I had the dream again.
I wish my subconscious would clue in that “The Relationship” is just a part of my public image and that Batman and I are nothing more than two adversaries who enjoy suggestive banter instead of spitting venom like other enemies do.
And yet every night since the museum, I’ve had this dream, the details of which are not worth remembering. All I know is it involves Him, and when I get up the gal in the mirror’s cheeks have this rosy flush going.
I’ve tried to explain (as well as you can explain things to the face in the mirror while brushing your teeth) that Yes- we got some issues out in the open that night, and Yes- our meetings since then have been a tad more lighthearted (if not downright playful at times). But that is just a normal reaction to having at last broken out of the absurd rut we were in. Like actors who’ve been on the same TV series season after season, we’re excited to finally move on and do something new. It means nothing beyond that. <Rinse> Men who dress up as bats and fight crime do not get cuddly with women who dress as cats and commit crimes, no matter how much they hint otherwise. <Gargle> So you may as well just stop rerunning that dream—or at least let me remember some of the details, ‘cause <spit> you’re obviously getting a better night’s sleep than I am.
I caught a glimpse of her reaction as I stepped into the shower: “Right,” she was thinking, “anyone that wakes up with this half-smile and rosy glow is not going to be taking advice from a tightass with pillowhair that lectures her own reflection through a foam of Colgate and Scope.”
there’s no mirror inside my shower, I explained to the luffa that Batman is what
we call ‘in the box’ in his thinking. He sees the world in black and white,
good guys and bad guys, and there is just no way he can let himself develop this
relationship beyond meaningless flirtation. If you ask me, that certainty that
nothing will happen is the only reason he can allow himself the flirtation. “The bat has baggage,” I concluded emphatically.
The luffa sponge offered no comment.
I threw on some clothes and crossed the street to Raoul’s coffee cart. I used to think being a night person precluded being part of Gotham –A.M., but I’ve learned that I rather enjoy watching the city come to life at the start of a new day. At first the streets are empty except for a few third-shifters heading home, maybe a half-dozen windows with lights on and silhouetted movement. Then the service people start to appear, then the lone jogger, a newsstand rolls open, another pair of joggers, and then within about fifteen minutes there are a dozen mini-dramas in progress involving school children, rollerbladers, commuters, delivery trucks, and street vendors.
Raoul at the coffee cart had a girl with him today, maybe 13 or 14 years old, too young to be an employee. It’s a one-man operation anyway. I could see she didn’t want to be there; she all but growled as she handed me my coffee. I told her to keep the change. When she smiled at her tip I could see the resemblance—gotta be his daughter. He wants to pass on the business, I thought as I headed down the street, and she wants none of it. Judging by the dramatic red and black of her sweatshirt and shorts combination, I figured her dream right now was to be a fashion designer; she thought selling coffee on a streetcorner was a drag. When she finds out how much tuition costs, she’ll appreciate what Dad makes with that high-volume low-overhead cart in an upscale neighborhood off the park.
A suit in a hurry brushed past me. I know the type: from one of the bedroom communities across the river, he gets off his train two or three stops early to grab a tall cappuccino at Raoul’s. It’s not that the coffee is THAT exceptional, but it’s a ritual. He likes to be seen walking those last few blocks to the office. It’s a pedestrian city and this makes him feel a part of it, even though he sleeps in the ‘burbs.
People who think Gotham is a huge impersonal place have never lived here. Every neighborhood is a village. I stopped for a paper and a loaf of bread on my way back. Pete at the newsstand and Giovanni at the bakery both noticed my coffee cup from Raoul’s and asked if I saw Melanie, which I learned was the girl’s name, helping her father and isn’t she a beauty, going to be a heartbreaker someday that one is.
I mentally patted myself on the back for correctly doping out the father-daughter scenario. The way I figure it, Batman may be a great detective when it comes to crime, but he’d have never noticed something like that. Ordinary people like Raoul and Melanie aren’t pertinent to his crusade.
As I returned to my apartment, Nick the doorman called after me as I stepped onto the elevator: He ran over with an envelope that had fallen from my coat pocket. I opened it on the ride up and read:
Good morning, Kitten
It was signed with the silhouette of an impossibly arrogant flying mouse.
I read it again. And again. And once more. The doors opened and Nick looked in, concerned: I realized I’d missed my stop and the elevator had returned to the lobby. I smiled like an idiot and pushed the button again.
What did he mean “unless a ‘real’ crime intervenes?” What were my crimes, imaginary?
