“Should we keep it?” I asked Renee. We stood over Dad’s safety deposit box, the one he kept everything valuable in after he went to the home. Sitting right on top, over his wedding photos and Mom’s old jewelry, was this copy of Blue Beetle #1 signed in a big, cursive, swirly signature by Len Wein. Mom got the comic for him nearly thirty years ago for his birthday, and he cleared out a space in the china cabinet for it. We sat down for dinner nearly every night in the shadow of Paris Cullins’ illustrated depiction of Ted Kord while Mom stared at the autograph.
“Maybe? Shit, Michelle, I don’t know. But, I mean, it could be worth something.” Renee rubbed the back of her neck. Dad died eight years after Mom, the same kind of snowy November. Renee and I were left to figure out what to do after that. We hadn’t seen much of Dad since he got to the home—didn’t have the time. But we helped him pack all of his things before he moved. He had boxes of old comics, nearly twelve banker boxes in all, and he couldn’t decide on which ones to keep. But through all of that, he still hung onto that signed copy of Blue Beetle #1. He told us it was the thing he remembered the most from Mom. He loved Mom more than anyone but Ted Kord wasn’t too far behind. “It could help with the funeral cost,” Renee said.
She was right. I knew she was right, but that was the gift he’d lauded for decades whenever someone came to the house. I wanted to keep it, maybe display the comic as Dad had before, and pass it down to my kids eventually. But neither of us had kids, just a funeral bill.
“Okay, we can take it to Comic Empire. Dad knew the guy there, we can trust what they’ll tell us and figure out what we can do,” I said. Renee and I grabbed everything from the safety deposit box and exited the bank.
Growing up, our budget was spandex tight. Dad started collecting comics before Renee and I were born and kept the habit up for decades. Nothing rare, nothing that would get collectors knocking down our doors for a peek at Action Comics #1 or Detective Comics #27. He collected what he could when our budget would allow. Just an issue here and there. Unless the issue involved the Blue Beetle. Any issue he found either in a garage sale or at the Comic Empire up the road was his, the moment he saw it. I asked him why Ted Kord and not Batman or Superman.
“Because, Michelle,” he said and would list Ted’s humor or his valor or that one time he told Reagan to drop dead.
Renee and I walked back to my car and put the contents of his safety deposit box in the backseat. It had only been a week and we were still in the process of processing. The grief hadn’t hit me as hard as it hit Renee, but, by that point, we’d both evened out. Mostly.
“I can’t fucking believe he put the comic on top of his wedding photos,” Renee said. She shook her head. Dad used to go months without a new issue but he didn’t complain. He said that he had enough old issues to keep him occupied. There were a few hundred or so, all wrapped in paper towels and Ziplocs since we couldn’t afford the standard bags and boards they sold at the comic shop.
“You know how much he loved that issue,” I said. “I don’t know if he ever even got around to reading it.” We’d pitched our allowances together to get Dad a tie for his birthday that year. We never found out how Mom got both the comic and Len Wein’s autograph.
“But wouldn’t he love this more?” she asked. Renee reached into the backseat and pulled out Mom and Dad’s marriage certificate. She held it and the old paper crinkled like old paper does, like it was going to snap in half. Mom and Dad’s signatures had faded slightly, but we could still make them out. Dad’s straight, almost boxy lines and Mom’s swirled, cursive lines that swallowed her corner of the paper.
“They’re what Dad liked. Dad liked his comics so we can’t fault him for that now.” I started the car and we turned onto the main road. Gray snow was piled in either side of the street like little mountain ranges you could hide a fortress in. Dad had been going to Comic Empire since we moved close enough where he could walk there on his days off. He got to the point where everyone there knew his name, like it was his favorite bar. Renee and I had only gone in a handful of times, to smell fresh comic ink and cheap newsprint. But it was Dad’s space—we knew we were intruding.
“What should we do after this?” Renee asked. I shrugged like I didn’t know because I didn’t know. I’d usually have a running list in my head of everything I needed to do from feeding my birds to washing dishes to calling Dad at the home. I’d only get to two of those things and Dad had somehow always fallen through the cracks. But now, without him to punctuate the list, I didn’t know where to end it. My list kept growing with the more Renee and I needed to do that it just dissolved.
We pulled into the Comic Empire parking lot and brought Blue Beetle out from the backseat.
The shop wasn’t much like we’d remembered as kids. One wall was filled with little plastic figures, another with zombie comics, and little aisles down the middle showed off newer Blue Beetles that Dad never got a chance to read. But the smell of ink and paper persisted as if it clung to the fabric of space and time there. The guy behind the counter was maybe a decade younger than Dad. He looked like he had been there when Renee and I went years before. Mostly bald, mostly bones, but eyes sharp like a cat.
Renee pulled Blue Beetle from under her arm and placed it on the counter. She explained the comic, but left Dad out. He nodded and looked at us both before picking the comic up. He held it by the edges as though he were too afraid to put pressure on the paper in the middle.
When Mom got him that comic—set it down in a manila envelope for him to unwrap—he looked as though he might propose to Mom again right there in the dining room. He hugged her and kissed her while Renee and I faked being grossed out from across the table. He looked at the cover, looked at her, and shook his head like he couldn’t believe the life he was living.
“This signature is fake,” the guy behind the counter said.
Renee began to protest while I leaned in closer to the counter. He showed us Len Wein’s signature: the compact look, the fact that he didn’t sign his name in cursive. What took up its own corner of the comic would have been relegated to a small portion if it were real. Renee made a face as if she might scream.
I grabbed the comic, walked out of the store, and got in my car while Renee argued. The wedding certificate lay on the passenger seat with Mom’s swirled and Dad’s neat signatures. I placed the comic on top of the paper, as Dad would have.
Renee came back to the car and slammed the door. I showed her the wedding certificate and the comic side by side. She screamed that time.