Superheroes Don’t Masturbate
A Short Story by Doug Dean
Written using the suggestion "Action"
Originally featured on 02-02-2009
As part of our series "Bursting Into '09"

The trouble with falling in love is that the first time you experience it, you mistake it for a transformation. It feels like you’ve crossed over into another realm where everything is just easier. Nothing seems impossible because you feel like you’ve got superstrength. Consequences disappear because, in addition to superstrength, you also feel like you’ve gained invulnerability. And in all the comic books where heroes have these kinds of powers, the heroes never lose them. So you believe that you’ll never lose them. There aren’t many stories that involve a hero gradually losing his or her powers over time. There are almost none where the loss is permanent. It’s hard to imagine Superman or Spiderman having to refocus themselves on newspaper work in order to simply pay the bills until reaching a suitable age to retire. The idea that the story can end that way—a fade to black with our hero pouring herself a cup of coffee to keep working through the night preparing for that meeting she doesn’t really care about; we reject that idea. Most superheroes put their careers distantly second to being heroic. Was Clark Kent a good writer? How did Peter Parker’s photos compare to those of more serious photographers? It doesn’t matter because they dropped their jobs at a moment’s notice to stop a helicopter from crushing pedestrians. This is what made them great heroes.

What we call ‘secret identities’ are actually their true identities. But gradually those fade away and become secondary to their heroic persona. What nobody likes to think about is that our heroes might actually have ended up like those people at work we don’t like to talk to—awkward, lonely and insecure, had it not been for luck or freak occurrence. And so too is the case of love. The secret identities are kept secret to protect their loved ones, sure, but they’re there to protect us too-from how mundane they would be without ever becoming Super. They become the hero and then we accept them as nothing less. To imagine them living out their days the way us regular folks do seems tragic. We do the same thing to ourselves.

When we sit there, suddenly stripped of our powers, we think of ways to get them back. We could leap over tall buildings before and now can hardly drag ourselves out of bed. We think, ‘the story cannot end this way.’ We think, ‘why would fate give me such strength only to take it away.’ We think, ‘it wouldn’t, there must be a way to get them back.’

This is one reason so many people try so very hard to hang on to that first love.

 

***

 

Richard had just finished masturbating as his fiancé got home from work. He heard the car pull into the driveway, and quickly closed the dirty windows on his computer screen.

He washed his hands as he heard the front door. He took a look in the mirror. His cheeks were flush but other than that he looked the same-short brown hair cut into a flat top above a clean shaven twenty-five year old face. Giovanna called his name and he wiped his hands on his pants and answered, “Out in a sec,” before heading out into the living room.

She smiled and crossed the room and put her arms around him. She kissed him, opening her mouth, using tongue. He kissed her back, opening his mouth, using his tongue and then pulled away.

“Hi G,” he said. “How was work?”

“Who cares,” she managed before leaning in and opening her mouth for another kiss. More tongues. She wrapped her arms around his waist pressing him into her. He responded by putting his arms around her and lightly caressing her butt.

They kissed for a few minutes before she put her hand on his stomach and slowly worked it down to undo his belt. His arms moved off of her butt. She pulled away and stared at him.

“What is it? What’s wrong?” she demanded.

“I-I—”

“Yes? What’s up Dick?” she said, not kidding, though he grinned nervously.

“I just did…my thing.”

“What? Tae-Bo? I don’t care if you’re a little sweaty,” she said and then leaned in and kissed his cheek, working her hands to his crotch.

“No. Not Tae-Bo.”

“Then what?”

“I-I-I just jerked off.”

Her hands slid down his legs and suddenly she was a few feet away. A sigh and then she said, “Well at least both of us were turned on at the same time for once,” before walking into the kitchen.

He stood there, thinking of her naked body against his, her breasts rubbing against his chest, and how it was too late to think of any of that now.

He jumped at the sound of the dishwasher starting.

