Superman Flying Over A Nude Beach

by Pedro Ponce


There was a new joke at school. One boy would approach another, his hand raised level with his chin. “What’s this?” he would ask, palm down, skimming the hand flat through the air. If I squinted hard enough, I could see the middle finger curled down and folded against the meat of the palm.

The other boy would merely watch in response, knowing the question was rhetorical. After a moment of following the hand’s trajectory, the first boy would deliver his shrill punchline: “SUPERMAN FLYING OVER A NUDE BEACH.”

I laughed as hard as I could along with the others.

I practiced the gesture repeatedly on my own—while doing homework, folding laundry, setting the table for dinner. No matter how many times I tried to imitate what I saw at recess and lunch each day, the cryptic gesture refused to yield its secret.

“What are you doing?” my mother asked, as she watched my hands, unlinked by prayer, float above the dining room table. The days were getting shorter, making everything inside show more brightly against the fading sky.

Saying nothing would only betray something. I formed a fist and coughed into it.

My mother shook her head and asked for the salt. I watched my father nudge the salt and pepper toward the center of the table. I grabbed them in my right hand. Both shakers fit easily under my palm.

“I said I wanted the salt.” My mother spoke down to her plate. I clenched both shakers over the tablecloth, waiting.

My father set down his fork and knife. He reached for his water glass and took a long drink. He seemed to study the bright red flowers stitched into the tablecloth as he set the glass down. I felt the strain in my fingers spread through my wrist and down toward my elbow.

“Let her have both,” my father said. “I’m never really sure what she wants.”

The tip of my middle finger emerged from between the drab plastic shakers. I moved to set them down. As words erupted to either side of me, I watched the protruding tip of my finger hover and descend toward the shadow of wings skimming the corner of a place mat.


Pedro Ponce’s flash fiction has appeared in numerous journals, including hex, Moon City Review, and Wigleaf, as well as in the anthologies New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction and The Best Small Fictions 2019. His latest collection is The Devil and the Dairy Princess: Stories, published by Indiana University Press.


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Superman Flying Over A Nude Beach”?

I often start with images—in this case, an actual hand gesture I recall making the rounds of my elementary school many (many) years ago. Games are never just for fun. There are those who get them, and those who don’t. Those who don’t are usually more interesting to me than those who do, and those who don’t but pretend they do are the most interesting of all. Of course, there are lots of other things this narrator doesn’t get, and I was trying to capture this feeling, his growing awareness of all he doesn’t know, even about those closest to him.


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Matter Press recently released titles from Meg Boscov, Abby Frucht, Robert McBrearty, Tori Bond, Kathy Fish, and Christopher Allen. Click here.

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