Nothing. Not a damn thing. Not even a little lift.

Sarah shut her eyes. She squinted. She raised her arms to the air, even tried to flap them a bit (the flabby back-arm fat swished through her curly out of control hair and made her stop flapping).

Nothing worked. She sat on the sad futon, it’s misshapen mattress like a sign of defeat under her butt. She picked up the phone. Put it down again. No one to call. It was a hard thing to realize that you had no friends, but even harder to realize even your acquaintance list was short.

When Sarah was three years old, her mother would put her in her high chair, and sing to her while she made her lunch. Dippy 70’s songs, lullabies, whatever. It didn’t matter. Sarah’s mom would sing it. Sarah could still hear her mother’s voice. She could HEAR it, not just in her imagination, but in loud, clear, almost in-tune glorious stereo as if she were in the same room with it.

When Sarah was twenty, and halfway through her failed attempt at college, right after the experiment with alternative lifestyles, she had gotten into cocaine. She’d spent a year or two joining the ranks of users, then abusers, then spent a little time at a rehab to put herself back together. During that last two weeks in the hospital, as she sat on her poorly made, thin-mattressed bed, she realized something. She couldn’t hear her mother’s signing any more. It was gone. Finished. Like it would never come back.

This was like that time. As soon as Sarah walked back up the steps to her apartment, and started cleaning up the broken TV, she began to try to fly again. Float, rather. Tried raising her toes above the carpet. Tried moving her heels up and her hand out till she stood like an awkward ballerina in her bunny boots, skinny legs masked by the heavy carhart pants, toes pointed and supporting her weight. She realized that she was missing something, a feeling, like that time with her mother’s voice. Something that felt right, felt like a part of her; something that she already desperately missed.

Sarah placed the dustpan full of broken TV into the trash can, and carried the rest of the chassis outside to the dumpster. She thought about calling the police, then her landlady, then her mother. Nothing felt right. None of that would make her feel better, and she knew that it wouldn’t find the burglar or create some sort of TV movie justice. She sighed.



It was the Punny Humans that did it. Every single day, at the end of school, Sam and Ralph would meet at the front playground, sit against the wall, and wait for their mothers to come pick them up. Sam would invariably reach into his backpack, and pull out a comic, usuall a new one from the comic store. Ralph would always instead ask Sam to read one of the old ones his uncle still kept in his parents’ basement. Silver Surfer, especially. Fantastic Four, the Hulk, whatever he could grab from his uncle’s untold gazillions of old comics. The exhaust of the cars lining up outside the fenced yard to pick up kids at the end of the day mixed with the sickly sweet smell of the weirdo trees that grew around the school. It was a heady mixture, and Ralph found himself drifting off into the comics that Sam would read aloud, especially the old ones Ralph would bring.

He’d say, “You punny humans must obey me!” or some such Galactus utterance. The Silver Surfer, tragic hero to the last, would fly off and save whatever punny human he could. Ralph would figure out later that puny meant small, insignificant, and unimportant. It made sense, if you were Galactus. Ralph ALWAYS felt punny. Especially when he went home to his house and listened to his parents spend more time each trying to make the other listen. Trying to control Ralph and his brother. The screaming, the fighting, the yelling: all par for the course. That’s how his uncle, the depression man, said it. His uncle lived in the spare room of their house, and sometimes ate dinner with them in the dining room. He’d sit in his room all day, watching a little TV he put in there. It sat on a small kitchen table, where he kept a phone (for the calls, dude, from the chicks, he’d say). The phone never rang. Ralph had never seen his uncle use the phone, but it was there, like silent witness.

His uncle would say, “I’m gonna watch a little TV,” after dinner. And then he’d look right at Ralph, who’d have to stifle his giggles at the pun. It was punny. His uncle was the coolest adult Ralph knew, because he treated Ralph like a grown up. Like a smart kid. Not like a pawn to be traded for small victories, like his parents did.

