by Martin Maenza
In a small suburban community in Upstate New York about an hour and a half north of the city, the exterior of an A-frame home with a stone face on the lower portion and large windows in the upper white painted portion hid dark secrets. None of the neighbors, for example, suspected the true nature about the married couple who had resided there for a couple of years now. Nor did they know much about the frailty of said marriage.
Inside, on the second floor in the master bedroom that was in a shambles, a man in his mid-thirties with short red hair and chiseled facial features sat on the end of the bed. On the floor were a number of scattered, empty liquor bottles. One remained, nearly emptied, in his left hand.
The man stared at the dresser where a photograph sat in a glass frame. It was a picture of himself and a beautiful dark-haired woman. The couple in the photograph was smiling and happy. It was taken a number of years back in Niagara Falls, when the two had first embarked on the grand adventure called marriage.
The man brought the bottle to his lips, threw back his head, and took a deep swig. In four gulps, he emptied the remaining contents. He glared at the photograph again. What a fool! he thought.
Anger welled up inside of him. Despite the effect of the alcohol coursing through his bloodstream, he threw the bottle with precise aim; it smashed the photograph’s frame as well as the mirror behind it with a loud crash-crash. He didn’t care about the mirror or the possible bad luck that would come from breaking it. How could things get any worse?
The glass shards crunched under his feet as he stood up and bent over to fish the picture from them. His fingers and hands got scratched by the sharp and pointed edges. He paid it no mind as the blood started to form from the pricks. Instead, he picked up the photo, now torn, and stared at it with bloodshot eyes.
“Love, honor, and obey,” he grumbled. “Right!” He crushed the photograph in his hand and tossed it toward the small ornate trashcan in the corner. The balled-up picture bounced off the rim and fell to the side.
“Stupid bitch!” he yelled, rushing up to the can and swinging his foot. He sent the container and its contents flying into the wall. Paper spilled out. The can bounced. “How dare you do this to me? How? How?” One of the items that fell to the floor was a crumpled note — the note.
The man grabbed the note, smoothed out all the wrinkles, and read it again, as if doing that would change the words he practically knew by heart.
I’m sorry things had to come to this.
We’ve had our share of fights in the past, but I cannot take it anymore. I refuse to let you abuse me, especially given my condition. I feel unwelcome in our home and that you no longer care about me or the child I am carrying. Perhaps I’ll find another, someone who will love us for who we are and not try to change us to meet his image. Or maybe we’ll go it alone. Right now, I don’t know. All I know is that we have to get away, away from you.
To be fair, I only took money from the banking account. I’ve left you everything else: the house, the car, etc. No matter what happened over the years, we always split things fifty-fifty, so why should that change now? We’ll do just fine, as I’m not without my resources.
Please don’t try to find us. I think it’s better this way.
Crusher Crock crumpled the note again. “Damn it!” he swore. “Damn it! Damn it!“
A month or so back, he had been out drinking with the guys, drowning themselves in a local bar and complaining about the effects the damn alien invasion was having on their lives: the economy, jobs, and sports. When he finally stumbled home, he found the house empty. Paula Brooks, then six months pregnant, was gone, along with some of her things. All she had left was the note.
Since then, with no sports to watch and no crimes to plan, Crusher had been in a constant drunken state. Now that the invasion was over, he wasn’t sure what he would do. His whole world was in a disarray, but, as always, he would continue to blame outside factors. He wasn’t the type of man who could see his own faults or see the reason that his wife of fifteen years had finally left him.
“I need a drink,” he grumbled to himself, and stumbled downstairs to the large family room area. The television was blaring, the way he left it on the night before.
As he stood behind the bar, trying to figure out what he had left in the cabinet to consume, a story came on the air. It was the cable sports channel, and what he heard got his attention. Crusher stood up and stared at the screen, listening. His depressed expression started to fade when he listened to the story. Ideas were coming to him.
Late Sunday morning, in a small church in Gotham City, a dark-haired man in his late twenties stood before the cedar wood altar. His black collar was visible at the opening of a long white robe with purple trim. “The mass has ended,” said Father Francis Barone. “Let us go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”
“Thanks be to God,” responded the standing congregation in unison.
From the nearby organ, a woman in her late forties with short brown hair spoke into the microphone. “Our recessional hymn can be found in the Worship II hymnal. Number 596, Sing A New Song. Number 596.” She placed her fingers on the keys, paused a moment to give the people a chance to locate the correct page, and then began to play the opening bars of the tune.
The parishioners joined in and began to sing three verses. “Sing a new song unto the Lord…” The combined voices echoed in off the high ceiling beams.
