Homecoming

The last time she had seen him, she had taken fifty dollars from her ivory clutch purse and given it to him with what she hoped was a smile. "I'm sorry it isn't more, but I want you to know that I am proud of you." She'd tried to kiss him then, but his blue eyes—neither hers or his father's—had shown repugnance, and she was reminded that he hated her—and she was not overly fond of him. "Well," she said, lamely backing away. "Well. Good luck."

"Thank you," he said coolly, and it was as feelingless a remark as she had ever heard.

Then, nine years later, to see the same anomalous blue eyes in a back street alley, not unlike the one in which he had grown up . . .

She had hesitated to call out, then, as she had hesitated on the day of his high school graduation to kiss him. He was, after all, now the Director of Arkham Asylum—she watched the news like everyone else—and as likely to remember her as she to win the lottery. She hadn't written, she hadn't ever tried to call his office. What would she say to the secretary, anyway? She cringed at the thought. He was proud, even as a college student at Gotham U, priggishly proud, and it set her teeth on edge.

She did call out, though, and when he saw her, she was certain he recognized her. He said brief words to the hood-like men he was walking with—and him in his designer suit—and walked over to her, gingerly.

"Mother," he'd said. Not a question.

She had been at the moment going through a trash can for aluminum cans—not glamorous work, she told herself, but honest—and didn't dare extend her dirty hand.

"Hello, Jonathan."

He'd glanced about himself nervously, if such a cool demeanor could even experience nervousness. He was still pale, gangly. Nothing much to look at, as she'd always maintained. Even in the suit. He'd cleared his throat as if there had been nails in it. "Shall I take you somewhere to warm up? For a coffee?"

She had been so stunned by the offer that she forgot how much he had hated her in the past, how much trouble had been growing up, and for a moment she was proud of her son. She was proud of the elegant, immaculate black car he drove, the cautious way he accelerated, the lack of polite chitchat and even of stereo music.

It was March, an unpleasant month to walk in, even if the snows were gone. He pulled up at a nondescript café outside the Narrows, less trendy and commercialized than she had expected him to pick—she was sure he lived on Starbucks. He opened the door for her, all politeness. But she could see him working his jaw the way he did when agitated—a nervous tic since childhood, almost as bad as his continual nasty biting on the ends of ball point pens. She was disappointed but not surprised to see that maturity had not ridded him of his bad habits.

They stood in line, unspeaking, unsmiling. The café was small, somewhat dark inside. Tables were clean, almost sterile. Men in heavy coats with laptops read newspapers silently. Mrs. Crane, dwarfed by her son, was a small spot of drab color, dressed in a faded green house dress, a burgundy pea coat that had seen better days, and her greying hair wrapped in an imitation silk scarf. Her fingers were yellow from cigarettes and so she wore blue wool gloves. She declined to take them off inside.

"What would you like?" he asked.

She studied the chalkboard that listed the offerings. "A mocha almond cream," she said. She watched him closely as he withdrew his wallet. She looked for pictures of a wife, of children, not really surprised not to see them. He glared at her coldly, as if reproaching her for her curiosity. He paid, and they got their coffees. Selected a table by the window and sat down. He had black coffee with a drop of nondairy creamer and no sugar. With an overwhelming sweet tooth herself, this irritated her.

"You're skin and bones," she said.

"I beg your pardon?"

"With the money you make now, you could afford to feed yourself." She warmed her hands on the plain blue cup. "We never had a lot of food at home, I'll confess, but surely by now you've developed better instincts. I should hope you at least know how to pick a wine."

He stared at her—she was completely serious. "At least you're dressing yourself well these days," she said with a sniff.

"Mother," he said, not looking at her, "I only dressed poorly as a child because you never bought me new clothes." There was a sharpness to his controlled tone. "Or do you not remember that?"

Mrs. Crane set down her coffee cup with a sour expression. "I had four mouths to feed, five before your father left."

There was no need to add "because of you," because Jonathan knew that was implied. He drank his coffee swiftly, even though it burned his tongue. "And how are Larry and Sam, Mom?"

