“Did you see that?” Tommy McShane shouted. They both had seen it, of course, there was no way to miss it. But the policeman just stood there, staring at the truck. It was nothing more than a crushed heap of wreckage now.
Nick Malloy had forgotten to put the truck into park; he had a lot on his mind this morning. His wife told him she was pregnant with what would be their fifth child just as he walked out the door. She had grabbed his arm just as he he was about to leave.
“We are having another baby,” she said. Just like that, no build up, no letting it sink it in. She just said it.
“Are you sure?” was all he could think to respond.
“Of course I’m sure. Aren’t you happy?”
“Of course I’m happy,” he said. And he was happy, but he was also worried. Worried about money, worried how they would take care of five children.
It was thinking about those five mouths to feed that made Nick decide to enlist. Fighting Germans paid better than driving a piece of shit truck full of papers to local newsstands. It seemed like the only thing left for him to do.
He arrived late to the stand on 3rd. All he could think about was that baby. The newsstand sat atop one of San Francisco’s many hills and offered a beautiful view of the bay. It was one the city’s busiest, and the majority of it’s business was the sale of comic books. Nick had pulled the truck to the curb, hopped out, and a moment later it began to roll down the hill, gaining speed as it headed toward Tommy McShane, who was crossing the street on his way home.
The policeman, Officer Bradley Andrews, had been on the corner. He saw the truck and he saw the boy. There was a split second to react, and he did. He ran into the street, with hopes of pulling the kid from the path of the runaway truck, but he had been a second too slow. All he could do was wrap his arms around the boy and close his eyes.
The truck should have killed them both. It should have hit them at a speed of nearly fifty miles an hour. They should be dead.
“Did you see that?” Tommy shouted again.
“Are you okay?” Office Andrews asked.
“Did you see him!”
“You’re not hurt are you? What in God’s name was that?”
“It was Superman! Superman saved us!”
“There is no such thing as Superman.”
He thought the boy must read too many comic books and this was true, Tommy did read far too many comic books. Two years ago, his father gave him a dollar for his seventh birthday and said he could spend it on anything he wanted. Tommy rode his bike down to the newsstand on Ashbury and bought his first comic book, Action Comics #42, for 7 cents. He could still remember the way the paper felt in his hands and recite the story from heart. The adventures of the super-powered Kryptonian immediately captured him.
“He’s faster than a speeding bullet,” he’d tell anyone who listened. When he went to church on Sunday, he always wore a shirt with an S scrawled across the chest underneath his suit. He drew pictures of Superman lifting a train above his head or Superman punching a dragon in the face. He had even asked his mother to get him a pair of eye glasses, which she insisted he did not need. Sure, his vision was fine, but what he really wanted was make sure that no one would ever suspect that mild-mannered student Tommy McShane was, in fact, an honest to God hero. At least in his mind he was. He would spend every cent he could on comics for the next two years.
“It was Superman, you saw him.” Tommy said.
“There is no such thing as Superman!” Officer Andrews shouted. But something had stopped the truck. As it barreled toward them, there was a blur, something moving fast, that leapt in front of them and now the truck looked as if it had hit a lamppost. It was a man, he thought. A man stood in front of the truck and stopped it.
Officer Andrews was not an avid reader of comic books, unlike Tommy. There was the one time he had caught those kids with a stack of funny books they had stolen from the local drug store, and he had read through them before he returned them. And he’d picked a book once or twice from the newsstand by his house, just to pass the time on patrol on a slow night. This had drawn ridicule from other officers.
“You wearing any tights under your uniform?” they laughed. He knew what they would say if this boy told everyone what he had seen.
The only problem was, for a brief moment, even before Tommy shouted out, Officer Andrew thought he had seen Superman, or some one who looked very much like him, jump in front of a runaway truck and save his life. He thought it he might have imagined it, nothing more than a trick of the mind. Then the boy had started to shout.
“There is no such thing as Superman,” he said again. This time, he was saying it to himself.
“You saw him! Don’t lie, you saw him!” Tommy started to cry. Officer Andrews was just staring at the shredded pile of metal; his skin was pale and shiny with sweat. He was scared.
People then started to run down the hill towards them, and they both could hear sirens in the distance. For the boy and the policeman at the bottom of the hill, standing in front of a truck that should have rolled them over, time seemed to crawl by.
“Listen to me,” Officer Andrews snapped out of his state and grabbed Tommy by his shoulders. “ Don’t tell nobody what you saw, you understand me? They’ll say you’re crazy and take you away from your family and lock you up. Do you understand?”
“Why?” Tommy cried.
“You can’t say anything. Tell them you saw nothing. You closed your eyes and saw nothing, just heard a crash.”
“That’s a lie.”
“It’s okay, they won’t believe the truth. There is no such thing as Superman.”
“I saw him.”
“No you didn’t. You say you didn’t.”
Nick Malloy was the first to reach them, and for a brief moment he looked relieved when he saw that the policeman and the young boy were alive. Then, he began to take in the scene in front of him. The wreckage of the vehicle was nothing more than a few feet away from them.
“Jesus Christ! What the hell happened?” His eyes were wide.
More people arrived; they walked slowly, cautiously towards the tattered frame of the vehicle. An older man pointed at the handprint that was imbedded on the hood of the truck, as if some one had simply out stretched their arm to stop the truck.
