Thursday, May 28, 2015

EVERY DAY SUPERMAN
Issue 3: The Heroes We Want

         Clarence scanned the rack hurriedly.  He found the issue of Superman he had come to the comic shop to buy and quickly pulled it down off the shelf.  He looked up at the clock that sat above the check-out counter on the opposite side of the rack that held all the latest comics.  “8:45.  I got fifteen minutes before closing.  Ok, I just gotta see what happens next,” Clarence thought as he turned back toward the rack and opened the issue to the first page.
It was another splash, hearkening back to the last page of the last issue.  Superman was charging Brainiac with his fists cocked and his eyes glowing a menacing red.  The doomsday clock above Brainiac and the two life-size glass tubes; one holding Jimmy Olsen, the other his mother; read five seconds.  Clarence turned the page.
4
It was a double page spread of Superman, instantly stopped in front of Brainiac.  His fists were down, and his eyes were alight with the fire of inspiration instead of heat vision.
Brainiac’s face was static, as it always seemed to be.  But the thought balloon on the next page betrayed his confusion.
“What are you doing?” Clarence read Brainiac ask Superman telepathically.
“Turning the tide,” Superman thought back.  Clarence turned the page.
3
It was a series of smaller panels showing Superman speeding through a series of different actions: tearing out power coils from the ship’s mainframe computer, using heat vision to melt controls, freezing drones sent to stop him with his super breath.  On and on the super feats went, faster than Clarence had time to comprehend.  The intent, however, was clear; Superman was tearing the ship apart piece by piece, with only one thought balloon hovering over all the carnage.  
“Tell me Brainiac,” the mind of Superman declared.  “Is it better to lose your eyes or your ears?  Your arms or your legs?”
2
“Stop this!” the thought of Brainiac rang out.  The robotic despot rushed forward like a wave with the intent of crashing down on the Kryptonian.
1
And that was all Superman needed.  Clarence turned the page to another beautiful double page spread.  Brainiac was across the room while the last son of Krypton was hovering above the now-empty glass tubes; Jimmy Olsen and his mother slung safely over his shoulders.
“You…acted without thought?” Brainiac concluded.
“It’s called improvising Brainiac.  I couldn’t have a plan with you in my head.  Funny, that in the end it was your own Sophie’s choice that beat you.  Just the writer in me, I guess.”
On the next page, the hovering Superman was smiling.  More than that, the first word balloon that Clarence had seen in a few issues showed that the man of steel was…laughing.
“Cavalier, aren’t you?  I would have killed either one of these humans.  Both in fact, if the opportunity arose,” Brianiac asked, out loud, of the hero.
“That’s the problem with robots,” Superman’s word balloon read.  “They don’t understand tone.  I’m relieved, Brainiac.  That this time, my plan worked.”
“I can assure you,” the cyborg began.  “Next time, it will not.”
Superman’s smile left his face.  He looked down on his telepathic nemesis with a resolute glare; blue eyes piercing like swords.  “Then next time, I’ll just have to come up with something else.”
“Gimme what’u got in the drawer!  NOW!” a guttural, male voice shouted.  It pulled Clarence’s attention from the book, and he turned around.
At the counter, the cashier was being held at gunpoint.  The gunman was tall and wiry.  He wore all black, with a black ski mask to cover his face.  He had a small handgun that was pointed right at the cashier’s chest, and the cashier was clearly terrified.  What Clarence noticed the most, though, was how the hood kept shuffling around as though he was unable to stand still.
“The MONEY I said!” he shouted.
That’s when Clarence realized why the shuffling was so important.  He recognized it.  “And I know that voice,” he thought.
“Tyson?” Clarence heard himself say out loud.
The hood turned quickly, and the gun went off.
BANG
Tyson opened his eyes.  The cashier was gone.  “Probably ducked down below the register,” he thought.  
Then Tyson looked down at his chest.  He felt around with his hands.  Unbelievably to him, he was fine.
He looked up at Tyson and saw the same bewildered look of surprise in his eyes that Clarence felt creeping up his bones.  They both looked around the store for any sign of where the bullet might have hit.  They didn’t see anything, as though it just disappeared.
