Chapter 1: The Journal of Alfred Pennyworth
"It seems increasingly likely that I really will undertake the expedition that has been preoccupying my imagination now for some days."
So begins my favorite novel, Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro. I would be hard-pressed to say how many evenings I have spent reading and rereading this astonishing book in that hour between retiring to my room and turning out the light to sleep.
In the early days, I was reluctant to watch television at this hour in case Master Bruce returned home from his nocturnal activities and I failed to hear him for the noise. I soon realized how rarely he would be returning at a decent hour, and have since developed a certain sense for the ebb and flow of his nighttime schedule. So there really is, I suppose, no reason now to confine myself to such silent pursuits. I could watch television if I wished. Master Bruce has equipped my room with a fine set and Master Dick gave me a DVD player for Christmas last year, along with a somewhat curious selection of films I have never watched. I suppose I simply prefer to read.
And yet tonight I am putting aside the fictional journal of Mr. Stevens, butler of Darlington Hall, in order to begin a journal of my own.
I have just come from the cave, where I was pleased to collect only half a sandwich remaining on the snack tray. This marks the second night this week that Master Bruce has eaten the soup and at least a portion of the sandwich, and last night he even dined upstairs with Miss Selina. One cannot help but be encouraged.
While in the cave, I made my customary stop in the costume vault to collect Master Bruce's clothes for laundering and hang the kimono for him to change into on his return. My first action on entering the vault these days is always to sniff and ascertain if any hint of the odor has returned.
I should perhaps explain:
A short while ago the master's partnership with Superman obliged him to travel to a nether dimension called Apokolips. They were victorious in so far as defeating that realm's overlord, Darkseid - due in large part to the master's own strategy and resolve. One could not help but feel proud of the accomplishment. Neither could one help noticing that the aura of that vile place had permeated the master's costume. In the end it had to be burned.
One naturally did one's best to launder the garment before taking so drastic a step. In those few days before we determined the entire costume did, in fact, have to be replaced, the revolting stench, best likened to rotting eggs and gasoline, congealed in the close air of the costume vault. I have been battling it ever since.
Unlike the master's decisive routing of Darkseid, my own fight against the lingering stink of his realm has been a prolonged war of attrition. Tonight's careful sniff did reveal a faint hint of the foul smell returning where the cape had hung. I went at once to the chemistry lab and poured a few tablespoons of a particular clear liquid into a small flat petri dish. I returned this to the costume vault to evaporate. By morning no trace of the odor will remain…
When I remarked that I was beginning this journal, I should have more properly said I was resuming it, for this is the fourth I have kept in my life. I thought it a ludicrous practice in the beginning, telling one's thoughts to a sheet of paper as if conversing with another person. But it was assigned as an acting exercise, and one was not in a position to refuse.
I soon learned how mistaken I was to scoff. Something in the act of putting it all on paper, placing one's circumstances before an imaginary reader, led to surprising discoveries about one's life, one's loved ones, one's very soul.
If I may illustrate: You may have smiled, my imaginary reader, when I said my favorite book is Remains of the Day. If you knew this book, knew that its main character, Mr. Stevens, is a butler, then the preference might have struck you as an amusing vanity on my part. Anticipating this, I might now go on to tell you how Mr. Stevens is no ordinary butler. As he explains at some length, his was an idealistic generation, ambitious to make their mark on the world by serving gentlemen who were "furthering the progress of humanity." Professional success for such men had little to do with the wages they were paid, the size of the staff they managed, or the splendor of their employer's family name. It lay in practicing their skills for gentlemen who were working towards a better world. For Stevens that meant the MPs and Cabinet Ministers "in whose hands civilization had been entrusted." For myself, I am unable to read those passages without thinking of Master Bruce.
There is no question that the master's efforts as Batman have "furthered the progress of humanity." He has, through his association with the Justice League, saved the human race from extinction more than once. And yet, I believe it is the individual day-to-day efforts that gives him the most satisfaction; bettering the lives of individual citizens of Gotham, both through the work of the Wayne Foundation, and in making the city safer through his nightly patrols.
I do, you see, appreciate the need for a Batman in the world. I simply wish it did not have to be Master Bruce that chose to take on that role. Much as I understand the master's drive and desire, I do – particularly at this time of night – hate that Master Bruce feels the need to put himself in the situations he does. Of course, talking Master Bruce out of being Batman is an impossibility; that much has been evident for many years. So one does whatever is necessary to aid and provide for him however one can.
Is it really so surprising then, that I am more inclined to reread this one book in the evenings, rather than watch a musical about Eva Peron?
