I wake up with my eyes glued shut. It’s not a big deal- I use my fingers to pull them open, and I see yellow goop on my fingers.
I’m in for it now. Alfred had told me Don’t pick at that bump on your forehead, young sir and I said Yes, Alfred, I won’t and then I went and picked at it anyway. One week at Mister Wayne’s house and I’m already breaking rules. I can feel the bump- it’s right in between my eyebrows, something that made Jay cackle once it became more obvious.
I try and get up, and Timmy grumbles at me Stay down and I say Can’t, Timmy, I have to go get Jay for breakfast but you stay and sleep a while longer. Timmy opens one eye to glare at me, then he turns his face away and starts breathing deeply again after a few minutes. I get out of bed and go to where Jay is sleeping- me and Timmy have to share a room because Timmy’s new room is big and dark and it scares him.
Get up, Jay.
Get up, it’s breakfast.
Jay grumbles but gets up, rubbing his eyes before looking at me. You look tired, he says, and I wave him off. I’m fine, Jay. He looks at me, scanning, but I just stand and smile until he looks away and nudges past me to go to the dining hall. I go back to me and Timmy’s room, but Timmy already had gotten up and left.
I go down the steps, and Alfred rags me about my bump and I say I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I won’t pick it again, I promise. Alfred says You better not in a stern way but he then holds a warm towel over it and gives me seconds for breakfast so I guess I’m forgiven.
A week later, we’re all walking downtown to get registered for school. If all goes well, I’ll be in eighth class this year, Jay will be in sixth, and Timmy in third. I’m holding Timmy’s hand as Jay has his hands in his pockets, because Alfred noticed Jay eying all the pretty things in people’s pockets as we passed them.
Timmy is rambling about school, and I’m listening to him but not looking because Gotham streets are dangerous and I’m the most agile one here. Once we reach a corner, it’s safe for me to look down at Timmy so I look around for the closest corner. Once we reach one, I look down at Timmy, whose smiling face then drops and he screams Alfred, Alfred, Dickie’s nose is bleeding!
I wipe under my nose, my hand coming back with thick, red liquid smeared across it. I feel it drip onto my mouth as Alfred hustles us to a park bench, pushing me down onto it and tilting my head back. I feel ridiculous. Timmy’s let go of my hand, and I can see him standing close to Jay, who has an arm around him and suddenly I feel something running down my throat, making me gag and lurch forward.
Alfred pushes me back gently, telling Jay to find the nearest policeman, bring Timothy with you, don’t get lost. I feel something run down my throat again, and for some reason I find that funny so I start laughing and laughing, I laugh until I cry and then I’m crying and I can’t stop.
I wake up in my bed, and I don’t remember how I got there. Jay and Timmy are beside me, and Jay curses me out for scaring him and Timmy and I say I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I know and Jay only gets madder at me.
You have no idea! You went crazy!
You should be!
Alfred comes in with soup, and I can’t handle the smell and I puke into the trashcan and I say I don’t want it. He comes back with bread, another kind of soup, candy, and even ice cream and I keep on saying I don’t want it, I don’t want it, I don’t want it give it to Timmy and Jay please don’t make me eat my stomach hurts. No one can even mention food or else I get dizzy and reach for the trashcan and gag with an empty stomach.
Alfred asks me how I’m feeling and I shrug because I’ve started not caring and not caring scares me. Wayne starts coming home early but I don’t care. The rags Alfred uses to stop my nose bleeding hurt but I don’t care. Jay and Timmy end up going to the school with Alfred and I don’t care. Wayne tells me he’s never taken care of a sick child before and I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care!
I spend the days and nights sleeping and waking at different times. I wake up either to Wayne or Alfred reading a book beside my bed, no one at all, or Jay and Timmy. One day I wake up and they’re all around me, and Jay says Dickie feels too hot and Timmy says Alfred please stop him from bleeding on my leg.
I fall asleep and wake up again, this time nearly jumping out of my skin as I open my eyes to someone with half of his face looking different from the other half saying I just have a bad cold. Wayne and Jay start yelling at him halfway through his sentence, and I smell alcohol on him as he pokes my cheek, hard, before leaving. Jay curses under his breath, and Wayne agrees before he notices I’m awake. Sorry Dick, he says, and his smile is clearly fake and it gives me the heebie jeebies. Just a friend being difficult.
Yes Jay, a friend.
Oh. I stole from him.
Jay holds up a pocket watch, and Wayne snatches it and runs after the man. Jay pouts, and I try to say Naughty, naughty but my mouth is too dry for me to speak so I just look at him. Don’t give me that look, he was asking for it, Jay grumbles, and I raise my eyebrow. He was!