Clarence looked back at Tyson with the resolute eyes he’d seen just moments ago, before guns and masked stepped off of the comic book pages into the real world.  Tyson wouldn’t return Clarence’s stare, or couldn’t.  Instead, the gunman was shivering where he stood; shuffling from side to side.  The gun, pointed at Clarence’s chest, was bobbing up and down…left and right.
Clarence’s arms started to move.  Slowly.  He dropped the comic and brought his hands up to the zipper of his red sweatshirt.  He unzipped it quickly, and pulled wide the lapels.
Then he took one step forward.
“Hey man!  HEY!” Tyson screamed.  “Step back!”
Another step forward.
“Are you crazy Superman?  I will SHOOT YOU!”
One more step.
“…please.”
A final step.  Clarence’s chest was now pressed against the barrel of the gun.  The “S” shield was all that stood between Clarence and cold steel.
Not one word was said.  Clarence could hear Tyson’s body quaking.  He heard Tyson’s shallow breathing and sniffling.  He saw Tyson’s eyes contort with struggle.
Finally, Tyson lowered the gun.  He looked Clarence in the eye.  The thirteen year old’s glare was focused and intent…and righteous.  Tyson turned around then, and bolted out of the comic shop.
“Thank you kid!” the cashier said as he stepped up from behind the counter.  “You’re crazy…”
Clarence turned to face the cashier with a huge smile on his face and his “S” shield front and center.
“…Really crazy,” the cashier continued.  “But you’re brave.  Not like there was much in here anyway.  God damn digital.”
Clarence dropped his arms.  He picked up his comic from the floor and walked over to the cashier.  He took out the three dollar bills he had and placed them on the counter as he started to fish around for the change.
“Are you kiddin me?” the cashier laughed.  “Keep it, kid.  Consider it a thank you.”
“Thank you sir,” Clarence beamed.  

He took back his money and zipped up his sweatshirt.  “I hope there are enough street lights on the way home for me to finish,” he thought.  Then he walked out of the comic shop into the night. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

EVERY DAY SUPERMAN
Issue 2: The People We Love
             “How did I not see this coming?” Clarence read as he and Joey walked home side by side.  Both of their heads were buried in comics.
            “Brainiac…WHY?” Superman’s thought balloon read on a splash page.  The titular hero was standing in the darkened hull of a space ship.  Horror etched his face as the cyborg Brainiac; fluid in movement and insect-like in appearance; stood between two adult-sized glass tubes.  In one was a sleeping Jimmy Olsen, and in the other an older, sleeping woman with silver hair.
            “Hello Superman,” Clarence read on the following page of several small panels, each jockeying between Superman’s face and Brainiac’s face as the pair communicated.
            “Brainiac?  Why are you in my head?” Superman’s thought balloon read.
            “Because I can be…whenever I choose.  My telepathy opens your mind to me, and it is your mind that betrays you.  It tells me all of your worst fears…and doubts.”
            “Why did you kidnap Jimmy Olsen and his mother?” an angry Superman thought on the page.
            “To break you Clark,” Clarence reeled his head back in shock at the revelation that Brainiac knew Superman’s secret identity.  He looked over at Joey, wanting to relay this twist.  But Joey was just as engrossed in Batman as Clarence must have been in his comic.  So Clarence immediately returned to the story.
”You are not human,” Brainiac’s thought balloon read over a close-up of a grim looking Superman.  “You know this.  Yet each day you allow yourself to live under the delusion that you are.  You see people like this young man as your friend…a tie to this world.  So I devised this experiment.  I will sever your ties, one by one if need be, by severing theirs.”
The next panel showed Superman with wide eyes as he began picturing all the most important people in his life; and realizing the implications of what Brainiac had just communicated.
“Martha, Jonathan, Perry…Lois,” Clarence read Brainiac say.  “Your mind betrays you Clark.  Whether through their friends, their sisters, their wives, I will make them hate you.  And when you are broken, and realize how alone you truly are, then I will cage you.  You will be as you were always meant to be; a rare specimen preserved for the sake of knowledge.  For knowledge is the only truth.”
The next page was a splash of metallic tentacles sprung from out of the dark crevices of Brainiac’s ship and wrapped around Superman tightly, having forced the last son of Krypton to his knees.
“Unlike you animals, my mind is my greatest weapon.  It is everything you see before you; this body, this ship, all one and connected in service to it,” Brainiac’s thoughts resonated as Superman was pictured struggling to break out of his bonds.
