Day Night in the Life of Glassman
by Deborah O’Carroll
My day—or night, to be technical—starts how it always does: I destroy my alarm clock. Now, that might sound backward for a guy whose superpower is fixing things. But trust me, just because I’m a night owl doesn’t mean I like getting up any more than the next person, even if I get to wake up at sunset. Anyway, my alarm clock’s the only thing I ever break on purpose.
Groaning, I stumble out of bed and across the cold cave floor toward the beckoning aroma of coffee. I yank open the curtain as I pass. Final rays of sunset shoot through the narrow window in the cave wall, lighting up my work bench. I pour a cup of sustaining caffeination and inhale half of it. The coffee takes hold so I can focus enough to appreciate the sunset across the lake through the window.
“Thank you, Techra,” I mutter, not sure what I’d do without the gadget she made me before going on vacation: a coffee maker timed to finish when my alarm goes off.
Right. The alarm.
“Lights,” I tell the room as I cross it and gulp down the rest of my coffee. The lights set into angles and crevices of the rock ceiling and walls flicker on, replacing the sun’s dying light with blue-white electricity so I can actually see in my cave. Home sweet home, but I can’t work in the dark. Another of Techra’s inventions. Having a sister whose superpower is technology is super helpful. No pun intended.
I crouch, resting my elbows on the knees of my jeans, and stretch my hands over the shattered remains of my alarm clock. I focus.
The shards of plastic, glass, metal, and mangled electronics spilled across the stone floor give a faint quiver. A soft blue glow reflects off them as my hands hover over them. The pieces flow together. They connect. They re-form the shape they remember from before they broke. Cracks turn to seams, then heal completely. In a few seconds the alarm clock is perfectly restored.
Took longer than usual. Must not be focusing well.
See? It’s not irresponsible. It’s practice to start off the day and evaluate my concentration.
I scoop up the clock, return it to my nightstand, and go back for more coffee to improve my focus.
A portal of swirling lights opens in the middle of my room and Portia steps through, lugging an enormous box bigger than herself. Yes, Portia does portals. And, yes, she’s heard all the jokes. She has super-strength too.
Some people get all the useful powers.
“Heya, Stor! Here’s the shipment of the day.” She flips her black ponytail with the streak of purple over her shoulder and drops the huge cardboard box unceremoniously on the floor. There’s an accompanying thud and ominous breaking sounds from inside the box.
I shoot her a look over the top of my coffee cup as she picks the box up again to get it farther into the room. “Really? Could you not—”
Portia shrugs. “You’re going to fix them anyway.”
“That’s not the POINT— Just—” I sigh and slide off my tall stool. “Never mind.”
She slices open the tape closing the box, with something like a dagger—what’s wrong with an ordinary box-cutter, I’d like to know?—and steps back. Several smaller boxes and packages fill up the enormous box, all stamped with “HANDLE WITH CARE” and addressed to Restoren—that’s me—or Glassman. Which is . . . only sort of me. I’m tempted to not help the clients who call me that but work is work.
I choose a box at random—with my proper name on it—to take over to my work bench. I slice open the cardboard with an ordinary box-cutter and gently slide the contents onto the surface of the table, with a lot of chinking sounds. It’s the fragments of a large white china bowl with blue willow-ware patterns visible on the shards. There are approximately a million of them. Probably more than when the owner sent it, thanks to Portia.
“Are you still here?” I say, not looking at her as I inspect the remains and reach my glowing hands toward them.
“I like watching you work.”
I focus hard, and the porcelain pieces begin to join together and form the beginnings of the bowl shape in its past. “Just don’t distract me.”
“You got it.”
Someone chooses this moment to crash through my hologram security system which disguises the mouth of the cave as an ordinary cliff-face.
Avery, of course. I don’t have to look up and see his blond hair with the bright red streak and his silver cape to know that. Only HE would come crashing in like this. Superhero with the standard flight, strength, and super-speed powers, but somehow the most famous of all of us; better known as Airman. So original, I know.