From what seemed like a hundred years ago, I heard the echo of my mother’s voice: “Don’t be a tease, Selina. You lead a man on for so long, he’s going to get the idea that he can take liberties. I know you think you can handle anything, but believe me, you too can lose control of a situation.”
Oh mom, if you only knew.
Two blocks from the Opera House.
I repeated to myself for the 600th time this hour that curiosity is a notoriously fatal flaw for my kind. The streets were still bustling with people. It was only barely dark enough to be darting over rooftops. But I had to know what he was up to.
As I approached the roof, I saw what looked very like Batman sitting on a thick blanket laid out near the famous rotunda. SITTING isn’t something I’ve ever pictured him doing. It’s not as bizarre as seeing him smile, but it’s not quite right.
“You came,” he said, not mincing words as usual. “I wasn’t sure you would.”
“If I didn’t come, I wouldn’t be able to tell you: Don’t ever call me ‘Kitten.’ So what are we doing here at this indecently early hour?”
“We’re eavesdropping on a dress rehearsal.”
“Let me guess, Die Fledermaus.”
“Not at all. A program of assorted arias by Giuseppe Verdi. Unlike some of you, I don’t have this sad need to make everything I do revolve around my namesake.”
“Oh really? Care to explain the car, the signal, the batarang and the target on your chest.”
The opening strains of a familiar melody from below saved him thinking up a response. It was La Donna e mobile, the Duke’s famous aria from Rigoletto. “Woman is fickle, fickle as the wind, one in a hundred won’t…” do something nasty the minute your back is turned. I don’t remember the details that well, but that’s the gist. I didn’t intend to let that pass unremarked:
“Nice choice of music for a first date, Stud. You do realize the guy singing is pretty much the biggest prick in the entire opera and that he’s just projecting his own inability to dig in and make a commitment.”
He looked stunned—like thieves aren’t supposed to know about grand opera?
“Hey,” I said, “just cause I wear a catsuit doesn’t mean I don’t have a grasp of musical history.”
“That’s not what I was thinking.”
“Never mind. Traviata is next.”
The soaring love duet that followed was a little much, and I was grateful when the tenor somehow offended the soprano and a spectacular diva fit erupted. Soon tenor, soprano and conductor were yelling at each other, and judging by the crash, someone, probably the soprano, threw something at the woodwinds. I stole a peek at Batman and saw he was having the same thought I was: the chaos made a much more appropriate backdrop for a date of ours.
Suddenly, under the blur of impassioned Italiano fortissimo, we heard the twanging of heavy coils uncoiling and a startled yelp. Our eyes met for a splitsecond, and I might have said “Go” but there was no need. He’d already taken off.
I glanced down to the streetlevel and noticed a jeweler across the way. Wouldn’t that be delicious, I thought. I had a good fifteen minutes until he disentangled whatever stagehand was caught in the rigging.
Plenty of time.
I climbed down the grating, dropped into the alley and examined a window at the rear door. Alarm tape is nothing when you have razor-sharp claws. I let myself in and immediately noticed that one item had not been taken out of the showcases for the night: it was a porcelain art deco figurine of a woman walking a leopard on a leash. I approached closer and saw sitting next to it… a basket.
For the 601st time tonight I reminded myself: cat + curious = bad.
I opened the basket anyway: bottle of Bordeaux, half dozen peaches, loaf of bread and a round of Brie. And another note:
That son of a bitch. THAT SON OF A BITCH!
I reread the note. I had to force my brain to associate meaning with the words. I felt lightheaded and realized it was because I’d forgotten to breathe. I took a deep breath and the intake of air going in collided midway down my chest with a welling of rage wanting to come out. The collision seemed to stop time while I thought…
Normal people, people like Raoul from the coffee cart and Pete at the newsstand, they think people like me must have split personalities. That’s the only way they can make sense of being one person during the day and becoming another at night just by changing clothes and putting on a mask.
Freud thought that everybody’s mind breaks up into different parts. He called them the Id (primal instinctive stuff), Superego (Conscience, Ethics and such) and the Ego doing an all out balancing act in between. Psychologists don’t think much of Freud these days, but standing there with time stopped and a note from Batman in my trembling hand, I was a convert. Because I was conscious of three distinct thoughts coming from three independent parts of my brain with equal intensity:
1. ID: urge to claw Batman into 210 lbs of ground chuck.
2. SUPEREGO: need to return to the roof and hear what he has to say.
3. EGO: concurred on returning to the roof but realized ID would see it as a loss of face. Needed to find a way past the rage and the pride to find a rationale we could all live with… found one in the notion that the note was something of a challenge. If I didn’t hear him out, it proved his assertion that I was the one stuck thinking in the box, throwing up roadblocks because I was afraid of letting this thing develop.