Clarence kept going, his eyes racing along the page.  It was back to smaller panels now, with Brainiac returning to his place between the glass tubes and placing a hand on an ominous looking red lever.  The next panel was a close-up of the lever as Brainiac pulled it.  In ten seconds, Earth’s atomic element number eighty-four will be released into both of these tubes.”
“Polonium,” Superman deduced quickly.    
“Correct,” Brainiac thought in response.  “It is the requisite four and a half sieverts required to kill.  You have time to save one of them Superman.”
“You MONSTER!” Superman was enraged as he stretched his bonds, breaking some of the metallic cords.  “How can I choose between a son and his mother?”
“That will be your burden to bear,” read a thought balloon over a close-up of Brainiac’s face.  There looked to Clarence like the hint of a smile.
The next panel was back on Superman, whose face strained with the struggle of his bonds as he thought, “But is there another way?  And if there is, can I find it?”
Clarence turned the page.  It was the final page of the issue; one big, beautiful splash of Superman broken out of the metallic rope that held him.  He was flying forward; resolution in his eyes and fists at the ready.  Brainiac took a defensive stance, and above the cyborg was a large doomsday clock that read five seconds. 
Superman had a thought balloon placed right above his head that read simply, “I have to!”
Then those dreaded words, “TO BE CONTINUED…”
Clarence closed the comic and exhaled.  Next to him, Joey did the same.  They tightened their hoods to shield them from the cold and hiked up their packs.  The sun was sinking fast, and neither one of them wanted to be out in this neighborhood after dark. 
“Man, I gotta wait a week now before I got money for the next issue,” Joey said excitedly.  “I hate bein behind on a story!’
“I know.  It sucks!” Clarence agreed with equal fervor.  “I HAVE the money for the next issue, but I have to wait for my dad to take me to the comic shop.  Sunday can’t come soon enough.”
“U wore that shirt again,” Joey said.  He sounded unsure; like he’d been holding the question in and waiting for the place in the conversation where he thought it would fit best.  But he didn’t find it, so he gave up and just threw it out there.
“Yeah, I always wear it,” Clarence replied matter-of-factly.
“Why?”
Clarence was silent for a moment.  Then he smiled.  “The answer is probably too cheesy for a Batman fan.”   
“Come on man,” Joey shot back with a grin.  “Batman aint ALL dark.”
“What cliffhanger did your book just end on?” Clarence asked.
“Joker with his face cut off,” Joey said automatically.  Then, realizing what he had just said, “…but he’s ALIVE though!  He just…aint got no face now.”
“Haha, ok man I’ll tell you,” Clarence said.  “I do it because…
“Well GET OUT THEN!” the boys heard a female voice scream from the sidewalk where they stood.  Conversation halted, and they both turned to the house where the shouting was coming from: Clarence’s house.
From the front door there came a middle aged man carrying two small suit cases.  The man was husky and had Clarence’s chubby, baby face.  Joey knew him also to have Clarence’s easy smile.  But the man wasn’t smiling now.  He threw his suitcases into the back seat of a car and quickly hopped into the driver’s seat.  Not once did the man cast a glance back at the door from where he’d come, or the sidewalk where his son stood.
In the open frame of the front door was a middle aged woman.  She was using her one free hand to prop her up as she yelled obscenities at the top of her lungs toward the car and the man inside.  In her other hand was a half empty bottle of amber liquid.
“U tell her I’m SO happy for the two’o ya.  Tell her that’s what Nadine says,” the woman shouted with venomous sarcasm.
“Least she aint no drunk,” Clarence heard his father’s muffled voice scream back from the driver’s side window.
“I’ll show you drunk you SON OF A…” but she was cut off by the sound of the car starting. 
As soon as the engine revved, the car was pulling out of the driveway.  Then it was on the street and driving away.  Clarence stood watching it until it disappeared from view.  Joey looked away, trying as hard as he could to give his friend some privacy.
“CLARENCE TIMOTHY WALKER!” the woman’s voice shrieked out like a banshee.
Clarence turned to her and looked up at his mother.
“Get yo ass in here NOW!” she screamed as she took a swig from her bottle and turned back into her house.