“Hey, Glass!” he calls, like really loud sunshine in my nice quiet cave.
“Don’t call me by that stupid name, Flyboy,” I say, not looking up from the bowl, which is still taking shape, despite his interruption nearly breaking my concentration. He’s older than I am—if that counts with us—but I call him Flyboy when he annoys me. Which is always.
“Point taken,” Avery says. “We need your help. Oh, good, Portia’s here—don’t leave,” he adds.
“What do you need—the usual?” I lean closer to the bowl.
“Yes and no. We did it. We did it, Stor.”
“Did what?” The final pieces form the rim and I concentrate harder.
“We finally defeated Shade.”
My focus shatters and so does the ceramic bowl, crashing back into a million white and blue pieces all over my workspace.
I set my hands on the table and lean on it to stop my fingers shaking.
“Stor?” Avery asks.
I draw a deep breath through my nose. “Shade. You’re sure.”
“Yep. Dead. Sure as you’re standing there.”
“Which he barely is,” Portia provides unhelpfully.
“Thought you’d be happy. You know, given—”
I nod and don’t say anything.
Portia breaks the silence. “Um. Stor. You’re bleeding on your table.”
I glance down at the cut on my finger from a bowl shard when I lost control. If only I could fix wounds—physical and mental—as easily as I can fix objects. I absently suck on my injured fingertip and turn around, my features schooled into something casual, finally facing Avery.
“So. You need me to clean up after the superhero/supervillain showdown.”
“If you would.” Avery folds his silver-covered muscled arms and looks hopeful. But also like he knows I won’t say no. Unfortunately, he’s right.
“I suppose it’s about as bad as usual?”
“Actually—quite a bit worse. But. You know. We were taking down Shade, after all. Of course it’s going to be bigger than normal.” He grins disarmingly.
I shake my head and pull on a pair of sneakers. “You fighty types and your need to destroy cities while doing battle. Why can’t you just take it to a nice quiet desert someplace? Don’t answer that. Portia, would you?”
“Of course.” She opens a portal.
“I’ll go clean up your mess, Avery,” I say.
“Thanks, Glass! You’re the man.”
“Remind me to run your cape through a paper-shredder and then NOT fix it for you.”
He just grins and looks on top of the world. If Shade is really gone, I don’t blame him. I feel the same way. But it also dredged up memories I can’t think about right now. I need to focus. I shove them away and step onto my floating metal contraption thing. Techra named it something long and technical but I just call it the Magic Carpet. I mean, that’s basically what it is—an electronic flying carpet that’s less likely to tip you off since it’s a solid metal platform. The lights are handy for working in the dark, too.
“Just drop me anywhere,” I say.
Portia nods and hops on next to me. “Sure thing.” She widens the portal.
The little platform zips through, taking us out to hover halfway up the side of one of the skyscrapers lit up in the falling darkness.
“Also, you owe me a date,” Portia adds from where she stands next to me.
I sigh. “I don’t owe you a— I’m working.”
“You’re always working.”
“It’s called making a living—ever heard of it?”
Portia smiles. “Not this—this you do for free.”
“I have to get my hero status from somewhere,” I grumble. Fixing things is my job. If it breaks by accident or you do something stupid? I charge. Someone evil breaks it? That’s free. Cleaning up after these battles is a habit I can’t seem to break—and if I could, I’d have to fix that too, right?
“I could stay,” Portia suggests. “We could make this a date. A working date.” She grins.
I survey the ruins left behind from the showdown between . . . him . . . and Avery, and whoever else was a part of the fight.
Shattered glass. Twisted metal. Mangled concrete. A skyscraper missing a huge chunk and another building totally demolished. Debris everywhere. Smoke drifting through the darkness.
“I don’t think you’d enjoy it very much. And this is going to take some concentration.”
“A LOT of concentration,” she says with a half sigh. “Right. Text me when you’re done and I’ll take you home. Or I’ll just show up at sunrise if you get absorbed fixing things and end up working all night.” She smirks, opens a new portal, walks backward through it, and is gone.