Jay then pulls the chain to the pocket watch out of his pocket, smiling slyly. He won’t miss it- he had seventeen of them.
One day, I dream about my parents. They look the same as they did when I was a baby, just barely Timmy’s age. Mami holds her arms open for me, and I run up to them but I’m stopped by an invisible wall. I bang on it with my fists, screaming at it to collapse before Papa places his hand on the wall, calming me down. You’ve grown, he says, and Mami scoffs. He has not! He’s a twig.
I feel myself start to cry, and they both look at me sadly. Why can I see you?
You’re dying, Dickie, Papa says, and my heart beats harder.
No, no! I can’t die! I have to take care of Jay, and Timmy, and-
Papa and Mami look at me proudly, and I startle awake. Once I see Wayne I start flailing, hitting his arm and waking him up. I’m dying, Wayne, I saw my parents, I’m dying.
Wayne picks me up right away, and my vision is blurring out and growing darker. He runs all the way to the fever hospital, three blocks away. I know I won’t wake up again if I doze off so I stay awake, but I barely know what happens as I am suddenly being pulled from Wayne’s arms and my vision goes black.
The sheets are white. The nurses are all white, too, in both clothing and skin color. The doctor that takes care of me, however, is black. He introduces himself as Doctor Stone, and then tells me that there’s a girl around my age right next door but don’t tell the nurses. He then smiles at me, and then says a swear word. That’s how I know I’m going to live; doctors don’t cuss around dying boys.
I don’t try to contact the girl next door at first- I hear her reading, even though I can’t hear the words. I just hear her dark tone and the way she sometimes spits out her words, sounding like she’s a hissing snake, and sometimes she laughs like a evil villain and scares the living daylights out of me. I stay away until one day I’m so bored I could climb the walls so I decide to try it out.
Hello? No answer. I try again. Hello? My name is Richard. What’s yours?
Silence. Then, from the other side of the wall, Hi.
My name’s Rachel, the voice says, then quiets.
That’s a pretty name, I say, and I hear quiet laughter.
Thank you, I guess? I like the name Richard. It’s elegant.
There’s a question that’s pushing against my teeth, and it’s out before I can stop it. How sick are you?
It’s silent, and I regret asking until, Cholera.
I heard, Rachel says, and I laugh a little. Megan was all weepy over you, when you arrived.
Megan. Nurse Megan, really. Rachel says Megan in a weird way- I think it sounds nice. She said you had to have a lot of blood replaced. Did you? I look at my right hand, and then notice I have another blood line in my ankle.
I have two blood things in me. They make me take medicine that tastes like iron.
Rachel laughs, and I decide that I like this laugh more than her scary laugh when she reads.
Well, you're lucky.
What are you reading? I ask, and I can barely hear her shift the blankets around.
Edgar Allan Poe. I like his poetry. I ask her to read to me and she does and she tells me the story about a girl named Annabelle, and I like it so much she reads it to me again until Gar, a boy who gives us our food, comes into her room.
Oh come on, Raven, he says, You can read around me!
Hi Gar, I say, and I hear clattering plates before Gar appears in my room.
You remember my name!
Of course I do, you reintroduce yourself every time you come in my room.
Gar laughs, and he smiles at me. Gar's sick, too, but it's a constant sick and he's learned to act like he isn't. Sometimes he has fits of shaking and his eyes rolling back but he tells me that he hasn’t had a fit in a while so he’s okay. He works at the hospital, now, because he's never made anyone else sick with fits, so he can bring us our food. I like Gar. He's just about Jay's age, but he acts like I wish Timmy would sometimes.
There’s also Victor, Doctor Stone’s son. He once came into my room when I was getting my blood pills, and he told me I look like a skeleton. Pure skin and bones, he said, and the nurses scolded him and told him to get out but I wanted him to stay so he did. He’s a bigger boy, around seventeen, and he has prosthetic arms and legs that he can control, not like the blocks of wood other people use.
Then there’s Star and I’m in love with Star because her eyes are beautiful and green and her hair is redder than Jay’s. She bounces everywhere, and the nurses tell her to stop but I tell her she can bounce around in my room all she wants so she does and she looks like a ballerina. I tell her that and she blushes, and she says Thank you and sometimes she brings me books from Rachel’s room.
One day, Rachel asks me how old I am. I just turned thirteen, I say, and she tells me she’s fourteen and then she asks me what I look like.
I have black hair.
You and I and millions.
I have blue eyes.