“To me?” she called from the kitchen.

“Yes,” he called back.

“Bullshit!” she called before slamming the back door on her way outside for a cigarette. Richard buckled his pants on his way into the kitchen. He looked at the calendar hanging next to window above the sink, outside of which was fuming Giovanna. Richard wondered if perhaps nine months was too long and they should move forward the wedding date.

 

***

 

The trouble with falling in love the second time is that you remember the pain of losing your powers the first time. It is also what makes that second time so powerful. After losing all hope and settling back into your boring life, you can fly again. You retain somewhere the knowledge that these newfound gifts will fade. But you suddenly realize that the powers are cyclical—they will come and go. You focus more on the come than the go. You think that if you’re smart you’ll ride this wave, this rush, with the intensity that reacquiring this kind of power deserves.

No longer do you wait for the opportunity to use your power. You bring the falling helicopter safely to the ground before it starts falling to confusion of its passengers. You battle villains before they’ve begun committing crimes, to the confusion of their parents. You follow your intuition. You’ve done this before. You know what will happen eventually, so you will use your powers for all they’re worth.

But this over-eagerness makes you look crazy, obsessive and ultimately despite all your efforts, exhaustive as they may be, villains still pop up, sometimes knocking helicopters from the sky and once again you notice your powers beginning to fade.

Now you start to focus on the go. You try to remember how you coped the last time. You were proud of that, the way you went back to being a normal person last time. The way that you managed to stop talking about ‘back when I was superhuman.’ You found it within you to find purpose in the acts of everyday living. You found it possible to perform them with humility and give them the enthusiasm you used to reserve for superheroism. You washed dishes pseudo-superheroically, spinning a casserole dish on your fingertip and chuckling about how it used to be a helicopter. But how did you get there? How did you cope with the initial loss? You realize that you can’t remember. You realize that the powers you have now, the ones beginning to fade, are different powers than the previous ones. The coping skills required may be different as well. You feel more attached to these powers. Therefore, you realize, the loss of these new powers may be even harder to endure. You’ll become even more bitter, you fear. You didn’t think of this.

You panic, and attempt to confront all the supervillains in the city at once. You put an ad on Craigslist and challenge them all. And in front of the whole city you’ve been protecting, they knock you the fuck out. When you wake up, your powers are gone. Once again you’re underemployed, demoralized and attempting to find purpose in a non-hero life, a normal life.

This is one reason so many people try so very hard to hold on to that second love.

 

***

 

Richard heard his live-in girlfriend, Jessica, purring her Jaguar into the driveway and smiled giddily from the side of his couch. He glanced at his twenty-nine year old frame proudly one last time in the mirror hanging across the room.

Showtime!

He listened to her heels clanging on the concrete steps, and then the jingling of her keys. Richard parted the drawn vinyl blinds with his two fingers, smiled at seeing her face and then looked around the living room. The candles lining every cabinet top, table top, and countertop flickered in unison. Crinkling, as Richard gripped the flowers tighter in his hand.

She opened door and stood in the doorway for a moment.

“Shut the door, baby,” he whispered walking towards her. She did and seeing the flowers and Richard she smiled. He moved toward her, his bare feet making little sound on the carpet.

“Oh, Rich, honey. This is—”

He kissed her, backing her into the door. She pushed him back a little. “-so sweet.”

“Welcome home,” he whispered. He leaned forward for another kiss. She kissed him back. Then he felt her hand on his chest, pushing him off.

“I thought you had to be at work now,” she said.

“I called in,” he whispered, “I wanted to surprise you.” He leaned in again but she sidestepped.

“Easy, okay? I just got home.”

He nodded slowly. “Okay.” He took her hand and led her towards the couch. They sat, his hand caressing her knee, her hands cradled in her lap.

He grinned at her nervously. She nodded back with a pressed lip smile. Then she spoke.

“This is…pretty nice. I mean you’ve got like fifty candles in here.” He smiled.

