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Fragments from a Childhood

Gwendolyn MacEwen
From:   The Fire-Eaters. Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1982

You are eleven years old and have finally decided you can fly. You've been through all the issues of the Marvel Family comics for the last three years, and you know the key word that will give you wings. You can fly if you pretend your white satin bed-jacket is a cape. Now for you Chazam of the Creative Word, the Logos, the formula of flight. You know you can fly, the way They do, straight out like a bullet with your arms stretched forward and your cape fluttering in the wind.

There is no doubt in your mind.

Something else delays you.

You've tied the white satin bed-jacket around your neck tightly so that the wild sleepy folds fall down properly from the shoulders. You imagine what the wind will do to it; you know what it means.

You have many words to utter before you reach Shazam. You utter them slowly, half-hoping you will not reach the end of them. half-hoping that the world will not wring from you the Final Formula, for everything would stop then. You don't really want to pronounce the Unpronounceable.

You stand poised over the steep ravine that leads down to the river. You know it will work because it works for the Marvel Family. You think about the other kids who read the same comics but who don't know what they are all about. They don't know, otherwise they'd be here with you above the ravine with their bed-jackets tied around their necks, wouldn't they, wouldn't they? Maybe they do it alone in their rooms, maybe they pose alone in front of their mirrors, but none of them are here where you are now.

In a way you really do want to have the Great Word wrung out of you, but until now you've witheld it, having sworn never to pronounce it except in a moment of extremity. After all, you don't wish to destroy the world . . .

It's a long way to the bottom of the ravine. There are no witnesses. You wanted it that way, didn't you?

Maybe God will punish you for your insolence. Icarus tried it once; Prometheus still lies chained to a rock with an eagle picking at his liver for a crime less than this. But the Marvel Family has no quarrel with God, and besides they do Good Works and have a fine sense of humour; God never punished them because they were Super.

Neither does Wonder Woman; she's a pagan and swears by obscure Greek deities. Anyway, you don't like her much because her costume is so American; Mary Marvel's costume is a hundred times better, although in the last issue her skirt was lengthened to below the knees and you were so mad you were going to write in to the editor about it.

You're still murmuring the introductory words; you realize you're coming to the end and in a minute you're going to have to say Shazam and take off into thin air above the ravine.

You know you can do it.

Something else delays you.

Well, the Marvel Family is so trite, for one thing. They just fly around and they never discuss anything. Are they aware of INFINITY for instance? Are they?

Do they know the Word is Ineffable, for instance?

Can any one of them even spell Ineffable?

You are trembling now and you say to yourself: Now I begin to suspect that my soul is greater than the soul of Mary Marvel. I've always known, deep down, that the Marvel Family are not very intelligent even though they fly and lightning shoots down and claims them.

Are they really interested in their marvels? Or do they just fly around, poor fools, casually tossing off the Word?

Can they even SPELL the Word?

Holey Moley, all they can do is DO IT, for heaven's sake! But you, you can THINK about it, you know what is means!

Suddenly you pity their lemon-yellow lightning bolts and their plastic boots. If Mary Marvel's skirt hadn't been lenghtened, you might never have come to this moment of truth. You walk away in your white satin bed-jacket, sadder but wiser. It starts to rain and your miraculous cape drips all down your back.

Something has come to pass, you think, something more important than a mere flight over the ravine.

Gwendolyn MacEwen's works copyright © to the Estate of Gwendolyn MacEwen.
The information provided here is by permission of David MacKinnon, executor for The Estate of Gwendolyn MacEwen.

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