Paperman – a short story

Quote from Paperman, a short story by Noemi Scheiring-Olah on Noemi Writes

 

My name is Daniel Davis and I’m from Buffalo, New York. This story is about how I did not become a superhero.

I knew bad things always happened to superheroes.

Batman and Superman lost their parents, and I lost my mum. She left when I was six.

“I will come back for you, sweetie,” she said. Her eyes red and wet. “Be strong, my little superhero.” She caressed the S sign on my favorite Superman hoodie.

Orange light of the setting sun filtered through the dirt spots on the kitchen window as I watched her blurred figure walk to the rusty car.

Like a movie, every detail slowed down. Pausing at the dented back door of the car. Putting one hand on the rolled down window. Looking back. Her lock of hair swimming in the wind. Long blink. Turning her head away. Bending her body and getting in the car. Only the dramatic background music was missing.

The car left black clouds as it drove off the driveway and took my mum away. Still gazing out, I heard a well-known hissing sound that made the world hurry back to its normal pace. I turned around. My father sat on the worn couch in the living room gulping a can of Budweiser. Buddy – as he called it. He looked at me.

“You glued there or what? Come here,” he patted the cushion beside him.

Like a marionette, I followed his instructions and walked into the living room, head down.

“Sit down, boy. You hungry?” He handed over a yellow paper bag with grease stains on it.

I sat down at the other end of the couch and shook my head.

“C’mon, you gotta eat, son,” he dropped the oily bag on my lap, “you have soccer training tomorrow.” His voice had an edge to it, a warning tone, saying I should be thankful for the food.

“Thanks.” I said and chewed on some French fries.

Dad crossed his legs on the coffee table, took another swig and reached for the remote.

“Now watch some Sports News, son, and learn, so you won’t sit on that damn bench again during your training.”

On the Sports Channel, four men surrounded an enormous oval table.

“The Brooklyn Italians obviously lost to Cosmos B because of their inconsistent defense,” said a guy wearing an elegant jacket.

“See Danny, that’s what I always tell ya. That’s why you need to take your position seriously,” added my dad poking at his holey socks.

A sudden ad interrupted the program.

“Do you want your child to become a soccer superhero?” asked a man in a white gown, pen in his chest pocket and a clipboard in his hand.

“We can help you. With our cutting-edge DNA sequencing technology, we can improve your child’s soccer playing abilities.”

They showed a 360 degree picture of a kid in a soccer kit and a green matrix next to him with numbers running up and down.

“We will make a soccer superhero out of your child! Call us now on 1-889-886-8689!”

My father scoffed. “I’m sure this costs a fortune.” He waved off the TV. “But you don’t need this, Danny. You are my son. You have my genes. My DNA,” he beat his chest three times. “And I was a soccer superhero, I tell ya. A great player. But I had to quit. Had to take care of Ma and Pop. Boy, Coach Bill was disappointed.” He sighed and looked at me. “But you can become a great soccer player, Danny. You never have to quit and work in a damn paper factory while I’m here.”

I heard that warning tone again.

“You know, Danny, people don’t realize the hard work behind paper-making. They just sit in their fancy offices surrounded by stacks of paper” He turned towards the TV again, raised his Buddy up to his mouth and took a quick sip.

I looked down on my hands.

I examined the thin web of blue veins running under my skin. Genes – I thought. His soccer superhero genes. I looked at my dad. He tipped his head back so that gravity could carry the last drop of beer from the can into his throat. The sharp image of my mum getting into that car ripped my vision. Tears filled my eyes and the drops fell on the yellow bag leaving salty spots next to the oil stains.

My father heard me sniffing and looked at me.

“Danny…?”

“Will mum come back?”

My father frowned and crushed his Buddy can with one hand.

“Son, look at me.”

I lifted up my head.

“Listen. Your mother made a decision. You either live with it or waste your whole life crying about it like a little girl.”

Heavy sobbing broke. My father exhaled. He scooted closer on the couch, straightened his arm and rested it behind me on the back cushions.