You and even more millions.
What do you look like?
I have black hair like you, but I have brown eyes.
My brother has those, too.
You have a brother?
Two of them, and I tell her all about Jay and Timmy and she laughs a lot in her nice laugh, and she tells me that she doesn’t have siblings but she’s okay with that because she likes being alone. I don’t like being alone, I tell her, and she laughs and says I’ve noticed, Richard.
I once asked Gar why he and Victor and Star all call her Raven and he tells me it’s her favorite poem by Edgar Allan Poe, so I ask her to read it to me and I like it so much Raven gives me her poem book so I can read it over and over and over. The words feel like precious jewels in my mouth when I say them, and I’ve started to recite it to Raven before a nurse hears me talking and tells the head nurse and head nurse tells me that I’m never allowed to talk to Rachel again.
Awful boy! She screams at me, and she nearly rips the book from my hands and throws it carelessly at Star, who escapes to return it to Raven safely. Not only talking to Cholera, but for reading a pagan poem like a and then she calls me a name so terrible I don’t ever want to think about it again. She tells Victor to carry me to my new room, and when he picks me up he says You’re as light as a feather. When he carries me out of my room, I try to catch a glimpse of Raven but all I see is a dark head of hair on a pillow.
I’m carried to a ward that has twenty neat, white beds that are all empty. They give me a choice of where I want to be and I choose the closest one to the window because I haven’t seen the sunlight in so long I feel like I forgot what it feels and looks like. The nurse whispers to Victor that this ward used to be where all the victims of the first Joker would stay and I hear her and I tell her I don’t want to be here but she tells me Calm down, they can’t hurt ya now.
I don’t want to calm down but I do and soon I’m trying to sleep in my new bed but all I can hear are people moaning in pain and hysterical laughter and people with their skin around their mouths green, because the first Joker made them believe that they were cows and made them eat grass until they couldn’t anymore. I’m haunted by the first Joker’s ghosts and I’m happy he died before I was born but when I was still at his house Wayne told me there are rumors of a new Joker and now I just want to run and hide from everything.
Victor comes by the next morning and he must know I couldn’t sleep so he shows me how his prosthetics work. Gar comes in at one point and calls him Cyborg, and when I ask Victor if I can call him that too he says that his friends can call him that, so I can go ahead and call him Cyborg.
It's nice having friends other than your two little brothers.
Everyday Star comes up to my room and tells me about Raven and a question Raven has for me, I answer the question and ask another one and Star bounces away to ask Raven. A mean nurse tells me that Star isn't right in the head and I shouldn't talk to her but I don't listen because I love Star, and who cares if she's “right in the head” or not?
One day I’m trying to sleep and ignore all the ghosts that surround me when the light from the moon vanishes, and when I look at my window I see a black figure and I almost scream until I notice the ears. I wave to The Bat, and he doesn’t do anything back, but he’s there until I fall asleep. He appears almost every night, and when I wave at him he starts to point at my pillow, telling me to go to bed. I sleep easier.
I ask Raven questions about her books and her stories and she asks me about Jay and Timmy and living on the streets, and Victor just got news from Nurse Megan that I’m going to be released soon, and I tell Raven that and she says she’s not sure when she’s going to be released, but she hopes it’s soon. We make plans with each other, and Raven promises to bring me to her favorite spot in the library and I promise to have her meet Jay and Timmy and we promise each other to not get sicker before then.
She still died, anyway.
Three days later after we made our promises, Gar and Star and Victor are sad and weepy and when I ask them what’s wrong they try to say it would be too much to process because of the typhoid and I say Damn the typhoid and tell me already! Gar tells me that Raven tried to walk to the lavatory instead of using her bedpan like she was supposed to because she was convinced she would be okay and she collapsed and died thirteen feet away from her room. I’m frozen for a few seconds, and then it hits me like a pile of bricks.
The typhoid makes her death bigger and more terrible than it already is, and I cry and scream and throw everything off my bed in anger because it isn’t fair. Raven didn’t deserve a death of dying halfway to the lavatory. She deserved to die surrounded by her friends and family, not by cholera but by old age after she’s read all the books in the world and after she showed me her favorite spot in the library, after she met Jay and Timmy, and after she done all the things in her life that she couldn’t right now because she was fourteen years old. She didn’t deserve dying like she did, she deserved a poetic death recorded by the very hands of Edgar Allan Poe.
I tear up my bed, throwing my pillow halfway across the room and almost hitting Nurse Megan, who is in charge of checking my pulse and temperature today. She says I’m getting better by the hour but I don’t listen. She smiles at me, but I don’t smile back and that makes her sigh.
