the death of superman

Rui Zink
Rui Zink
 
 Portuguese writer Rui Zink was born on June 16, 1961. "Writes books, gives lectures, imagines  things." - Rui Zink in his own description. He continues to write one story after another, novels, plays, graphic novel and much more. His language has become beyond its own boundaries. The structure of his written text also goes beyond conventional grammar. A different world came to life in subjective language. 'Torkito Tarjoni' has been  published on the occasion of his upcoming  60th birthday on June 16. Presently a lecturer by profession. His first novel was ‘Hotel Lusitano’(1986). Zink is the author of ‘A Arte Superma’(2007), the first Portuguese Graphic Novel. Also his ‘Os Surfistas’ was the first interactive e-novel of Portugal. He is the author of more than 45 published books all over. 
 Zink achieved prestigious ‘Pen Club’ award on 2005 for his novel ‘Dádiva Divina’. His several books has been translated in Bengali like ‘O Livro Sargrado da Factologia’(‘ঘটনাতত্ত্বের পবিত্র গ্রন্থ, 2017), ‘A Instalação do Medo’(‘ভয়, 2012), ‘O Destino Turístico’(‘বেড়াতে যাওয়ার ঠিকানা', 2008), 'Oso'('নয়ন') etc. 

THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN

 Author : Rui Zink
 Translation from the Portuguese : Rita Ray 

– You can make an interesting thesis. Good luck.

On the early morning of November 18, 1992, Luís Carlos Moutinho was flying in the direction of the Sun, and the words of his supervisor, uttered two months back, now resonated in his head. He should sleep, he should try to sleep, or else the hangover of “jet-lag” would even be greater. The difference of five hours of in the time zone makes one really dizzy.

“You can make an interesting thesis.”

Luís Carlos was returning after spending sixteen days in Boston, after collecting bibliographical material, with an aid from the Luso-American Foundation for Development. The subsidy had not been sufficient for covering the travel expenses, but Luís Carlos didn’t want to be ungrateful. He had already had a lot of luck. In the most varied senses.

“Good luck.”

First, his doctoral project had been approved.

“Modern myths, Luís Carlos?!”

“A myth, Clara. A modern myth.”

The time when the assistants called the professors “sir” was long past.

“The Superman, Clara. The Superman is the greatest myth of the 20th century, he is…”

“Yes, yes, Nietzsche already spoke of Superman, I know that. But…”

“But this is the real Superman. He really existed. He really exists. In comics.”

“In comics, Luís Carlos?’

“Literature. Graphic literature. Words and pictures. There is not just one artist. There’s the artist and the script-writer and…”

“Your arguments are good, Luís Carlos. I am only asking myself if it’ll be sensible to go on with it… It’s a complicated matter. Are you sure you don’t want to re-think about it and write a thesis on Fernando Pessoa?”

Secondly, he had a goldmine in his hands. Things nowadays happen very fast and what was forbidden yesterday is compulsory today, and vice versa tomorrow. Luís Carlos knew this. Luís Carlos had experienced this. What used to be the provocative earring in the punk’s ear is the earring today in the good boy’s ear, obedient to his parents. The concept that he proposed to defend – comic strip equals to literature – was relatively unusual. Not going to be for much longer, nevertheless. One has to catch the boat. One shouldn’t let the meat escape. Not going to the sea in order not to lose the place. Not sleeping in the ranks. In a word, with ach passing month the risks increased of another gold-digger discovering the hen laying eggs of doctorate approved by unanimity and with distinction.

The case was serious. Luís Carlos published little. Went to few congresses, sent few articles to even fewer journals, showed up little, circulated less. It’s been five years that he’s been an assistant and still he hadn’t been invited to contribute to any “journal spoken of” in Gulbenkian. The doctoral thesis is a fundamental rite of passage in the academic tribe. Without thesis, nothing – addio, adieu, auf Wiedersehn, goodbye – the post in the university a thing of the past. And someone who doesn’t take classes in the Catholic doesn’t know that, compared to the evil that hovers over the turn-of-the-century society, that job is an oasis, a sheet of fresh water in a desert undermined by enemies. It was time for Luís Carlos to catch hold of the opportunity with all his teeth – with as many teeth that cocaine had left him – and this is the third reason for considering himself “a lucky rascal”.

Yes. Thirdly, he had left drugs. That is to say, he still chased, he didn’t resist bringing some with him to Boston (and, now, from Boston), but didn’t inject any more. The syringe that he has over his head, in the personal baggage compartment, over the oxygen mask that would drop automatically in case of lowering of pressure, was only to bring luck. His amulet, if we may say so. The proof that Luís Carlos had control over himself. The lesson of the Sicilians: “keep your friend close to you, but your enemies even closer.”

