“I would say ‘it’s nice to meet you,’ but I don’t believe in time as a concept, so I’ll just say ‘we always met.'”Darius epps • Atlanta
Funeral For A Friend
Alfred Pennyworth cleared his throat.
“When I was 22 years old, my life changed forever, and it hasn’t stopped changing since. If you had asked me on that day if I was ready to be a father to a teenager who had just lost his mother and father, I would’ve said ‘Hell no!’ and that would’ve been that.”
Behind Alfred, Bruce Wayne cracked a smile. Alfred knew this because nervous lips throughout the gathered mourners began to twitch into cautious smiles.
It was a brisk, but clear Sunday in November, and Alfred pressed on with glassy eyes.
“But Bruce Wayne went from being my kid brother to my teenaged son in the flash of a pistol, and in many ways, I like to think we raised each other,” Alfred looked back at Bruce, who wasn’t fighting the tears anymore. “Bruce had always been precocious. Always mature for his age – and mine – and he never once allowed me to feel like I wasn’t a true part of this family. I love you, Bruce.”
Al nodded at Bruce, this time eliciting a wave and a chuckle from his adopted son.
“But I guess I got cocky, because two years later, I thought to myself: Al, you have so much, and there is this little boy to whom you can offer a better life, and how hard could it be?
“Edmund Burke once said ‘The arrogance of age must submit to be taught by youth,’ and while there are very few things with which I would say I agree with Mr. Burke, I can unequivocally say that Richard John Grayson became a part of our family and immediately proved that you should never ask ‘how hard could it be?’
“Dick Grayson was a man of words. I want to take a moment and ensure that you heard that correctly. I didn’t say he was a man of few words, I said that he was a man of words. Dick really liked to talk. Dick loved to argue. And while I see people smiling out here, I cannot stress deeply enough that Miss Gordon can personally provide stories of her physically pulling Dick from off of a stoop to get the two of them inside before curfew.
“Dick used those words in situations where violence would be a completely reasonable response. Once upon a time, Dick came home and insisted to me that I needed to find a job for a man. I asked how Dick had met this man, and how he, a boy of only fourteen years old, knew anything about this man’s professional qualifications. ‘Alfred,’ he said ‘I just told this man that I would find him a job so he didn’t need to rob people anymore.’ I remember thinking about it for a moment, and then noticing that the boy’s watch was missing. ‘Did Archibauld steal your watch, Young Mister Richard?’ I asked. And Dick shook his head and smiled, and said ‘no, he planned to steal my wallet, which was empty, but I gave him my watch so that he could buy himself a nice shirt and tie.’”
Somber, sincere laughs brought the backyard of Wayne Manor to life, and Alfred could see the clouds of breath hovering in front of the funeral goers.
“But Dick was also a man of action. When he joined our family twelve years ago, he would take any loose change he encountered in the house and redistribute that money to homeless children he would meet on the streets.
“Certainly noble, but when I found out he was meeting these boys when he should’ve been in school, I had to figure out a way to encourage him to pursue his education while allowing him to help others.
“This resulted in a substantial ‘allowance,’ which included Dick being the youngest board member of the Thomas & Martha Wayne Boys’ Shelter Network. He managed, at one time or another, to make every other board member — including myself — walk out in frustration –”
Alfred paused, a warm smile crossing his lips as he reminisced.
“–But we went from a single, twenty-bed shelter in Powhatan to shelters in Midtown, The Narrows, Lakeside, Harborview, South Kane, and West Ward inside of a year, because Dick fought — with his words and his actions — for what he believed in.
“As a man of words and action, Dick understood that neither are universal. It’s easy to say ‘violence is never the answer’ when you live comfortably in Silverwood Barrens or in Parkside East, but in places with such stark inequity, violence gives a voice to people who are in need, people who have been ignored. He once told Bruce and me ‘If we don’t give people a choice, then violence might not be good, but it’s still correct. Giving people a choice gives them hope.’
“When he said that, that’s when we knew that he should run for Mayor of Gotham. To give people a choice. To give them hope. We couldn’t possibly know that he would be taken from us in the senseless and hopeless violence of November First. As Bruce said earlier, ‘The meaningful revolutions outlive the revolutionaries.’
“But justice for Dick Grayson doesn’t mean holding a grudge. It doesn’t mean retaliation. It means carrying a torch for Dick’s legacy. It means hope.
“When I asked Dick how far he would go to make Gotham a better place, he stopped and thought about what he was going to say next — and if you knew Dick Grayson, you know that was rare. When he finally answered he said ‘It’s not about how far I’m willing to go. It’s about having the fire and the passion and the commitment to keep going, no matter how far that may take me.’”
“In closing, I’ll ask you to keep going,” a beat. “Not for Dick Grayson, but to see how far it might take you.”
Bruce Wayne stood and embraced his tearful hero. His eyes were bloodshot, red with the fires of loss, and insomnia, and anger. He made his way into the throng, trying to smile as friends, employees, neighbors, and strangers stopped him to offer condolences.
A redheaded kid (who couldn’t, Bruce figured, be older than Dick was) in a hand-me-down suit tried, unsuccessfully, to be discrete when he snapped pictures of Bruce shaking hands with or hugging notable public figures.
A man in a dark overcoat and hat, who was hunched over and broad and barrel-chested, clumsily made his way from the photographer’s side toward Bruce.
“Bruce, I’m so, so sorry,” said Clark Kent, offering a handshake.
Bruce took it, covering the top of Clark’s gigantic hand with his left hand, and surreptitiously sliding Clark’s note from his palm into his pocket.
“Thank you, Mr. Kent,” Bruce stopped short of walking away, catching a distorted reflection of his pain-stricken face in the reflection of Clark’s absurd glasses. “Jesus, I look like shit, don’t I?”
“Anyone would if they’d been through this.”
Bruce wrinkled his nose and patted Clark on the shoulder, moving along.
Alfred spent nearly an hour in the backyard after the conclusion of his eulogy, then vanished without pomp or circumstance, knowing that he could rely on his staff to account for his absence and conclude the reception.
He and Bruce Wayne entered the library within moments of one another, in uncanny silence.
Each man reached into his pocket, first retrieving a handkerchief, then a folded note. Across from one another, they opened the notes in such mirror-like synchronicity that an observer would’ve believed it was a piece of performance art.
“What do you think he wants?” Bruce asked, breaking the stalemate.
“I think it’s quite clear, Mister Bruce: When we’re ready, Mr. Kent would like to talk with us.”
“Do we think he knows?” Bruce asked, pulling the stopper out of a decanter. He made eye contact with his counterpart, inclining his head and pouring the deep amber scotch into shallow glasses.
“Well I don’t know how this so-called x-ray vision really works, but I don’t think it can reconstitute carbon,” Alfred’s eyes shifted toward the urn containing Dick’s remains, and Bruce handed him a glass. “But, in the spirit of sufficient paranoia, I would assume that he does.”
“To sufficient paranoia, and to Dick.”
Their glasses clinked together, and after a time, they were full again.