Wednesday, November 09, 2005

213. The omniscient narrator

They met at Wayne Manor. It was pouring rain when Gustavus arrived.

"You're soaking wet," Bruce said. "Let me take your coat."

"Here," Gustavus replied, handing it over. They didn't touch, and their eyes did not meet. That's how it went for the first several minutes: curt, stiff, and awkward as hell. Alfred brought tea, and they drank it in near silence, each man stealing every opportunity to gaze at the other when he wasn't looking.

It was Gustavus who broke the ice. "I guess we're both good at the silent treatment," he joked. "For professional purposes, that is."

Bruce cracked a smile.

"Listen," Gustavus continued after a moment. "We both know I can no longer accept money from you for treatment. I've crossed a line that can never be--"

"I understand why you see it that way," Bruce interrupted, "but I ... I hope this doesn't mean the end of our ..."

Neither man finished the sentence. The thought of putting a name to this latest phase of their connection was too daunting, and there was always the risk that putting it into words might alter it in some horrible way.

"There's a lot on the table, Bruce," Gustavus said. "Too much. It's all getting too tangled up. Let me see if I can straighten it out. There's this... program I've had you on. That has to come to an end. I think we've done all the work we can do together, under the circumstances."

Bruce looked worried by this pronouncement, but he held his tongue while the other man continued.

"Then there's ,,. the two of us. And I honestly don't know yet what ..." Gustavus stopped speaking, in the middle of his sentence, hoping the silence would flesh out what he did not want to say.

They stared directly into each other's eyes at last, then looked away, down at the floor, then anywhere else they could find to hide.

"And, Bruce, there's ... the whole issue of your other life. That was important work you were doing--more important than you may ever know. I realize you want to put it all behind you, but--"

"I can't do it anymore," Bruce said. "I can't be that role. I tried, and I failed. I made a terrible mistake. And it's over."

Gustavus was quiet. He became aware of his own breathing as he sat and contemplated his next words. Do I tell him? he asked himself.