*

Bringing a little bit, sufficient for two or three sniffs, hadn’t been nothing compared to the calculated risk of taking one gram, one whole gram, to Boston. Luís Carlos was fully aware of that he could now have been in a high-security prison, as in the films, surrounded by gangs, brutes, sadist and cretins of the worst kind.  Furthermore, it was the American border, super-controlled, with all types of questions, each more frightful than the other. One day that country will even ask its visitors whether they really believed that we are all children of Adam and Eve and nephews of Abel and Cain – and only if the answer is in the affirmative they will let us enter. A great country, in spite of everything. A great planet. The Daily Planet, like the name of the newspaper where Clark Kent worked.

Studying Superman, preparing a study on Superman made Luís Carlos feel stronger. Almost invulnerable. Don’t laugh. It’s a good feeling. Of course the white dust of shooting stars also help, but Superman helps more. And after all, enter the USA with forbidden drugs in the pocket is always a bit like imitating the pioneers of the far West, the pioneers of the last frontier.

“Now even more difficult… Now even further… Now without hands… Now without the brain…”

And all had ended well. Luís Carlos hadn’t been caught. Luís Carlos was almost cured. A totally clean Luís Carlos was going to make his thesis, and be a successful doctorate.

Seminars, conferences, prefaces, postfaces, the world is my oyster and I am its pearl. The world is my Daily Planet.

*

The plane dozed on its way to Portugal. It has already been two hours since the last film had been projected, a canned comedy about an old man, who, suddenly, turns 18 years, and the problems (and advantages) that stem from that. The intrigue was mechanical and, like all films of the kind, in an anticipated way, well-made. A situation giving rise to conflict, some steps resulting from each other, two loose ends to give rise to suspense and tying up in the final climax, inevitably moralising and mushy.

Outside, the curly clouds on the entire horizon, still blue due to the western night, a glimpse of a thin line of light already seen coming from the east. Who else, apart from Luís Carlos, would be awake among almost four hundred people seated inside the flying whale? Luís Carlos knew that the cruising velocity was nine hundred kilometres per hour, but he had the feeling of gliding over the clouds, of hardly advancing. Within a short while, the captain would announce that the weather was splendid in Lisbon (what else could the weather be?) and that a breakfast would be served before landing. To non-European passengers a form would be given to be filled up, but infinitely more simple than the American one.

*

Superman was exlibris of the century. He was born in Krypton, in another galaxy, and our solar system gave him superhuman force, invulnerability, super sense of hearing, X-ray vision, super sense of smell, super breath, super velocity and the ability to fly.

This century was also born in Krypton and it wasn’t yet certain whether it wasn’t similar, too, to the cradle of Superman in another aspect: self-destruction. Several times it had been on the verge of it, and always escaped it by a thin line. But Luís Carlos delighted in his philosophising tendency, so many times the pot went to the well that one day…

The civil profession of Superman was that of a journalist. And it wasn’t by chance. On one hand, the all-powerful hero; on the other, the implacable hunter of facts.

Facts: the gold of the 20th century. The head-hunters had been subjugated. The whale-hunters had been forbidden. Only the fact-hunters survived legally, legally. Facts, facts, facts. Things, big things, small things. There wasn’t anything but news programmes in the television. Even fiction absolutely followed the hard way leading to reality. To facts. Faits divers. Various facts. The minutely, very minutely analysed reality, cut in very thin slices till nothing remained, like ham, cut in slices and given for eating to spectators in packs of hundred, hundred and fifty and two hundred grams. In mouthfuls. Formless. The pieces had been of puzzle. The ready-to-eat facts, already pre-cooked – you don’t need to interpret, Sir, only to be put in the microwave and digested.

There wasn’t news anymore. Only stories. That’s why Superman was so strong, that’s why Superman made so very, very much, so much, much sense. In a world of extremes, where nothing was interpretation or where everything was interpretation, in such a storyless world with so many daily stories, the victory of this club, the defeat of that government, the fall of one more plane, this time in the Andes whose surviving passengers had to eat the dead in order to continue to be worthy of the name of surviving passengers, in a world like this, in a world in which “God died, Marx too, and I don’t feel very well myself”, a Superman had to exist. Somebody immortal, would resist the inclemency and who would tell us, don’t be afraid, here I am. I am your point of reference. Don’t be afraid. At home, on the street, in the office, I fly at your side.

Luís Carlos felt falling asleep. Finally, as the sun, spreading its wings on the clouds, approached him. It has to be like that. Only when the Portuguese coast was less than a hour away that the sleep came, and invaded him, dormant, his eyelids finally accompanying those of other passengers, perhaps those of the pilot. Probably the plane was on automatic mode. Nothing happened, a flight without any incident. A flight without facts.

