Clark scooped the potato salad onto his plastic plate. Irvy, standing on the other side of the table that seemed to stretch for miles, urged Clark, "You need more than that. G'on, have some of the green bean casserole." She paused. "You must be a growing." She paused again. "Boy."
A Yorkie was nibbling at his ankles. Clark glanced down and smiled benevolently. "This your dog?" he asked.
Irvy leaned over the potato salad. One hand slid the green bean casserole aside. "No. I have a chihuahua." Irvy stood straight. "Perhaps this dog is trying to get you to eat."
"I think the dog is trying to consume my foot," Clark said. Then he stepped away from the table to allow the line to continue, to allow the town to continue on its way. Irvy called after Clark. "Your dad would've loved being here for this! Real shame!"
The yorkie yipped a response and kept at Clark's ankle as Clark walked over to one of the only trees for miles and sat in the grass. He wasn't hungry, but he was even less rude, so forced down a few bites of food, sharing select portions with the dog.
Later, Clark drove his father's pick-up to Desolation Row, a bar in a neighboring town. The town was sometimes called Givensville and sometimes called Statler, depending on your family tree. Clark called it Statler, but kept this information to himself for reasons he didn't quite understand.
Desolation Row was on Evans Street next to a gas station, and relied on the riot of lighting from the station to light itself--it was otherwise dark and dreary, with windows covered with the grime of years of exhaust and dust. Shapes moved in the windows, and music leaked from the building's pores like sweat. Clark pulled into the gravel parking lot and slipped the truck into a parking space, noting that there were more cars he recognized than didn't crammed into the lot, all of them dingy and vaguely lit by the gas station.
The bar was brick. The sign along the eaves was wooden.
Not fair to peek, Clark thought, but did so anyway. He looked into the bar, past the brick and the dirty windows, and saw all the people he had promised to meet up with. And he saw the one person he actually wanted to see, sitting alone at the bar, huddled over a glass of water, as out of place in Desolation Row as Clark had expected.
Clark got out of the truck. He slammed the door shut--not out of anger, but because such trucks always had doors requiring a solid slam. Nothing was easy with trucks like this one.
He took a moment before entering the bar, collecting himself and making sure his tie was on straight, making sure his breath didn't smell, adjusting his glasses. Then he walked in.
Desolation had a pool table in the center, a loose assortment of tables and chairs to the left and a stainless steel bar to the right. There were bathrooms, a jukebox, and a never-used stage with sound equipment at the back. Not much else. Bare walls. Cement floor painted to look like it was made of wood. A few ceiling fans and naked light bulbs. But Desolation was warm, and got warmer when Clark entered, as everyone in the bar began to applaud.
Clark allowed himself an hour to socialize. He bought beers for everyone--one round, then a second. He thanked those who needed thanking, and accepted thanks and condolences from those who needed to give them. His eyes occasionally drifted, unnoticed by all, to the lone figure at the bar. Occasionally, the figure would stir a bit, sip from the glass of water, wave away the bartender. When the hour was up, Clark began the act of detachment, moving away as he'd learned to do. A subtle process, but even the drunkest among the people understood it was time to let Clark alone. Soon, the pool table replaced Clark as the center of attention, though it would be a lie to suggest awareness of him dried up. Even as George Givens racked up against Heather Statler, however tantalizing the match, everyone knew Clark was talking to a stranger in a bar not known for strange patronage.
"I'm sorry about your dad."
Clark settled onto a stool next to Chris. "Thanks. Everyone is. He was a good man."
"You don't have to say it."
"The usual bullshit things. I know you. It's okay."
Chris pushed back from the bar. He sat up straight for the first time that evening, and a cue ball suddenly shot off the pool table behind him. "Goddammit," someone, Heather Statler probably, mumbled as she chased after it.
"I feel things," Clark said. "Just not the way I'm wanted to feel things. Or the way I want to feel things."
"Okay, kid. I told you it was okay. And I came here. You asked, I arrived."
The bartender hovered, debating with himself on the right way to approach and fulfill his duty. Clark smiled at him and said, "We'll take two glasses of whisky. Leave the bottle."
"I don't drink," Chris said.
"I don't either." Then, lower, "The poor guy doesn't know what to do with himself. Let him feel like he's doing something."
The bartender reached around for a while, returned with a bottle of caramel-colored liquid and two glasses that were so clean they made the entire bar glisten. "I'll start a tab," he said with a tight, knowing nod, then retreated to the other end of the bar, pretending to watch the Givens/Statler pool game everyone else was pretending to watch.
Chris leaned back again. "I'm here. You want to talk, I'm listening."
Clark scratched at his ankle, then brought his hands up to the bottle of whisky. He began turning it around and around on the stainless steel surface of the bar, thinking. "I want it to stop." It was a final thought in a long train of thought, and he realized he may need to help Chris understand everything that came before what he'd just said.
"So. The movie." Clark clinked a glass against the bottle.
"It's done. It already ended." Chris furrowed his brow. "Hell, the second one is mostly done."
George Givens sank the eight ball and no one noticed for a moment, not even Heather Statler.
Irvy Pellman rocked back and forth. The swing creaked like a leather strop, and her porch spread out before her like a stage. The horizon was distant and fading. Inside the house, she could hear Earl laughing at something on the television. "Irvy!" he yelled. "Irvy, you gotta see this."