Ever since that fourth grade year when Ralph had met the first of the few rare common souls in his life, he’d been a comics fan. He wasn’t proud. He read superhero comics, he read “serious” comics, he read porn comics, he read alternate history comics. He didn’t care. If it was a book with pictures and words, he’d read it. Of course, he’d never admit to the sizable collection of Archie Comics slowly moldering in his own spare room now that he was ACTUALLY a grown up ,rather than being treated like one by his uncle, Vic. Ralph always gave his comics away. He knew other obsessed collectors, young and old men (rarely women, go figure) who spent a fortune on card stock boards and acid free plastic baggies to store their precious comic books in.

But Ralph knew the secret. They weren’t going to sell these comics, no matter how much they poured over Wizard or ComicShop or the like. Comics were like little bricks of self esteem they could cobble together into a wall that kept out the bullies, the assholes, the guys who drank Bud Lite and watched football on Sundays in a big circle jerk. Ralph knew this, so gave all of his away. Yes, he liked to visit the conventions, and the big comic shops in the nearby big city. Walking among the smell of new and old comics was as heady a mixture that would always carry with it the smell of car exhaust and weirdo trees in his mind.

Ralph built up a collection of comics starting around the age of 19 or 20, when he finally had a steady job but relatively few bills. He bought bags and boards and big plastic water tight boxes to keep them in. But then his dad had died. His mother was devastated. They couldn’t spend more than an hour without screaming at each other in life, but they somehow hadn’t been able to spend more than an hour away from each other at all. She followed his father to the grave within a week of his passing.

Which left Ralph depressed, vaguely guilty he wasn’t actually sad, and with the job of taking care of all the CRAP his parents had accumulated across the 30 tumultous years of their marriage. Piles of shitty old things that only mattered to them. And they weren’t that old. It wasn’t like they had gone senile and started saving carpet scraps because they didn’t know any better. These people kept EVERYthing. Old wood, rusty nails, outdated lamps. Hair brushes, gifts fro 15 years prior that they never opened, boxes and boxes of schoolwork from Ralphs elementary and high school days. What the hell were they thinking?

Uncle vic was nowhere to be found; all the contact info Ralph could find was ten years out of date. So Ralph had the honor, the freaking pleasure, of cleaning up all the old crap. And, since he was his father’s son, he couldn’t just back up a dumpster to the garage and start throwing shit in. He had to go through each and every box. Every dusty old, blanket-covered piecs of shit his parents had owned. When he got two-thirds of the way throught he stuff int he garage, and found a key to a self storage place, something snapped. Ralph got up, walked out, and drove home. He grabbed his comic books, now twelve years of them, put them in the back of his grey pickup, and drove them to the library. He left them on the steps, since they were closed for the night, and walked away.

Ralph was 38 now, and still read comics weekly. He had a subscription to all his favorites: Superman, Spiderman, Batman, Justice League, and the few Vertigo books he could get his hands on. But as soon as he was done with it, he gave it way. Passed it along. Left them on airplanes and in coffeeshops and at Burger Kings for some lucky kid to find and read and maybe become just as obsessed. It was no small wonder his love life was confined to a quick paid fuck outside the local strip joint once a month. He felt pathetic, old, and knew he was at least sixty pounds too heavy.

But when he opened the covers of another flimsy superhero comic, he was no longer fat old Ralph. He was in fourth grade again, punny but significant, believing with all his heart that men in tights could fly, and that right and wrong were simple, and that if you just hit the bad guys hard enough, they’d let you win. That, and the scantily clad hot women superheroes made him feel funny, down there.

He wasn’t alone, and sad, and unloved when he was riding that all-too-briefly experienced collection of pages of artwork and words. He was strong, and kind-hearted, and compassionate, and righteous. he could save the hot girls and the grateful men. He could do anything, and was revered for it. He wanted to believe, even for that quick 20 pages, that the world was bright and colorful and bold. He knew it in his bones.


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