HAIL TO THE COMICS
A Short Story
“No more comic books Jerry!” Debbie was in one of her emotional rants and her husband was not sure what to say except to respond as he always did.
“They’re not doing any harm to anyone.” He said weakly.
“Ten dollars a week on stupid children’s books is too much.” She lifted one of his latest, a Spiderman, took it into her hands and ripped it in half and threw it back at him. A smug look of satisfaction covered her face when his dropped.
He bit his lower lip inward and lowered his head in defeat. “Yes dear.” He responded in a barely audible whisper.
She sighed. She hated when he went silent. Her husband was nothing but a mouse and she hated him for it. She couldn’t count on him for anything except for him to spend money wastefully on comic books. The stupid man must have an attic full and what good were they? They just collected dust and took up space. True she didn’t use the attic for anything but that wasn’t the point. She was tired of living on a budget and watching every penny coming in and going out when he cared nothing about how their money was spent. More than the comics she hated living in the little frame house on Paris Way.
Livermore. What a name for a town but how appropriate for a place she hated. She detested it as much as she hated liver.
* * * * *
It was a few days later when Debbie visited with their mutual friend Terri. The other woman and Jerry had met twelve years before at her father’s comic store in Berkeley. They both shared a love for the colored pages of adventure and became a surrogate brother and sister and Terri loved Jerry and his wife deeply.
“Lighten up on him.” Terri advised. “At least he’s not gambling, drinking or cheating on you.”
“He’s spending a fortune.” Debbie countered in annoyance. Her younger friend didn’t understand a thing. She opened a letter in today’s mail, made a face of disgust and threw it into the wastebasket next to the doorway by her feet.
Terri disliked the thought of them fighting. “It’s just comics.”
“He’s forty two years old. He’s too old to read comics.”
Terri eyed her and couldn’t help wondering if Debbie was just jealous of the time he spent reading rather than being with her. Ever since their latest tragedy, Debbie seemed to be so… harsh with Jerry and Terri disliked her for it but it wasn’t her place to say so. “It’s a harmless vice.” She told her instead.
“Harmless?” Debbie spat back, her face contorted in a fury the younger woman had never seen before and it frightened her. “You add up in a week, fifty two weeks a year for the last fifteen years and tell me how harmless that is?” Jerry had promised to take care of her always but to her he had failed miserably. She was bored, depressed and lonely and hated him for it. Blamed him for all the bad things.
A considerable amount Terri had to admit. “I see your point but it’s something he enjoys. Let it be.”
Debbie stormed out of the kitchen in a huff and Terri took it as a signal to leave.
* * * * *
A week passed when Debbie received a certified letter she had hoped would never come. For days, weeks and months she knew to expect its arrival but had fervently prayed that it would get lost or the facts misplaced someplace in computer land. Unfortunately none of that happened and here it was.
Jerry entered the front door, placed his blue and white Igloo cooler that he carried as a lunchbox on the small table near the entry and moved to retrieve a beer from the kitchen. He didn’t expect to find his wife seated on the sofa in the living room. She always spent her time in the kitchen and he couldn’t help but wonder what was wrong. Quickly he moved to hide his parcel behind his back but she had already caught sight of it and her blood boiled. “I told you no more comics!”
“They were discards from Terri’s.” His brown eyes pleaded forgiveness. “They cost me almost nothing with the discount she gave me.”
She lowered her head in defeat. It didn’t matter any more. Nothing mattered anymore. Nothing.
He sensed her worry over something else. Fifteen years married he pretty much knew when something was troubling her that wasn’t anyway related to what she yelled about. Cautiously he moved to the sofa and sat down next to her. “What’s wrong?”
When she looked up at him, her normally blue eyes were swollen, red, and puffy and her cheeks were tear stained. Their eyes met and held for what seemed like an eternity. He noticed the quivering lips and her hand trembled when she removed it from behind her back and handed him the typewritten letter. “We owe three years back taxes. If we don’t pay we lose the house.” Her voice was weak and it terrified him to see her spirit gone.