She spent a moment rearranging her skirt around herself. "Your brother has been in prison for the last two years."

"That can't be true." Crane did not mention his recent business relationship with Carmine Falcone, and how if Larry Crane had been in jail, Jonathan Crane would have known.

"Not in Gotham," said Mrs. Crane. "He stole a car and drove down south, where he got himself arrested." She shrugged, as if she could not believe this. "And your sister . . . passed on." Again Crane shook his head. "It's true. She was married at the time, no children . . ." She glanced at Jonathan's fingers, searching for a ring. "You aren't married yet. Don't you think it's about--?"

"Sam, Mother," Crane repeated. "What happened to her?"

Samantha had moved out of the Crane family home before Jonathan had even reached high school; he did not really know his older sister, and Mrs. Crane interpreted his concern as misplaced and hypocritical. "I'd rather not say," she said with finality.

The two sat in angry silence, neither of them offering any excuses for why they had not spoken in almost ten years. Jonathan cleared his throat and said, quietly, "And my father—have you heard from him?"

Mrs. Crane looked at her son with a sad smile, wondering if now at last was the time to tell him the truth.

Helene Anne Kendall Crane's mother's mother could still remember Reconstruction South Carolina, and that knowledge had been passed from daughter to daughter in a number of ways: an obsession with dressing properly, dressing for the occasion; an insistence on courting, on a marriage being properly done; the idea of the Southern lady and the Southern gentleman; and an eccentricity bordering upon mania surrounding values and family honor.

Helene grew up in the old house owned by her grandmother Julia, the fierce matriarch who refused to see that times were changing. Helene's mother was submissive, browbeaten to Grandmother Julia; Helene's father was away most of the time on business in Charleston. So the house was full of women, sugared ice tea, lights out at nine, no novel-reading, no contact with boys.

Helene did not go to college; after high school she attended a sort of young ladies' finishing school. She was nineteen when she went to Charleston with her father and disappeared for a few days. In the meantime, she sampled society, held her liquor, and got herself pregnant. She wrote to the father; she tried to call him when Grandmother Julia was out on the porch. She wasn't even sure if the name he had told her was correct. In the end she couldn't hide it anymore, and to her surprise, her mother had arranged for her to visit a place where she could get rid of it.

Grandmother Julia was strict to the point of cruelty. "The rod is too easily forgotten," she would say when she saw naughty children from the porch, or read about crime in the newspaper. She had been known to lock children in the root cellar for hours with no light and no explanation; once, when Helene's mother had misbehaved, she had taken the old Ford to the wood by Sutter's Farm and left her daughter there, alone, at night.

When Grandmother Julia found out about Helene's baby, she took Helene to the butcher shop; the idea was to shock her into a miscarriage. But a healthy baby boy named Jonathan Ignatius Shriker was born. Jonathan was Helene's father's middle name, and Shriker was the name the father had given her. Ignatius came from a postcard Helene had seen in New Orleans, with a picture of a Jesuit saint on it.

When she went to sleep one night, Helene woke on the floor of a creaky wooden church in North Carolina, baby Jonathan in his basket beside her. Without knowledge of where she was, she still knew that she had been cast out of the family forever. She did not begin to hate her baby, though such things crossed her mind often. She took work for the first time in her life, first as a housekeeper for the church. She took buses further and further north, taking odd jobs, mostly as a cleaner. What expectations she'd had for life were gone; she kept herself and baby Jonathan alive out of necessity, because her most innocent instincts told her to.

She met Henry Crane, a janitor, on the late shift in a school in one of the innumerable towns between South Carolina and Gotham. He was infatuated with her; she never really understood why. Her good looks, maybe, her air of martyrdom. Henry hesitated to marry Helene because of Jonathan. Henry had two children of his own and wasn't sure how the household would work. Helene was fond enough of Samantha and Lawrence, and she swore to love them as much as she did her own son.

So, they were married. Jonathan lost his birth father's tenuous name and became a Crane. It was decided between Henry and Helene that no one would ever tell Jonathan that he was not Henry's son. Jonathan was a little over sixteen months old. The first waves of the Depression hit the countryside, and the Cranes decided to move into the city—into the Narrows in Gotham.