Irvy opened her mouth to yell back, then she saw a missile drop from the sky and shatter into the ground some miles away. The creaking of the swing stopped. Her breath stopped. A few seconds later the aftershock knocked out the electricity and made the swing rock again.
Five years later, Irvy welcomed her 23rd kindergarten class as she always welcomed her classes: tissues for parents, cookies for kids, and a broad smile. The Kents were standing off to the side in the classroom jumbled by tissues and cookies and desks and toys, and Irvy smiled most broadly at them. Clark had been let loose. He was in the middle of the room, levitating. The other kids were playing with blocks and stuffed animals, unimpressed, but the parents of those kids were staring at Clark.
"It's how kids learn," Irvy said, her reassuring voice steeled by 23 years of experience. "It's not like we didn't know. The kids are all fine."
To draw an unintended point, the Warren girl from Givensville/Statler, her hand stroking a stuffed cat, looked up at her parents. "Aren't you supposed to go bye now?"
Martha Kent touched her husband's arm, and the two slowly walked to the classroom door. Once they exited, the other parents, singly or as a couple, left. Irvy was alone with a handful of kids and a levitating alien.
That evening, Earl turned on the television.
"You going to sit out on the porch to read?" he asked his wife.
Irvy moved from a recliner, where she had been doing a crossword puzzle, to the couch beside Earl. "I need a hug, Earl. I just need to be held right now."
Earl put his arm around Irvy. His arm remained around her for a long time until she felt safe enough to slip her own arm around him. They held one another for several hours.
When Clark brought the gun to class, it was six years later and it was Irvy who intervened.
"Have you called his parents?" she asked the principal.
"He has a gun." The principal, sallow-faced and shaking, stood behind his desk like a statue expecting an attack of pigeons. "I haven't called anyone yet. But Clark Kent has a goddamn gun and you're the only one he trusts."
"You might try calling his parents."
Irvy, years later, sat in a movie theater and watched Jonathan Kent die. The Kents were seated behind her. She heard Jonathan say, "Well, I hope I don't go out like that." Then she watched an angry Clark spin back the world to revive Margot Kidder.
"I'm very sorry what happens." Clark concentrated on the bottle and the glasses. "It is awful. I understand that."
Chris, kindly and lovingly, put out a hand. His hand touched Clark's, and steadied it. "Your dad just died."
"We all die. Or some of us do."
Clark jerked his hand away.
"I don't die."
Behind Clark, Heather Statler poked her stick at a random ball.
"My entire.... you know. Chris. You know. It's all gone, but I don't die."
Heather, again, shot the cue ball off the table into the thick air of Desolation.
Chris, the glass of water touching his knuckles, replied, "I do." Then, "I die, Clark."
"I don't. That's the thing." Clark knocked over his stool as he stood up, and regretted it. He crushed the cue ball, which had rolled off the pool table. "When I signed up for this, I didn't realize it would just continue."
Irvy approached Clark, who was levitating again. His backpack was slung over one shoulder, and the gun was in one hand. He was in a classroom, but there were no kids.
Two days before, Earl had agreed to a dog.
"I hate dogs," Earl had said. "C'mon, Irvy. They smell, they shit in random places. Don't. Please."
"Then let's see who can't have the kids." Irvy touched Earl's hand. "We want kids and... nothing. So if you don't want the dog, then we'll do a fertwatzis test."
"Clark," Irvy said.
"That's my name." Clark floated.
"We've called your parents." Irvy reached an arm out, and Clark pointed the gun at her. His eyes were closed. The gun--small, grey--reminded her of In Cold Blood.
There's no reason, Irvy thought.
"There's plenty of reason. " Clark answered.
You can read my mind?
"I have shot myself. Why can't I shoot others. Why am I different?"
Irvy noticed the bullet go through her hip. Clark then turned the gun on himself.
Chris knew the conversation was over. He got off the stool, tossed down a twenty, and left Desolation. Clark remained, perched on his stool. Behind him, Heather Statler feigned an attack at George Givens, raising her pool stick like a lance.
The bartender, realizing the whisky bottle had not been touched, moved in. He took the dry, clean glasses away, then the bottle then turned to Clark and asked, "Anything else?"
"It's my dad's funeral."
"I know sir. Superman." The bartender did a thing with his mouth where teeth were bared but lips were kept tight. Clark knew it to be a smile, which was a human thing to indicate friendliness.
Clark took the bottle of whisky, uncorked it, and poured it into one of the two glasses. "Thanks for this."
"You paid for it."
"I did." Clark poured into the second glass. "And you paid for it as well."
The bartender glanced around. Desolation Row was silent. There were fans still at the pool table, and all of them were focused on Clark, who was still wearing a straight tie, had great breath, and even glasses.
"I made a mistake," Clark told the bartender. The bartender sipped from the glass. Clark sipped as well. "I agreed to let my life be a movie."
"Yeah," the bartender said. "Noticed."
"Death isn't what I thought it'd be." Sip.
"What did you think it would be?"
"My family died a long time ago. My father," sip "just died." Clark allowed his glass to make a noise as it hit the stainless steel bar. "The man I knew as a father just died and he saw himself die years ago in a movie about my life. And my reaction--in that movie--was not at all how I now feel."
The bartender took another sip as the fans around the pool table waited for someone--anyone--to rack the balls.
"Death is not a thing I'm allowed to understand." Clark touched the stool where Chris had been.
Inappropriate sharing, incomprehensible ramblings, uncalled-for hostility: yup, it's a blog.
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