By Jef UK
Every night I don my mask and Bruce and I make this city a little safer. Swinging above the clamor of 6th Avenue, perched among gargoyles, shadows and other denizens of the night, we pose as monsters but stand as protectors, arbiters of justice, warriors against crime. We are a team. We are vigilant. Criminals are a cowardly and superstitious lot. Bruce is like a father to me.
Running along the rooftops eighteen stories up, we jump over 23rd Street. The night wind blows against my face and I almost don’t make it. Bruce’s gloved hand reaches for my own, and he pulls me up, a reassuring smile crossing his lips. I’m safe. I’m safe with him, his hand in mine. He dresses like a bat.
A gunshot pops and we’re running again. My knee is bleeding, as is my left arm. Grime and roofing material burn in the wounds. I think I sprained my wrist when I didn’t make that jump. We get to the scene of the crime quickly: a man lies dead in the alleyway, a woman slumped next to him sobbing, holding the dead man’s hand, shaking her head. We swing down. Bruce asks the woman, “Where is the man who did this?” She doesn’t look at us, she’s just sobbing, and then she points. There’s blood all over her hands, her arms, her clothes. I’m standing in blood. She’s pretty. I wonder if she and Bruce would get along.
We’re running again. We see a dark figure clambering up a fire escape. We run towards the dark figure, towards the ladder. He’s going to tell us everything we want to know. A shot fires and ricochets off the back-alley wall to my right, whizzes past my ear. Bruce is well ahead of me. He wins every race.
“Split up,” Bruce orders.
Don’t. Don’t leave me, Bruce.
“You have to learn self-sufficiency, Chum. You’re almost 13.”
But I’m tired. I’m scared.
“I’ll protect you, Chum. I’ll always protect you. Now get up the side of that building. I’ll see you up there.”
By the time I get to the roof, Bruce is already on top of the man. Bruce is straddling the man’s chest, pinning the man’s hands with his knees. There’s a cap on the ground almost the exact shade of blue as Bruce’s boots. Bruce is punching the man in the face repeatedly. The man is crying, pleading for Bruce to stop. The man’s face is bloody and swollen; it looks like his mouth is torn. Bruce is gritting his teeth and grunting with every punch. Grunt grunt grunt grunt grunt grunt. The man has stopped crying, he no longer pleads. He just kind of mews and whimpers.
Bruce is breathing heavily, his chest heaves. He stands up, his hands at his waist, his shoulders a bit slumped.
“Good work,” he says.
Did you find the gun?
“Hm. No. He must have stashed it somewhere.”
We’ll find it, Bruce.
“Don’t call me that! Don’t you ever call me that when we’re our here doing what we do! Do you understand me? Do you?”
Yes. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I won’t do it ever again. I promise. I will never let you down again.
We’re running. We’re scaling the tallest building in Gotham. I’m glad we didn’t find the gun. Guns scare me. If we had found it, Bruce would have given it to me and told me to take it to the cave, while he continued on patrol. But now I don’t have to go. Now I can scale the tallest building in Gotham with him, and we can peer over the entire city with bat-shaped binoculars, our capes flapping in the night wind, and I’ll be safe. Safe with him.
This guy is going to kill me one of these days.
We’re running. We’re always running, every night. And leaping and swinging and kicking and punching. And for what? We never seem to make a dent. All the lowlifes come back out the next night, wheeling and dealing, scamming, selling and killing. Crime continues to pay.
Bruce is telling me that criminals are a cowardly and suspicious lot, and that that is why he dresses as a bat. Right. I mean, the guy’s obviously insane. Sure, he’s dressed like a bat, but what the hell am I dressed as? I wear green swimming shorts, a domino mask and a yellow cape. I’m wearing green pointy booties, for god’s sake! No criminals are afraid of me: they all call me fag. So do the tabloids. Once, after having just swooped down upon an armed offender, we didn’t even have to fight him. The guy just doubled over laughing. As he pointed at me, he went and dropped his gun. He said, “Who are you supposed to be? Homo Boy? The Emerald Fairy? Queer-bait Lad?” Once Bruce had the perp cuffed, I beat the shit out of the guy. Bruce didn’t get in my face about it or anything, so I guess that was cool.
Fuck! I just almost plunged to my fucking death! Why the hell do we jump from building to building, anyway? I mean, Bruce has more money than God, and he even has a special car for this gig, with all sorts of bat-themed gizmos and shit. But do we ever use it in the city? No. We just drive the damn thing from the Mansion to the docks, and then, there we go, running, jumping and swinging. Next thing you know, I’m hanging on for dear life to a gutter, 18 stories up. Hey, Bat-dick, a little help?
“I don’t appreciate your attitude, little buddy.”
Yeah, fuck you. Oh man, was that a gunshot? Damn it. And here I was just thinking we might get a night off. So, yeah, we’re running, but we get to the crime scene soon enough. It’s in an alley. It’s always in an alley. There’s a woman sobbing over a dead guy and she’s kind of lying on top of his chest, her shoulders shaking from crying. There’s blood everywhere. From up here it kind of looks like she’s eating him, like she’s a zombie or something, you know, gnawing on his intestines. That would be sort of cool. We swoop down.
