Clark took a sip of his coffee as he scrolled through the news stories for the day.
“Shit!” he cursed as a dribble of coffee dripped down his chin and spilled onto his notepad. Even though he had been working remotely since the pandemic hit, he couldn’t get used to the cramped workspace and tight living quarters his apartment had turn into. He clicked on the link to the story he submitted yesterday evening for The Daily Planet and read:
Burglary on Main Street
By: Clark Kent
Yesterday evening, there was a burglary at Pop’s Drug Store on Main Street. The owner, Bill Stevens, stated an unidentified man in a black mask held him up at gunpoint at 5 pm and demanded that he empty his cash register. “He told me to get to the ground or he would shoot!” Mr. Stevens told Police. Witnesses saw the burglar speed off in a dark blue minivan. If anyone has any information on the crime or suspect, please contact the Metropolis Police Department at 555-1234.
Clark sighed and shut his laptop just as his phone rang. He looked down and saw it was Lois. “This is Clark,” he answered as cheerfully as he could muster. He hoped she hadn’t read his story from last night; it was as pathetic as the has-been he had become. How could he just write about a burglar getting away and not do anything about it? His stories used to be about bad guys getting caught and they were usually caught by him. Now he spent his days baking banana bread and watching You Tube.
“Clark? It’s me. I just read your story from last night and loved it! I’m so proud you finally got out of the house and interviewed someone!” Lois exclaimed. Clark didn’t have the heart to tell her that he didn’t leave the house to interview Bill. He had called Bill up and asked him what happened instead. Clark had almost gone to interview him in person. It would have been his first in-person interview since the pandemic. But when he used his x-ray vision to check out Bill before he left his house and saw he wasn’t a mask-wearer, he decided he couldn’t risk a COVID exposure. This past year, he had recently developed adult asthma and therefore was high risk, or at least, he felt high risk.
“Thanks Lois, I’m easing back into things,” he responded as he got up from his chair and walked into the kitchen.
“You can’t hide in that apartment forever you know,” she said to him as he looked in the drawer for his inhaler. Just the thought of going out of his apartment made his asthma act up. When he had gone to get his booster shot two weeks ago, he swore the person next to him in the waiting room was sick. She kept coughing incessantly and didn’t even cover her mouth. Clark shuttered at the memory of it.
“I know,” he said as he shook the inhaler and placed it up to his mouth.
“Why don’t I come over tonight and bring some carry out?” she asked him as he sucked in on the inhaler and walked into his room.
“Tonight?” he asked, startled by her forwardness
“Yes, tonight. We haven’t seen each other in months; you can’t keep avoiding people. I’ll bring over some Chinese and we can watch Netflix.”
Clark wanted to ask her if she had gotten boosted yet but didn’t want to seem rude. Would it be impolite to ask her to leave her mask on the whole time she was over?
“Okay,” he reluctantly agreed as he opened his closet and stared at all the red and blue hanging Kryptonian skinsuits. “Come at 8.”
“See you then, Mr. Kent,” she flirted and then hung up the phone.
He could do this. How hard would it be to have his girlfriend over for dinner and a movie? He rubbed his hands along his shiny suits and grabbed one to try on. He hadn’t put one on in over a year; not since he’d been holed up in his apartment, obsessively reading articles about the virus. COVID had become his Kryptonite and his only solace was his home.
Clark sat down on his bed and stuck his right leg into the spandex suit as he began to pull it up. The material barely made it up his calf before it wouldn’t budge anymore. Frustrated, he tried the left leg and pulled it up to his thigh. He stared down at the fat on his thigh as it bulged out of the spandex. Sure, he’d gained some weight since the pandemic. Everyone had, right? But not being able to get on his skinsuit? Now he couldn’t even save the world if he wanted to. He fell back onto the bed in despair.
His phone began to ring again, and he looked down to see who was calling. It was his therapist, Dr. Smith. He had totally forgotten they had an early morning Zoom session that morning.
“Dr. Smith…hello,” Clark muttered as he picked up the bottle of pills next to him on the bed, waiting for the screen to pop up with the doctor’s image. He lifted the bottle up and shook it, noting only one Xantax was left in the bottle. Ever since the pandemic hit, Clark had been prescribed Zoloft, Clonazepam, and Xantax and had been needing more and more of the pills to calm his nerves. It was the first time in his life that the world was in Chaos and Superman couldn’t save it. And now, months, vaccinations, and boosters later, he probably could go out and save people from crime if he wanted to. But his anxiety held him back.