Glancing around, I mutter, “With this big of a mess, it just might take all night anyway.”
I drift down, standing on my flying metal “carpet” and controlling it with subtle shifts of my sneakers. I slow when I reach a long line of shattered office windows. What a mess. Might as well get started with whatever’s closest.
Hovering just outside, still several stories up, I reach my hands out. They glow blue. The glass begins to run together like water droplets, re-forming.
I don’t just fix glass, but it is the most common casualty of these superhero fights, and earned me my unfortunate name. Don’t think about that. Or about who was here, causing this mess. I fight to re-orient my focus on the glass which is rising back into a wall of windows. Getting distracted ends in a repeat of the bowl incident, and it would be way worse with something this big. Ask me how I know.
Shards of glass from down in the streets below and from the ledges on the building’s side fly up too, joining the rest of their shattered brethren as the window remembers its previous shape and finally hardens, repaired.
I exhale. One repair down. Forty billion to go. Fantastic.
I catch sight of my own face in the new glass—pale, angular; streak of blue through the black hair—and turn quickly away, avoiding my reflection.
I drift onward, from destruction to destruction, my “Magic Carpet” zipping from rooftop to street level and everywhere in between. I repair glass and metal, brick and concrete and asphalt, doors and furniture and curtains, roadsigns and lights, sides of buildings—anything broken. And cars. SO many broken cars.
I gain speed as I go, warming up and beginning to fix more than one thing at a time—waving my hands and fixing the entire contents of a corner office and sealing it behind the windows in just a few seconds.
The drain of energy starts to get to me, seeping into my bones, but at the same time I’ve never felt so alive.
I never said I make any sense.
People are watching, but I try to ignore them and pretend I can’t see them, just like they’re pretending they’re not there but are staring anyway. Security, janitors, men and women on the night shift, homeless people, night owls like me—anyone out and about at night. More people than I’d like, but much better than it would be if I worked during the day.
Which is why I switched my schedule around and work at night, just in case I get called in for something like this. I used to try to live a normal life, but then this would happen, and after pulling enough all-nighters that left me a zombie the next day, I went all-in and became a full-time night owl.
Working at night while fixing these cities allows me to avoid the inevitable distractions people cause—so that I don’t end up losing control of a repair halfway, or, worse, going too far and making whatever I’m fixing remember a time BEFORE I want it to stop. Like the time I turned a plastic car fender into a pile of dripping chemicals. Or the broken piece of stone in a wall I was fixing turning into a larger slab of uncut mountain.
Yeah. That was great. Took some serious fixing. Reversing that was harder than usual and I ended up taking twice as long to repair that city, and was basically bedridden for days afterward.
I can’t work if I can’t focus, so concentrating is the most important thing, and people know that about me by now. If they want their destruction fixed for free, they respect that and keep their distance—though not enough to stop them trying to steal a glimpse of me, or a picture on their phone, if they’re around while I’m working.
But it’s good enough and I can tune them out. Mostly. It’s harder than usual tonight, especially since my thoughts keep turning toward things I’d rather not think about. I fight to control them and focus harder as I drift toward some apartments with a gaping gash torn through the broken yellow bricks.
My blue light plays over the chaos and raises a cloud of dust before the wall re-forms. I caught a glimpse of a broken table inside and forgot to focus on that and can’t fix it as well when I can’t see it. So I step off my hovering platform, through the doorway, repairing splinters as I go. I fix the table and some fallen picture-frames, plates, mugs, and bent silverware, and the light fixture overhead—which turns on and lights up the room, back to normal. I turn toward the fallen door which got kicked in and lies shattered across the linoleum. That’s when I see her.
A little girl stands across the room, her thumb in her mouth and something like a doll under her other arm. She doesn’t look surprised, just watches me. I watch her back. Then she patters in my direction, around the broken door, takes her thumb out of her mouth, and holds something toward me.