That the emblem of our epoch should be a figure from the comics was not a mere detail. Time hurried by in such a way that real people had lost thickness, they were bi-dimensional beings hopping from episode to episode, everything getting mixed in a hopping routine of a quotidian in which, despite everything being able to happen, nothing really happened anymore. The President of the Republic got transformed on screen in an extraterrestrial ectoplasm? And then? What’s so astonishing?

The behaviour that two decades ago had been an attribute of the New Yorkers was now common to the entire Planet, from the Trás-os-Montes to the Fiji Islands. “Ich bin ein New Yorker”, J. F. Kennedy would have said, had he been alive.

Look, a fine idea to put in the thesis, concluded Luís Carlos before falling asleep completely. Superman as an opponent of Kennedy. It would have been funny, in 1963, in Dallas, the bullets ricocheting on the president, he would fly in the direction of the window from where the shots came, promptly knocking down the guilty with his x-ray vision…

*

The landing was made without great problems. Luís Carlos hadn’t travelled by plane too many times, but he already knew the urban periplus, while the flight was almost razing, kamikaze style, that the metal birds did, thanks to the brilliant idea of keeping an airport in the centre of the city. It was as frightening as fascinating. The numbers on the doors of the houses could almost be read.

As he didn’t have any luggage to collect, ten minutes later Luís Carlos found himself inside a cab – already heading towards the university.

Any person with good sense (and, above all, tidy) would go home to have shower, try to sleep a bit, restore the balance, “find his karma again”, but Luís Carlos had not resisted going to one of the minuscule bathrooms of the plane, when the captain’s voice had woke him up for breakfast before arrival, to sniff the last bits of cocaine – they were always more stimulating than bad coffee in a plastic cup.

He would only have classes on the following day, that’s what had been decided, but he was going to the university to try and get hold of Clara, the Early-riser. By his calculations, at this hour she should be reaching her office. That’s what gives you a person living in an empty flat after fifty odd years.

Luís Carlos’s intention was simple and direct. Saying hallo, I’ve arrived, chatting a little with her, as one has always to do with supervisors, Saying yes, the research has been good, it couldn’t have been better, I could see in microfilm a facsimile of the first number of Superman, a rarity, almost as valuable as an illumination of the thirteenth century, I discovered unpublished documents, did you know that the creators of Superman were Jews, hein?, it makes sense, it allows me to add one more chapter on Golen. And in the department of Luso-American Studies I met a very funny professor, who curiously had already known you in a congress, as a matter of fact, he perfectly remembered Clara, and you should also perfectly remember him, his name is John F. Silva, and he gave me precious help. God knows by what magical art the man unearthed an article published in one of those journals to which, in Portugal, one can’t have access, because the universities don’t have money for any subscription, and the article, in its substance, approached the contentions of his thesis.

Luís Carlos also felt, why not confess it?, a certain nostalgia for the university, after three infinite weeks in a university of other – at least mythical – dimensions. The Catholic, poor one, could be very good, but wasn’t Harvard. It didn’t have cachet, as Luís Carlos’s aunts would say.

*

He asked the cab to stop a little way back, with the view to buy the newspaper, he wasn’t lucky: the tobacconist’s only opened at nine, and it was only half past eight. The news of the world would have to wait for a more propitious hour to meet the eyes of Luís Carlos, half stupefied by the cocaine but even then scrutinising, as required, by force of habit. It was all a question of pose, Luís Carlos knew: students made up a mask of good students, feverish hours in the library and industrious spirit, and teachers showed seriousness and naturalness with the things of the world of concepts – a kind of walking computers ready to, at any moment, update the minimum five thousand books that they carried saturated in their top storey.

Clara, nevertheless, knew better than that. The expression “knew better than that” is an Anglicism, direct translation of “she knew better than that”, but Clara’s training was Anglo-Saxon, it had been she herself who had written the recommendation letter for the candidature of Luís Carlos for the FLAD’s travel allowance, and it had been her, who, at times, had believed in the “scrutinising eyes” of her dear assistant. At 62 years, Prof. Dr. Clara Ferraz Martinho had attained that nirvanesque phase in which, as the poet would say, “a placid scepticism was tempered by a benevolent belief in the qualities of people”. With great illusions, without great disillusions, she continued to bet – moderately – on her students or research scholars.

Luís Carlos had his eyes red. When her young assistant opened the door of the office, with exaggerated smile, Clara opted to conclude, with more force than she would want, that his dishevelled aspect was merely due to the jet-lag.

– What then, Luís Carlos? Was it worth it? Was it productive?

– Very productive, Clara. I think I’ve the thesis done.

– It’s good to hear that. There are people who panic when they have to do a doctoral thesis.

– Not me, Clara.

– People go on delaying, delaying, being convinced that they only have to put their ideas into writing, then they panic. They get blocked.

– I’ve everything under control, Clara. But thanks for the advice.

