Norman has his bags, the doorman and clerk have been spoken to, and now it’s all clear. I hold my hands in each other, standing in the corner of the lift opposite Norman, listening as the elevator hums upward. I’m looking at the floor because I can’t look at him. Because it took me too long to tell him something that he took like the man he is. Because what I told him is nothing compared to what I still won’t. Because, though I know I did the best I could have, I still feel ashamed.
I stay a few steps away from him even after I’ve keyed the doors open directly into the penthouse, washed in golden afternoon light. There’s the shame—and then there’s what else I know; when he’s done what he’s done for me, just now, he deserves not to be touched. It’s simply an unfortunate fact that what makes him deserve more than my whims also makes me want to touch him more. Perhaps the correlation is forever. Perhaps I should only touch him when I’m indifferent to doing so.
But I know once we’re inside he’ll start talking again, so I have to suck it up and start acting normal.
“This is it…” I say, dropping the key on a small table.
Norman walks in, juggling his bags,, looking around kind of hesitantly. “Wow…it’s really nice…”
I snort. “I know. Hedonists. They’re fantastic, aren’t they?”
Uncomfortably, he laughs. “Well, I mean, he works for it, so…”
I should stop, I’m doing this all wrong. But I can’t. “It’s mostly all old money. I don’t believe Mr. Wayne is all that personally invested in his business. So, you know, drink all his nice old wines. He’d never miss them.”
“Heh…That's all right. Uh, which way is the bedroom? I wanna put these in the closet.”
“Oh. It’s, uh, the second door in there.” I point.
“Thanks, Cupcake.” He starts down the short hallway, still looking around as he goes.
I sit on the arm of a sofa and watch him until I can’t see him anymore. But he comes back out soon, still carrying all his stuff. “He's got some of his things in there. I'll just put these somewhere else for now.” He goes to the hallway closet and sets down his bags before opening it.
Norman winces. “Wow…I don’t think he really uses this closet much.” He leans partway into the closet and glances around, looking something like a puppy trying to see the top of a dripping flue. “Is there a broom I can get these cobwebs with?” I should have seen it coming, really; I smile.
“Probably in a clos—oh, I don’t know. I’ll check the kitchen.” It only takes a second to find one leaning against the side of the pantry.
When Norman takes it from me—“Thanks, Cupcake.”—I catch a glimpse at the neglectful cobwebs, but just barely; a few wispy single threads in the darkest corners of the closet. I try not to laugh, grinning and closing my eyes, when he starts whacking around indiscriminately.
There’s a sound, a tumble of many small things falling. “What was that?”
“I…I don't know. Uh…I guess I knocked open some kind of cabinet?” He leans the broom against a wall and gets on his knees to look at the stuff. He holds something up and inspects it. My heart stops before my mind can form the word. Batarang. “Huh. That's a funny lookin’ letter opener….”
I feel the deer-in-headlights face I’m wearing and I’m not sure how long I’ve been wearing it. I arrange my face into something, I hope, like calm and simple bemusement, and I laugh. “It could be…a razor?”
“Ugh.” He drops it.
I nervously laugh again and cross over to the closet, crouching next to Norman to view the damage. And when I do see, I almost stop breathing again but instead analyze. Two batarangs; a handful of smoke bombs; grappler rope; micro bat-camera; bat-lasso (electrified); handcuffs; tightly coiled standard bat-rope; little tranquilizing darts; and a can of bat-shark repellant—whose label is, miraculously, missing.
I’m trying not to hyperventilate, trying to get my head in the right place. There has to be a way to contain this, there has to be a way to stop time right now and fix it, there has to be a—
Norman stands up and pokes at the pile with the broom handle. Moves things around. Pokes at the pair of handcuffs specifically. “Well, this is awkward.”