“Night Joey,” Clarence said absently as he walked up to his front door.
Joey didn’t say anything.  He just turned back in the direction they had been walking and moved on.
Once Clarence was inside, Nadine threw the door behind him.
SLAM
Clarence jumped in his own skin, and then continued on with his after-school routine.  He dropped his back-pack by the couch, sat down and got started on his homework.  Not once, since he’d been inside, did he look at his mother. 
“Can u believe ur father?” Nadine asked venomously.  “Father.  He aint no father.  He aint no man.  Real men stay when things get hard.”
Clarence tried to tune her out and focus on writing his English essay.  “What do you think was Odysseus’s greatest obstacle in getting home to his wife Penelope and why?  Back up your argument with evidence from the text,” he read to himself.
“U know he hit u, right?” Nadine asked pointedly.
“He never hit me mama,” Clarence replied quietly.
“Shut up!” she barked.  “He did.  Just cause u don’t remember don’t mean he didn’t.  So that’s what u say when people ask why he left.”
“Ok,” Clarence said automatically, his focus on his essay.  He was used to half-paying attention to his mother.  She got angry a lot and she always wanted to tell him about it.  His father stormed out a lot and never wanted to talk.  Over time, he just became numb to it all.
But then his copy of The Odyssey was ripped away from him.  He looked up just in time to see his mother’s hand flying toward his face.
SLAP 
“Don’t…u…DARE be smart with me!  U understand?”
Clarence nodded his head as he looked into the deranged eyes of his mother, swaying like a stalk in the wind.
“He’s gone for good this time,” Nadine continued.  “He aint comin back.  I got the divorce papers right there on the table to prove it.”
Clarence followed her extended hand with his eyes.  On the tiny kitchen table that sat in the living room because there was no other place for it, was a stack of papers.
Nadine took a swig from her bottle.
“So now u see how serious this is,” she said.  “U gonna have to pitch in around here.  Start lookin for some part time work after school.  Any place that’ll take ya.  If I’m gonna feed ur fat ass I’m gonna need more money comin in.  Eventually, when u turn sixteen u can leave school an get a full time job.”
Clarence just stared at her, his mouth open a little.  “But I like school,” was all he could get out.
“I know u do, an truth be told I wanted better for you an’this.  But ur lazy, fat father aint gonna pay no child support an I can’t afford everythin on my own,” Nadine said.  “It’s crappy, but life is just crappy to some people and there aint nothin we can do to change it.”
Clarence was quiet.  But in his eyes, tears started to form.
Nadine took another swig from her bottle.  As it came down from her lips, she sniffed the air.  “Somethin stinks!”  She looked hard at Clarence then.  “You wearin that shirt again?”
Clarence was sitting stone still, just staring up at her.  After a moment, he closed his eyes and slowly unzipped his sweatshirt.  He grabbed the lapels and pulled wide to reveal the familiar “S.”
“Take it off!  And throw it away.  You aint no baby no more.  Time to get rid of baby clothes,” Nadine said.
Clarence just sat there, lapels held wide.
“Boy, open ur eyes, look at me an take off the damn shirt,” Nadine said more insistently.
Clarence did not open his eyes, and he did not move.
So Nadine moved.  She bent low and grabbed at the bottom of Clarence’s shirt herself, trying to rip it off of him.
Clarence pulled free, jumped up and side stepped his mother.  He walked backwards with eyes still closed.  “Please don’t let me run into anything,” he thought.  After six steps, he hadn’t.  He stopped then, facing his mother (he assumed) with the “S” shield fully exposed.
It was silent.  All Clarence could hear was breathing; his and Nadine’s.  He stood as stoically as he could, struggling to stay still.  His ears were pricked for any sign of movement.
He heard a car drive past outside and some muffled voices coming in off the sidewalk.  “Is she still there?” Clarence thought after a few moments.
Then there were footsteps.  “She’s coming” Clarence thought.  He stood up straighter and braced himself.  But he didn’t open his eyes.
He felt a breeze as his mom walked past him.  He heard the liquid swish in her bottle and caught a whiff of the whiskey as it passed him by.  Then a door slammed, and Clarence opened his eyes.
He was alone.  He let his hands fall and took a breath.  His arms ached from all the shivering, so he rubbed them as he slowly walked back to the couch and sat down.