Debbie had always had the propensity for being a bitch. He knew that when he married her for she had told him so but he had loved her so he didn’t care. They had fights over the early years when money was tight and they were forced to live in teeny weenie apartments not always in the best of neighborhoods but they loved each other and that had kept them going. Of course all that changed when they purchased their first house in the Livermore Valley of California six years before.
They both wanted children and had desperately tried. She had given up her career as an OB/GYN delivery nurse at Valley View hospital which was fine at first but when she still didn’t get pregnant a year later, she became depressed and hostile at having to stay home for no good reason. When she became pregnant a year later, all looked well until she miscarried. Three more miscarriages and Debbie became the bitch extraordinaire and Jerry missed his loving, intelligent, boisterous wife. Where was she now? He couldn’t even see her anymore behind the faded blue jeans, worn flannel shirt and stringy hair that she let go for days on end without showering. She let everything go. The house, herself and from what he read in the letter, the bills.
“If you didn’t spend so much money on those damn comics, we’d have the money to pay this.” She lamented removing the blame from herself to him.
He wanted to debate with her that since he worked full time at the laboratory it was her responsibility to pay the bills. They had agreed years before that she would handle that part of the household because he was hardly at home and when he was he liked to spend it with her. In order to maintain a comfortable lifestyle he worked endless hours of overtime as a security guard. The rural community they had settled in was so overpriced and exorbitant to live in he had no other choice. It was more expensive to live than they could have ever dreamed possible. Their little dream house had become a financial nightmare.
Jerry loved her despite all the hostility she heaved onto him and would do anything for her. As he held the letter in his hand he was at a loss what to do. She was right. He had spent so much on comic books. Maybe it was all his fault. Maybe the money should have been put into the bank for a rainy day like today. Maybe the money spent on comics was foolish. But the comics were his way out of the pain of the loss of not being able to father a child and not being a better husband. It was a harmless hobby that Debbie never understood and had weathered him through many bad storms. His father had collected comics for years before he was born and his mother never gave him a hard time so he couldn’t understand his wife’s hatred for it until now.
“Well…. What are we going to do?” She demanded determined not to let her tears show through. She didn’t want to lose their house. She hated it but not really. She hated herself and what she had become over the last few years especially the last several months and it was all Jerry’s fault for never being home and when he was all he did was read those stupid comics. How she hated sharing her time with him with some dumb inanimate objects. He paid more attention to them then he did to her. There was nothing special about the little box of 1200 square feet but it was theirs and soon it would no longer be and it was her fault and wallowing in depression and drink that had caused it but she wouldn’t take the blame.
“I don’t know but I’ll figure out something.” He assured her and got up and headed down the hallway into their bedroom. There he grabbed a chair from the desk below the window and stepped on it and above his head he pushed away the false ceiling that led to the attic crawlspace above. Once his arms were above him he lifted himself up and gently situated himself on the spaced two by fours and kneeled over the boxes of comics so carefully preserved in dozens of black and white banker boxes he had collected.
Reviewing the scribbled black magic markers that marked the contents of each box, he went to the one that contained books from his father’s collection. In it were comics from the Platinum Age. They were comics his father had collected, loved and protected. They were issues that friends had fawned over for years and repeatedly offered Jerry money for and he couldn’t remember how many times he refused. He had kept them more for sentimental reasons than for anything. His father had read from those comics to him at bedtime and when he was older, he had allowed Jerry to actually handle them and read them too but only once and then they were placed back into their protective sleeve for careful preservation.
He allowed his mind to wander back to his childhood days and the enjoyable time shared with his father over the comic books. Jerry never wanted to be a security guard. He just sort of fell into it by lack of anything better to do. Besides the money wasn’t too bad. It just wasn’t enough.
It was a few hours later when a thought suddenly came to mind. As he ran his fingers over the plastic sleeves that held his cherished comics he wondered if they were worth anything. He was never a serious collector who bought, sold or traded so wasn’t sure how that worked if at all. Collecting comics’ books was for fun and something he and his father had shared. I wonder. He replaced the early Batman, Mickey Mouse and Phantom Lady back into the box covered it and climbed down the ladder.