– It’s not a shame at all. It happens to a lot of candidates.

She looked at him benevolently.

– Is it my impression or you haven’t slept?

Luís Carlos smiled, satisfied with himself.

– I haven’t slept for almost thirty-six hours. The plane from Boston had a breakdown. I

ended up going to New York, that was a pandemonium.

            – And you stayed at the airport all this time?

            – Yes, that was the worst. I could’ve stayed one more day, visited the city, the airlines would even have paid the hotel. But as I’ve class tomorrow…

            Was it his impression or Clara didn’t appreciated that show of zeal?

            – That wasn’t any reason, Luís Carlos – said she, coldly. – You could have stayed. You could have given a justification and fixed up with the students to compensate the class on another day…

            Luís Carlos understood that he was barking up the wrong tree. But didn’t desist.

            – It’s the will to work. The strength of writing the thesis. The proof that everything will turn out well.

            It was time to be a little modest. That’s why he added:

            – Besides, with a topic like this, it’s difficult for things to turn out bad.

            Luís Carlos didn’t understand if Clara still remembered the topic (one should never ever trust hierarchical superiors) when she said:

            – Then you continue totally to be sure of the topic that you chose, Luís Carlos? That’s good.

            – If earlier I didn’t have any doubt, now I’ve even less – Luís Carlos replied, with an enthusiasm that (that almost irritated him) didn’t come out with the right tone. – Superman is really a substitute for God, in the nineties. The man with a capital M. The man who’s become invulnerable, in this epoch of the end of the world, terminal, with terminal sicknesses, of death of ideologies. Comic strip is the salvation of the world. Halleluiah!

            It was a joke, and Luís Carlos knew that Clara had understood that it was a joke, merely a joke, an innocent joke, but his favourite professor limited herself by smiling with the enthusiasm of a stuffed bird.

            – Are you sure Luís Carlos? Lately you don’t appear to be the same. It’s not a shame having doubts faced with a work that’s an important step in your career. Look, if you want, I can give you the phone number of a friend of mine…

            Other people would have said “a doctor friend of mine”. Class awareness. She could have the best of intentions. She was, certainly. The neurosis of thesis was quite well known and it was true that there were many candidates who were lost for good. A phenomenon of entropy. A line was delayed for the following day and thus successively – and then it wasn’t only a line, not even two, but thousands of lines. Automatically, Luís Carlos lifted his hand to the nose and sniffed. What was he thinking about?

            – Besides, I’ve more than roughly done three hundred pages – he pointed at his rucksack, by the side of the chair. – It’s all there. Practically the only thing missing now is to put the data in order.

            – I’m happy to hear that – Clara said, without taking her eyes off him. – What’s left of the term, four, five months?

            Luís Carlos took a deep breath and took leave of Clara repeating that “everything was under control”. While Superman maintained his invulnerability to everything except to Kryptonite, the world could be safe. The candidate Luís Carlos Moutinho was going to fulfil his rite of passage.

            “Everything under control”, were the last words that Clara heard from him.

            “Go and have some sleep, you need it” – were the last words the she told him.

*

            In the corridor he crossed some students, who smiled at him. Most of them, at least. They liked him. He wasn’t tremendously competent, and lost himself in what he said, as if he suffered from aesclerosis praecox, but he didn’t bore much and even gave decent marks. Luckily, he didn’t meet any colleague or senior. The euphoria had largely worn out and now he started to feel the beginnings of a hang-over – of the journey, the cocaine, the conversation – corroding his stomach. He only needed to have cold sweats. As a precaution he went to the bathroom. It was as well he went, after all he needed it and escaped from having an intestinal emergency in the middle of the road.

            Too late, he perceived that there wasn’t any paper. It was almost ten in the morning and the maids hadn’t yet put any roll in the bathroom – or someone had already stolen the existing one. He rummaged his pockets, in search of some sheet in which he hadn’t written anything important. “Kryptonite = Achilles’ heel… The absolute invulnerability is anti-narrative…” It wasn’t very brilliant, but it might be useful to keep it. He looked for another one. “John F. Silva, Dept. Romance Languages, U. Brown, Providence…” The Luso-American, an eventual good contact, was worthy of better luck. “See Superboy, Supergirl, Superdog and Supercat… Fifties and sixties…” This he could use. It wasn’t among the least interesting aspects of Superman, that of having, in its golden age, various magazines dedicated not only to the family but also to his adolescence and even childhood. Every month, the fans could have new adventures of the Superman as adult, as child, as youth. Sometimes there were even editions like “Parallel worlds”, with “And if…” episodes in the most diverse situations. And if Superman got married? Anf if Krypton had never exploded? And if Superman had chosen another secret identity instead of that of Clark Kent? And if Superman had had other adoptive parents? And if Superman’s parents had had a daughter?

