September 23, 2020 by The Citron Review
by James Harris
He wanted to be a superhero.
Since he was six, he wanted to be just like Superman. There was something awfully amazing about a man who could fly.
That was the only power he wanted. He didn’t care about the X-Ray vision, or the super strength, or the hyper speed. He wanted the ability to fly above the city like a bird, like a plane, like Superman.
He used to read the comics every week when they came out. Even if his mother couldn’t afford to give him her loose change, he’d beg for money on the streets after school so that he could rush over to the comicbook store and get the latest issue.
When he turned eight, he discovered that if he went to the library and waited for a computer to free up, he could download PDF’s of his comics and print them out if the librarian wasn’t watching. The first time he tried this he got in trouble because the site he used filled the computer with viruses. And plus, it was illegal. At least, that’s what Ms. Coral said when she told him not to go on those sites anymore.
It didn’t stop him from printing the comics, it only made him sneakier.
He’d read them at his house. He’d read them at school. He’d read them anywhere but the library.
Superman. Batman. Wonder Woman. Flash. It didn’t matter. But what he always went back to, what he always considered his favorite, was the man with the large S on his chest.
A symbol of hope.
That’s what he needed, right? Hope?
What Superman did for him was much more than any adult could.
Especially more than his father.
Maybe just a little bit more than his mother.
He lived in Topeka. And in his mind, Superman worked in Topeka. It was never specified in the comics, but Smallville, Kansas resembled a lot of the small farm towns in the state. And Metropolis, the largest city in Kansas, where Clark Kent worked, closely mimicked Topeka, the largest city in Kansas.
He was willing to debate anyone that Metropolis was supposed to be Topeka. He didn’t get the chance to argue a lot though.
On bad days, he’d go to the top of his apartment building, away from all the cigarette smoke and the ramblings of his paranoid mother. She kept the volume on the TV too loud for him to concentrate and when she watched her ‘special adult shows’ on HBO, he hated to be in the same floor, let alone the same room.
It was on a bad day that he got the idea.
He could be Superman, if he really wanted to, it didn’t matter that he was a different skin color. Or that he was a little kid.
He stared at a page straight from the latest issue of Action Comics: Superman- 881.
Superman stood for a lot of things, but an important aspect to his character, a core value Clark Kent held, was that you could be anything you wanted to be if you set your mind to it.
He found that inspiring. He didn’t always feel as if he could be anything he wanted to be, especially as a brown kid in Topeka.
But when he read those words in that cartoon bubble, he smiled.
He could be Superman, if he wanted to be.
And he did. He wanted it more than anything in the world.
More than dinner seven nights in a row.
More than his teacher to stop calling him odd.
More than he wanted his dad to call.
More than he wanted his mother to go see a doctor.
More than anything.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, arching his back and puffing out his flabby chest in imitation of the Man himself.
The warm summer air, muggy, yet still refreshing, raised tufts of his greasy black hair so that a single curl stuck to his sweaty forehead.
He was Superman. If only for that moment.
He pushed himself off the cement ceiling, careful not to bang his head on a satellite the landlord swore he’d send out a technician to fix.
Being on top of a thirteen-floor apartment building made him feel big. It made him feel as if he was Superman.
He figured he was the highest person in the world, or at least in Topeka.
He surveyed the buildings around him. There weren’t a lot. Most of them smaller than the one he was on.
He took another deep breath, this time holding onto it as if it would grant him the power to fly.
And it would, wouldn’t it? Because you can do anything you set your mind to.
“Okay,” he whispered. Then, he started across the long rooftop and towards the edge of the building.
His hair whipped back; his cheeks jiggled as his severely worn shoes hit the pavement. He was going five, maybe five and half miles an hour, but it felt more like twenty, like sixty, like a hundred.
“Yes,” he cried. “Yes!”
He leapt, and his feet left the ground and hovered over Sixth Avenue.
He glanced below, terrified, yet exhilarated. Scared, yet excited. Dreadful, yet hopeful.
Three cars waited for a red light to turn green.
Mr. Horowitz closed the gate in front of his flower shop.
Two women talked in front of the coffee house; unaware they were blocking the door.
Teenagers walked home from the local Boys and Girls Club.
And he was thirteen floors above all of them.
The sun was bright, and he was Superman, and Superman got his powers from the sun.
He reached up to touch it.
James Harris is a Black, Mexican, and White writer who works as an English teacher at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. He is an MFA student at UMKC and focuses on speculative fiction. He currently resides in Lawrence where he and his wife, Jenny, fend off two demon cats named Todd and Ladybird. Find more at jamesharrisstories.com
Great short story. I felt like I was this kid, reading again and again that I could be anything I wanted to be if I believed and wanted it bad enough. The author perfectly encapsulated that moment in childhood where everything seems so tangible. Where things begin to come into focus.
Loved this story. The details are all perfect, and it builds to its climax slowly, but steadily. I particularly love the last several images.
Wow, I feel so….sad. My heart breaks for the boy. Beautiful short story, I love feeling an emotional connection to the characters and this one makes we want to read so much more.
James’ stories are addicting (trust me, I have read quite a few). That feeling when you’re so engulfed in the story, so enamored by the humanness and realness of the narrator that you can’t put it down, the hunger to know what’s next and how it ends – the addiction to great writing. This story is no exception. I feel the humanity, the story plays out almost like a movie in my mind, you see the kid, you feel the wind. It’s magical. Somehow you are the story. And for just a moment, as the kid became Superman, so did I.