“Good morning, Clark,” Dr. Smith said as her image popped up on the screen. “How are you doing this morning?”
“Not good, doc,” he said as he gazed up at the ceiling fan whirling above him.
“What’s bothering you?” Doctor Smith asked with concern.
Clark focused his eyes on Dr. Smith. He tried to push a tear out, but all his depression and anxiety meds wouldn’t allow for tears. “Doc, I’m fat,” he cried out as he took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “I’ve gained so much weight I can’t even get on my skinsuit. I can’t leave the house to even get groceries. I haven’t saved anyone in over a year. And now my girlfriend wants to bring me dinner and I feel like I am going to have a panic attack.”
He looked at the doctor’s uneasy expression on the screen. “It sounds as if you’re having a rough day,” she said.
“Ya think?” he responded sarcastically. He put his glasses back on and sat up. “When will I get better? Nothing is working, not even the meds. And I only have one Xantax left. I need a refill.”
“It’s natural what you are going through, Clark,” Dr. Smith said soothingly. “So many people are going through the same thing that you are. Everyone’s lives have changed dramatically.”
“Not Batman!” he interrupted her. “I Facetimed with Bruce last week and he said he went back to work right away. This week he saved a family from a burning building and a cat stuck in a tree. Why can’t I be like him?”
“Everyone processes trauma and change differently, Clark,” she said affectionately. “I think instead of upping your meds like we usually do; you should try immersion therapy.”
“What’s that?” Clark asked, scratching his head.
“It is a type of exposure therapy for phobias that works on the principle that the most effective way to unlearn instinctive responses to phobia is through forced, exposure to the source of the fear,” she responded.
Clark widened his eyes. “So, you’re telling me to just throw myself back into work? I can’t even fit my skinsuit over my fat leg. I can’t just jump out of my window in my regular journalist clothes. And plus, since this is an airborne virus, and I fly through the air, aren’t I more at risk to get it?”
“You’re vaccinated and boosted, Clark. And I bet the cape and shoes still fit, right?” she asked, with anticipation. “Find something close by your house. A small crime that you can help with. You are not going to get better by hiding in your apartment. You need to get back out in society.”
“I don’t know, doc,” Clark said hesitantly. “What if I get exposed to COVID?”
There are always risks, Clark, but if you want to get better like you say you do, you need to get out there. See if you can use your powers to find a crime nearby. Something small. That is your assignment this morning. I’ll call you tomorrow to see how it went.”
Dr. Smith hung up the phone and Clark looked down at his legs, beginning to swell from the tight spandex around them. Maddeningly, he yanked them off and walked to the closet to grab his cape. He draped it on his shoulders and grabbed his boots. He closed his eyes to use his super senses to find someone close by in need. His ears burned as they scanned the building around him. After a few minutes, he heard a baby cry several floors above him. He used his x-ray vision to look through the ceiling and walls and saw that a baby had dropped her pacifier from the crib and her mother was asleep in the other room. Was this a crime? No. But Superman could save this baby from distress. He slipped his boots on and stepped on the window ledge.
“My mask!” he whispered to himself as he ran back into his apartment and grabbed one of his several masks. He secured it safely on his face before he put his fist in the air and he soared up seven stories to the baby’s apartment. He landed on the balcony and quietly stepped into the living room, trying to hold his breath. He needed to intake as little air as possible to limit his exposure; he didn’t know if this family had been vaccinated. Certainly, the baby hadn’t been. He tiptoed past the mother’s room, into the nursery, and stepped inside.
“Dada?” the baby cried as she saw Clark, draped in Superman’s cape, walk into her room.
“Shh,” Clark said as he tiptoed to the crib and picked up the pacifier from the floor. He lifted the binkie up and placed it into the baby’s mouth. “There, there now go back to bed,” he whispered as he picked up the baby and placed her back down to a sleeping position. The baby laid down, eyes sleepy, as Clark tiptoed out of the room and flew back down to his apartment. When he stepped back onto his balcony, he let out a breath and did a silent victory dance.
“I did it!” he said to himself in excitement, “I can’t wait to tell the doc that I saved a baby today!” He took off the cape and walked into the kitchen to get his inhaler. The flight had gotten him out of breath; it was the most exercise he had gotten in months. He needed to get back into shape if he was going to fit into any of his skinsuits.
He picked up his phone and opened the Instacart App. He would need to order some wine and dessert for tonight for his date with Lois. He may have saved a baby, but grocery stores were germ central. One baby step at a time.