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Superman Comes to Dinner


by Danny Goodman


The smell of brisket and gravy, honey-baked yams, and green bean casserole spreads through the house like the summer heat. Sitting in his grandparents' kitchen, Nathan absorbs the smell, mostly the yams, and his stomach yells: what's the holdup?! Grandma pulls herself away from Murder, She Wrote just long enough to open the oven and torture him with swells of crisping honey. Mom and Dad come into the kitchen and Dad steals a piece of brisket. The gravy never makes it to his mouth, though, and hangs from the end of his dark chocolate mustache. Grandpa comes through the kitchen and into the living room, whispering something to Grandma before she shushes him away.

            Nathan covers his face and wonders why nobody notices his suit: the red and blue fabric, taken from pieces of different pajamas, cut to arms, legs, body and carefully stapled together on the inside for appearances; boots, his black galoshes spray-painted red; the cape he'd fashioned out of Mom's old, satin bed sheet; the S, cut from his pillowcase, affixed by staples. The staples, though, occasionally nick at Nathan's chest. He imagines that chest hair will feel similar when it grows in and immediately dislikes the thought. Grandma again appears in the kitchen, checking the oven, microwave, simmering gravy, then whisking back for Jessica Fletcher's revelation of this week's murderer. Nathan hates both Jessica Fletcher and waiting for dinner, so he runs around the kitchen, making whoosh noises with arms outstretched. He flies into the Florida room—though he has no idea what a Florida room is or how one can exist on Long Island—then kitchen, then Florida room again. He lands beside the china cabinet where Grandma hides her jelly beans. Grandma isn't allowed to eat jelly beans on account of her dentures, but Nathan has caught her on many occasions sneaking into the cabinet and removing the third row of plates from the bottom, behind which lay quite possibly the largest collection of jelly beans in Suffolk County. Nathan does the same, filching the last of the cherry jelly beans and again takes flight.

            The Murder, She Wrote end-music echoes through the house and lures Nathan into the dining room. Grandma, though, waits for next week's episode preview, so Nathan flies to the table and chooses a seat different from his usual one. He prefers the corner seat, which usually becomes so crowded with food and serving plates that no one can see him, but tonight he wants to be seen. Tonight, he is Superman. Dad brings the brisket to the table, tonguing the rogue drop of gravy caked to his mustache. He and Grandpa squabble over the end pieces before Grandma says Shutup and takes them herself, splitting the portion with Mom, who doesn't even like end pieces. Nathan takes three small slices, along with a spoonful of green-bean casserole and a four-person helping of yams. Neither Mom, Dad, nor Grandpa likes yams; Grandma does, though, and takes some, including the crusted honey on the bottom that Nathan really loves. He asks for a small taste of the honey crust and Dad says Mom, give him some, but Grandma shakes her head as she consumes meat and yams in a single bite. Sorry, Scooter, Dad says.

            Nathan, after taking several bites of yams and returning a piece of brisket to the platter, leans back in his chair and flaunts his S. He clears his throat and taps under the table but is ignored as the dining room fills with sounds of chewing and swallowing and sipping at lukewarm water. Forks and knives cling-clang against the florally designed plates and Grandma's top dentures slip from her mouth into the gravy boat. Damn brisket, she mutters through naked gums, and Grandpa's fork sludges through gravy in search of teeth. Mom laughs like she might never stop, and Nathan dreams of flying from the table and saving a man who's fallen off the Port Jefferson ferry. Teeth found, Grandma washes them off in her Chardonnay.

            Dad forks Nathan's extra brisket and tells the table that his test results have been improving and his new job starts Monday and they are very excited about moving; Grandma interrupts with a cough and says People are morons. Grandpa declares that Florida will be a nice move for Nathan and asks why people are morons. Nathan kneels on his chair, making the cape and S clearly visible above the dinner plates. Grandma says People are morons who watch Murder, She Wrote and don't see that Jessica Fletcher is obviously murdering all of those people to get book ideas and then cleverly framing innocent people. Grandpa asks Then why do innocent people confess to the crime at the end, and Grandma argues that Jessica Fletcher most certainly offers them royalties from the book sales based on the crime.

            Nathan slides his arms under the table and tries to lift it up over his head, to show everyone that he is Superman. The table rattles, but everyone is distracted by Grandma's theory. Dad again attempts to talk about his new job, getting as far as The Palm Beach Post is a great paper to write for you know, before Grandpa wonders out loud Why wouldn't anybody catch on if she were killing everyone. Grandma gets huffy and tells him he will never understand without watching for himself. Just then, the small tremors of the table knock over Mom's lukewarm water. The tablecloth absorbs most of the spill, but everyone throws in their napkins anyway. Nathan wants to scream to everyone—Look at me please I am Superman!—but instead asks for the green bean casserole.

            Grandpa argues with Grandma. Mom stares at her glass of wine like it's a crystal ball. Dad's hands are full, biscuit in one, fork-full of brisket/yams/green beans in the other. Nobody motions towards the green bean casserole for Nathan, so he reaches across the vast expanse of table, his yam-sticky fingers coming up just short. He shifts his legs to make himself taller, but before he grasps the casserole, a loose staple from his suit catches on the tablecloth and tears the S from his chest. The ripping of fabric captures everyone and Grandma asks What the hell was that, while Nathan stares at the piece of fabric in front of him. Mom rubs Nathan's shoulder and says Honey did you make that, and Nathan nods. Grandma asks What are you wearing, and despite losing his insignia, Nathan smiles, validated, and tells everyone that he made this suit because he is Superman, or at least he wants to be Superman. Mom continues rubbing his shoulder and Dad winks. Grandpa mumbles to himself about Jessica Fletcher and her impetus for such slaughter. Grandma, through a mouthful of food, asks Who is Superman. Nathan explains Krypton and Smallville and Clark Kent before Grandma laughs hysterically, nearly losing her dentures for a second time. She says that the story is just a story and the truth must be that the only Superman around is Alan Superman, their seventy-year-old Certified Public Accountant living in Commack with his third wife, Alberta, and who recently had triple-bypass surgery.

            Nathan shakes his head and says Grandma, you don't understand, but Grandma argues that she does understand that Alan Superman is a man but Superman is a fantasy and that is okay with her if it is okay with him. Nathan quiets, letting the statement settle, and realizes that it is not okay with him, that Superman is not a fantasy. He feels a pain in his chest and wonders if his heart is broken. It's then he sees a large staple anchored into his flesh. He pulls out the staple and asks for any remaining yams and their honey-crusted complements, as well as begging Grandma to never again speak about Superman being their accountant. Grandma agrees, and while Nathan dreams of flying through clouds and infinite sky, Grandpa stands and decrees that there is no possible way for Jessica Fletcher to have murdered all of those people without getting caught, and that Grandma is most definitely losing her mind.

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