Too Many Long Boxes!
   
   

End of Summer
 

Under My Skin

by Syl Francis

The sirens sound in the distance. The Bat-signal beckons me in the night.

She's escaped again. I know what I must do.

I fire the grappler. A d-cel shoots out, smoothly, cleanly. Instantly, I'm flying into the night, following her trail. I picture her in my mind. Lithe, athletic. As graceful as the feline after which she is named. Beautiful. Thief. Selina Kyle.

Catwoman.

In the past year she's become Gotham's Public Enemy Number One, her name added to the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List. Her personal vendetta against Jim Gordon, the man she blames for her capture and subsequent imprisonment in Blackgate, has seemingly escalated, grown out of control. Which is why I initially believed her responsible for Jim's near-fatal shooting.

An assumption.

I almost got her killed because of an assumption. If only I weren't so blinded by grief and self-blame at the time. Perhaps, I would have seen the obvious, that her positioning on the fire escape precluded her from being the shooter. World's Greatest Detective they call me.

I let my personal feelings get in the way. I blamed myself for not being there to protect Jim--my friend. My only friend. And now he's retired. Jim nearly lost his life because of me, and now I've lost my longtime ally in my relentless war.

And it's my fault.

I pushed him away. As I did Nightwing so long ago. As I did Alfred. And now Tim. Why can't I hold onto those I love?

I feel the cold, February night penetrate my skin. Even the cape and cowl aren't enough protection against the sub-zero temperatures. Gotham now lies in a blanket of snow, blackened by the soot from car exhausts and local factories. In order to rebuild after the earthquake, City Hall loosened several of its city ordinances--including its strict building codes and clean air act.

They say that Gotham snow is as black and corrupt as what's left of her after No Man's Land. I can almost hear the City crying--calling me, beseeching me to come to her rescue. Why won't she leave me be?

I alight on a rooftop, easily blending into the shadows from long experience and wait. Catwoman's escape route should bring her this way.

As I stand in the darkness, unbidden memories invade my thoughts, memories long suppressed. I recall my feeble attempts in the past to hang up the cowl, of leaving shortly after the earthquake. I remember my miserable efforts to just be Bruce Wayne.

But I don't even know who he is anymore. Just an empty mask--a facile role I play during the day. Not real. Not me.

"I didn't do it, you know."

I whirl around, startled. I didn't hear her approach. What's wrong with me? Even Robin wouldn't have been caught so unawares.

"I suppose those jewels jumped into your bag of their own accord." I give her my best Bat-glare, but she ignores me. Instead, she sits on the roof's edge, deliberately striking a patented Catwoman pose--sexy, sultry, taunting.

"I meant Gordon. I didn't shoot him."

She knows I know. I wait for her to come to the point. Catwoman sighs and angrily throws the bag containing the jewels at me.

"Here!"

I automatically catch the bag, my mask slipping for an instant. I stare at her in momentary incomprehension.

"I know that the only way a girl can get any attention in this lousy town is for her to do a little breaking and entering." She stands and shrugs, cocking her head to the side. An icy wind whisks suddenly, and Catwoman hugs herself tightly, shivering.

She looks out at the frozen city, its lights twinkling against the light snow that's started to fall.

"I hate this town. It eats away at you. Gets under your skin. Corrupts your soul until it's as black as the inside of Arkham. I know I'm no saint. I know that I'm not always on the side of the angels. I know that's why you and I will never work."

I wait for her to finish. She turns and faces me.

"I know you know that I didn't shoot Gordon." She pauses. "But I wanted you to hear it from me. I'm leaving Gotham. I don't know where. Or for how long. All I know is that it isn't fun anymore. You always over there, me over here--neither of us able to cross to the other side."

Catwoman takes out her whip and cracks it. About to go, she hesitates and gives me one final look. I know she's waiting for me to say something, anything. But I can't. She's caught me off-guard. I can only stare at her, speechless.

I realize that I'm about to lose another one. I want to open my mouth to speak, but fail. The words refuse to come.

And then it's too late. Without a backward glance, Catwoman again cracks her cat-o'-nine tails and leaps into the night.

I am alone once more. But the war goes on.

I look out over my city, and I marvel at her beauty as she lies in silent darkness. Waiting for me. Calling me. Assuring me that she'll never leave me.

She's gotten under my skin, and I no longer feel alone.

 
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This piece is © 2002 by Syl Francis.
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