            Finally he left the University, crossed the adjacent fallow ground on foot, where apparently, in case the Rector’s office arrived at an agreement with the Government and the municipality, an annexe would be constructed before the end of the millennium.

            He really needed a coffee, something hot, and something to eat, something solid, to hold his single and indivisible stomach. Only that Luís Carlos detested eating anything without something to read, it could even be an economic supplement, that’s why before entering the confectioner’s he went to buy the newspaper.

            On returning he found by luck an empty table, “all smiling up to him”. HE ordered a café au lait from the machine and a mixed toast, and got ready to open the newspaper.

            He wasn’t able to do that.

            Filling up the entire first page was the most sensational news of the day – according to the editorial criteria of the periodical. This should really be sensational, as it even swallowed up the space reserved for the call for other matters of the first water to be developed inside:

            THE DAY SUPERMAN DIED

            Luís Carlos did not even look at the coffee at his front, hot and inviting, quite strong, as he had asked. Restrained, he read the words that accompanied the title:

            “America and the world will be in a state of shock when they will hear in the TV news that Superman has dies? Everything indicates that yes. With a rictus of pain, rage and impotence spread across his face, Superman is going to die today at the hands of Doomsday, a madman who escaped a psychiatric asylum and whose name, translated in Portuguese, could not have a more premonitory meaning: Day of the Final Judgment.”

            Luís Carlos slowly looked at the date at the side of the heading, but his look revealed an insufficient magnetism to change the numbers. It wasn’t the first of April. It was November 18, 1992.

            Instinctively, he sipped a mouthful of coffee, without sugar. He didn’t touch the toast, which became cold, sad, under the hastily handled pages of the newspaper.

            The waiter turned, thinking that he was being asked something, when Luís Carlos, without comprehending, stuttered loudly and incoherently:

            – But… Yesterday only he was in good health… Nothing indicated…

            It wasn’t true. In last week’s edition, Superman was in serious difficulties in his fight against the ferocious Doomsday, and that latter had vowed to destroy him. In internal monologue, Superman himself recognised that in a long time he didn’t have such a powerful adversary. In spite of his invulnerability, for the first time, or almost, Superman was hurt with blows delivered by his adversary. The central arteries of the Metropolis were being literally destroyed at each clash between the two titans, who used as their battering ram everything that they could lay their hands on: a lighting post, a bus, a piece of asphalt, a metro coach… And Superman had the disadvantage of the left, he worried about the others. At each damage made by Doomsday he had to defend himself and at the same time protect the thousands of victims and defenceless onlookers who gathered around.

            The anxiety of his being able to be defeated was, however, part of the emotion of the story. One of the reasons why the readers sometimes got bored, was there not being any tension. The man was safe from bullet, safe from water, he flew, had x-ray vision and was capable, with a simple breath, to freeze a lake. Against someone like that, it wasn’t strange that the adversaries had to be more and more refined. Superman’s arch-enemy himself, the mad scientist Lex Luthor, inspired more pity and sympathy than displeasure – after all, he was merely a man who dared to challenge a being with the powers of a god.

            Superman was not like Batman or Spiderman, who were human before being heroes, each one more fragile, very, than the other. Superman, wasn’t for nothing, but he already bored, with his super-optimism so typically of the fifties, so typically American dream, car, house, garden and vacuum cleaner, so well-behaved and respectful of law and order, so… so… invulnerable.   

            Horror! Luís Carlos goggled his eyes a lot, hand on his mouth, in such a way that if someone studying contemporary history of art had entered the confectioner’s at that moment would have taken him for The Shout of Munch.

            Without perceiving, he had enunciated the reasons, the probable reasons, because of which the editors of the D.C. Comics had decided to cancel the edition. The sales had fallen considerable in the last few years and the editions currently were in the order of eighty thousand copies. The man of steel had not resisted to a series of addition and division of accounts made on a pocket calculator, perhaps one those that were not even run on batteries, solar energy was enough for them.

            Suffocated, Luís Carlos deposited a note on the table, he didn’t even stop to look whether they were dollars or escudos, and tottered to the door. The waiter still called out to him, but he hastened his steps till he started to run.

            The ground fled under his feet and he fled because the ground fled under his feet. He ran for some hundreds of meters till he couldn’t any more. The hands on his knees, he tried to get back his breath. With his head turned down, he saw the space around him as it was, as it was then: upside down. The clouds perched over an immense blue ground, the people and the cars sliding over a grey roof that is little auspicious, those that announce an approaching storm, worthy of ending the world.

            It was still in this position that he signalled to a cab that seemed empty to him and, by luck, was empty. Only five minutes later, after the vehicle had completely enmeshed in traffic jam near Avenida da República, that he saw that he had forgotten his bag with all his things. Including the material for the thesis.

