Marcus Norman hated being cold. He had tried to explain this to the new owner of Java the Cup, but was immediately met with a statistical analysis (including charts) about how the 69.4 degree temperature produced a higher rate of hot beverage sales. Marcus Norman did not much like nerds either. So now, even on warm nights, he ordered his coffee black and sat outside charting constellations in the blinking lights of the fireflies.
The first time Marcus met Superman was at the Valley View Mall on a Tuesday. Both were eyeing the same pair of shoes. (Although Marcus later became suspicious of their shared affinity for grey New Balances after he realized that an alcove of ladies dressing rooms were located on the other side of that wall.)
Superman had recently consolidated his two identities, though not by choice. Billy Frankie had fallen in an open sewer. Without hesitation, Superman did what he always did. He saved the boy. The press loved Superman rescues and flocked to the scene for pictures. Little Billy thought it would be funny to see what Superman would look like in his glasses. This simple act of curiosity led to the world’s largest facepalm.
Since that day, Superman had traded in his tights for jeans and cotton t-shirts that said funny things like “I am what Willis was talking about”. His newfound freedom in attire greatly reduced the amount of wedgies he received while flying. On occasion he still wore the cape, but people generally agreed that he pulled it off. As much as Superman enjoyed the new perks of living one life instead of two, it had also forced him to face a problem that could not be solved with his building leaping abilities.
When people thought about Superman they assumed he went to all the coolest parties and had a fabulous circle of friends, but the truth was that most nights he sat alone in his apartment wondering how there could be so many channels on cable and still nothing on. It was this loneliness that led him to accept the invite for coffee from Marcus Norman as they stared awkwardly at shoes. Meeting for coffee soon became a monthly tradition that both men looked forward to.
Marcus wondered how Superman would arrive as he struggled to imagine an elephant in the dancing lights of the lightning bugs. The elephant blinked out of existence as Superman glided down next to the table.
“I was wondering if you would fly here.”
“Really? With the price of gas nowadays…”
He tossed this last thought over his shoulder as he went inside to get a drink. Lust quickly overtook fear and bug butts lit up the night once more just as Superman emerged from the small café with a steaming cup.
“So… How’s life?”
“Different now. Harder. In fact it kind of sucks. I wish I could go back to the way it was.”
“Really? I figured you would be happy not to have to hide behind the nerd version of yourself.”
Superman began slowly rotating the white cup between his hands.
“When I was Clark and I messed up, no one cared. They actually expected it. It was no big deal. Now everyone expects me to be perfect. And I’m not perfect. Just because I can stop a train does not mean that I don’t make mistakes.”
“I don’t think people expect you to be perf…”
“Oh yes they do! One week after everyone found out who I was, I heard a scream for help. I flew down grabbed this dude who had fallen off a building. Hooray for me. People on the street cheered. Only the next day I found out I saved a guy who was breaking into an apartment to kill a girl.”
“Yeah. Now the family is suing me. The press wants to know why I would save someone like that. They asked me about my moral code? I’m fast. I’m not psychic.”
“Oh man. That sucks. What are you gonna do?”
“I’m just gonna play it safe from now on. Children are pretty safe. Robberies too. Other than that, I’m just gonna ignore it all.”
“You can’t do that! Every man on the planet wishes he could do what you do. You can’t just waste what you have by only rescuing cats from trees.”
“Screw the cats. They always land on their feet anyway.”
This made Marcus laugh so hard that had coffee go up his nose. That made Superman laugh so hard all the windows of Java the Cup shattered.
“Ah crap. See what I mean?”
“Sounds like you got Supermanaphobia.”
“You’re an idiot.”
Marcus feigned a hurt look for a few seconds before smiling again.
“Ok, but seriously. It sounds like you are afraid of using your gifts. You can’t live like that because that’s not really living.”
“If I were a great singer with stage fright, that would be one thing, but my powers can literally destroy lives.”
“You don’t think that a great singer who struggles to get on a stage isn’t living a destroyed life?”
Superman let out a deep sigh and continued twirling his coffee cup around in lazy circles.
“All I’m saying is that you have greatness in you, the same as everyone else. Now your greatness may be more rare than the kind of greatness in others, but that does not make it more or less important to use. It all comes down to fear.”
Superman looked up and chuckled to himself as he said, “Superman the coward. Who would believe that?”
“You may not be afraid of the things that most people would be, but that does not make you immune to fear. You are not afraid of bullets ‘cause they can’t hurt you, but everyone needs to be loved and appreciated by others. People need to feel like they are a part of something bigger tan themselves. Even Superman.”
“What if I save a rapist? What if I stop an out of control truck that is smuggling drugs? Even with good intentions, I have the ability to cause great harm.”
“Every man does. You said it yourself, you can’t see the future. All you can do is your best.”
“What if my best is not good enough?”
“That is the heart of your fear. And mine. And every other man who knew that had something special in them. The question is not really ‘Can I do good enough?’, it’s ‘Am I good enough?”
That question hung in the air between them like a thick fog. Superman let his coffee cup fall still on the table.
“I guess that’s true. I have always known that I could do things better than everyone else, but I never knew if I was better than anyone else.”
“You want to know the answer?”
Marcus laughed again, but not hard enough to deliver caffeine back to his nostrils.
“Superman the coward. Well I’m going to tell you anyway. You’re not.”
Laughter was not the reaction Marcus had expected. He might have been offended had he not seen the genuine joy in Superman’s eyes.”
“That’s it isn’t it? I am no better than anyone else. I fought so long against that idea. I thought my ‘skills’ made me better, but they don’t. They just show what I am on the inside. I was so afraid of that simple fact. But it’s actually a huge relief. I’m not better than anyone.”
He said the last sentence the way a child shouts out what the gift they have just opened on Christmas morning.
“No. But you can change the world the way no one else can. That’s why it’s important for everyone to use what they have inside them. When we hide it the world loses something forever that it can’t find anywhere else. That means you have a responsibility to use the gifts you have to make the world a better place. ”
“So do you.”
Marcus nodded. “So do I.”
Superman looked at Marcus with a silly grin on his face. Marcus felt like he was looking right through him when his head twitched as if he had heard something other than the crickets.
“I gotta go. Next month?”
“I’ll be here.”
Superman shot into the sky and was gone in an instant. Marcus heard laughing behind him and turned to see two college girls chatting at another table. He could not help but wonder if Superman was a pervert.
Copyright © 2011 Adam Drake