Ego then replayed my comment on Rigoletto’s Duke: “He’s just projecting his own inability to dig in and make a commitment.”
ID said Nice going, Selina, you just had to show off, didn’t you.
I returned to the roof.
Batman didn’t comment on my return or the basket. But he did have two glasses, a corkscrew and a cheese knife laid out on the blanket.
I had no idea what to say. In this line of work, the usual thing to do when the situation gets this spiky is to throw a punch or toss a smoke bomb and get out of Dodge. Neither course of action was really appropriate under these circs—which is probably why we’d both gone to such pains to avoid letting things ever get this far.
I suspected Batman is having similar thoughts, since it was taking him two full minutes to open the wine. I’ve seen this guy remove an armed warhead from a surface-to-air missile using directions written in Farsi. He couldn’t be that baffled by a nickel-plated corkpull from Sharper Image.
Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I grabbed the bottle, opened it, and without knowing what I was going to say, I started to speak.
“Look, I don’t know how to ease into it either, so just jump straight to the middle.”
He looked grateful, nodded, then gave a little grunt before he spoke:
“Okay,” he said finally—and it was that other voice he sometimes used now. The one that would use more words than the gravely Bat. “Here’s how I see it. Loving someone is easy. It’s not an act of will, it just happens. You don’t decide. Acting on those feelings, that’s something else. It takes work. And it’s risky. If it doesn’t work out, you get hurt. With me so far?”
I nodded, fascinated and astonished he’d put so much thought into this.
“Now the life we’ve chosen, all of this, it’s not easy. And it’s not safe. So if we haven’t… acted on our feelings so far, I don’t think anyone can say it’s the result of laziness or cowardice on our part, we’re neither of us afraid of hard work or taking risks.”
“I don’t know about that,” I said lightly, “There’s a difference between the risk of getting shot or running into a burning building, and risking getting your heart broken into tiny little pieces and handed to you.”
“This isn’t a time to argue, it’s a time to listen and go along.”
I smiled. I always thought his stubborn refusal to have his views challenged was part of the crimefighting hero thing: the law is the law, goodness prevails and all that jazz. I was beginning to see that it’s just his way. He’d be just as adamant telling me the right way to squeeze the toothpaste as he was admonishing my criminal activities. He continued with his theory:
“The thing is, we’re not like other people, and we shouldn’t try to define our relationship in their terms. What we have might seem odd to them, but so are the costumes, the masks, and the animal-themed monikers. What’s ‘normal’ for them doesn’t work for us. Their kind of relationships don’t either –I’ve tried. Making lame excuses to disappear from parties, trying to get physical without showing fresh scars I can’t explain… Trying to look at myself in the mirror after one of those all-night heart-to-hearts where she bared her soul and I didn’t say one single thing that wasn’t a lie…” He picked up his glass and took a sip. It reminded him of something: “Once I took a girl to Maison de Pierre, world-famous for their wine cellar. I was patrolling later so I didn’t drink. She noticed, didn’t say anything, just filed it away. When she got around to breaking up with me, she included in the laundry list of my faults my dishonesty in never telling her I was a recovering alcoholic.”
I laughed. I couldn’t help it.
“But you were dishonest with her,” I pointed out. “You were hiding a secret, just not the one she thought.”
“Yeah. That was the last intelligent woman I dated. It’s been bimbos since then. It’s safer. But…not very enjoyable.”
“I don’t see how it could be, if your prerequisite for dating someone is that she be too dim to notice you’re playing her for a fool.”
“That’s my point. Normal relationships don’t work for people like us. What we have does. They’ll never understand it. We’ll never be able to make sense out of it using their standards. But it does work. Let’s just accept it for what it is. Whatever it is.”
I was at a total loss. I could see I was supposed to say something, but nothing was there. I thought of the dream I couldn’t remember. I thought of the rosy glow in the mirror and the chill his voice sends down my spine. I thought of how cute it was that he’s as pigheaded in casual conversation as he is threatening to take me down for felony burglary. He was right: it’s not a relationship any sane person would call normal—but it does work. I still didn’t know what to say, so I leaned over, gave his cheek a gentle kiss, and his chest a light scratch.
To be continued…