Clarence looked around on the floor below him, but he didn’t see it anywhere.  He felt around under the couch and his hand grazed it.  He pulled out his copy of The Odyssey along with something else underneath.  It was his Superman comic.  He set the school text down next to him and sat looking at the cover of his comic book.  It was just Superman facing off against Brainiac, but the hero was tall.  Strong.  Defiant.
Clarence tossed the comic onto the book next to him and stood up.  He fished through his pockets and pulled out everything inside.  In his right pocket, he found three one-dollar bills.  “Not enough.  I know I have more,” he thought.  He dropped to the floor and dumped everything into a pile.  He counted out all the loose change he found.  There were nickels, dimes, pennies; no quarters.  He counted, willing there to be enough; and when all was said and done he had found another dollar and seventeen cents. 
He stood up then and walked to his house’s entrance.  He did not hesitate, and he did not look back.  He walked out the front door into the darkness of night.  Defiant.  Strong.  As tall as any twelve year old ever stood.
“How did I not see this coming?” Clarence read as he and Joey walked home side by side.  Both of their heads were buried in comics.
            “Brainiac…WHY?” Superman’s thought balloon read on a splash page.  The titular hero was standing in the darkened hull of a space ship.  Horror etched his face as the cyborg Brainiac; fluid in movement and insect-like in appearance; stood between two adult-sized glass tubes.  In one was a sleeping Jimmy Olsen, and in the other an older, sleeping woman with silver hair.
            “Hello Superman,” Clarence read on the following page of several small panels, each jockeying between Superman’s face and Brainiac’s face as the pair communicated.
            “Brainiac?  Why are you in my head?” Superman’s thought balloon read.
            “Because I can be…whenever I choose.  My telepathy opens your mind to me, and it is your mind that betrays you.  It tells me all of your worst fears…and doubts.”
            “Why did you kidnap Jimmy Olsen and his mother?” an angry Superman thought on the page.
            “To break you Clark,” Clarence reeled his head back in shock at the revelation that Brainiac knew Superman’s secret identity.  He looked over at Joey, wanting to relay this twist.  But Joey was just as engrossed in Batman as Clarence must have been in his comic.  So Clarence immediately returned to the story.
”You are not human,” Brainiac’s thought balloon read over a close-up of a grim looking Superman.  “You know this.  Yet each day you allow yourself to live under the delusion that you are.  You see people like this young man as your friend…a tie to this world.  So I devised this experiment.  I will sever your ties, one by one if need be, by severing theirs.”
The next panel showed Superman with wide eyes as he began picturing all the most important people in his life; and realizing the implications of what Brainiac had just communicated.
“Martha, Jonathan, Perry…Lois,” Clarence read Brainiac say.  “Your mind betrays you Clark.  Whether through their friends, their sisters, their wives, I will make them hate you.  And when you are broken, and realize how alone you truly are, then I will cage you.  You will be as you were always meant to be; a rare specimen preserved for the sake of knowledge.  For knowledge is the only truth.”
The next page was a splash of metallic tentacles sprung from out of the dark crevices of Brainiac’s ship and wrapped around Superman tightly, having forced the last son of Krypton to his knees.
“Unlike you animals, my mind is my greatest weapon.  It is everything you see before you; this body, this ship, all one and connected in service to it,” Brainiac’s thoughts resonated as Superman was pictured struggling to break out of his bonds.
Clarence kept going, his eyes racing along the page.  It was back to smaller panels now, with Brainiac returning to his place between the glass tubes and placing a hand on an ominous looking red lever.  The next panel was a close-up of the lever as Brainiac pulled it.  In ten seconds, Earth’s atomic element number eighty-four will be released into both of these tubes.”
“Polonium,” Superman deduced quickly.    
“Correct,” Brainiac thought in response.  “It is the requisite four and a half sieverts required to kill.  You have time to save one of them Superman.”
“You MONSTER!” Superman was enraged as he stretched his bonds, breaking some of the metallic cords.  “How can I choose between a son and his mother?”
“That will be your burden to bear,” read a thought balloon over a close-up of Brainiac’s face.  There looked to Clarence like the hint of a smile.
The next panel was back on Superman, whose face strained with the struggle of his bonds as he thought, “But is there another way?  And if there is, can I find it?”