“Yeah, like that many. I just thought that you’d appreciate coming home to something nice…nice and romantic.”

“Oh, I do. It’s really sweet Richie.”

Richard felt naked, not hard wearing only his robe. She stood up. “I’m gonna hop in the shower, is that okay? Then maybe I can enjoy this more.”

Richard felt himself nod. She patted him on the back and walked from the living room to the bedroom. Richard jumped when she turned on the bedroom light. The bright light poured through the doorway into the living room washing away the gentle flickers of the candles and onto Richard, still sitting on the couch.

He slid over on the couch to get out of the direct light. Then he heard the shower turn on and thought about showering with Jessica, moving his hands over her wet hips and her touching him. He realized that he thought of this the way he thought of showering with his teammates after basketball practice, as a memory—distant, not immediate. This thought got Richard up from the couch. He turned on the light in the living room. He blew out the candles in deep frowning breaths.

Then he made his way towards the bathroom, his feet banging down on the carpet. He pulled the shower curtain open.

“Why doesn’t this matter to you?” he said without thought.

She hesitated. “It does, I just need to get cleaned—”

Richard stormed back into the bedroom.

“Bullshit!” he called getting dressed.

“Where are you going??” she asked dripping onto the bathroom floor.

“I don’t know…somewhere!”

“Why? Because I didn’t just let you fuck me on the carpet.”

“Why not? We used have sex everywhere in this apartment,” he said.

“I don’t know, I just wasn’t ready, I just got home, can you just take it—” she said.

“Easy? Yeah, okay. How’s this for easy? Answer this easy question. Why don’t we have sex like we used to? Why doesn’t it bother you, too?” he said, buttoning his shirt.

“I don’t know,” she said. Then her face softened a bit and she walked into the bedroom and sat on the bed. “I don’t want to as much and I don’t know why. I love you, but I just don’t want to as much. I didn’t want to say anything about it because it makes me feel bad,” she said.

“Oh you feel bad for me? Well…don’t bother yourself over it.”

Richard finished buttoning his shirt and started putting on socks, a white one and a grey one.

“No, I feel bad for not wanting to, for not knowing what’s going on and for making you feel this way.”

As Richard spoke, he could hear himself sounding more and more childish with each word. But he couldn’t stop himself from saying the rest.

“If I don’t do it for you anymore than maybe I need to find someone who loves me for real,” he said stamping his half-socked foot. Richard regretted it immediately. But her face had already become red with anger.

“If that’s how you really feel then get the fuck out of here and find someone that loves you for real,” she said.

Richard just shook his head. He picked up his shoes and walked towards the door. He couldn’t stop shaking his head. When he turned and looked at her, tears in her eyes, he kept shaking it and couldn’t think of anything to say. I’m sorry would work, he thought. Richard didn’t say he was sorry. He didn’t say anything because he was too embarrassed. He was more embarrassed than he could even understand. It was like the sense of panic that hits you in the moments right after a car accident. He was too embarrassed to do anything but walk out the door and down the stairs, still holding his shoes.

When he reached the bottom step, he thought that Giovanna would’ve taken some perverse pleasure in witnessing what had just happened. And without understanding why, he cried. Richard knew that he was too embarrassed to go home until it would be too late.

 

***

 

The trouble with falling in love for the third time is that you don’t get superpowers at all. You don’t admit it to yourself that you’re in love until the time for gaining superpowers has passed. “Twice Bitten, Thrice Shy,” you could say. Or you could say that “With Great Powers Come Great Responsibilities.” Usually by the time you’re old enough to fall in love three times, you’ve already got enough responsibilities. You just don’t acknowledge the power right away because you don’t want to acknowledge the responsibilities either. You don’t want to be stripped of the powers and you’ve also figured out that it never gets easier to cope with the loss of something like being a Superhero. You can’t convince yourself that it’s any easier or any less amazing to feel invincible like that. Just like smoking crack or eating ice cream or anything else that is thoroughly addictive, you’re careful about every spoonful. You take it on slowly, like learning to dance to a song you already know the steps to by heart. You view it as a choice, not falling, so that you can choose differently if necessary, instead of having to pick yourself back up out of the dirt. You tell yourself that your true identity, the secret one, is all you really need and if somebody can’t appreciate that, so be it.