When she sees Bruce, her mouth gapes and eyes widen with horror. Then she sees me and she just looks confused. Then she points. I guess we’re supposed to assume that that’s the way the assailant went. We do, or rather, Bruce does. So guess what? We’re running.
In another alley, we can see some guy climbing up a fire escape. There’s no way to tell if he’s our guy or not, but Bruce yells, “Stop!” anyway. This just makes the guy climb faster. Wait, what’s he doing now? HOLY SHIT! He took a shot at me! That fucker took a shot at me! Bruce doesn’t even break his stride. “Let’s split up, flank him from both sides,” he says. Fine. Just get the hell away from me. Fucking yellow cape. Might as well paint a target on my chest.
I’m climbing. Why do I still hang with this loser? Sure, he took me in when my parents died, and he’s a multibillionaire, and I’ve got a weekly allowance that matches most adult’s yearly income, but is it worth my life? Is it worth all this crazy shit? I don’t know. I just don’t fucking know.
By the time I get to the roof, Bruce has already got the guy. He’s really giving it to him. The guy’s unconscious already, but Bruce keeps pounding away. The guy’s face is unrecognizable, bloody and swollen and soft. Every time Bruce’s fist meets the guy’s head, a pulpy smacking sound answers and it reminds me of the noise a grapefruit makes when you throw it against a wall. But Bruce doesn’t stop.
Hey, man, lay off. You’re gonna kill the guy. We don’t even know if he’s the right one.
“Don’t you tell me what to do! Don’t you ever tell me what to do! Do you understand me? Do you?”
Yeah, whatever. Psycho. Well, at least he never touches me funny.
When his mouth is on my neck, when his teeth are biting my earlobes, and his voice is hoarse and breathless, the bat tells me to call him Bruce. He sometimes calls me, “Boy Wonder,” even though I’m a girl. He usually just calls me Robin, though, just like everyone else, just like my parents did.
After he saved me, he gave me this really fun outfit to wear, with a pretty yellow cape and a mask and everything! I thought it was the best and said I would wear it all the time. “Good,” he said, “good.” The next day he cut my hair real short and died it black and I cried and cried and cried. He told me that it was for my own good. That the men who killed my parents wouldn’t be able to recognize me now.
Mommy and Daddy are dead?
“Yes,” he said.
Who killed them?
“I don’t know.”
“They fell swinging from the trapeze. Someone had cut the line. Made it look like an accident.”
My daddy works for Microsoft.
“The Amazing Grays—!”
Who are the Grays—?
“We’ll catch whoever is responsible for this, Robin. I promise you.”
I want my Mommy.
Tonight we’re going on patrol. The locks slide and click on the metal door that leads to the cave’s only exit, and the man dressed as a bat walks in.
“Are you ready?” he asks?
I don’t want to go.
“Do you want me to take away your bucket again? Do you want to shit on the floor like an animal? Do you?
“Let’s go, Boy Wonder.”
He pushes me out of the window of his apartment, then joins me on the fire escape. He tells me to get on his back and then we climb the ladder to the roof. He’s told me that he owns the entire building, so yelling won’t help me. Besides, he’s a hero anyway. No one would believe me.
I close my eyes tight the whole way up. I’m scared the wind will blow us away. I’m scared of all the cars honking, men yelling, dogs barking. I want to go home. I miss my yard. When we get to the top, we start running. We run around with our arms spread out, our capes flapping in the wind. We make whooshing noises with our mouths. This is fun, I think. This is always the fun part. Then there’s a loud clap that sounds like my Daddy’s old T-bird backfiring in the garage.
“Get down!” the bat yells, and he’s on top of me. He’s heavy, and sweating and he smells like dirty socks. He’s too heavy. He straddles my chest, pins my arms with his knees.
“I’ll protect you, Boy Wonder. I’ll always protect you.”
No. This is wrong. I’m only 12.
“What the hell are you saying! That I’m a queer? I’m not queer! I’m not fucking gay! Do you hear me? Would a fag do this? Would he? Would he?”
I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know, I’m sorry. Don’t hurt me.
But he does. Just like every time. He pulls aside my green swimming trunks and paws at me with his gloved hand. Then he’s lying directly on top of me, and I can’t see because my eyes are closed and his cape is wrapped around my face, and he hurts me, hurts my insides, and I know I’ll bleed when I pee all week. When he’s done, I just lay there, numb. He’s sitting next to me on the ground, his arms folded around his knees, his face buried in his arms, and it sounds like he’s crying. Sobbing. His shoulders shake. Time passes, but I don’t really notice until he picks me up, throws me over his shoulder, and starts climbing down the fire escape.
“It’s time to go down to the cave again, Robin. But we did some good work tonight. Nice job, Boy Wonder. You really let that mugger have it.”
I want to go home.