by: Eli Cranor
One man’s compulsion to help those in need carries with it an unforeseen consequence for those that need him most…
He comes home late. I know where he’s been. I smell it on him. Trent plays professional football. It’s a job, like any other job except the pay is great and the risks are greater and people treat him like he’s special. I don’t know why people make it out to be an more than what it is – a job – but they do. Maybe it’s Trent. Maybe Trent being Trent causes people to act like they do. Or maybe because he’s six foot seven inches tall, two hundred and seventy one pounds, and has a thirty-four inch waistline. Maybe it’s just because he looks like he is cut from steel. Maybe that’s why everyone thinks he is Superman.
“Hey baby,” Trent says when he walks in the door.
“Don’t ‘hey baby’ me,” I say.
“Ah, come on Bev.”
“Where have you been, Trent? It’s past ten. The girls are already asleep.”
“I was at the office and – ”
“Don’t lie, Trent. I smell it all over you.”
Trent strips himself of his blue Cowboys’ hoodie. His body is tight and hard despite his size. But I remind myself he is just flesh and blood, and I won’t play the fool like everyone else. He steps out of his shorts, tosses them in the hamper, and heads for the shower. I go to inspect his clothes. They smell of sweat and football, a musty locker room smell. But there’s something else, something chemical.
I don’t answer.
“How was your day?” he says.
I hear the shower start to run. I try not to think of him in the shower. Some of his powers are real. The power of him in a hot shower is as real as it gets.
“Fine,” I say.
“Good baby,” he says. “We had a decent practice today. Nothing crazy, but I think we’re ready. Coach wanted to give me tomorrow off, a little time to rest my – ”
Trent’s still talking when I find it. It’s smaller than I remember, a skinny white hospital wristband. I jerk it from his jeans’ pocket. When I rip the shower curtain back I have to look at the wall to keep from looking at him.
“What is this Trent?” I hold the band out to him.
He hangs his head. His great, hulking shoulders go limp. He looks like a sad little boy, a far cry from Superman. Still, I try not to look directly at him.
“It’s them bald heads, Bev,” he says.
“I knew it. I could smell the hospital all over you.”
He lifts his hands, puts his palms up and out as if he’s innocent. But he’s not.
“Bev, look at me,” he says.
I do. For the first time in a long time, I do. I look hard and square at every inch of his chiseled abdomen, his bulging pectorals, trapezius muscles nearly touching his earlobes, and those arms – good god – those arms with his paper-thin skin stretched tight, his veins bulging through like the muscle in a horse’s thigh. I want him. I want to jump him right there in the shower.
“I’m looking,” I say.
“You know what it is?” he says. “My mom told me, like as soon as I could walk, said ‘Trent you are special. To whom much is given, much is expected.’ She said it was in the Bible, Bev. I just can’t forget that. I mean, look at all we have.”
He waves his hand up around the enormous tiled shower with the three heads spouting the hot steaming water. The shower is just the beginning. The bathroom is bigger than our first house. Our kitchen could seat the entire Cowboys’ football team. I love our house.
“We worked hard for what we have,” I say. “And now you’re about to throw it away.”
“Nah, Bev, nah,” he says, “I just can’t help it.”
His phone starts to ring. “Eye of the Tiger,” blares through the bathroom. I don’t move. I just stand between him and the phone, waiting to see if he has the balls.
“Bev,” Trent says.
“It’s almost eleven, Trent, on a Wednesday.”
“I know, baby. I know.”
But he’s already out of the shower, a towel slung low around his waist, low enough for me to see the beautiful “V” shaped muscles that lead down to the hardest part of his body, or at least the part that can be the hardest but hasn’t been in a long, long time. I turn to leave. He says, “Hey, sorry,” and I actually stop. But then I realize he’s answered the phone.
“Sorry man, I was in the shower,” he says. “Yeah, I can be there in ten minutes.”
I hear Trent’s truck rumble to life. He’s gone.
I pour myself a glass of wine, bury my nose in a book, and wish for kryptonite. If I had a stick of kryptonite, I would shove it up his ass.
On Sunday the Cowboys win. Trent plays one hell of a game. The announcers even call him Trent “Superman” Jones. I throw a pillow at the television.
He comes home in the afternoon and, I shit you not, he’s wearing a cape, a red cape.
“What the hell, Trent?”
“Aw, Bev,” he says, “the guys thought this was thing was a hoot.”
“Ha, ha,” I say and bare my wine-purple teeth. “But you wore the thing home, Trent. It’s funny when they hang it in your locker. It’s weird when you wear it home.”
“Nah, it’s just a joke. Look,” he says and takes both edges of the cape, his arms dangling behind him. The fabric billows out red and magnificent. “I’m flying, Bev” Trent says smiling. “Flying.”
We’re lying in the bed that night and I’m hoping again. I even put my hand on his thigh. I try to make it seem like an accident, but still my hand rests on his thigh. Trent just keeps changing the channels. He’s watching the news, always the news. Every time they show a car wreck, a taped off crime scene, or a bunch of punks acting up, Trent winces and mumbles, “Somebody should do something about that.”
“Don’t even think about it,” I say.
He doesn’t respond.
I remove my hand from his thigh and roll over.
Later, I hear him slide out of bed. He’s rustling around. Then he’s standing over me. He kisses my forehead. It’s dark in our room, but I know he’s wearing it. I catch a flash of red in the light from the hall as he slips out the door.
