time, Arthur Bip, a.k.a. Frog Boy, because his power is swimming the length of the pool underwater, and not telling the future.

Allyson’s power is bagpipes, which her mom plays too. When she juices that tartan bag, crows pour out of the Magnolias, and Arthur’s father gets his BB gun for target practice. Arthur’s father was a Navy Seal, which is where he gets his power.

Shelby practices flying by jumping off the swings. She thinks her sister should be admitted into the club, because she was the lifeguard on duty when Geraldine died. We think her sister is brave for hauling Geraldine to the pool deck and pumping her double-fisted hands against Geraldine’s heart, even though the EMTs said no amount of CPR could have saved anyone after a “head injury of that magnitude,” but superheroes have to be more than brave.

We’re invincible, those of us with matching rings from the machines outside of Stein Mart. It took a lot of quarters and a lot of plastic eggs to find seven purples, and we can’t spare one for a nonlife-saving lifeguard. Even a brave one. Shelby says she understands, but she missed the last meeting. There’s talk of taking back her ring. If she isn’t serious about flying then we owe it to Tallahassee, to the panhandle, to the whole sunny state, to find someone who is.

Barron and Jarron are the Terrible Twosome. Incredible Hulks plus red hair, times two.

Wolf’s real name is Robert. He was born without a larynx, and he’s so blond his scalp shows. Since none of us are great at sign language, he writes everything out. His superpower is thinking. He has written that no one should blame Shelby’s sister for Geraldine’s death, but she will blame herself all her life. He has written that Shelby will chicken out before she masters flight, but we shouldn’t blame her either unless one of us learns to do it first. He has written that Geraldine is in neither heaven nor hell, but in “suspended animation” waiting for a baby to animate. Wolf told us not to tell her parents. “They’re too sad still,” he wrote. “It wouldn’t help.”

Wolf believes animation begins when a mother starts to love her unborn child, which is sometimes right away, and sometimes not until they feel it move or hold it. If it never happens, those kids grow into stabbers and bombers and terrorists. My mother calls Wolf “wise beyond his years,” which she thinks is from living without a body part the rest of us take for granted, but which we know is from the soul animating him, someone calm and loving and fair and bald. I’m not saying Gandhi for sure, but maybe. Wolf has written that Geraldine’s death is the hardest kind for people to understand because there is no one to blame.

I wish my superpower was leaping over the capitol building, or levitating everyone in the fourth grade, or freezing time, so I could have snapped my fingers when Geraldine leapt off the board, then snatched her from the air before her head cracked open, as Shelby says, like the plastic egg her ring came in.

Instead, my power is memory. Mom calls me Rachel Recall. At every meeting, I remind us of a good deed we’ve done. The time Allyson stuck up for Big Dave on the bus, or when Shelby shared a box of Jelly-Bellies someone gave her sister after the accident, but which her sister wouldn’t eat. Shelby’s sister doesn’t eat much of anything now.

Today, I tell about Geraldine Marshall teaching us to doubledutch at recess. It was a year ago, when she first moved here, and she spun her end of the ropes so fast I saw a portal open in time—me on one side, a saber-toothed tiger on the other. If she’d lived, time travel would have been her power. “She’d have sent us back,” I say, “one by one, to right the great wrongs of history.” Everyone looks at Wolf, and when he nods, they do too, like they knew it all along.

This selection comes from Katie Cortese’s short fiction collection Girl Power and Other Short-Short Stories, available now from ELJ Publications. Purchase your copy here.

Katie Cortese is the author of Girl Power and Other Short-Short Stories (ELJ Publications, 2015). Her stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in such journals as Blackbird, Gulf Coast, WigleafThe Baltimore Review, and elsewhere, including the Rose Metal Press anthology, Family Resemblance: An Anthology and Exploration of 8 Hybrid Literary Genres. She holds a PhD from Florida State University and an MFA from Arizona State University. The former editor-in-chief of The Southeast Review, she now serves as the fiction editor for Iron Horse Literary Review, and she lives in Lubbock, Texas, where she teaches in the creative writing program at Texas Tech University.

Beth Couture currently serves as both a Board Member and an Assistant Editor at Sundress Publications. Her work can be found in a number of journals and anthologies, including Gargoyle, Drunken Boat, The Southeast Review, Ragazine, and Thirty Under Thirty from Starcherone Books. Her novella, Women Born with Fur, was published by Jaded Ibis Press in 2014 as part of its Blue Bustard Novellas series. She is currently working on her Master’s in Social Work at Bryn Mawr College, and she lives in West Philly with her husband and five cats.

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