***

 

Richard glanced at his cell phone, vibrating along his desk. He didn’t have to look to know that it was Tokiyo. Only seven o' clock and she had called twice since five. He loosened his tie from his neck and flipped open the phone.

“Hi Richard. You still at work?”

“Hi Tok, yeah, I’m still finishing up here. No rest for the wicked.” Richard looked out through the door to his office. The rest of the floor was vacant. He threw the Playboy magazine into the bottom drawer of his desk and closed it.

“You’re not so wicked,” she said. ”At least not at work, I hope.”

“No, actually one of my employees, Don, I think I told you about Don, anyway Don told me today that I’m a role model of his. Hero is the word that he used,” said Richard, pushing his glasses up on his nose.

“Well, I can’t say I blame him. You really give everything to that place,” she said.

Richard looked at his walls. Numerous awards, including a letter from the mayor, hung on them.

“Hey what can I say, I believe in what we do here. I feel lucky to help people get back on their feet. This woman, Rosa, tough history she’s got but we found her a job today, at the Oregonian. Not the best job, but she was delighted. You should’ve seen her light up when—”

“So, Richard…”

He knew from the tone of her voice.

“I was kind of expecting you, ya know, here by about, ya know, now.”

“Oh shit, Tok, I’m sorry, I must’ve forg—”

“I called you twice to remind you, left messages, didn’t you get them?”

“It’s been pretty busy here today, Tok, and uh—”

“Richard it’s okay. Look, this is the third time that this kind of thing has happened—you standing me up like this, forgetting, whatever. I mean, ever since I told you what I told you last week—”

“Told me what, exactly?”

“Come on, Richard. Ever since I told you that I was falling for you, used the words in love, well you’re different, distant. I’ve noticed it,” Richard hung his head in his hands, ”and…Jesus Richard, this isn’t easy for me to say but…at first I thought you were just freaked out, overwhelmed—but I think you’re just…not—”

“Not?”

“Not in love. And I think it might be better if we just forget about—”

“Now, hey wait a minute Tok, I’ve been busy today. That’s all it—”

“Bullshit! You know I’m not a fool, so don’t insult me by trying to tell me you’ve been working so hard you haven’t checked your messages. I’ve got a dinner I made for us getting cold on the table and…I’m just…I’m worth more than this. So let’s just forget about it.”

Richard took too long to say anything and by the time he did, she had already hung up.

Richard wondered whether love was ever really worth it. Sure, Tok and he had some pretty great times, but he knew where that led. And if she wasn’t understanding about his work schedule, then eventually that would’ve been an issue.

“She’s better off,” he said to an empty office.

 

***

 

But you could also say, Third Time’s The Charm. Because if you make it long enough with someone that you start to feel like a superhero for a third time, knowing all you already know, then perhaps they’re worth keeping around, fighting for and risking a face full of dirt.

This is one reason some people don’t have to try so very hard to keep on with that third love.

 

***

 

Richard sweat and the phone rang but just went to her voicemail. Moments later he found himself running down the hallway towards the elevator. He would need flowers, the red ones she liked and he would tell her. He would tell her everything.

 

Richard napped on the hammock hanging on his front porch as he did most afternoons. He didn’t hear Tok’s footsteps coming up the wooden steps. He didn’t hear her putting away the groceries or chopping up the celery or boiling the potatoes or marinating the steak. He just slept peacefully on his hammock until an hour later, he woke to her gentle kiss on his forehead.

Read More By Doug Dean

COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project

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