It was a hot and humid night, even for July in Queens. It didn’t help that the apartment’s air conditioning unit had broken, making it a hellacious night on the fifth floor of the apartment building. It was the type of night that it truly impossible to sleep through; heat stuck to skin, making anything less than a full-blast fan torture. But some people have needs that make such problems irrelevant. A different type of heat is needed, welcomed. And the heat and humidity of a hot summer’s night is not going to stop that search.
It was found.
This particular time it was a man with a military cut and a redhead with long, luscious locks. The man was muscular and the girl was on the right side of almost too much weight. She was a type of appealing that most men do not think about until it’s right in front of them. The two of them found their heat together. The man passed out, spent. The girl, however, was still awake. Sometimes it was enough for her, sometimes not. This was definitely one of the nights where she didn’t get what she wanted. Army men were always ready to go sleep with anything not from the Army, and something about her smile always seemed to make men practically beg to get into bed with her.
The girl got up, put on her clothes, grabbed her purse (along with fake ID) and walked, softly, out the apartment door. She felt like she was swimming in the air outside; her jeans stuck to her and her bare arms felt clammy in the late night (or early morning, depending on how one looked at it) air. Maybe there was someone else who would give her what she was looking for; it wouldn’t be the first time she had multiple partners in the same night. But some nights just weren’t sufficient, and she knew there was nothing to really be done about that. Sometimes one had to wait out the sunrise.
There was a man, walking toward her down the block. He short and thin, and was wearing some weird leotard that, when he got closer, showed to be a black and red leotard, with black webbing all over the red parts. A spider emblem sat in the middle of the mess of webs, right in the middle of his chest. He wore a full face mask, with gigantic bug eye pieces that glowed from the street lamps. Under his arms was a weird mesh. Something about the way he walked made her stop and look at him, really look at him. She walked up to him and, as he looked up, she gently took one of his gloved hands and said “Hi, I’m MJ. You need to sit down.”
MJ was surprised when he sat down on a nearby bench. She sat down next to him. Neither one of them spoke for a little while. “My uncle is dead. And I killed him. I keep trying to take this mask off and I can’t, because if I do I’ll see my face and I really don’t want that right now.”
“You… you killed your uncle?”
MJ stared at the masked man. “Why? How?”
“I… was selfish. I had gotten the ability to make a whole lot of money really quickly and so I did it. And it was… it was so much money! So much! Hundreds of thousands of dollars! And I paid off my uncle and aunt’s bills. All of them. They had no idea who did it. But it was me.” MJ was about to say something but the man kept going. “I didn’t want them to look at me differently. I wanted to stay as I was. And so I did. I rejoiced with them and went back to that ring and did it again, and again, and again. I stopped looking at it as helping my Aunt and Uncle, because we already had enough money! I could have returned to my work! I should have, I would have…” he stared down at the pavement.
“How much money?” MJ asked.
“Four million dollars in two days. In cash.”
“Yeah. And there was more coming. I opened a fund for my aunt and uncle and put it all there. They’ve no idea. And I wanted to stop but… I wanted a space for my own, a place where I could work and not have to worry about money. So I kept doing it. And just… I guess I got caught up in it all. And not too long after… after…” he put his face in his hands. “I let him go.”
MJ put her arm around him. “Let who go?”
“The robber. He was running away as I came out of the office, and I let him run by. I… I did that. I saw that I could stop him. I had a choice. And I knew it. And I chose not to. He got away. He bumped into my uncle and… and…” his voice caught a second, but he continued. “He … I put the suit on. It couldn’t be me that caught him. I’d no idea it was…” For a very long time he sat next to MJ, rubbing his great bug-eyes, not saying anything. And she held him. Something in her told her this was the man who could make her feel whole tonight, and she snuggled in closer. But something wiser, yet younger, told her to hold off. After a few minutes, the man spoke again. “I killed him. By accident. I took his mask off and threw him out the window before I could even think. I tried to catch him with my webs, but he… he hit the ground first.”
After awhile MJ spoke. “I was there when you KO’d Crusher Hogan and they named you Spider-Man”.
Spider-Man looked up, clearly startled, but he laughed. “Oh, you were?? What’d you think?”
“I was wondering how someone with your stick arms and legs was gonna make it out of the ring alive! You were awesome!”
“Oh, uh, thanks.”
“No, seriously. You were awesome. I was so pumped when you came back and brought down Ringo Bingo. Those webs were amazing!”
Spider-Man broke out laughing, almost falling off his seat. “That name! Oh goodness that name! I almost forgot! I couldn’t stop laughing as I handily trounced him!”
“Hahahaha! You said TROUNCED!”
“You’re such a nerd!”
“You’ve no idea!!”
They laughed so hard that the tears came to MJ’s eyes. Spider-Man was sitting on the ground, holding his ribs. After a few more chuckles MJ got off the bench and sat next to him. He flinched a bit, but she reached out and gently took his hand. “No no, it’s OK, listen: my dad is a drunk. Like, the worst. He’s a professor but can’t seem to keep a job, right? Well, he thinks that’s because he’s supposed to be a writer. And every time he fails, he beats my mom and my little sister.”