A peek into the bedroom and he noticed that Debbie was asleep. He carried the box out to the car careful not to wake her or drop the potentially valuable contents.
Back inside the house, he neared the bed and sat down next to her and touched her face. She was cold and he could surmise that she had spent another night crying herself to sleep. What he wouldn’t give to bring her back to the world of the living. She was a modern woman and he loved her for it. Strong willed, opinionated and independent, she kept him going long after he gave up. Until now. Maybe if he could save the house she would love him again as she did when they were first married. Before the day they decided to change their lives and try to have children. Maybe.
Slowly but cautiously he leaned forward and touched her lips with his. It felt so good to be so close to her without yelling that he wanted to stay and wake her but they hadn’t made love in nearly a year and she didn’t want any part of him anymore. He stood up, unfolded the homemade afghan that lay at the foot of the bed and brought it over her and kissed her gently on the cheek and left.
* * * * *
By time Jerry pulled his Aerostar Van onto Telegraph Road in Berkeley he saw Terri outside the comic store getting ready to lock the door. He beeped the horn to get her attention then got out and carried the box in front of him. “I know it’s late but I need to sell these.” Jerry told his young friend.
She unlocked the door and let him enter then locked it behind her and walked around the counter. Comix Collectibles had been her father’s shining star. It was one of six stores across the country and when he died, she had inherited the profitable little chain.
Jerry removed the lid off the box so she could see inside. The box was full with comics stacked to the top all in protective plastic comic sleeves.
Terri eyed him in disbelief. “You feeling all right?” She asked out of concern. From the top she could see his rare Batman and Mutt and Jeff and she knew he’d never part with his comics if he were. Especially not the ones his father had left him. They were priceless to Jerry. How many times had she made him an offer? Something must have happened. Unless… Debbie had given him an ultimatum and the thought saddened her.
“Don’t ask why?” He shuffled his feet in embarrassment and avoided her gaze. “I need the money. How much for all of it?”
“There are a lot of comics here.” He had nothing to say to sway her and waited for an answer. His heart was pounding, burning, itching and struggling to break through his chest. “It’ll take me a few days to go through them.”
He nodded and with his head hung down low left the store. She lifted the top two comics and underneath found a Nick Fury #1 from June 1968 and from what she could see it was in near mint condition. Next to it laid a Spiderman #22 also in great condition. From what lay before her, she couldn’t help wondering if her friend knew what a gold mine laid in the box before her. There were a More Fun Comics #110 from May 1946, and an old Mickey Mouse Magazine #1 from 1935. She smiled and suddenly felt like a child let loose in a candy store and had the strangest feeling that sleep was something she would not see this might.
* * * * *
The two days in passing were agonizing. Jerry never felt so much pressure in his life. Debbie never let up in her tirade as if he could pull a solution out of thin air. When she wasn’t badgering him, she locked herself up in their bedroom and drank and cried herself to sleep. Jerry was so wound up that when not at work he didn’t even spend time reading: Comics were not something he could afford to buy right now not when money was so desperately needed someplace else.
When the phone rang later that evening, he ran to it and snatched it from the wall so as not to wake his wife. When he heard Terri’s cheery voice, he sighed with relief. “Come on down. I’d like to make an offer.”
“Great.” He hung up and went to their bedroom and knocked. “I’m going to Terri’s. I’ll be right back.”
“No more comics.” She yelled through the door, as if anymore would do them any harm now. “We can’t afford it.”
* * * * *
When he walked into the small corner shop, Terri waited for him behind the counter while other customers perused the wide array of comics that covered the racks on the walls. Six customers were present at the moment ranging from two neighborhood high school boys, a female college professor, a scientist from the lab and an elderly woman who had watched Terri grow up and collected comics for her own young grandson.
He was nervous as he approached her. His hands were cold and clammy and he thought he was paralyzed when his feet stopped short just before the counter.
He took in a deep breath as he waited for her to face him. She finished what she was doing, took money from the high school customers and waved them goodbye then closed the draw to the register and grinned. “How much do you need?” She knew he was in trouble but just how much she wasn’t sure.