He lowered his voice. “All I’m saying is that we can’t do anything about that. She chose this. All you can do is to focus on your own life and try not to screw up. I’m still here, you know. And I’ll help you become a great soccer player.”

I couldn’t sleep that night. Instead, I sat at my desk drawing a Superman comic on my Math homework. I thought it was a masterpiece. Mrs. Stinson thought otherwise and gave me an F.

***

Nine years passed by and I spent most of my school years in the shadows. I wasn’t a smarty-pants and I wasn’t popular either. I sometimes sat in the principal’s office for drawing caricatures of the teachers. More often than not, I also sat on the bench during soccer games. My father didn’t like that. He said I should work harder, just like he did. Because I have his genes, and if I worked harder I would be a great player, just like he was. A soccer superhero. If only he didn’t have to quit and work in that hateful paper factory.

One evening I made him furious.

I was drawing a comic in my room when I heard a knock on the front door. My father answered. Through the closed door I heard Miss Geller, my Visual Arts teacher. I froze. I knew why she was here. She wanted me to participate in an art exhibition, but I refused. Now she wanted my dad to convince me. But I knew him better.

After a quick murmur I heard the goodbyes and the jiggling of the keys locking the front door. My stomach winced to my father’s every step.

He pounded my door. I hid my comic in my drawer with quick clumsy moves.

“Come in.”

The door creaked as my father stepped in. He stuck a sheet of paper under my nose. It was my drawing of my mum looking back at me as she got in the rusty car years before.

“What’s this?”

I opened my mouth but the words wouldn’t come out.

“What’s this,” he yelled and hit my desk with the drawing in his hand.

I took a scared glance at my drawer. My father noticed. He whipped out my drawer and saw stacks of paper filled with sketches of people, animals, and comics. He seized the stack and crushed it.

“Damn papers everywhere!”

“It’s nothing,” I whispered.

“Nothing?!” He held up the stack in one hand. “Not this crap again!” He tossed the stack in the corner and leaned on my desk, pointing at me. “What did I tell you, son? You wanna screw up your life like your mother did? She left, remember?” Veins pumping on his forehead. “I’m working my ass off and for what? So that you can sit on that goddamn bench during the games? And dream of stick figures? So that you can screw up your life with this crap?”

After a few seconds of me avoiding my father’s piercing look, he stepped back and shook his head.

“Stop this madness and throw out this trash. Be a man and focus on your goddamn training!” He hit my desk with his palm three times on the rhythm of his last words then slammed the door behind him.

I glanced around. Papers everywhere. As I scanned the floor, my eyes hooked on one of my old drawings. I crawled there on my knees, snuffling, and pulled it out from the stack: a Superman comic.

As I examined it, a sudden harsh voice throbbed inside my head. “Bad things always happen to superheroes”.

I whirled around. I saw myself in the mirror hanging on the wall.

“Be strong, my little superhero.” It was my mum’s voice now.

I rose. So did my reflection in the mirror.

“Stop this madness!” I trembled as I heard my father’s voice in my head.

I stepped closer.

“Be a man!”

I stood before the mirror.

The harsh voice struck again. “A soccer superhero.”

I leaned closer to the mirror.

Another voice appeared in my head. “With our cutting-edge DNA sequencing technology, we can improve your child’s soccer playing abilities.” In the mirror I saw the ad from the TV unfolding in front of my eyes. Only the 360 degree picture of the kid in soccer kit was different. It was my own reflection.

I touched the mirror with my palm.

The harsh voice thundered in my head. “You don’t need this, Danny. You have his genes.”

I leaned close, almost pushing my nose to the mirror. My breath clouded the glass. As I stared deep into the mirror, I witnessed the color of my reflection’s eyes transform from blue to brown. Now my reflection had the eyes of my father.

I panicked. Is this real? Is this really happening?

The voices surrounded my skull. “His genes… DNA… Soccer superhero…”

I panted. Sweat hung on my forehead. My vision blurred.

I collapsed.

***

Raindrops drummed on my window sill the next morning. When I woke, I found myself in bed, having an unusual feeling in my gut. I stood and glanced in the mirror. I almost did not recognize what I saw. Not only did I feel different, my reflection also looked different. He seemed bigger. Stronger. Looking at him, I identified the unusual feeling: confidence.