The only really fond memory Mrs. Crane had of Jonathan growing up was reading to him. There were not many books in the apartment—no room, and neither she nor Henry were great readers—but Larrry had never returned one of his library books to the junior high school library. It was selected tales of Washington Irving, with bits on the Alhambra, Knickerbocker sketches, and all the rest. The one Jonathan wanted read over and over to him was "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," presumably because the main character shared the young boy's name and physical attributes.

He was very small then—she later thought he had inherited his skinniness from how little she had been able to provide for him when he was a baby—already with the very dark hair and stunning blue eyes. He would climb into her lap in the few minutes she had to spare between work at her restaurant job. He would listen very attentively, quietly. His small body was warm against her, and she would ruffle his soft black hair and give him a kiss.

But when Jonathan was about five—Sam was in her last year of grad school—the Depression hit Gotham. Henry was irritable, overworked. Larry began to beat up Jonathan, and so did other children when he attended school. Mrs. Crane herself began to regard Jonathan as more and more of a chore. He would misbehave and distinguish himself from the other children. He was very smart from the beginning, and it was an especially hurtful contrast with Larry, who was less than average in all of his subjects. Because Mrs. Crane had pledged not to give Jonathan extra attention, she had to punish him all the more severely. Her heart eventually hardened against him.

Henry left, without a word of explanation, the year the Waynes were murdered. Of course, what explanation did he need? He was out of a job, saddled with three children. Mrs. Crane accepted his abandonment with the stoicism she had accepted her exile. She worked; Sam cooked; Larry worked as soon as he was old enough (and when he wasn't out nights, drunk and beating up Jonathan). Mrs. Crane turned a blind eye, for here was the family's new breadwinner, and what did Jonathan do to help, after all? He read all the time, or wandered off, doing experiments—she didn't know what. At least she could be certain he wasn't getting any girls into trouble.

Mrs. Crane noticed her coffee was getting cold. "Your father?" she repeated.

"I suppose you haven't heard anything, then." He was neither eager nor surprised.

"No, I'm afraid I haven't."

Jonathan's cup was empty. He creased his plain paper napkin. "And so here we are . . . Mother and son . . ." His look was wry, self-deprecating. "Almost ten years, and you have nothing to say to me?"

"You did pretty well for yourself, after all, didn't you?"

Jonathan stared at her coolly for a moment. His eyes—neither his real father nor anyone she knew had such eyes. "I graduated college, magna cum laude. A double degree in graduate school, psychology and psychopharmacology. Director of Arkham Asylum." He smiled diffidently. She couldn't tell if he was genuinely proud or saying the proscribed script.

"Well, I read in the papers when you were given the directorship," she said cautiously.

"Not in the least bit concerned that I work with madmen and murderers day in and day out, are you?" he asked, smiling.

She drew back, startled. "Should I be concerned? I didn't think you would take on any responsibility you couldn't handle." She straightened. "You are obviously very smart, Jonathan. What you choose to do with your life is your own business."

He persisted with the tellingly fake smile. "If you'd had a choice, what field would you have preferred for me to go into?"

"Oh, I know nothing about it," she replied, irritated. "You are so much better-educated than I. It would have been nice if you'd sent some money home."

He stopped smiling. "You never wrote. I sent an invitation when I graduated."

She changed the subject. "What did you ever do with those fifty dollars I gave you?"

He colored very slightly. "Mother, you can't expect me to remember—"

She smoothed her skirt in her lap. "No, son, I'd really like to know."

Jonathan looked into his empty coffee cup, biting his lower lip. Finally he raised his eyes; they shone defiantly. "I bought pajamas, Mother. And do you know why? Because you made me sweat in the summer in moth-eaten pieces of filth, because that's what I was to you—filth—right?"

Mrs. Crane felt very hollow. She examined her gloves, listened to his ragged breathing. She tried not to cry, all these years and she'd never cried. Well, she'd never felt tenderness for him, a gangly, off-putting youth, so isolated, as if he was above the love of anyone—as if he didn't need love. "I'm sorry," she whispered very quietly. She was not sure he heard.

