The old man walked into the shop at 10:00 am on Wednesday morning as always. He looked at the action figures on the shelves, the comic books with their bright covers lined along the walls. So many of them had sprung from his own imagination, created by him in a world of escape where he could lash out at his troubles with super strength or impossible speed. Other people told those stories now that he was retired but he was still compelled to read them.
“Morning, Mr. Bielzowski.” The clerk sprayed Windex on a glass display case that held a mini-bust of Spider-man. The old man still wished he had come up with that one.
“For the umpteenth time, call me Joshua, please.” The old man looked at the packages of card games with shiny and glittering packages. The art was striking but not original.
“Can’t do it, Mr. Bielzowski. You created Forever Man, respect is deserved.” The clerk went behind the counter.
“Respect? We were thought of as vaudevillians. No need for respect, son.” The old man remembered how he had tried to get into the ad industry. He had anglicized his name but the ad execs thought his artwork too crude, not streamlined enough. Comics liked crude in those days.
“I think you might like this.” The clerk handed him a hardbound graphic novel.
On the cover was a picture of the old man, back when he was a young man. Under the picture was a smattering of his creations, Scarlett Lass, Doctor Tower, and of course, Forever Man. The picture of him was an old one. It had been brightened and the brick wall behind him was redder than it had been in reality.
The old man leafed through the book. First he noticed the flaws in the artwork. The lines were too clean. The colors in the backgrounds were washed out yet he remembered the bright greens and bold blues of his youth. His eyes were level in the panels. He knew that his left eye was just slightly higher than the right one.
Next he saw the things in the book that were right. He had been walking on a pier, watching a boat sail across the water when the idea of Scarlett Lass, who commanded the power of the sea, came to him. He had been staying with his friend and mentor in a hotel dive when he first drew Forever Man on a napkin with stains all over it. The book showed in fine detail the long lines of people who waited for him to autograph their comics.
What struck the old man most were the things that were missing. There was his wife, Rose, whom he had loved and lived with for forty years, but it didn’t show the miscarriage. It didn’t depict the affair he had and truly regretted. It couldn’t show how Rose never forgave him but could not bring herself to divorce.
It didn’t show how Doctor Tower was really someone else’s idea that he had purloined. It left out the war years and his dead distant relatives who were murdered in cruel and unspeakable ways in Poland. It didn’t show how the movie for Forever Man was universally panned by critics, viewers and himself.
Neither was there the alcohol. It didn’t show the drunken rages that the old man had been in during his middle age. The way that he had been in a stupor at his son’s high school graduation, left in a fog of intoxicating vapors. It didn’t show the heartache years later of the crash that meant there would be no chance for reconciliation with his son.
It didn’t show the endless A.A. meetings that had saved his life and sanity. The book was a love letter to him, but a love letter written and drawn by someone who never truly knew him. He handed it back to the clerk.
“It’s wonderful,” the old man said.
Then pain shot through his left arm. He clutched at it and toppled over.
The clerk ran out from behind the counter, bent over him and tried to shake the old man awake. It was no use. The clerk began CPR, pumping his fist on the man’s chest until another customer came in. The clerk shouted for him to call an ambulance. Before the ambulance arrived, the old man had finished his life out, having read the only biography about him ever to be made.
From then on, the little comic shop had a tradition on Wednesdays at 10:00 am. Just before the new shipments were opened up and customers could buy, there was a moment of silence. On the anniversary of the death of Mr. Joshua Bielzowski every year, a long line of mourners would appear at the shop. All of the merchandise relating to his work was on display and sold. Only one thing was never allowed to be purchased. The copy of the book that Mr. Bielzowski had read last, the one titled, Joshua Bielzowski — a True and Honest Account of an American Legend.
A.I. Wright is a proofreader and sometimes writer in San Mateo, CA. He lives with his wife and son.