I knew what to do. I collected the stacks of paper from the floor, picked up my backpack and left my room.

I found my father at the kitchen table doing his morning routine: buttering toast and slurping a Buddy. He stayed silent when he saw me. I didn’t avoid his look this time. Did he notice the change? I nodded at him and went outside. I made sure he saw me through the window as I threw out the stack of my drawings in the trash. With a quick move I pulled up my hoodie against the rain and walked away. I didn’t mind stepping in the puddles on the sideway.

At school everyone acted as usual. They looked through me. But I didn’t mind, I knew what was coming.

After school I walked over to my coach and told him I wanted to play. We had a friendly match with Rochester that day and I was eager to prove to everyone who I really was. Surprised by my initiative, or maybe sensing my strength, he agreed.

The match started. The rain wetted my Blitzers kit and the turf was slippery under my boots. But I could still block every strike and my kicks were precise. I was focused. When our goalkeeper went down after punching the ball away from the net, I saw a chance to prove myself. Standing on the goal line I jumped. Almost hovering, I headed the ball over to one of our forwards. He then led a counterattack up to Rochester’s almost empty backfield and scored.

“Excellent job, Davis,” shouted my coach.

As my teammates patted my shoulders, the harsh voice pierced my ears. “A soccer superhero”.

Then everything happened so fast. After we scored, one Rochester player charged up on the left line creating a crossing opportunity. I closed him down. As I tried to steal possession, my left foot slipped on the wet turf and I fell. Raindrops filled my eyes and all I could see was the ball bouncing right in front of my head with a cleat approaching. Then blackout.

***

My eyelids were heavy as I lifted them. My ears whistled. I touched my head and felt the coarse texture of a bandage. Fluorescent lights blinded me. I smelt ethyl alcohol. I realized I was lying in a hospital bed.

I sat up. I gasped as I saw my father standing in the doorway. He was clutching a nylon bag in his hands. He glanced at me then looked down. His rubber shoe soles squeaked on the metallic doorstep as he switched his weight back and forth on his legs. I used to walk around in those shoes when I was little, playing I was him.

Fluorescent lights hummed.

“I know I screwed up dad,” I finally said. “But I can change! You should’ve seen me play! I can really change, dad! That ad we saw…”

“Son…” His voice was hoarse. He rubbed his eyes and stepped closer. “Son, I…” His chest rattled as he stepped next to my bed.

“Dad let me show you, my eyes…”

Dad sighed and sat next to me. I looked at him. Lights flickered in his eyes. The wrinkles on his forehead sunk deeper.

“I can change. I can be a soccer superhero, like you.”

Dad exhaled and put his arm around my shoulder. “Son, I brought you something.”

He put the nylon bag on my lap. I looked at him, startled. He nodded at the bag.

I opened it and looked inside. The creased stack of my drawings was in it with a new stack of paper and pencils. My eyes bugged out.

“But, dad…”

He embraced me.

He whispered, “I am so sorry.”

***

Dad hugged me. And he brought me paper. And now I’m writing my story on dad’s paper.

“Bad things always happen to superheroes,” the voice echoes away in my head.

I ignore it.

My name is Daniel Davis and I’m from Buffalo, New York.

I am not a superhero.

I am me.

 

*The End.*


I nourished Daniel’s story from the moment it came to me one night when I was half asleep and kept me awake for hours. His story about his relationship with his dad is very close to my heart. I really hope you enjoy reading it. Also, I’d be happy to read your thoughts in the comments section.

And if you like to read more, you can either subscribe or follow my site below.

See you soon!

Via The Daily Post Discover Challenge: Superpower

10 thoughts on “Paperman – a short story

  1. I loved it. Mostly dad become harsh to make their child hard but sometimes it snatches childhood from them but realisation is big thing it can fill all the cracks as it happened at last in the story. And yes Danny is a super hero as he said “bad things always happen to a superhero” and we know whatever happens in a story , there is a happy ending for every superhero.

    Liked by 1 person

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