Each new day was the same as the last. Even the sun seemed too tired to shelve itself away some nights: it hung there in the sky, as if the whole town was too embarrassed to ask it to leave. Such was life. 1987, in Hunkers Hill, the most boring place in the world. It was on one of these long excruciating afternoons that I first walked into town on my own. We lived on a few acres on the outskirts of Hunkers, and after sustained nagging, my mother finally agreed to let me walk in by myself.
I was seven, the age where most local kids had the last drops of curiosity and imagination bored out of them and replaced with an unnerving desire to till soil or repair tractor engines, so I was desperate for what I saw as my one chance at fun and adventure. I walked out our gate and met up with Orson, who was the same age as me, and who lived the next property over. Orson had also pestered his dad into letting him out, and while Orson said his dad had agreed, I could see in his face that maybe this was an outright lie.
Nevertheless, we walked by the side of the road and breathed in the sweet air that only comes on a Saturday afternoon when the world opens its arms to all possibilities.
“What do you want to do?” Orson walked with his thumbs stuck into the loops on his jeans, and in between sentences whistled very badly.
“How should I know? Never been into town by myself before, have I?” I was acting all cool, but inside my pockets my hands were shaking. “Maybe just check it out, have a look around.”
Deep down, we both wanted to be like all the older kids who spent their weeknights having parties out past the feedlots, laughing loudly and throwing stuff onto bonfires. But really, this was as exciting as it was going to get.
“You bring any money? said Orson.
“How much you got?”
“Yeah, I’ve got seventy-five cents.”
“What are we going to buy with that?”
The service station was the first thing we’d come to, and we could’ve bought a Cool Shark or a Bubble O’Bill, but then nearly all our money would be gone and we wouldn’t even need to go into town.
So we went past the servo and made ourselves dawdle outside the co-op like we’d seen other kids do. The sun baked us on the concrete and besides all you could really do outside the co-op was push each other in trolleys or play handball against the wall, and neither of us had a tennis ball, so we moved on.
Further on into town we came up to the Salvo’s, with its weird barn roof and the mural on the side of the building that had been painted up by art students back when Hunkers had two schools. For some reason they were obsessed with eagles and rivers.
“Let’s go in here,” I said.
“Cause their stuff’s really cheap.”
“It’s really cheap.”
Orson shrugged his shoulders and nodded his head. When I pushed open the Salvo’s door, a little bell tinkled, and the sound made me feel really good for some reason. Maybe because it was me pushing the door open, not my parents.
There was hardly anyone in the shop, just a really old lady behind the counter eating a sandwich and a weird tall guy looking through a rack of jackets.
“Yeesh, this hat’s only 10 cents!” said Orson. He was rummaging through a wicker basket full of beanies and caps.
“I told you, didn’t I?” I said. “And they’ve got books and, like, couches and everything.”
“We could buy a whole new outfit.”
“Yeah.” And then it struck me. “Maybe like a superhero outfit.” My parents were making me wait a whole seven months to buy me an Aquaman suit for my birthday, and then, only with the proviso that I was “super-good” until then, which I knew was almost impossible. I had already seen some green gumboots I wanted.
“This stuff’s all really old, though,” said Orson. “Dad says it’s just dead people’s clothes anyway. What sort of superhero wants to wear that? How can you get awesome superpowers from old hats?”
“You know,” I told him, “it doesn’t have to be awesome. Just something we can afford. And own. Something that’s just ours.”
Orson held up a Sherlock Holmes cap and stuck it on his head. “I guess.”
We tried on a whole lot of glasses from a box the old lady got from under the counter, and a lot of them gave us super-vision, although mainly just a slight headache. When the weird guy left, we both went over and chose shiny jackets, mine in orange and Orson’s in red. I poked around in the furniture section, but most things were over ten dollars. Orson came over wearing a tie with wolves on it, which I had to admit was very cool.
When we got to the counter, the green gumboots turned out to be the most expensive things, and I was twenty cents short, but the old lady let me have them anyway. She made us promise to come back, and we said yes, but then we laughed at her after we’d left because she had a big glob of peanut butter stuck to her cheek.
We walked home with our new superhero outfits in plastic bags that banged rhythmically against our legs. Up above us, the sun stayed on, but we didn’t really mind.