Sometimes at Night

Bailey! Show your face!

My grandson is six. Does that explain it—this startling salutation from around the corner of his living room? Every day he’s new, of course. Every two or three weeks he’s a different boy. Which I know if I share enough time with him, and find the inward quiet to see the new kid. But sometimes, like on this day, he takes a cattle prod and gooses me into seeing him, inward quiet be damned.

Now a COVID-19 expert in the New York Times writes that it’s “ill-advised” for grandparents to see their grandchildren. Others imply the two populations should separate for 12 to 18 months until a vaccine arrives. A frank few concede that in the meantime, there’s going to be hell to pay. As Death, now smiling on the intimate bacchanals of Spring Break, swings his lusty scythe.

Others say the boy is not even my grandson. That his grandfather lives in Bordeaux, and that’s the only one he’s got on his mother’s side. That we harm him to put two maternal grandfathers in his head. I should be just Dan.

“Fine,” I think. “I will be just Dan.”

But in my place of inward quiet, that stinks.

Let’s play!

This has meant, for a long time, one single thing: Super Heroes and Villains. The boy prizes his twenty 10-inch adamantine plastic figures painted by the Fauves. I play all the villains with a voice for each—Loki, X, Thanos and The Joker. The Joker most of all. The Joker almost always.

Wake up, Joker!

Whoa! Where am I? What time is it? You destroyed my nap, Batman… all right, what’s up?

I am going to put you in jail!

No! Me? Why?

Because you robbed a bank!

Really? “Robbed” a bank? Are you sure I didn’t just sort of help that money out the door, to help the poor? Like poor me? And what about you? Couldn’t you use a little extra cash? We’d make a fine team, Batman…whaddya say to thirty percent of my next heist?

And away we go. Batman throws The Joker in the hoosegow. The Joker negotiates reductions in his sentence making all sorts of promises of reform mixed with attempts to suborn Batman. At length the two emerge here:

Do you want to join my family, Joker?

Me? Join your family? You mean Captain America, Wonder Woman, Thor, Flash, and everybody? I don’t have a family… sometimes I’m lonely, especially at night, to tell you the truth… do you really think I could be part of your family, Batman? A villain like me?

You can join us if you promise never to do bad things again.

Never? Define “never.” Never mind! Yes! I accept, Batman! Thank you! I would love to be part of your family!

And then The Joker tries to reform himself into a good member of his new family of virtuous Super Heroes. Tries to control his vicious ideas. Relapses, and tries to tempt a few of his new relatives, the ones he judges most vulnerable, into joining him in his old ways. Plays them off against the others. On we roam, my non-grandson and I, through upland meadows of sunshine and love to glens shot through with sun and shade to sable thickets of grasping and betrayal. And back up again into the light. On and on the leering Joker holds forth, waved aloft in the old man’s hand. On and on does stern Batman too in the boy’s.

Now the Joker and Batman are separated by Fear stalking the streets between them. Also by Time altering within them.

Sometimes, Batman and The Joker look at the lights of the other’s building late at night.

From Walla Walla, Washington, USA and currently living in Mexico City, Daniel Bailey is a semi-retired professor of English who’s spent half his life in Europe, Polynesia, Japan and Latin America. Narrative nonfiction, a short story, newspaper features and academic articles of his have appeared respectively in Adelaide Literary Magazine, Scarlet Leaf Review, The Walla Walla Union-Bulletin and the Bulletin of Language Science and Humanities, University of Technology, Nagaoka, Japan.

See more of Daniel's work in 8.2