S&S: TALES AND TRUTHS

Once upon a time, Dick used to live with Bruce. He was Bruce's ward and playmate and part of some private atonement he never quite understood.

Bruce went to work and came back, then went out and came back. Dick would ask him about his day, since other kids did, but Bruce would just shake his head and walk past him. There were monsters out there and Dick could see the shadows of them linger in Bruce's eyes.

Dick was not scared of things hiding in the closet or lurking under the bed. His own memories were bad enough to overpower whatever horrors he could imagine. But over time, the Gotham he wasn't allowed to visit became a place of dread, populated by ghosts.

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There were lessons in everything Bruce did, some of them immediately apparent, others less so. That was why Dick was so surprised when Bruce entered his room one evening, pulled up a chair and started telling him a story; there seemed to be no point to it.

It was the story of Snow White, though with a psychosexual angle only hinted at in the Disney version. Dick lay quite still, not daring to move for fear Bruce would stop talking. At the end of the tale, when the step-mother had danced herself to death in her shoes of red-hot iron, Bruce pulled up Dick's covers and that was almost a caress.

The next night, Bruce was out of town. His return was delayed first by a few days, then his absence stretched into two weeks. Alfred said nothing, only went about his duties, his mouth tight. When Dick woke up one morning, almost three weeks after Bruce's departure, Bruce was standing over at the window. Without turning around, he told Dick the story of Cinderella and her sisters. One of the ugly sisters cut off her heel, the other her toes. Later that day, Dick read in the newspapers that Wayne Industries had liquidated one Philadelphia based shipping company, resulting in massive lay-offs and at least one suicide.

There were more stories. Thumbelina and Puss-in-Boots. Goldilocks and the three bears, little Red Riding Hood. One very late night, the boy who cried wolf. In Bruce's version, the boy survived, though he never spok another word again and in fact, died of a disease that could easily have been cured, had the healer been called.

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The last story, and Dick remembers this very well, was that of the little match seller on Christmas Eve. Bruce told it much as the HC Andersen had; it was close enough to Gotham that little had to be changed.

"'Grandmother,'" Bruce said, his voice low, "'O take me with you; I know you will go away when the match burns out; you will vanish like the warm stove, the roast goose, and the large, glorious Christmas-tree.' And she made haste to light the whole bundle of matches, for she wished to keep her grandmother there."

It was Alfred who found Dick later, in the large dining room. Dick doesn't know how he got there, all he remembers is crouching by the fireplace, striking match after match alight.

FIN