Clarence turned the page.  It was the final page of the issue; one big, beautiful splash of Superman broken out of the metallic rope that held him.  He was flying forward; resolution in his eyes and fists at the ready.  Brainiac took a defensive stance, and above the cyborg was a large doomsday clock that read five seconds. 
Superman had a thought balloon placed right above his head that read simply, “I have to!”
Then those dreaded words, “TO BE CONTINUED…”
Clarence closed the comic and exhaled.  Next to him, Joey did the same.  They tightened their hoods to shield them from the cold and hiked up their packs.  The sun was sinking fast, and neither one of them wanted to be out in this neighborhood after dark. 
“Man, I gotta wait a week now before I got money for the next issue,” Joey said excitedly.  “I hate bein behind on a story!’
“I know.  It sucks!” Clarence agreed with equal fervor.  “I HAVE the money for the next issue, but I have to wait for my dad to take me to the comic shop.  Sunday can’t come soon enough.”
“U wore that shirt again,” Joey said.  He sounded unsure; like he’d been holding the question in and waiting for the place in the conversation where he thought it would fit best.  But he didn’t find it, so he gave up and just threw it out there.
“Yeah, I always wear it,” Clarence replied matter-of-factly.
“Why?”
Clarence was silent for a moment.  Then he smiled.  “The answer is probably too cheesy for a Batman fan.”   
“Come on man,” Joey shot back with a grin.  “Batman aint ALL dark.”
“What cliffhanger did your book just end on?” Clarence asked.
“Joker with his face cut off,” Joey said automatically.  Then, realizing what he had just said, “…but he’s ALIVE though!  He just…aint got no face now.”
“Haha, ok man I’ll tell you,” Clarence said.  “I do it because…
“Well GET OUT THEN!” the boys heard a female voice scream from the sidewalk where they stood.  Conversation halted, and they both turned to the house where the shouting was coming from: Clarence’s house.
From the front door there came a middle aged man carrying two small suit cases.  The man was husky and had Clarence’s chubby, baby face.  Joey knew him also to have Clarence’s easy smile.  But the man wasn’t smiling now.  He threw his suitcases into the back seat of a car and quickly hopped into the driver’s seat.  Not once did the man cast a glance back at the door from where he’d come, or the sidewalk where his son stood.
In the open frame of the front door was a middle aged woman.  She was using her one free hand to prop her up as she yelled obscenities at the top of her lungs toward the car and the man inside.  In her other hand was a half empty bottle of amber liquid.
“U tell her I’m SO happy for the two’o ya.  Tell her that’s what Nadine says,” the woman shouted with venomous sarcasm.
“Least she aint no drunk,” Clarence heard his father’s muffled voice scream back from the driver’s side window.
“I’ll show you drunk you SON OF A…” but she was cut off by the sound of the car starting. 
As soon as the engine revved, the car was pulling out of the driveway.  Then it was on the street and driving away.  Clarence stood watching it until it disappeared from view.  Joey looked away, trying as hard as he could to give his friend some privacy.
“CLARENCE TIMOTHY WALKER!” the woman’s voice shrieked out like a banshee.
Clarence turned to her and looked up at his mother.
“Get yo ass in here NOW!” she screamed as she took a swig from her bottle and turned back into her house.
“Night Joey,” Clarence said absently as he walked up to his front door.
Joey didn’t say anything.  He just turned back in the direction they had been walking and moved on.
Once Clarence was inside, Nadine threw the door behind him.
SLAM
Clarence jumped in his own skin, and then continued on with his after-school routine.  He dropped his back-pack by the couch, sat down and got started on his homework.  Not once, since he’d been inside, did he look at his mother. 
“Can u believe ur father?” Nadine asked venomously.  “Father.  He aint no father.  He aint no man.  Real men stay when things get hard.”
Clarence tried to tune her out and focus on writing his English essay.  “What do you think was Odysseus’s greatest obstacle in getting home to his wife Penelope and why?  Back up your argument with evidence from the text,” he read to himself.
“U know he hit u, right?” Nadine asked pointedly.
“He never hit me mama,” Clarence replied quietly.
“Shut up!” she barked.  “He did.  Just cause u don’t remember don’t mean he didn’t.  So that’s what u say when people ask why he left.”