As I said, I made my customary stop in the costume vault a short while ago and collected the clothes Master Bruce had removed before changing into the Batsuit. I was somewhat amused to see he had again worn the new sweater. Like the kimono, the sweater is a gift from Miss Selina, a cotton argyle, light blue and navy. Master Bruce admits it is not entirely his style, but one gathers Miss Selina is quite enthusiastic about the colour. In fact, while one would not wish to open oneself up to accusations of eavesdropping, the truth is that one did happen to overhear remarks to the effect that the intense blue of the garment brought out the master's eyes.
I saw that the master's gi was also laid aside for laundering. I inspected it carefully and was pleased to note that, while it was markedly wet with perspiration, there were no bloodstains or punctures in the fabric. Whatever workout Master Bruce had engaged in before setting out this evening, it had not, evidently, involved the menacing contraption Masters Dick and Timothy refer to as "Zogger." Of all the times the young gentlemen (and I include Master Bruce most of all in this group) have had cause to call upon my training as a medic, the one instance where I am tempted to throw up my hands and let them bleed is when their wounds are, essentially, self-inflicted by means of this Zogger. Master Bruce is adamant that this kind of aggressively violent training is necessary for defensive moves to become instinctive. Still, as Miss Selina has observed, it is ironic that of all the persons of her acquaintance designing deathtraps to harm him, the one putting in the most hours and devising the most destructive appliance is Master Bruce himself.
In any case, having attended to my final duties for the day with respect to the cave, I returned to the manor by way of the elevator that opens into the butler's pantry off the kitchen. This room is not, strictly speaking, a pantry in the sense of a storeroom for foodstuffs. It is the office from which the head of the domestic staff has organized the affairs of Wayne Manor since the house was built. When that head domestic is the housekeeper, the room is often called a parlor; when a butler, it is the pantry.
I have always found it prudent to take a few minutes here at the end of each day to prepare for the next. It is my custom to enjoy a cup of hot milk as I do so, and Miss Selina's little companion Nutmeg has become a regular guest for this ritual. When the elevator door opened, there she was, waiting. She was actually sitting on the laptop I use to organize various housekeeping matters, sitting on it with her head cocked to the side in that rather inquisitive way, as if she were puzzled what could have kept me from such an important assignation.
"Good evening, Miss Nutmeg," I greeted her. "Have you come to keep me company or have you come to beg some milk?"
Some may feel it is silly to converse this way with a cat, but I was obliged to pick the creature up from where she had settled herself in order to start the laptop, and it seemed only polite to acknowledge her in some way before depositing her on the floor. While the laptop powered up, I heated the milk.
In my little friend's honour, I have taken to sprinkling my nightcap with nutmeg (the spice) rather than cinnamon, as was my habit previously. This may strike you as a peculiar kind of joke, but the cat herself seems not insensible to the compliment. And as we are the only two parties in the kitchen at this hour, I really don't see that it is anyone else's concern so long as we are both pleased with it.
When I returned to the pantry, the laptop had completed its routine, accessing Master Bruce's schedule and e-mail from Wayne Enterprises. I noted two appointments listed for the following day: a budget meeting before eleven o'clock— which he would normally cancel out of, were it not taking place right before a board meeting for the Foundation, which he would never skip. I mentally doffed my cap to Mr. Fox, for that inspired bit of scheduling could not be an accident. I took the appropriate sheet from the looseleaf calendar and wrote these appointments out in longhand.
This schedule, along with any pertinent e-mail, and the morning newspapers, I would place next to Master Bruce's plate at breakfast. A meeting Master Bruce would actually be attending at Wayne Enterprises meant a full breakfast served in the dining room. I've found the extra effort useful in getting him fully awake quickly at an early hour.
I would still bring him and Miss Selina a tray, of course, when I went to wake them. That is the customary shield butlers and valets have always armed themselves with when entering the bedroom, opening the blinds, and ruthlessly forcing wakefulness on an employer we know has been drinking, consorting, or in this case swinging around town in a cape only a few hours earlier. But on mornings like the one to come, I would not bring coffee, pastries, or newspapers on that tray. Only orange juice for the master and a mineral water with lime for Miss Selina. For the rest they knew they would have to dress and come down to the dining room.
There the master would find this sheet with his schedule, along with his newspapers and any pertinent letters – such as the e-mail I printed out for him. It indicated a delivery of "research materials" from WayneTech would be made to the private airfield at four the following afternoon.
I should explain this.
A few nights ago the Batmobile was vandalized, perhaps by the Joker himself, perhaps by that sad creature, Harley Quinn, that dotes on him. The damage was largely cosmetic, but Master Bruce does not believe in wasting an opportunity. Since the primary vehicle must be taken out of general use and worked on anyway, he wishes to install a few upgrades. It is my belief that he views this as a form of punishment: Even if the vandals will never know of it, it is because of their actions that he will be equipped with a better weapon to use against them.