She scared him. It wasn’t enough. All those years his father spent collecting and it hadn’t amounted to anything. His wife was right. He was a fool and a loser. How could he have been so stupid?
“Not enough huh?” His voice was forced and painful.
“How much?” She pressed watching for some spark of life.
He couldn’t speak. How could he ever tell Debbie that they lost the house? How? She was counting on him. The words fell from his lips. “Fifteen thousand.”
Terri eyed him with widened eyes. “Dollars?” He nodded. “What for?” Drugs? God she hoped not. Just what was going on?
If she were anyone else, he’d keep silent but she was his best friend. Her father had been a good friend to him. Over the years she had become the kid sister he never had.
“They’re going to take our house for back taxes.” The tears fell and he choked on them. Embarrassed he turned away.
She reached out and grabbed his hand and gently squeezed. “You have a great collection Jerry. I’ll give you seventeen thousand for what I took.” She pushed the box at him and handed him a handwritten receipt on pink carbon paper. “The rest is yours. Save it for a rainy day.”
He was stunned into silence and for a moment he couldn’t move and when he checked the receipt and noticed that she only took two from him: Wonder Woman #1 and Detective #28 with Batman, he thought he felt his heart stop. He caught his breath and when he opened the box and found it still full; all he could do was stare at her.
“I took what I wanted. I don’t need the others,” she winked. “But if you ever want to get rid of them, I’ll be glad to take them off your hands. All those in there are older than I am. Go home and tell Debbie you’re okay. Sell me your whole collection and you pay off the house.” But she knew he wouldn’t do that.
“Terri I…” Words escaped him. He was a reader not a speaker.
She knew and didn’t need to hear his appreciation. It was evident all over his face as the spark returned to his brown eyes. “Go on. Get out. I have other customers to tend to.” She told him.
* * * * *
When Jerry returned home thirty minutes later Debbie was seated at the table with her face buried in her hands. After everything that had happened to them in the last few years, what she wouldn’t give to see Jerry bring home a package of comics again. When he had left earlier a sudden fear struck her. What if she had pushed him too far and he left her with using a visit to Terri’s store as an excuse like the men of old once used the excuse of going out to get a loaf of bread of pack of cigarettes and never returned.
Suddenly she was very alone and terrified to be.
But when Jerry entered and placed the box onto the wobbly heavy metal kitchen table with Formica top, her heart leapt with relief.
“We can keep the house.” She looked up at him with tear stained eyes. “I have the money.” He told her with a bashful grin.
“But…. How?” She wiped her face with the back of her hands. She couldn’t even begin to imagine what he could have done to raise that kind of money. “I don’t understand.”
“I sold some comics.”
“Comics?” She was astonished by his revelation and deeply touched by his sacrifice. His father’s comics? How often had he turned down offers? For the first time she realized what the silly books meant to him. “You… sold all of them?”
“Two.” His smiled widened to reveal a set of perfect white teeth. His father had worked two jobs for his son to possess them. “I told you they’re always worth something.” How much he hadn’t even known.
“We can keep the house?” She slowly stood up and eyed her sensitive husband in an entire new light. She never really wanted that much out of life. Just a nice house and children and a husband to love.
She was elated beyond words. She ran to him and hugged him and all her hostility crashed from her shoulders and onto the floor as she revealed herself to him. “Oh Jerry.” She kissed him deeply, fervently as if for the first time. “I’m so sorry. I was so mean and nasty.”
“It’s okay.” The kiss was an eye opener. He never stopped loving her and never gave up hope that she’d return though he was frightened it might be beyond his patience.
“No it isn’t. I was just so devastated over losing the baby.” The last was a still birth and had hit her the hardest. Fourteen months had passed and still she had not recovered until now. “Please… forgive me.” She fell against him and he took her into his arms. “You’re my hero. Always.” She told him and never again would she ever doubt him or his love for her.
Jerry hugged her tight and sighed with relief at the strength of her grasp about him grateful for a fresh start with the only woman he had ever loved and wanted. Hail to the comics and all those who love them. Who would have thought?