“What did this?” someone asked.
“I don’t know, I grabbed the boy, tried to shield him and then heard a crash.” Officer Andrews’ breath was heavy; he tried not to sound nervous.
“I saw what happened,” Tommy said.
No one looked at him. They just stared at the truck and murmured. Officer Andrews turned to him and shook his head.
“It was Superman!” Tommy shouted. Now everyone began to turn toward the boy. Officer Andrews winced, he could feel their gazes, and he waited for the laughter. Surely they would laugh, and they would ask him if he too saw what the boy, the crazy boy, had seen. He would deny it. He would tell them he had seen nothing. He readied his lie and waited.
But they didn’t ask. They just listened to the boy. They listened, as if he was telling them what they wanted to hear. They wanted it to be true. After the boy finished, the crowd turned to him.
“There is no such thing as Superman,” he said. Officer Andrews would carry the guilt of this lie until a man robbing the jewelry store just down the street from this very spot on June 6th 1958 would shoot him in the chest and kill him. At the time, he was off duty, and not even trying to stop the escaping criminal.
Nick Malloy listened and stood silently. He was not a man of faith. Nick Malloy had, in fact, spent most of his life believing in very little. He did not believe in God or angels or heaven or any of that. Some days, when he read the headlines of the newspaper he dropped off at the newsstands, he did not believe in the human soul. He did not read comic books, and had no reason to believe in Superman, but at this moment, he did. He looked at smashed front of the truck, frozen in place and he believed in something bigger than himself. He believed in something bigger than newspapers and old broken-down trucks and wars and armies.
Years later, in a make-shift camp just off the beaches of Normandy, Nick would finally read his first issue of Action Comics. The comic came out of the bag of fellow soldier, who swapped it to Nick for a cigeratte. The second he saw that red cape and those blue tights he remembered. He remembered the boy in San Francisco and the truck, crushed into a mangled pile of steel.
“Jesus, Nick, you look like you’ve seen a ghost,” somebody would yell.
“I don’t believe in ghosts,” he would answer. His eyes stayed glued to the page.
“You don’t believe in nothin’, man.”
“Not true.” He would stared at picture of Superman, who was effortlessly lifting a truck above his head. He read the words, “More powerful than a locomotive!” and he would remember what it was like to believe in something.
“He saved us,” Tommy said, softly. He hung his head and cried. At the time, he could not understand why Officer Andrews would lie. He could see the crowd start to turn away from him, turning their attention to the policeman, asking him more questions.
“It was Superman! I saw him and he saw him, too!” Tommy screamed.
No one said anything. They just stared. It felt as though it was quite for an entirety
“It’s a miracle,” a woman finally shouted.
Tommy McShane shook his head. It was Superman, he was sure. It was not a miracle and not divine intervention. Tommy’s father had raised him a fairly devout Catholic, and Tommy did believe in miracles and and he did believe in heaven and he did believe in angels, but he knew what he had seen. This was not the work of God and it was not the work of man. This was the work of Kal-El, the son of Jor-El, sent to Earth moments before the destruction of Krypton. His parents sent him here to save us and to one day become Superman, the last son of Krypton, the man of steel. It was the only thing that made sense. God was not concerned with mankind, but Superman was. He had saved them, Tommy knew it.
There would be others, of course. Other people who were saved, who could not explain what had happened to them. A man in New York saw a young boy fall from the roof of a building only to be caught by what he would swear was a guy in a red cape. A police officer in Los Angeles would find a suspected murderer tied to a lamppost with a lead pipe. A woman in Boulder would be swept out of a burning building by a man dressed in blue. A few of them told anyone who would listen; most kept quiet and said nothing. They said they didn’t see anything.
In the years that followed, Tommy did not talk much about that day. As he got older, he tried to find others like him. He would look up people who had been saved, would try to ask them about what they saw. Usually, they closed the door in his face or told him that the had made mistake. Those that talked to him did so in hushed tones with quick looks over their shoulders. Tommy could see the fear in their eyes, just like he had in Officer Andrews on that day. They were afraid of the ridicule, afraid what others might think.
Eventually, Tommy just stopped talking about it. He stopped reading comic books and he stopped reading the newspaper. He even stopped wearing his eye glasses, although his vision wasn’t what it used to be and he clearly needed them now. He never forgot that day, but he also never mentioned it. It stayed in the back of his mind until, in 1984, Tommy McShane pushed a girl out of the path of a city bus that surely would have crushed her.
He had been waiting for the bus when he saw the young girl, who was four years old, run into the street. For most of us, there would have been no time to react. The bus would have killed the girl right before the eyes of everyone on the sidewalk, but Tommy leapt to his feet and pushed the young girl out of harm’s way before that could happen. He did not think about what he was doing.
He felt his hands push the small girl. He heard the screech of the brakes as the bus driver slammed his foot against the brake pedal. He saw the girl fall away from the bus and he knew she was safe.
The bus struck him in the shoulder and head. His collarbone shattered, and his skull fractured in three places. He fell to the pavement hard, and felt the breath spill from his lungs. The pain was immediate and severe.
“That man saved me,” he heard the little girl shout. As he lay dying in the street, Tommy McShane smiled.