The materials to bring about these improvements we requisitioned through WayneTech via the "private airfield," one of the many secrets of the Batman trade. As far as WayneTech is concerned, this code phrase means that Bruce Wayne just saw a report in a trade magazine about the Sultan of Oman's new state-of-the-art private jet and he simply must keep up with the Joneses— or the Al Saids, as the case may be. At four o'clock tomorrow, the requisitioned parts would be delivered to his private hanger and from thence, he, Master Dick or Master Tim would pick them up for transport to the cave.
With Master Bruce out of the house, it was unlikely that Miss Selina would wish anything formal in the way of lunch. I therefore wrote out only a dinner menu to lay at her place at the breakfast table. Tomorrow is to be a "family dinner," meaning Master Dick and Ms Barbara are invited. We shall see. The couple has not, sadly, accepted this weekly invitation as regularly as they had in the months before their marriage. Perhaps the inclusion of Master Dick's favorite pork chops on the menu will improve matters. I shall certainly suggest that Miss Selina mention it when she calls tomorrow to confirm their attendance.
The matter of these suggestions to Miss Selina is, of course, somewhat delicate. She is the mistress of the manor in every sense but one: she is not Mrs. Wayne. In this day that is not so very uncommon. If it were merely that Master Bruce and Miss Selina chose to live together without officially becoming man and wife, that would present no difficulty to any domestic professional worthy of the name. The delicacy arises from the lengthy and extravagant history of denial, from both parties, as to the true nature of their relationship as Batman and Catwoman. I saw it first hand in so far as Master Bruce was concerned. From literally the night of their first meeting. I shall never forget his expression as he described "the cat burglar" - her voice, her costume – the way he seemed to replay the encounters in his mind as he spoke of them. The details he chose to speak aloud and those he clearly omitted. It was all quite transparent.
It was not for some years, of course, that I learned Miss Selina was equally stubbornly deluded. I confess to a certain sympathy with her compatriots, criminals though they may be. For it seems that if they made any allusion to the situation that was so clear to us all, she responded with claws. The master merely scowled.
It is not, I should make clear, that I have any fear of Miss Selina donning claws and attacking me for placing a menu next to her place at breakfast. I have merely noticed in recent weeks that, despite the enormous changes in the substance of their relationship, the superficial denial of old seems to have returned in a new and unexpected form: They are married, after all, in every way that matters. The difficulty is that they appear not to have noticed. And one is somewhat wary, given the history, of bringing that fact to their attention.
One would like to encourage, to be sure, some step that would make it all official. But the fear of upsetting the delicate balance, spooking one or both into some panicked ill-considered withdrawal, is very real. - Hence my reluctance to proceed in the matter of the decorating.
Again, I should probably explain.
Wayne Manor has a total of twenty-five bedrooms. That is to say, there are five 3-room suites, each consisting of a main bedroom and two adjoining spaces that can be used as a boudoir, sitting room, nursery or servant's room, as well as ten individual guest rooms. As you might expect, very few of these are in use at any given time. If it were left at that, decades might pass while a given room remained unchanged and unoccupied. The advent of a houseparty might discover the wallpaper yellowing, the hangings mildewed, and the ancient bed linens crumbling to dust. The common practice to avoid such an occurrence is simply to cycle through the rooms, redecorating one or two each year, so that even the least used quarters will never become egregiously out of date.
The thought had occurred to me that, as Miss Selina is now de facto mistress of the house, it would be most appropriate for her to take over this task. It might, in and of itself, give either her or Master Bruce the crucial nudge in terms of realizing her true place in the household. And at the very least it would relieve me of a duty for which I have always felt myself ill suited. Consider the Rose Bedroom, so named not for the dominant colour of its walls but for the floral pattern on the carpet, curtains, bed hangings and coverlet. It was this room where Master Bruce deposited "the bimbos," as he was apt to call his dates in the days of the playboy pose, once they had drunk enough champagne and nodded off, freeing him to pursue his regular evening activities. Given the room's true function, I thought the rose motif was pleasingly feminine. But the reaction from the ladies who have seen it – from the aforementioned bimbos to Ms Barbara and Miss Selina in later years - has been more or less consistent: "too much pink."
So as I say, I would be most pleased to have Miss Selina take this duty off my hands. If she were successful, as there is no reason to believe she would not be, one might speak to Master Bruce about having her turn an eye to the penthouse in the Wayne Tower and then perhaps the manor's south drawing room. It is, I think you will concede, an excellent plan. It is only, as I said, that history of denial and the marked tendency to overreact when their denials are challenged, that have caused me to refrain putting the plan into action.
