They called it an extraordinary phenomenon.
A regular Hercules, Dr.Robinowitz on 3rd street claimed. Their son, Frank, was born with the capabilities of lifting objects 100 times heavier than his body weight. Super strength, the kids would say. His mother said Hail Mary in Italian ten times a day and cried, as if he son was some kind of devil. She constantly scolded him out of fear of his destructiveness. “Don’t touch that!” and “Don’t touch anything!” or “Don’t you dare touch the baby!”
He was a toddler. And his strength was something unexplainable, something that should remain a secret. If he pressed his hand into wall too hard, the wall would crack. Toys, if not handled gently, would be crushed or broken into pieces. Even the metal handle of his bicycle would be indented by his fingertips. He couldn’t control this, even as he got older, his power grew more dangerous. On the kindergarten playground, he pushed a kid out of the sandbox and cracked his rib. When he was seven years old, he threw a baseball and it landed three blocks away and through a car windshield.
He couldn’t touch anything. He wasn’t safe.
Frank would hold his small hands and peek into his sister Camilla’s crib when she was an infant. He was afraid of breaking her too.
His father owned a deli under the train tracks, Berardi’s Deli. Behind it was a dead patch of grass they called a backyard. And above it was a shoe box apartment they called a home. His father wore a filthy apron as he sat on the sidewalk’s edge, smelling like fennel seed and sweat. He smoked a cigarette and watched the kids in the street play. Frank, a small boy with small hands, sat beside him.
“Pops, why can’t I play with them?” The boy said “I promise I’ll be good. I won’t hit so hard. Honest.” He watched as the kids played stick ball.
His father gave him a side glance, taking a long drag and rubbing his stubbled chin. “Last time, you knocked a kid out”
He looked down at his hands, discouraged “I-I didn’t mean to, Pops, he was….”
“Your mother with have a heart attack if she finds out you hurt someone else with your…” Trailing off, he stood up and stomped his cigarette out. The few remaining embers in the curb glowed. “Don’t let nobody see you doing that. You hear me?” He warned. Frank’s eyes wandered to the window to the apartment above the deli, where his mother, with tired eyes, looked out.
“I don’t know if it’s a good idea, Camilla” He said, looking down at his feet as they walked home from high school one crisp autumn afternoon. His black hair fell into a perfect greased curl.
“Sure it is” His sister grinned, holding her biology textbook in her arms. “You love baseball.”
“Watchin’ baseball, sure. Not playin’ it” He shrugged, still unsure “Pop’s will be mad. And Ma’s gonna be in hysterics if she finds out.”
She nudged him with her elbow. Her long wool skirt matched her mint green sweater. “Come on, don’t worry about that stuff, Frankie, you’d be amazing and you know it.”
Frank sighed, shoving his hands in his Letterman jacket. A chill blew between them. A police siren blared in the distance. The sun was setting, burning orange and gold.
“What if I hurt someone?”
“What if you only hit home runs?”
“I’m serious, Camilla” He grabbed her arm lightly, as if he was holding a feather. They stood on the street corner across from their family’s deli. “I can’t control this. Someone’s gonna get hurt.”
“You can control it. You don’t have to be scared. You’re strong… super strong, but it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. You can do something good with it.” The sirens grew louder. As they crossed the street, a car screeched around the corner, being tailed by red and blue flashing lights. A police chase. Frank was in the middle of the street, frozen for a moment. Camilla screamed, pulling at his hand. “Frankie, move!” He wouldn’t budge. He didn’t want to be scared anymore. The car was barreling towards him. He pushed his sister out of the way, and braced for impact, with an arched back and outstretched arms. The car slammed into Frank, metal crushed against his chest, pushing him back a couple of feet. His sneakers skid against the pavement. The vehicle was stopped completely, with three bewildered robbers wearing ski masks sitting inside. The headline in the newspaper the next day dubbed him “The Brawn Man of Brooklyn”.