            However, he didn’t give the indication to the cabbie to turn back. For what? All that material had become obsolete with simple news of the paper. Weeks of research endured in Boston and Rhode Island lost! Years of forced work thrown down the drain. And above all this was the last year. Any more postponement wasn’t possible, no more privileges of a scholarship, no more travel grant for bibliographical consultation abroad. And without thesis, goodbye to academic privileges. To begin with, it meant being thrown out, that is to say, it simply meant going back to the hell of high schools, tolerating noisy teenagers who hasn’t yet been sifted by the numerus clausus. The perspective was worthy of one of the most eloquent expressions of the comic strips: Aaargh!

            The cabbie, with his cap fallen over his eyes, turned backwards smiling:

            – Have you heard the radio this morning? It seems that Superman has died!

            And self-sufficient, without worrying whether Luís Carlos replied or not, he continued:

             – Superman  died! Heh! Heh! What these guys will invent!

            Luís Carlos looked at the cabbie like a victim at his executioner, with the despondent look of a businessman whose warehouse has just burnt down with all its merchandise, that warehouse that wasn’t insured because the merchandise was white powder and, having lost it, his death sentence has been signed, the seasonal discount period had already started and the Colombian count-barons didn’t play around while at work. The cabbie had turned round pulling hard at the brake and twisting the steering wheel, and now he was busy insinuating that the driver of the red Clio with which his Mercedes had almost copulated, had obtained her driving license as a gift in a competition for lacto-farinaceous products.

            The 80’s had been crude for everyone, and people resented it. Even the superheroes had been threatened and their universe reflected the crisis of values that made itself felt in another world. Admirable beings like Thor, the god of Thunder, with his enchanted hammer, the helmet with wings and his precious language (“On guard, villain, you are going to face a noble lord”), or Prince Namor, lord of submerged Atlantis, a man of blue blood and colour, had ceded the place to morally ambiguous heroes, each worse than the other. Some, carnivorous like Wolferine, others psychotic like The Punisher. My God, now there was even a  HIV positive hero, Bloodfire (Brian Reace in private life)[1].

            Luís Carlos told the cabbie to keep the note of five thousand – having a fight because of change would have been more than what he could stand. His work was destroyed. Why won’t someone be happy with that? After all, the cabbies wouldn’t be the only one, but at least he could be the first one. Perhaps he would drink a beer to his health and, that night, would tell his colleagues, raising the bottle:

            “It was a passenger who was going to write a thesis on Superman’s immortality who gave me the best tips of the day. A Great guy.

            Because others would not even have the decency to make the toast to a hatred of defeated estimation. It wasn’t even worth enumerating the. It would be giving them too much value. As Leibniz would have said, had he been alive, the academic world is the worst of all the possible worlds, inhabited by horrible and Dantesque people, mean upto the bone-marrow, dwarves standing on tiptoe above the shoulders of giants. Gnarr gnarr gnarr. Uof!

            Not even this image with the German philosopher and onomatopœias consoled Luís Carlos. He climbed the five floors, on foot, to his flat, without the patience to wait for the lift to get free. The most probable was that it was stuck on some floor.

            This hypothesis came to show itself to be false. The lift functioned perfectly, someone was coming down. Luís Carlos didn’t understand this as he was shut in the gemination of his personal inferno.

            The only thing lacking now was to have forgotten the key. No, it was in his pocket. He opened the door.

            The hall and the room were in the same place. As untidy as he had left them. Papers on the table, half-open books, a packet of pizza with a wrinkled slice within. The stereotype of the Portuguese enterprising youth mistaken with the decade. He wasn’t that young, too. 

            He should go back to the confectioner’s to get his bag. Perhaps, later, if he felt better.

            “If I felt better, how?” How could he feel better? The work was lost, and to top it all, he didn’t have any more coke. Not that it would have changed the reality. Superman was dead, it was in the newspaper and even the radio had confirmed it. It was only left seeing it on the television. 

            Nevertheless, it helped to see things a bit more coldly. More rationally.

            He looked at the time. Eleven thirty. If the timing hasn’t changed in three weeks, the first TV news of the day would be within half an hour. If they didn’t say anything, perhaps there still was some hope. All said and done, what happens on the television only had existence these days.

            On the other hand, if television referred to the death of a paper character, a comic strip hero, it would be notable. Imagine: a comic strip character with the funerary honours of a head of state.