“It’s OK, how would you know?”
“I didn’t mean it that way. I feel sorrow. Part of the root of the word. Sorry. Sorrow.”
“Wow. OK then. Anyway, he’s never hit me. Not even once. You wanna know why? Because I run like hell every time. The older I get the longer I stay out. I’ve not been home in a week yet and they’ve not called the cops on me. No one comes to look for me.” MJ got back up on the bench, awkwardly. “It’s… weird. It’s like they’ll know I’ll come home. I mean, I guess I have to. Nobody else seems to know about what he does. Either that or they don’t care. I just run off. Right as he’s beating into... into Gail.” MJ stood up. “So! Does that make me a bad person?”
He sat there for a second. “I certainly don’t think so. What else could you do? Fight back?”
“(Don’t tell that to Gail) I know, right??” Like, what the hell could I have done? I can’t fight Dad, he’s stronger than the rest of us put together, even when sober! But could I at least run, or do something or… or not go and just fuck the daylights out of every guy I run into? It doesn’t make sense. I don’t understand. I’ve been doing this for over six months now and I still don’t know why I keep doing it.”
They both sat down, looking nowhere in particular. “What has that story got to do with me?” Spider-Man asked, in a whisper.
“I know what I’m doing and it doesn’t make me bad. You didn’t know what you were doing, or what it would go to. Does that make you bad?”
“I- I’m not sure it works that way.”
They heard laughter, along with crying. Both of them were up and running toward the nearby basketball court. There was a kid, probably around five, who was being beaten up by what was probably two twelve year olds. MJ ran forward, shouting, but Spider-Man’s web was faster. The two boys were on the ground in a moment, feet cocooned. MJ ran up to them “What the hell? Seriously??”
Spider-Man picked them up and held them upside down. They screamed in terror “SPIDER-MAN! YOU’RE REAL!”
“What, you thought all that was special effects? How effective-y does it seem to you now?? Or did yout think the truck that flips in the Dark Knight were CGI too? Huh?” MJ was the only one who laughed. “Well, at least someone watches the special features.” Spider-Man then tore the webbing off. “So, what did we learn today?” The kids shook in their shoes. “SPIDER-MAN IS REAL. Get out of here! Ooga booga!”
MJ laughed as the older kids ran off. She turned to the five year old. “What are you doing out here? It’s late!” The child (Matias) wouldn’t talk to them, he was so terrified. After a few minutes of looking from Spider-Man to MJ and back to Spider-Man again he sat down and looked at the ground.
Spider-Man knelt down next to the boy. “Matias, I’ll be right back. Looks like I need to bring those kids back so we can figure out what's going on. I can still see them running. I’ve never really tried this. I rode on a bus to get to where I last went.” He shot a webline at a building. It caught, held, and all of a sudden Spider-Man was flying through the air, screaming at the top of his lungs: “CRAPCRAPCRAPCRAPCRAPTHISISAMAZIIIIIIIIIIIING!!!” He flew over the building, out of sight.
MJ and Matias were left together. “It’s going to be OK” MJ said, smiling at the kid. He ran in and hugged her. He burrowed his face into her and MJ felt safe. “Hey, hey there. We’re going to get this all figured out.” She felt his soldiers rise and fall as he sobbed. They stood like that for a while. Eventually Matias looked up, smiled and wiped his eyes. “Yeah, see? It’s going to be OK!” MJ said, and the smile on Matias’ face said he believed her.
Spider-Man came swinging back, the two twelve year olds in tow. “These wackos are part of a gang. They were under orders to beat up kids so they would go to the gang for help.” MJ wrinkled her nose at the thought and the twelve year olds looked tried to look anywhere else. “C’mon guys, what the heck is this all about? Why do this?” The boys refused to answer. Spider-Man looked at them a moment. “Call the cops” Spider-Man told MJ. “I don’t want to look at them anymore”.
MJ dialed 911. The cops showed up a half hour later. Spider-Man still tried to talk to the twelve year olds from time to time, but they wouldn’t say a word. They were carted off by the police. Matias got into the cop car, in the front. He peered out the window and waved at MJ, who giggled and waved back. Matias didn’t stop looking at her until the cop car went around the corner. After waving at Matias Spider-Man and MJ walked off, high-fiving and laughing. They found a nearby McDonald’s, grabbed some burgers (where the workers stared at the local celebrity Spider-Man, taking pictures with their phones), and came back to their bench. They chuckled and laughed… and then Spider-Man’s mask was up, past his nose, and his mouth was on MJ’s. For a moment MJ froze, but then she lurched forward, wrapping her arms around him in an embrace that startled even her.
Something woke up in her. It was that youth, that drive to be alive, that joy, that she remembered so- it was immediately squashed. She pulled away from him and began to run. Spider-Man grabbed her, MJ jerked, and he let go gently, so she wouldn’t fall. “I know you can catch me. Please… please… don’t.” The last she saw of Spider-Man he was holding a burger in a hand, with the other one scratching the back of his head. She didn’t look back after that.
The Army soldier had no idea why the hot little redhead needed to be let back inside, but he found himself not caring as her clothes hit the floor.