Having completed my preparations for the coming day, I patted Miss Nutmeg on her head and switched off the light in the pantry. I proceeded upstairs to my room, intending only the briefest detour at the top of the stairs, to check Master Bruce's closet. You will appreciate, surely, that Wayne Manor keeps different hours than most households. If a shirt needs to be pressed or shoes shined for the master's upcoming meeting, I would prefer to attend to such matters now, rather than discovering them when laying out his clothes in the morning. Remaining awake for an extra hour is certainly no great hardship for me. Indeed, one prefers to be awake and available as late as one is able, should Masters Bruce or Tim return early to the cave and require attention.
Naturally, knowing the house to be empty apart from myself and the cats, I did not knock at the master's bedroom door. You will appreciate my surprise on opening it to find the room occupied after all.
"Begging your pardon, Miss Selina," I quickly apologized. "I didn't realize you had returned from your… eh."
"It's okay, Alfred," she said. "You can call it a prowl."
"No Miss, I don't believe I could use such an expression," I told her. "In any case, I was unaware you had returned. May I bring you anything?"
"No thank you, Alfred."
There was something about the way she said it –
Miss Selina, I should explain, is a creature of remarkable temperament. She exudes a liveliness and energy that hints at playful good humor when she is pleasantly disposed, and fiery wrath when she is angered. Anyone pretending the slightest understanding of Master Bruce cannot help but recognize she is his perfect match. Whether playful or annoyed, her zestful spirit suits his ponderous, sometimes dour, intensity. That sparkling energy was missing from her now. What might pass for fatigue in another woman seemed, from her, downright despondent. One felt compelled to linger about the room for a time, just in case one's confidence might be sought.
"Alfred," she began finally, "Did you know one of the cave bats dropped dead this afternoon?"
I told her I was not aware of the incident, but that it was not an uncommon occurrence.
"That's what Bruce said. Still, it fell down right smack onto his workstation - while he was sitting there. Doesn't seem quite human to be not even slightly freaked by it. Don't you think?"
"You are disposed to see this as an ill omen, Miss?"
"No, not really," she admitted. "I don't really believe in that stuff. But I asked him to stay home tonight anyway. To humor me. He said no, naturally. You wouldn't think it was so much to ask after all this time, would you Alfred? When have I asked anything from him? Since this whole thing started, when have I asked one blessed thing that compromises the sacred 'mission' – And you know what he said? The Tipu Tigers; Can you believe that? It's not the same thing! Asking to leave with gold Indian tiger heads encrusted with rubies – which he knew damn well I was only three-quarters serious about anyway – is not the same thing as asking him to not go out tonight because I'm a little freaked out about goddamn dead bats falling from the ceiling."
I confess I was left at something of a loss by this impassioned confession. The despondency that had piqued my concern had given way in a few seconds to Miss Selina's usual vigor. I had, of course, seen that vigor directed at the master before and from a standpoint less-than-wholly-sympathetic. What's more, the spirit of her complaint was one I could relate to. The jeopardy in which the master constantly places himself is an ongoing burden to those who care about him. I said as much to Miss Selina – then, without meaning to, I heard myself adding:
"Of course it is a minor burden, in his eyes, I am sure, compared to that he takes on himself. But then in his case, it is his own choice to assume that burden, whereas we are merely stuck with the consequences of his decision."
"He can be a selfish bastard that way, can't he," Miss Selina mused resentfully. "You know, it was my choice once. I'm an independent-minded cat, I wanted to do as I pleased and if that meant stealing that meant stealing. I certainly didn't have to stop to make his life any easier. – But I wanted more than the gold and ruby tiger heads, I wanted him too. I wanted to be the kind of person he could respect, I guess, or… anyway, I was stuck. The things I wanted weren't compatible and something had to give. It was my choice – and if I'd gone the other way then, he would have been the one stuck with it, wouldn't he. Wanting me, but not wanting the conflict of interest being involved with a criminal, and not a damn thing he could do about it, because of the choice I made."
"I'm sorry, Alfred. I shouldn't be going on this way at you. I'm upset."
"I can see that, Miss."
"Would have it been so much for him to take one night off to please me? Am I not entitled to even that much?"
The words were telling. Miss Selina's preoccupation with her Independence is legendary. "It's a cat thing" seems to be the accepted phrase amongst Master Bruce and the young gentlemen. For her, the reality that another person's choices could affect her life and her happiness is a monumental admission. More telling still was that word "entitled": was she not entitled to a say in a decision regarding Master Bruce's welfare? She allowed that his feelings were a consideration when she made such decisions – was it not reasonable for her to expect the same from him?
In short, I found the whole outburst so illuminating that I have just broken off my writing of this entry in order to go back and speak to her. I am pleased to say I have secured her agreement to assist me in decorating those two guest rooms.
...to be continued...