*

            Luís Carlos lay stretched out on the top of the bed. He had taken his clothes off, but hadn’t had shower. The death of Superman was on the television, yes sir. Practically it was the only news of the day. And now Luís Carlos looked at the roof with a blessed smile of someone who doesn’t have anything else to lose. He was already seeing a brood of ill-behaved minors in his front, in some C + S school of the interior of Beira district. With his curriculum as teacher of secondary education – he had only taken classes while he still was a student, in his last year at the university – Lisbon was out of question. Goodbye, fifth floor in the centre of the city that had cost him so much to arrange. He had been stupid, too, when it was the time to buy. Not even that. Had he done so, now he could have sold the house and made a good profit, even after deducting the mortgage. It was a failure. Failing that, ah, ah, whom could he phone at this hour to get some coke? Perhaps that friend of Cláudio’s, what was his name? Duarte? Something Duarte? He got up. He should have his phone number somewhere.

            It wasn’t a pretty scene seeing Luís Carlos, flaccid and naked, squatting down in front of a drawer fallen down on the rug. Among hundreds of torn up bits of paper, each one with a phone number or a rough draft, more interesting than the other, Luís Carlos was finally successful. Now what was only left was to have a bit more luck and catch the guy at home.

            The phone was that of a cafe. The girl who attended asked him to phone again ten minutes later. Luís Carlos put down the receiver feeling his head boiling. His mouth was dry. He counted the heavy minutes. He didn’t want to get out from the place, it was a small superstition: for winning it’s necessary to suffer.

            At the end of five minutes, he rang up again. Duarte (“Duarte”?) as already there. Trying to use the code of conversation on phone, he did what was possible to make clear his order. Duarte: the order is fine, but he wasn’t an errand boy. Luís Carlos insisted: he was finishing a very important job and couldn’t go out. That he would pay more. That he was an architect. There wasn’t any valid reason for saying this. It only seemed to him that being an architect who might have stayed up the whole night finishing a project valued millions and would need an extra pull now that the sun was high up seemed more probable than saying that he was an assistant of literature and was tired from jetlag and whose object of study had expired suddenly this morning. He repented having lied. Perhaps he should have rather said that he was a creative writer in an ad agency.

            They ended up coming to an agreement. It would be more expensive, but it was possible. For this time. More solicitous, Duarte asked if he wanted only one product or wanted also the other. Luís Carlos hadn’t thought of that, but he found it a good idea. He said that yes. It would then be half of each. Luís Carlos gave his address and the other assured him that a little while later someone would knock at his door. Cash down including the cab fare.

            Late. Luís Carlos had to dress for going to an ATM counter. On returning he climbed the stairs running and remained waiting. They knocked at the door. There wasn’t any messenger. As he had calculated, the messenger was Duarte himself. The face matched the voice. He had come quickly, the boy – a good businessman is fast as Flash, the lightning-man, Luís Carlos thought.

            He was addicted to superheroes of comic strips. Even a small dealer was Flash. And the cabbie, what was he? The Incredible Hulk? In that case, Clara had to be some super-heroine. Scarlet Witch, of the Avengers, or Storm, of the X-Men. The former could move objects with simple power of mind, and the latter commanded inclement weather. Or even the Invisible Woman, of the Fantastic Four, spouse of Reed Richards and sister of Johnny Storm, the Human Torch. No, Clara couldn’t be any super-heroine. Clara had trusted him, in his abilities, but she wasn’t as maternal as the Invisible Woman and, certainly, not so insignificant also, in the world of comic strips, like the other two.

            Luís Carlos began to prepare the mixture. This time he wasn’t going to smoke nor smell, he was just going to prick the vein. He had his pet syringe, that one with which he felt safe even to cross the border, because it wasn’t disposable. It was seriously a syringe, of glass. What he changed were the needles, and he had discovered that he still had two for using on the bathroom shelf. That’s why he never was afraid to be caught, not even when he was travelling. It was somewhat ironic, but it was true: a serious syringe didn’t attract so much suspicion, it had a worthy air, medicinal. And then, it made sense: nothing better than a syringe to help crossing borders.

            Luís Carlos smiled. He already knew which a good role was for Clara: Lois Lane, the intrepid journalist who had fallen in love with Superman, at the same time who had been bent upon to know what his secret identity was. Lois Lane was an ambitious and intelligent journalist, although the fact that she had never discovered that Superman was her colleague in Daily Planet did not very much vouch for her intelligence. But women are like that: they never see what they have in front of their eyes. In good truth, Lois even disliked Clark a bit, for being weak. It was funny: the alter ego of super-heroes, that is, their version in normal size, was always very less masculine: Don Diego, who in reality was Zorro, fainted on seeing blood; Bruce Wayne, the Batman, was more frivolous than a hen; Peter Parker, the Spiderman, began by being a skinny stuck up student and spectacle case.

            Ah! Who said that a cocktail wasn’t too much? Cocaine, with heroin, became a super-cocaine, and heroin, with cocaine, a super-heroin. Game of words? True game! “I double the bet”, Luís Carlos murmured, half-closing his eyes.

