The Death of Superman

Up, up, and away! Rough, red towels cinched around kid-thin necks: that’s how it all started. Dirt-grimed, hand-in-hand, the two of us testing the weight capacity of the cheap shingled roof and duct-taped gutters that wrapped my parent’s starter-but-still-lived-in split-level. The next step in the bond between two boys who already mixed spit hocked into palms, swallowed crickets for keeps, and showed each other their dicks just to see if they all looked the same—wrinkled slugs in skin sweaters. I distinctly remember the smell of chlorine, but that seems impossible now. This was October, tops, and nobody North of Maple in Benson owned a pool. We both toed the edge before the rude arrival of empty air. I trusted you that your third cousin on your mother’s side, Benny, did this same trick but off a house twice as high and lived to tell the tale. Got caught in a current, even, and drifted a little to a landing soft as a feather, you said. We said quick prayers to Geronimo, Superman, and Michael Jordan. Thing is, if I would’ve flung myself out there foolhardy and whole-heartedly, then maybe, like you, I would’ve caught air, tucked and found the mark of the piles of red-and-yellow leaves. I imagine you disappeared into a you-shaped hole in the foliage, giggling like all get out, then emerged from the selfsame hole, twigs and leaves in your hair like some fucking wood nymph. This is how I pieced together your dazzle. I don’t know, because I hesitated for a half of a half of a second, caught a rogue shoelace on a gutter crack, got completely horizontal, then came down with all sixty pounds on my right wrist. Snapped as easy as chicken bones. I let loose a full-lunged wail that rousted Dad from his mid-day beer nap. He rushed out there like his head was on fire with little more on than his sweat-stained undershirt and beat-to-death house slippers. Pretty sure his dick made a cameo between the piss slit of his loose fitting boxers. Before he snatched me from the depths of that stick and leaf tomb, I remember seeing the sky blue as bleached denim. Sun big and beating down rays, a few clouds run thin behind. Dad came up, screaming, his voice either froggy from fear or just waking up and you squeaked some words back his way. Only I couldn’t make out what you were both actually saying, it all sounded far off, like you were in another room. And I was so angry. At you for convincing me to do the deed. At myself for agreeing and then hesitating because I got scared. At shoelaces for not being more efficient. At gravity for being. Then Dad grabbed my shirt and pulled me from that hole. He was always skinny, but he had a weird, mule strength (meaning: he could probably drop one with a single punch) and he lifted me entirely with his wiry, right arm. I stopped screaming by that point, the shock must’ve kicked in, and Dad held me like a newborn babe, lazily swaddled in the big, red towel. I played the part. Went all limp and dangly. The rest is blurred over like someone took a jar of Vaseline to my memory. We sped out to the ER in the old Ford, there was a pretty nurse with bedroom eyes and an odd mole that, better placed, would’ve pushed her into catalogue model territory. A heavily-cologned doctor took X-rays, poked and prodded, set a resin cast. Drove home to The Stones caterwauling over scratchy cassette. Dusk colors: everything orange and red and yellow. Street lamps, taillights, the city at bay. Barely kept awake by the pain still rolling in waves through my body, I remember the look of glee on your face when I was ripped free from the fall leaves. I saw you peeking at me from behind Dad’s stick-thin figure. Crouched closer to the big juniper. But goddamn the grin you advertised was unmistakable. For a long time, until that night at Alderman’s, I held a grudge. Considered you a best friend, a non-blood brother, but one that still had a few points held against him. The fuck were you smiling about? And maybe when we sussed it out at Alderman’s, you were just being nice. Us, over drinks, trying to recollect this event some seventeen years prior and you making it up on the spot that you weren’t in cahoots with the shitheads of the world, laughing at the pain of your pal. Maybe that was the reason you were laughing. Shit, we were kids! But, no, you swore to Geronimo that you couldn’t contain your joy that wayward October day because it was the moment in our friendship that you learned, even at our tender brained age, that no matter how stupid or crazy any scheme would be that we could conjure, you and I would be in it together. Knuckleheads to the end. I think about it all: the hole, the capes, the pain, when I’m standing next to your casket as the priest says a few words about servitude and you being a stand-up citizen, a moral compass of the community, and I crack a smile. Mr. White Collar launches into his Bible-thumping and grand standing. I’m near fits of laughter at this point. Biting down on my lower lip. Your mother gives me a look, like, not the time, not the time. Those dark eyebrows of hers, looking charcoaled on, thin-knitted turn quizzical. The honor guard detail cracks off a couple of rifle volleys that startle the birds and old timers. The flag is folded and presented to your parents. Lowered into your hole, we throw handfuls of dirt clods on top of your casket. I don’t know if you can make us out, your spirit spying us from behind the thick metal hatch of the casket or from above, aloft, legs dangling from the clouds, but I want you to know this: when you see me laughing, it dawns on me that, while I hope what you said about friendship and your smile on that October day was true, I now understand that some of that smile probably came from a place of being afraid. Not scared of what happened, but of what came next.  

Copyright © 1999-2018 Juked