A china doll in a yellow dress, with a cracked face and a missing leg which the little girl holds out to me with her other hand.
She doesn’t say anything. I don’t either.
I take the doll and let my hand glow. The crack on the doll’s face heals, and the leg reattaches. I hand it back to the little girl, who trades me a piece of paper. A crayon drawing of a stick-figure wearing blue and black, with black hair and a streak of blue in it, and a spiderweb of cracks across a window. GLASSMAN is scrawled in red letters at the bottom.
“I don’t only fix glass and china, you know,” I say, half annoyed, to cover up my other feelings.
She smiles and brightens up the room more than the light I fixed. I stuff the folded piece of paper in a pocket of my jeans, hop out the empty door-frame onto the Magic Carpet, and fix the door after me, sealing up the apartment. Over my shoulder, I spy a little face watching me out a small window as I speed away.
My next encounter with humanity is less cute and more annoying. Well. Cute in a different way. But definitely annoying. A reporter ambushes me while I’m trying to fix the outdoor part of a cafe. She’s young and blonde and must be new or she’d know better. She pushes a microphone toward my face.
“Mr. Glassman, can you tell us—”
“It’s Restoren,” I growl, jumping off my hovering platform and pushing past her to fix the benches and chairs around the little metal tables on the sidewalk area. Sometimes I like to walk if I’m at ground-level.
“—a little about why it is that you’re here tonight, fixing this beautiful but broken city? Why do you work at night? And why do you repair the devastation left behind by other superheroes?”
I sigh and flick my hand at a table umbrella, which un-crumples and furls outward, snapped metal pieces repairing themselves and rips in the fabric closing. “I work at night so that annoying people like you won’t ambush me and distract me. And I’m not answering questions right now.” Not tonight of all nights.
“Why do you fix things—what’s your motivation?”
“Go away.” I repair a lamppost and a row of shattered flower pots at the edge of the outdoor cafe.
I turn on her. “Why are you a reporter? Why do you wash your dishes or clean up your house? Why do you call 911 if your neighbor falls off a ladder? Why do you paint or play music or make art?—if you know what art is. Why do you do anything?”
“I—” she stammers.
“Exactly. Maybe I do it because I want to. Maybe I do it because I should. Maybe it’s none of your business. Now stop bothering me before I decide to go home and leave you to explain to this city why it has to fix itself this time.”
“But if you do it because you want to, or out of a sense of duty, one reporter asking you a few questions isn’t going to scare you off,” she says with a smirk.
I return it with a dry smirk of my own. “Since you don’t know why I do it, you don’t know what might make me decide to stop. Don’t push it. Go pester someone else. Have a nice night.” I start to turn.
“Glassman, could you clarify on—”
I take the microphone she’s shoving at me and drop it to the pavement at our feet and step on it. It cracks loudly and leaves her gasping a little.
I lied. My alarm clock’s not the only thing I destroy on purpose.
I walk away, trailing a stream of blue light from one hand toward a torn-open trashcan of woven iron, which re-knits itself and stands upright again, though the trash is still scattered on the ground. Oh well. I can’t do everything.
I do pick up a broken laptop from the pile of trash that someone had tossed and pass my fingers over it, glowing blue, before dropping the newly-repaired device in the surprised arms of a ragged-coated homeless man who’s sitting at the street-corner watching me and the reporter. Right, her. I throw one hand over my shoulder and fix the microphone she’d picked up. It was a lot more draining at this distance, but worth it.
I hop on the Magic Carpet and swoop off toward my final stop for the night, the reporter’s question echoing inside my skull.
Why do I fix things?
Because I love it.
Because it makes me feel alive.
Because I can heal some of the hurts in this world, even if they’re not the ones that matter.
Because I’m a superhero and it’s the superpower I’ve been given, and if I don’t use it to help people, who am I?
Because I want to be a hero. Not a villain.
Never a villain.
I arrive at the last place, the one I’d been putting off. It’s going to take awhile. Clearly, it’s the center of the final battle: an entire demolished building, with something of a crater at the center, black smoke still reaching toward the sky which is just beginning to think about the first half-light of dawn.