In a moment of clarity, watching him, I realize there’s nothing to contain. Not if I play this right. Starting with getting all this out of sight before he starts to realize what it is. “We should put it away…” I say, picking up three of the smoke bombs like they’re jacks. There’s a small cardboard box on the closet floor; I drop them in, even though I’m almost afraid one will go off. I can’t show recognition of any of the things spilled out here. I have to act like I’ve never seen them before. So when I pick up one of the batarangs, I make sure to make it look like an accident when it slices my index finger open. I drop it, gasping; that, I don’t need to fake. It hurts. I stick my finger in my mouth to alleviate the sting.
“Ahh, Cupcake, are you okay? Here, let me see it.”
The way his hand hovers by his side—almost reaching toward me, yet ultimately keeping away, every bit of it unconscious—reminds me this isn’t a game. Restores the guilt.
I slide my finger back out of my mouth and hold it up. “It’s okay, just a little one.” Darn. Not as little as I wanted, but it’s not as though I’ve practiced cutting myself open on these. Just a second and it’s dripping down my hand, but nothing a piece of gauze can’t fix.
“Well, all right,” he says, wincing. “Just go get it clean. I’ll, uh, put this stuff back.”
“Thank you, dear.” I kiss his cheek as I stand up. Fill with panic at leaving him alone with it as I stalk, tense-shouldered, into the bathroom.
There’s peroxide in the medicine cabinet, tape, a roll of gauze. I hastily wash the blood off and wrap it up—I need to get back in there, make sure he’s not looking too closely at anything. I don’t know what he’s thinking now, of Bruce’s reason for owning all these things, but whatever his explanation is, it’s better than the truth and so my job now is to keep that thought alive.
I shut the water off, but the sound of running water persists elsewhere. Norman isn’t by the closet. All the Bat’s things are in the box, stowed in the still-open place they came from. The water is running in the kitchen. I stand in front of the closet, looking at the little cabinet. There are at least three like it in the Cave. I know how to close it. But it might be showing too much to close it—there’s a trick to it, and—
“I, uh, couldn’t get it closed. I’m not even sure how I opened it…” I jumped at the sound of his voice. I have to relax. I have to relax now. I deliberate for another moment and make my decision.
“Oh, I…I’ll see if I can’t take care of it.” I reach up to the door and spend what feels like an eternity pretending to fiddle with the door. Eventually, I shut it and sigh. Out of sight, out of mind. “Oh, good. Good as new.”
I watch uncomfortably as he leans in and peers at the place. “Wow, it's like it's not even there… He, uh, must have really not wanted anyone to see that stuff… Though I mean, I can see why…”
Oh gol he knows. “What? Why?”
He’s not looking me in the eye. “Oh, well I’m sure the gossip rags would have a grand ol’ time talking about Mr. Wayne’s naughty toybox…” I don’t understand what he’s getting at. Vigilantism isn’t really tabloid fare. In reaction to my blank expression, he continues, “Uh, I’m sorry, I really shouldn’t be talking to a lady about this…” A deep flush dominates his face.
I stare at the blush, trying to decode it. All at once, the lightbulb goes on over my head and I want to laugh. Mysterious little items. The handcuffs. “Ohhh.” Grinning, I cover my eyes and shake my head. “No, I suppose not.”
Still averting his eyes, Norman changes the subject. “So, uh…I guess I’ll just unpack later…”
I didn’t know the cupboard was there. Of course I didn’t. But now I wonder—I don’t know whether it’s the only one. But I need to know, if he’s going to be spending any more time around here, if he’s going to be unthinkingly inspecting every surface like I know he will. I need to know. I need to get him away from me busy somewhere. But something, a question, is raised. “Well, then what is it you want to do now?”
I’m not really listening, instead electing to frantically search my mind for some way to get rid of him. Get rid of him. What an awful thing to want or to think—but awful, that’s me.
G: Like helplessness experiments. That's the biggest problem in zombie apocalypses. People who survive will always eventually come to question why they bother.
Seamus: The biggest problem in zombie apocalypses is poor planning and not enough ammo.