A romantic flight above the clouds.
|'Come on now, Joe,' Brenda sighed, 'you've put your underpants over your trousers again.' She made to take him by the elbow and help him stand up. But he stubbornly refused to move, his blue eyes glittering. 'Come on Joe.' She believed in the broken record technique for the old dears. Their memories were a bit dodgy, their hearing a bit partial and their minds a bit absent.
'I'm waiting for Angie.' Joe pulled his disreputable cardigan tighter across his chest. 'We've got a nice moonlight flight lined up.' Brenda rolled her eyes.
'Come on Joe.' She caught a glance of a shiny tee-shirt emblazoned with a Moth Man symbol. Silly old fool. He was too old to wear stuff like that. 'How about a nice cuppa?' She dipped a tentative toe into his world. 'It'll keep you warm up in them there clouds.' His direct gaze could have been intimidating but Brenda had dealt with worse than Joe. His lady friend, Angie, for example. As mad as a box of frogs. She was always dressing up in her Silent Owl outfit. A fine example of a super heroine, with knobbly knees, slippers where there had once been long boots and a cape that got caught in the door. Not to mention the Zimmer frame. Briefly, she wondered why they were not sunning themselves on tropical beaches, not holed up in slightly seedy sheltered accommodation in the back end of Neasden.
'Angie, my sweetheart!' Joe leapt to his feet, and made his Moth Man bow. Give him his due, Brenda pursed her lips, he certainly knew the moves. 'As ravishing as ever!' She had a thick coat unbuttoned over her white tunic. 'Don't forget to pop your slippers in the rack.' Joe twinkled at the pink, fluffy things.
'Come on Joe.' Did Angie's voice have to sound so sickly sweet? 'Fly me to the moon.' She warbled. 'Do you want to change your trousers first?' Angie led Joe out of the common room, glancing at old Pete, dozing in an armchair. 'Let's take off before Mr Boom wakes up.'
The door to Joe's room closed behind them. Outside, Brenda pursed her lips, shook her head and sighed. Let them get on with it, they were adults, after all. Inside, Joe swiftly pulled off his underpants, then his trousers and stripped off his cardigan. Okay, his Moth Man uniform was not quite as snug as it had been when he had been a working superhero, but it fitted well enough. His helmet was worn, but comfortable, and his wing-pack charged up. It was heavier than it used to be, but that was progress for you. He ran an appreciative eye over Silent Owl. In their public life they had been rivals but in their secret identities they had been lovers. Until the paparazzi blew the whole thing apart, but that was all water under the bridge, now. Along with marriages, children, divorces, bankruptcy and retirement to a home.
They fitted in here very nicely. There were several heroes from the old days here, fallen on hard times. Some had never paid into a pension plan, some had squandered their fortunes and some had always been ne'er-do-wells. So much for the days of saving the world. Mixing in with the ordinaries who were genuinely old, confused or simply unable to cope, they fitted in. And their occasional lapses ignored.
Joe had to disengage the safety catch on the window before he could open it wide enough for himself with his pack on to squeeze through and extend the wings into whirring life. Gallantly, he held out his hand to Silent Owl as she stepped elegantly up on the sill, her cape morphing into the white wings that had inspired her working name. Above them diamond stars waited above clouds, glowing grimly orange with city lighting pollution. Hand in hand, they soared up, with style, if not speed.
It was cold in the stratosphere. Back in the day, their uniforms had been enough to keep them warm. That and the exhilaration of combat with a nemesis on an almost daily basis. Nowadays, Joe had a base layer from an outdoors shop and Angie had a woollen pompom hat, knitted mittens and thick socks. But they could still teach the youngsters a thing or two about cloud dipping and airplane dodging.
'Time to call it a night, old thing.' Joe glanced at the battery indicator. They were past their best and did not hold the charge so well. He glanced at Silent Owl but her face was white and her eyes had turned dark. 'Angie?' For the first time, ever, he discovered that panic could freeze the brain. 'Angie! Wake up!' He tried to shake her, but she slipped away, tumbling over and over, her wings useless, fluttering rags. 'Angie...' he howled. And dived after her.
Moth wings are designed to flap, to scoop up air and propel. Even folded tight, a headlong dive had never been his best manoeuvre. He was too slow. She was heading for disaster. And there was nothing he could do. Desperately he turned off his pack, the wings folding away. All that happened was that he flipped over, end for end. Centrifugal force flung his arms out. He could not reach the control. At least he and Angie would die together. He passed out.
When he woke up, he had a thundering headache. With a groan, he turned his head and saw Angie's orange eyes staring into his. She gave him a weak smile. Did it really happen?
In the corridor outside his room Brenda pursed her lips. One of the buttons on her nurse's uniform had been ripped off in her hurry to change into her kit. Luckily both Joe and Angie had been unconscious by the time The Nurse had barrelled up to catch them before the old dears pancaked. It was important to let them keep their dignity. They had precious little else.