She sat up, heard John sniff. “Damn it to hell,” he said lowly.
“What’s wrong?” said Emma, stretching her back.
She saw John jump slightly, startled by her voice.
“Oh,” he said, “nothing’s wrong. Not on our end anyway. It’s just . . . Stan Lee just died.”
Oh, no. She was never all that big into comic books, but she knew this was the fall of a titan. “How do you know?” John pointed to his radio. “It tells you when people die?”
He wiped his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. “I’ll tell you later, darlin’.”
The human race is a system of producers. Perhaps if there is one single thing we can be known for, it is making. We make houses, tools, societies, ideas, stories. We’ve made ourselves, and we make each other, really. Emma knew Stan Lee was one of the great made makers. These reflections seemed to write themselves across the inside of her skull. Saphal had always said that if he were to found his own religion, the two gods would be Stan Lee and JRR Tolkien. Not many others, over the course of our history, can be said to have birthed their own systems of producers themselves. Men like that were branches into other worlds, they danced along the power lines of reality and pulled incredible newness right out of the sky. When they fall, the earth shakes, because they have planted themselves in so many places across it. When they die, it carries the resounding echo of a great tomb closing shut, to be placed in a library of glittering wonders.
What? Who was thinking this? Emma made the physical effort to remember that she’d also read that Stan Lee largely took credit for other’s work, was held in disdain by some of his colleagues. But then again, that last fluffy paragraph had to have come from somewhere. Was it a waxing induced by having been whacked with the news of his death so quickly after her disparate conversation with her grandmother, or was it simply the eulogy that had been written by the greater population of the world and subsequently downloaded by anyone that spoke the English language? And what part of it mattered anyway? That the sweet and fanciful version of the man was the truth or that the accepted version, being the sweet and fanciful, served as an inspiration and focal point for positivity and, dare she think the nasty word with her own brain, hope? Oh, shut up girl. Suddenly she could see what she was doing, distracting herself from the freshly tangled bits her own life by circling around the near intangible and possibly inconsequential conceptual elements of Life on the whole.
Because of course, Emma was learning now, as her grandmother said, about her idea of Life. What did it really mean, to say that Stan Lee was dead? She imagined him sitting in his own favorite chair, talking to a grandson. John sniffed again.
“You were a big fan?” she said.
“Very big,” said John. “I uh, I knew him.” He scratched his wrist. “People in my line of work, we don’t get to have too many good friends. It’s a lot of . . . a lot of drivin’ alone.” She put a hand on the back of John’s seat, and it occurred to her that this might be an opportune moment to allow her new reality to begin to actually feel real. John sighed, shook his head. “Don’t suppose I’ll get to talk to him again.”
She thought about good friends, and about losing them. She thought about repeating the same dumb sentence over and over just so that she could shut out one of the greatest friends she’d had in her lifetime. “I’m sorry,” she said.
He sniffed again. “Oh, don’t be, darlin’. That’s very sweet of you but, please.” And that was the last they spoke of the great Stan Lee.