The next morning I awake in bed alone. He still hasn’t come home. I think all the things a wife would think: strip clubs, whiskey, lipstick on his collar. I think of the Devil himself riding atop Trent’s magnificent shoulders. But those are all things I could understand, things I could reason with. I cannot, however, understand that red cape. I tear his dresser apart but the cape is gone. I knew it.
Twenty minutes later, I hear Trent’s truck in the garage. I go to the kitchen to meet him. The door opens slow and quiet. He turns his back to close it, really taking his time, like he’s trying to be sneaky. I pray for lipstick and whiskey.
“Trent,” I say.
When he turns, I fall to one knee. I’ve seen Trent beaten. He takes a beating for a living, but this is different. There’s a gash under his eye. I swear to god I can see his cheekbone. The bridge of his nose is swollen thick, with purple bruises rising beneath his skin. Trent’s right arm is dangling at his groin like it has come loose. He’s dislocated his shoulder three times in the past two seasons but this looks worse. He sees me standing there. I know he’s surprised but his face is so beaten, so swollen, nothing registers.
Trent starts toward me but crumples to the floor. I rush to him, lifting his gigantic frame from the floor to my lap. He tenses at my touch. That damn red cape is everywhere around us, like pooled blood on the floor.
“What happened?” I say.
He tries to talk but can’t. The words get caught in Trent’s mouth, caught in his swollen jaw. He gurgles. I run my fingers through his beautiful thick brown hair. He tries again to speak.
“What baby?” I say.
“I got’ em, Bev. I got’ em.”
The next three weeks are everything I ever wanted. Trent needs me like he’s never needed me before. I don’t even ask him what happened. It could have been a bar fight or a car wreck, but I know – I know what happened. Coach is proud, but tells him not to come to the field house. Coach sees how hurt he is. Trent is a good soldier. Trent stays home.
By the second week Trent’s beginning to heal. He’s able to get up and move around some. I didn’t really plan it, but the girls were away at school, we had just finished a movie, and I got up to go to the bathroom. When I came back I had on Trent’s favorite red lingerie, a risqué little jumper missing pieces in all the right places and a long red shawl that flows over my shoulders.
“My God, Bev,” Trent says when I walk in.
That’s all he says. Everything else is taken care of, everything else is already boiling inside of us. I have forgotten how strong he is. He holds me by the waist, just holds me in mid air and smacks his beautiful body against mine. The red shawl hangs behind my shoulders like a cape. It never once touches the floor. I feel like I’m flying.
After three weeks, Trent is fully recovered. When he finally leaves again, I cry in the bathroom. I’ve hidden the damn cape, though. Taken it and hidden it at the bottom of my lingerie drawer.
When Trent comes home from practice, I know he’s hurting. He says he’s out of shape. I know he’s tired. He even lies on the sofa with the girls, just snuggles up and watches television. I try to believe this will last.
But then “Eye of the Tiger,” blares from his phone. My blood boils. I want to smash the thing. Trent rises from the sofa, phone in hand. We make eye contact. He stops, and again I hope. But then he takes the phone and limps into the kitchen. It takes him three full steps to stand completely erect. I can’t help it. I follow.
“The CKA?” he says into the phone. “Yeah man, I can do my part for the CKA.”
My face must say it all. He pulls the phone from his ear, the voice on the other line small and distant.
“The CKA?” I say. “You can barely walk and you’re on the phone talking about the CKA?”
“It’s the Cancer Kids of America, Bev. It’s those bald heads. How am I supposed to say no when their heads look like that and mine looks like this?”
He points to his own head of thick beautiful hair.
“Trent, I don’t care if it’s the Cancer Kids of America, or you’re out busting the heads of some punks who just robbed a gas station, or whoever else you think needs saving. I want you here. We need you home.”
I watch his jaw flare, his molars grind. Trent’s actually thinking about it. I hold steady, my hand on my hip.
“The girls need their daddy,” I say.
He shakes his gigantic head.
“But these people, Bev. I can help them. I can help everybody.”
“Stay home, Trent,” I say, my hand on his bicep now. “Be our Superman.”
It’s that last word that does it. I can see the change in his eyes. He leans forward. His breath hot in my ear, “I’ll be your Superman,” he says.
We make love again that night. It’s good, really good. We didn’t even wait for the girls to go to bed. When we finish he gets up and says he’s going to put them down. He’ll read them a story and tuck them in. I can tell he’s excited so I don’t say anything.
I hear him thud down the hall calling their names. I bite my lip.
Minutes later he’s back, shoulders stooped, head down.
“They don’t read bedtime stories anymore, Bev,” he says.
“Well, that’s not entirely – ”
“No Bev, Emma told me. She’s thirteen. My God, when did she turn thirteen? Marley’s ten? They don’t read stories. They were both on their cell phones. They don’t need me. I tried to kiss them on their foreheads but – ”
“Trent,” I say. “I need you.”
“No Bev, not like those bald head kids, not like that single mom down on Crenshaw, not like that homeless man with one leg—they need me,” he says. He’s blubbering now, big juicy tears streaming down his cheek like he has the most powerful tear ducts in the world. Trent puts his head into the pillow and cries. I can’t watch.
I go straight for my lingerie drawer. The red cape. I leave it there on the foot of the bed as I walk out the door. He doesn’t move from the pillow. He doesn’t see what I have given him. But tonight, after he watches the news alone, after he hears about the rape and the murder – all the evil in the world – he will rise from the bed and see what I have left him.
Eli Cranor writes from Arkansas where he lives with his wife and daughter. His work is forthcoming in the Arkansas Review. For a complete list of publications visit: www.elicranor.weebly.