            And if Clara could be Lois Lane, why couldn’t he himself be Superman? No, he laughed, he wasn’t insinuating that there could be anything between him and Clara. Frankly, the woman was more than forty years older than him. Even with the mixture rising in his veins, fully beating him in the brain, Luís Carlos was sufficiently lucid to know that his story couldn’t be a love story. No.

            He was an individual with a work, an objective to achieve, And like so many people in life, he hadn’t been able to achieve the goal. There were more people like this. It wasn’t uncommon, an unknown genius to be almost at the end of his work and then there’s a fire and destroys his paintings. Or a virus deleting everything from the computer. But let’s suppose. Let’s suppose that there was a jump in time – it’s at least theoretically possible, isn’t it? Let’s suppose. After all, at the end of the day, everything is a big accident. A person is born one day, in an epoch, but he could perfectly have been born in another. Or could come to be born in another. Since the first spermatozoon, the only of the five billion that survive the holocaust, everything is a succession of chances turned into necessity only because they happened. Because had they not happened, they had not happened. Other things would have happened, in their place. Have you understood?

            And he could, following this logic, have been born forty years ago – or Clara could have been born forty years later. And then his story could well have been a love story. Superman and Lois Lane. The Hero and the Researcher. He wouldn’t have needed to write a thesis, it would have been her writing a thesis on him. He wouldn’t have to do anything, only trivial things like putting off fires with a breath, saving cities from earthquakes or transporting trans-Atlantic ships over his head, like a small boat, saving them from drowning. At night he would return home, put on his slippers, see his last prowess on the TV news, while Clara, pardon, Lois Lane, served him an appetising hot meal. Anything except cold pizza!

            The effect began to flag, but it wasn’t a problem. There was more. Over the bed there was a poster of Superman, placed over a cork dartboard. Three arrows had pierced the poster. One in the blue sky over which he rode with a confident smile, another on a white and happy cloud, the third right in the red pants of Supertorresmo. How beautiful. So Freudian. Luís Carlos stumbled on the bed, rolled over the mattress, in order to protect the syringe with its supply of new ammunition. He again used his best tie as garrotte, found a friendly vein waiting for him and prepared himself to fly a bit higher.

            Higher than Superman. Altius, forties, etc. So inspiring, so like caricature, so little human. Luís Carlos made eloquent gestures for an invisible audience. For an invisible jury of thesis. Superman, like a pleasurable good myth, was sufficiently commented upon. Did you know that a French, Marcel Gotlib, invented Super-Dupont, who, instead of being invulnerable like the Kryptonite, was allergic to baguette? And that the Disney studios created Super Goof, who became super when he ate a few super peanuts? And who was born first, Superman or Super Mouse? And who was stronger?

            Luís Carlos knew who was the strongest. He was the one who could take the right decision, the most coherent, the one which agreed most with the reality of facts. And the facts were simple. Fact number one, he didn’t wasn’t to take classes in a high school. He had nothing against the tens of thousands of slaves who suffered in those detention centres for juvenile delinquents, rather the opposite, but shouldn’t count on him. Fact number two, he didn’t know anything else to do and it was already late to attend a course of business management. Fact number four… Fact number four, it didn’t feel like facing the compassionate sympathy of others – “It was an injustice that they have done to you by failing you, you should appeal.” What did they think, that the university was the Super Court?

            Did he have the face of a victim? Did he look like a victim? The man who was going to write a thesis on immortality had the face of a victim? Luís Carlos remembered Dostoyevsky. He didn’t wonder as his mother told him, “in complicated situations, my son, remember Dostoyevsky.” It’s a joke, Clara hadn’t told him anything like this. That is to say, his mother. Dostoyevsky’s central problem was that if God had died everything was possible. Including killing the father, as Smerdiakov did. And Luís Carlos now had his own version: if Superman has died…

            He entered the bathroom and got hold of the largest towel that he found hanging. It had a soft smell of rotten humidity – after all, it had been hanging there without going to the washing machine during weeks. He gave a knot around his neck with the two ends, as if it were a cape – a cape of Turkish bath towel – and returned to the hall, without caring to switch off the light.

            He opened the window. He climbed the parapet. The people and the cars, down there, didn’t seem to be so small like seen from a flight 714 to Sydney landing in Lisbon.

*

            The evidences of the eye witnesses were contradictory. Some said:

            – It seemed like a bird…

            Others:

            – It seemed to be a plane…

            And a child, to whom, thank God, nobody paid any attention, murmured to himself:

            – Very mad. He seemed to be Superman.

            The body wasn’t found.

            Seven months later, a small note in the international section of a daily of medium circulation, informed its readers, with the title “Superman is returning”, that “the people responsible for the death of Superman were going to make him return to life”, on the coming 15th.

            “Thus the suspicion of the most sceptics is confirmed, who always thought that the death was nothing but a stroke of marketing.”


[1] True character

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