After a long silence, he said, "Yes, it's all about being sorry, isn't it? I'm sorry that I never seemed to live up to your expectations."

She looked away, repressing a grimace. "You must be relieved to be on your own, Jonathan. You have everything you need. Our poor home wasn't much compared to the exclusive apartment you no doubt have . . . if your work is what makes you happy . . ."

"Happy?" he repeated, as if he didn't know the word. "My work isn't an issue of happiness. It fulfills me."

"And leaves you completely alone." It was an accusation, a criticism.

He sucked in his breath sharply. "On the contrary. I am doing great things for Gotham." She shook her head but offered no explanation.

Finally he cleared his throat, rifled through his wallet. She wiped her eyes surreptitiously and saw his checkbook. "Mother, why were you collecting tin cans?"

"You can't write me a check," she said levelly. "I don't have a bank account anymore."

He put away his pen, irritated. She saw him counting out crisp bills—twenty, forty, ninety, one-hundred ninety . . . "I don't want your money, Jonathan!" she snapped.

He didn't stop counting. "Why not? Aren't sons supposed to provide for their mothers?" He licked his upper lip.

"I'm not to be bought and sold," she cried, pushing her chair back from the table. Several newspapers rustled. "Money doesn't just fix everything—"

He laughed, cruelly. "I know that. You forget that I am a certified psychologist." He removed his trendy, expensive glasses. "The kind of damage you've done to me—it's required extensive therapy sessions . . . it's really you who should be paying me."

She got out of her seat. "Well, I never!" She moved surprisingly quickly to the door. He followed closely.

"Fortunately, I'm very much in control now. I've made many advances in the treatment of the criminally insane, and frankly, I'm glad I don't have any family connections to hold me back." She continued walking. "No one remembers now that Jonathan Crane used to be the Scarecrow who never changed his clothes, always hiding behind books, coming home with bloody noses. That Jonathan Crane is gone. Weakness, vulnerability—I've left all of that behind me."

She stopped in the middle of the sidewalk. "Jonathan, please don't follow me home, and please do not try to find me again."

He looked abashed, disappointed, that he had not riled her to a fight. "If that's what you want." She nodded slowly. "I'm afraid, Momthat you instilled a rather old-fashioned sense of honor in me that—" despite his calm, his voice cracked, "—revolts at this." He put his glasses back on. "Nevertheless, my higher learning has taught me that we brought nothing but pain to each other's lives. Isn't that right?" She looked at him helplessly. "If you're too proud to take my money, there really isn't much more I can say to you."

"Goodbye, Jonathan," she said, reaching gingerly over to touch him on the shoulder. He looked at her hand and let it remain.

"Mother, I . . ." He took her hand until she pulled it away. He seemed to recover himself, working his jaw. "Goodbye."

The next day at 7:25 AM, Dr. Crane took the long corridor to his office in Arkham. He barreled straight into Pamela Peterson, his secretary.

"I am sorry, Dr. Crane," said Pamela, bending down to retrieve several pieces of paper he had knocked to the floor.

"Here, I'll do it," he said brusquely, picking up the brightly-colored construction paper. He handed it back to her, staring at the childish drawings and the disjointed scrawl. "What are those?"

"It's Mother's Day, Dr. Crane, and my kids made me some drawings in school." She was caught between embarrassment and pride. "They really are good kids . . ."

He seemed to stiffen. "How nice," he said, moving past her to his office. "And shouldn't you be pulling up those files I asked for instead of decorating your desk area?"

She was abashed. "Yes, Doctor. By the way, there's a message for you, from a district attorney—"

"Ah yes," Crane said vaguely. He took out his keys to unlock his office. He looked up suddenly. "Did you say it was Mother's Day, Mrs. Peterson?"

"Yes, Dr. Crane."

Jonathan Crane never slammed his office door. He made a point of it. Everyone in his immediate vicinity was to close doors firmly, so they locked, but never to slam them. Pamela jumped when she heard his office door crash resoundingly in its frame.