“Ok,” Clarence said automatically, his focus on his essay.  He was used to half-paying attention to his mother.  She got angry a lot and she always wanted to tell him about it.  His father stormed out a lot and never wanted to talk.  Over time, he just became numb to it all.
But then his copy of The Odyssey was ripped away from him.  He looked up just in time to see his mother’s hand flying toward his face.
SLAP 
“Don’t…u…DARE be smart with me!  U understand?”
Clarence nodded his head as he looked into the deranged eyes of his mother, swaying like a stalk in the wind.
“He’s gone for good this time,” Nadine continued.  “He aint comin back.  I got the divorce papers right there on the table to prove it.”
Clarence followed her extended hand with his eyes.  On the tiny kitchen table that sat in the living room because there was no other place for it, was a stack of papers.
Nadine took a swig from her bottle.
“So now u see how serious this is,” she said.  “U gonna have to pitch in around here.  Start lookin for some part time work after school.  Any place that’ll take ya.  If I’m gonna feed ur fat ass I’m gonna need more money comin in.  Eventually, when u turn sixteen u can leave school an get a full time job.”
Clarence just stared at her, his mouth open a little.  “But I like school,” was all he could get out.
“I know u do, an truth be told I wanted better for you an’this.  But ur lazy, fat father aint gonna pay no child support an I can’t afford everythin on my own,” Nadine said.  “It’s crappy, but life is just crappy to some people and there aint nothin we can do to change it.”
Clarence was quiet.  But in his eyes, tears started to form.
Nadine took another swig from her bottle.  As it came down from her lips, she sniffed the air.  “Somethin stinks!”  She looked hard at Clarence then.  “You wearin that shirt again?”
Clarence was sitting stone still, just staring up at her.  After a moment, he closed his eyes and slowly unzipped his sweatshirt.  He grabbed the lapels and pulled wide to reveal the familiar “S.”
“Take it off!  And throw it away.  You aint no baby no more.  Time to get rid of baby clothes,” Nadine said.
Clarence just sat there, lapels held wide.
“Boy, open ur eyes, look at me an take off the damn shirt,” Nadine said more insistently.
Clarence did not open his eyes, and he did not move.
So Nadine moved.  She bent low and grabbed at the bottom of Clarence’s shirt herself, trying to rip it off of him.
Clarence pulled free, jumped up and side stepped his mother.  He walked backwards with eyes still closed.  “Please don’t let me run into anything,” he thought.  After six steps, he hadn’t.  He stopped then, facing his mother (he assumed) with the “S” shield fully exposed.
It was silent.  All Clarence could hear was breathing; his and Nadine’s.  He stood as stoically as he could, struggling to stay still.  His ears were pricked for any sign of movement.
He heard a car drive past outside and some muffled voices coming in off the sidewalk.  “Is she still there?” Clarence thought after a few moments.
Then there were footsteps.  “She’s coming” Clarence thought.  He stood up straighter and braced himself.  But he didn’t open his eyes.
He felt a breeze as his mom walked past him.  He heard the liquid swish in her bottle and caught a whiff of the whiskey as it passed him by.  Then a door slammed, and Clarence opened his eyes.
He was alone.  He let his hands fall and took a breath.  His arms ached from all the shivering, so he rubbed them as he slowly walked back to the couch and sat down.
Clarence looked around on the floor below him, but he didn’t see it anywhere.  He felt around under the couch and his hand grazed it.  He pulled out his copy of The Odyssey along with something else underneath.  It was his Superman comic.  He set the school text down next to him and sat looking at the cover of his comic book.  It was just Superman facing off against Brainiac, but the hero was tall.  Strong.  Defiant.
Clarence tossed the comic onto the book next to him and stood up.  He fished through his pockets and pulled out everything inside.  In his right pocket, he found three one-dollar bills.  “Not enough.  I know I have more,” he thought.  He dropped to the floor and dumped everything into a pile.  He counted out all the loose change he found.  There were nickels, dimes, pennies; no quarters.  He counted, willing there to be enough; and when all was said and done he had found another dollar and seventeen cents. 
         He stood up then and walked to his house’s entrance.  He did not hesitate, and he did not look back.  He walked out the front door into the darkness of night.  Defiant.  Strong.  As tall as any twelve year old ever stood.