I fly over the yellow tape set up around the perimeter—spotting a few uniformed people nearby trying to look inconspicuous—and land on the broken asphalt. First, I walk around the area, evaluating the place and repairing some road damage while I pick my way closer to look at the ginormous mound of debris.
My jeans pant-leg catches on a twisted piece of re-bar and the fabric rips. I pass the tear through my fingers and restore it absentmindedly.
Last one. I can do this.
I return to the hovering platform and stand, closing my eyes, drawing a deep breath, focusing hard. Then I open my eyes and lift my hands. I’ve saved the most energy for this, and even though I’m already tired, I’ve also worked up to it—like the last climb up the highest part of the mountain.
I dig deep into myself and pour out everything.
Blue light streams from my hands. The mangled remains of the building, half burnt and fully destroyed, begin to rise from the ashes. Concrete re-forms, metal unbends, glass re-shapes, wood un-splinters, stone shifts. Things remember what they were like before they were burned, and the last of the smoke drifts away on the wind.
The walls begin to re-build themselves all the way around as I hover above this freestanding building that has a block to itself. I fly ever higher, keeping up with the climbing walls, as slowly, carefully, I reconstruct an entire seventeen-story building.
It takes all my focus. All my energy. It’s like sculpting a masterpiece when you’ve been practicing stick-figures—and I try not to think of the little girl or I might smile and break my concentration. Some of the interior furnishings might not be fully repaired, but the structure will be solid—if I complete it without losing control—and I figure they’d rather replace some office furniture and knick-knacks than the whole building. Plus, I can always come back another night.
I make it to the top and more or less collapse onto my back on the hovering Magic Carpet platform. It’s done. The building holds. Panting, I stare at the sky, losing its last stars and streaking golden-red with the beginnings of dawn.
My Magic Carpet drifts slowly downward like a feather since I’m not controlling it, but I don’t worry. I’ll get up in a second.
Eying the repaired building appreciatively as I float down, I reach into my pocket for my cell phone to text Portia.
My hand freezes.
A silhouette stands in one of the floor-to-ceiling windows.
A silhouette I couldn’t mistake for anyone else.
A silhouette I’d hoped never to see again.
“No.” The whisper is barely past my lips when the figure takes a limping flying leap, crashing through glass and landing on my Magic Carpet, which rocks slightly under me from the impact as I’m pinned in place.
“Hello, Stor,” Shade says, a smile curling across his battered face the same way the shadows are curling around both of us. “Nice of you to drop by and let me out.”
I fight to free my wrist and shoulder from his burning grip but he’s too strong. “Let you—”
“I was in an elevator at the bottom of the rubble, as far as I can tell. You fixed it and let me out—ding! You were always very good at fixing things, Stor.” His grin might as well be stabbing me with every tooth.
“You’re dead,” I manage to say, though I know it’s not true—knew it never could have been true; I was just hoping with all my being that it was. “They said—”
“Airman and his cronies?” Shade shrugs. “They may have dropped a building on me and destroyed my underlings, but they’ll have to try much harder next time. Speaking of which . . . I’m in need of some new co-workers and since you did just render me a service . . .”
It’s times like these that I really wish I had different superpowers. There’s a reason why I only come out to do my thing after the others are done fighting and all the dangerous stuff is over. My power might be useful in its way but it’s rubbish for fighting supervillains or even protecting myself. I may be able to fix things, but when it comes to anything else, I’m like any regular human up against super-strength and shadows and fire.
“What do you say? For old time’s sake?”
“If you think we have any old times, you’re even dumber than Airman,” I grind out.
“You do know he’s actually a genius, right?”
I try to jerk free, but Shade still pins me down.
“You should reconsider,” he says, leaning closer. “It’s not like anyone appreciates you. It’s not like anyone cares. Your best work was for me.”