After the first verse completed, the young priest turned to the altar and the crucifix hanging on the wall behind it. He genuflected before them, made the sign of the cross, and rose once more. He then proceeded down the center aisle with the two alter boys following behind him. After the third verse started, some of the congregation began to file out.
A dark-haired young man in his mid-twenties sitting near the back of the church smiled as the priest passed. He knew his Aunt Josephine must be very proud of Francis. Leo Barone waited for the song to finish before he put the book down on the bench. He then knelt at the end of the pew and made the sign of the cross before starting to leave.
At the doorway of the vestibule, Father Francis was greeting people and bestowing blessings. “Have a good week,” he said, shaking an old man’s hand. “Bye, now,” he said to the next man.
“I’ll see you on Saturday, Father,” the next woman in line said to him. “I hope you can make it to Robert and Carol’s reception afterwards as well.”
“I believe I can,” said the priest, “after Saturday evening mass, of course.” The woman nodded and smiled. Francis continued his duties until the last of the Mass attendees had exited the church.
Leo stood by the door, waiting patiently. “So, can we get going?” he asked his cousin after checking his watch. “We should still have plenty of time to make it, if traffic’s not too bad.”
Francis nodded. “Just let me go hang my robe, and we’re off.”
“Good afternoon to all our listeners in Gotham City and the surrounding area,” the one man with brown hair, recently starting to recede some, said in his deep radio voice, “and welcome to the first game since the end of the Invasion. I’m Jimmy A., and I’ll be calling the play-by-play to today’s Gotham Giants game. Its a gorgeous August Sunday, despite the heat.”
“I have to agree,” chimed in the other man, a blond man who was slightly older. “I think we’re all glad that baseball is back, and not just those of us who earn our pay from it.”
The first man smiled. “You got that right. America has missed her favorite past time. Listeners, let me introduce someone to you. He’s an old friend of mine, and we’ve worked together on and off for the last decade. Curt S. is here from our sister station in Metropolis. He’s come all this way today to watch his Metros lose, I’m afraid.”
The second man pouted slightly. “You still using that old refrain, Jimmy? The Metros have used the unexpected break in the season to heal some injuries. Kappen and Schultz are both back on the bench and ready to go. And speaking of recouping, I want to send a shout-out to Superman, who has been recovering from the recent battles in space. (*) Thank you, Superman, for all your efforts in putting an end to the alien attacks.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice League of America: Sick Leave.]
“Hear, hear,” Jimmy replied. “Though I have heard that Gotham’s own guardians played a hand in some of the efforts, too.”
“No one would ever discount the work of Batman and company,” Curt answered. “I think we owe a big thanks to all the heroes across the globe.”
“And on that note, let’s go down to the field,” Jimmy said. “Any minute now we should be ready to go with our opening pitch.”
“I was really surprised that you wanted to come to the game, Leo,” Father Francis said, now dressed in a black shirt with his collar and dark pants. “I figured, for your last weekend in town, you might have better things to do than spend the time with your old cousin.”
“Are you kidding me?” replied Leo Barone as he took a bite of a foot-long hot dog covered with ketchup, mustard, and relish. “You’ve been a rock of support for me over the last few months, my friend and confidant.”
“Comes with the job,” Francis said with a smile. “You know, the ear for listening and the words of guidance.” The priest took a bite of a nacho chip covered with a gooey yellow cheese topping.
“I know,” Leo said. “And I appreciate that. I figured that it would be fun to treat you to a game. Plus, I don’t know how long I’ll be away, so this might be the last Giants game I catch for a while.”
“These are really good seats,” Francis said. The two sat on the first base line, second row, right near the Gotham dugout. “However did you manage to get ahold of them?”
“A friend gave them to me,” Leo said. “Kind of a going-away present.”
“I was going to ask you about that, about how long you’ll be gone. Any clue when you’ll be back in town?”
“Not really. I even sublet my apartment to, you know, supplement the income a bit while I’m on the road. And you’ll never guess who I rented it to. I got all my stuff out on Thursday.”
“I’m glad I could offer some space in the rectory basement to store your things,” Francis said. “Though you hardly have a lot. One would think you’ve taken up the vow of poverty as well.”
“Just figured I’d live light, you know.”
“Travel light, too, I’d imagine.”
“Definitely. Just whatever I can fit in a large duffel to strap onto the motorcycle.”
“Any idea where you’re heading?”
“No, not yet,” Leo admitted. “Just have to see where the road takes me. I’ve been kind of in a funk lately, you know… looking for a purpose.”
“I thought you had a purpose,” Francis said with a knowing look.
“Yeah, I do. But Gotham’s got enough folks looking out for her. I think I might be able to do better somewhere else.”
“Well, you’d better write and stay in touch. Family has to stick together.”
“You’re right about that,” Leo said. The fans around them started to cheer as the players began to take the field.