I miss her too, Megan says, and I remember that Nurse Megan and Raven were friends. She was getting better, but she just had that rebellious streak in her. Stubborn as a mule. She laughs, then she cries but she collects herself quickly. I’m sorry, Richard, but I can’t give any wise words of advice to you.
No, my name. It’s Dick.
Oh. She smiles, and I barely smile back. Why didn’t you tell Raven?
I liked the way she said Richard.
I’m told later that week that I can be released once I can walk, and a nurse tells me she’s going to teach me to walk again and I find that ridiculous because I don’t need walking lessons, I’ve been walking ever since I was a baby. I tell the nurse this and she tells me to stop being bitter but I don’t until the first second I’m on my feet I fall right on my face.
See? The nurse says, and I don’t like her smirk. You’re just as helpless as a baby. But soon I’m walking all over the room with my hand on the wall so I don’t fall, and a week later they tell me I can be released the next day and the nurses say Weren’t you such a good patient, except for the time with the book and Rachel, God rest the poor girl’s soul.
It’s September now, and I’ve been in the hospital for a full three months the very day Alfred comes to get me. I say goodbye to all my friends, and I almost tell Star I love her but I don’t and I just hug her. She slips me a poetry book and she says it used to be Raven’s, so keep it safe, alright? Gar cries a little and Victor cries a lot, and he hugs me and hugs me until I’m in the carriage with Alfred. Nurse Megan says bye too, and then she stays by Gar and I realize that they must be siblings by the way she has her hands on Gar’s shoulders.
I tell Alfred that I still can’t walk quickly so I can’t keep up with Jay and Timmy, and Alfred just smiles and says Trust me, Master Dick, they’ll probably walk slower than you in these first few weeks. I don’t really get what he means so I just smile anyways.
We arrive at the manor and Jay and Timmy are yelling and jumping when they see the carriage, but once I get out they’re gentle and they don’t try to push me over but Jay says You’re mighty slow, Dickie and Timmy tells him to Shut up. I almost rag on Timmy but then I notice Alfred shaking his head at me, so I just bite my tongue and don’t say anything.
Wayne is in the kitchen with Miss Selina, and they both tell me it’s wonderful to have me back in the house, that I’m a brave soldier for fighting off the typhoid. Miss Selina hugs me and then Wayne hugs me, and for a second I think I even feel a brush of lips on my forehead from him and I’m so happy I feel like I could float off my feet.
That night, me and Timmy are in my bed, and Timmy’s already dozing off but I hear the door creak open and I feel another body curl into my side, and I know it’s Jay so I don’t say anything.
Did The Bat visit?
How would you know?
He told us.
Mm. He would tell us how you looked the previous night.
Jay’s quiet, then he says We all missed you, and I say I missed you too, and then suddenly Jay’s crying into my shirt and blubbering about how he thought I was going to die and I say Shh, shh to him until he quiets, and his breathing goes into sleep breathing.
I’m still not completely better. It takes me an hour to walk to the kitchen if I’m all alone, but usually Jay or Timmy try to pick me up because now I’m the lightest brother but Wayne usually just carries me down.
Jay and Timmy go to school, and when they come home they tell me what happened and they sometimes try to get homework from the eighth class so I have something to do but I tell them I’m just fine.
I let Jay read the poetry book- he tells me that he thinks it’s boring, and that makes me angry so I yell at him until he leaves the room. I try to apologize, but he ignores me until Timmy gets mad at the both of us and locks us in my room until we make up, and when we do I tell him about Rachel and soon Jay starts reading more poetry.
I’m almost put in the same class as Timmy when I go back to school, but Alfred convinces the school to put me where I’m supposed to be, in eighth class. Alfred tells me that maybe it wouldn’t have killed me if I were in the same classes as my brothers, but I say Yes it would, Alfred, I’m the oldest so I have to be in the higher class. I’m not the biggest anymore because I was sick, but I’m still the oldest. Alfred just laughs and tells me he was joking, but he says Would you like to become the biggest again?
I nod, and then the next day Wayne tells me that if I can get bigger and stronger I can maybe be The Bat’s sidekick. He asks me if I would like that and I say Very much, sir and then we shake on it.
It takes me until I’m fourteen until Wayne starts to train me to be his sidekick, but soon I am and when he asks me what I want my name to be, I think back to Raven and how her nickname was a bird name. I think about bird names, but eventually, one sticks out and feels right.
I straighten up, and for the millionth time I’m relieved my legs don’t quiver when I do that anymore.