My hand closes around the crumpled piece of paper folded into my pocket as I try to fight the shadows closing in around my mind. “It’s not true. It’s not—”
“Are you sure?” Shade’s voice hisses, and I can’t see anything but shadows now, can’t feel anything besides his grip burning my wrist and shoulder. I’m almost lost in the darkness.
But not quite.
Faces flash through my mind. My sister, making some gadget and laughing. A little girl with a broken doll and a smile. A homeless man on a street corner with a computer. A young woman with black hair and a portal like stars. A blond man with a silver cape. And my own face—flashing in a window with the cracks disappearing from the glass; staring out of a stick-figure drawing with blue and black hair.
My fingers tighten on the drawing in my pocket. The paper tears. Breaks.
My voice rasps and doesn’t sound like mine but comes out strong anyway. “I’ll never work for you again.”
I can only see the shadows, but I can feel the blue glow in my hand, in my pocket, surrounding the torn, crumpled, folded paper. I pour some hidden reserve of energy into it and make it remember how it was before—and before that, and before that, and even before—until it remembers what it was like before it turned into a drawing, and before it was paper, when it was part of a tree.
A splintering shard of raw wood punctures out through my pocket and stabs Shade. He grunts and loosens his grip. I can see again—buildings and a tattered black cape and an almost-sunrise. I roll out from under him, teetering dangerously on the edge of the hovering platform.
“Next time, then. See you around, Glassman.” He shoves me through the nearest window—which I had just fixed, by the way—with a crash, and soars off on my Magic Carpet machine.
Whether or not he’s laughing maniacally is beside the point. It certainly feels like it.
I groan and pick myself out of the broken glass. Reflexively, I reach to repair the window, then stop. Probably better be on the other side . . . I step through the floor-to-ceiling window onto the outside ledge.
From there, I hold out my hand and repair the glass, wearily, avoiding my reflection. Then I realize it doesn’t matter if I’m in or out, since my transportation’s gone and Portia can pick me up anywhere.
I’m too tired to climb up and fix the window that he broke earlier, and I ache all over. I sigh and pull out my cell phone as I sit on the ledge, dangling my legs over the far below streets of a city just waking up.
I text Portia. Then I repair the hole in my jeans pocket and hold on to the shard of wood until I get the energy to reverse it, and wait, watching the sun rise beyond the skyscrapers. As if nothing had happened. As if Shade was really gone. As if the sun hadn’t set in my soul when he came back.
Why do I fix things?
Because those things I said earlier are true.
But also because I have to make amends.
Because I have to fix my past.
Because even superheroes have regrets sometimes and can’t look themselves in the eye in the mirror.
Because if you break something, even if you didn’t want to, you should try to fix it. Even if some things can’t be fixed.
Still, I felt like I was doing okay with that. And then Shade had to show up and be not dead.
Then again, on the bright side . . . neither am I.
Even if I do have the most useless superpower for situations that are actually, you know, dangerous.
Portia steps through a sudden portal onto the ledge next to me. “I was about to come anyway. How’d it go?” She sets her hands on her hips, surveying the city with approval. Repaired, whole. A good night’s work, despite everything.
I give one shoulder a half shrug. “Not good.” I stand and dial a different number on my phone.
Portia frowns at me and summons another portal. A familiar cave interior shows through from the other side.
“Yeah?” comes Avery’s voice from the device, barely audible over the sounds of loud music and voices on the other end.
“Hey. Are you . . . partying?”
“You bet we are. Want to drop by?”
“You might want to put a hold on that.”
“Why, what’s up, man?”
“So, about Shade.” I make myself say his name.
“What about him?”
I set my jaw. “He’s not as dead as you thought.”
I hang up the phone and step through the portal. Home.
Ignoring Portia’s startled questions behind me, I kick off my shoes and flop across my bed with one arm draped over the edge, ready to sleep for a week.
As my face meets the pillow, my phone falls from my hand and acquaints itself with the cave floor with a suspicious cracking sound.
Eh. I can fix it when I fix my alarm clock.