Bruce stared in silent contemplation at the mantelpiece. It was covered in dust.
His first thought was to call over to Alfred in the next room and tell him that he should clean it. He second thought was that Alfred was on vacation and wouldn’t be able to clean the mantelpiece for two weeks. This wouldn’t do.
Bruce’s eyes willed the mantelpiece to clear itself of the thick layer of dust but it wouldn’t. Too bad there weren’t any minor criminals that had been recently apprehended that needed to do community service. This place could use it.
It had already been a week, and not only was the mantelpiece continuing to bother him, but the stairs were dirty, the carpets were unclean, the windows were smudged, the bathroom soap was all mushy (and Bruce didn’t know where the replacements were), the front hall needed serious mopping, and his clothes had to be ironed. Not to mention he had no idea in the slightest what Alfred used to remove the bloodstains from his batman costume. If he didn’t figure that out soon, he’d start getting the wrong kind of reputation.
Bruce spun around, leaving the mantelpiece behind him. He was Bruce Wayne. He was Batman. He was invincible.
He was capable of doing housework. (Or so he hoped.)
Firstly, (as yesterday he’d gotten stabbed and it looked like he might have gone out gutting people) he needed to deal with the bloodstain problem. He walked over to his phone and picked up the address book. There were many great minds in Gotham, but sometimes when you needed help, you needed people who were crazy enough to devote their lives to occupations that required the knowledge.
He flipped to the back of the book, and looked down where there was a keypad in the inside cover. Slowly he typed in the time his parents had died. It opened with a click, and he flipped through his private contacts.
Ivy?—no, he’d fixed the infestation of poisonous plants in the back garden already. After a few moments, he stared down at the number. Perhaps he should call Harley instead, he mused. She was a lot nicer, and he’d even called last week to get the recipe of the cream pie she’d baked (sure she’d poisoned it but it’d still been delicious). Then again, hadn’t he heard that she was going on vacation? Something about sick relatives. Anyway, he’d find out what that lie was about soon enough.
He sighed, and began to type into the phone. 1-800-JOKER. Bruce lifted the phone to his ear and waited. “Hel-ooo?” said a cheerful voice on the other end.
“Hey,” said Bruce. “It’s me.”
“It can’t be me, I’m right here!”
Bruce smiled. It didn’t hurt when Joker couldn’t see him, after all.
“Listen, I was wondering… what you do about getting the bloodstains out of your clothes?”
“Oh my,” said Joker. Bruce could just picture him stepping back, aghast. “Such a personal question! I suppose I could share a few secrets though. I was getting kind of bored.”
“Well hurry up,” Bruce said. “My costume makes it look like I’ve just stabbed someone on the street.”
“That would be interesting to see. … Anyway, my secret…” Bruce leaned towards the phone, finding himself anticipating the answer. For some reason he felt the Joker must use some strange, obscure method.
“I…buy… new ones.”
Joker laughed, evidently pleased by the loud, exasperated sigh that emerged from Bruce’s side of the phone. “Oh, just kidding. I mean, if it’s really, really bad I do… but not under normal circumstances. So, you wanna know the secret to how the Joker cleans the blood off his beautiful tailored suits?”
“Yes please,” Bruce said dryly.
“First I make sure that they’re not on me.”
Bruce raised an eyebrow.
“You know what I mean,” said Joker. “Then… I walk into the room next to my bedroom."
What room…? Bruce declined from commenting, but he wished Joker would just tell him his method. He doubted he’d be able to think up anything half as ingenious in years, and he wanted to get it over with.
“I open my magic box, turn some special knobs,” Joker said in a sing-song voice, “make sure the settings are on cold, slam down the lid with extra enthusiasm,” he was building up in his speech, probably waving his arm around. Bruce was sure he could hear one foot being placed patriotically upon a chair, “and push the on button,” he concluded.
“That might work for you,” said Bruce. “I don’t know what kind of strange method you invented, but I don’t have a ‘magic box.’”
“It’s a WASHING MACHINE, you dumb-bat!”
There was a sound of hysterical laughter and the phone was hung up.
Bruce cleared his throat, pretending that he wasn’t at all embarrassed, and hung up as well. He had no time to dwell on what the Joker thought of him. It was time to do the laundry.
By the end of the day, he’d cleaned his Batsuit, mopped the large front hall, cleaned all the windows (which took three hours at least), and swept the grand staircase. How Alfred did it was beyond him. The place always seemed so clean.
He smiled down at the steps and began to walk down them. He set his hand on the rail, and slid it down smoothly.
—Yuck!—It was dusty. He realized there was one thing he hadn’t done, and it was a thing that was meant for just this problem.
Wayne Manor was a large place. There were lots of corners. There were lots of ledges. There were lots of windowsills. There were lots of dresser-tops. There were lots of shelves, there were lots of random objects, and there were lots of mantelpieces.
There were lots of chairs, there were lots of bedframes, there were lots of the underneath of beds (how do you even clean those?) and there were lots of curtain rods. (Do you even clean those? They were wooden, but even so he wasn’t convinced.) And the little bits under the cabinets and above the floor in the kitchen—drat. He had to clean the kitchen too.
He decided to set the rest of the cleaning for the second week, and then he’d have one week to live in cleanliness before Alfred got home. He tried to ignore the fact that it would probably get dirty again through no fault of his own. It suddenly made sense that, during almost every conversation where Alfred wasn’t doing handiwork or giving him food, he was cleaning.
Not only that, but the man still had enough time to care about him, and drive him around!
“I guess I’m not the only superhero in this house,” Bruce smiled.
The next morning, Bruce woke up. The first thing he did was go and eat breakfast. Unfortunately, he might have to postpone his date with Selina for a few hours. He had work to do.
Bruce stared at the mantelpiece. It was really bugging him now. More than the stairs and corners and the underneath of beds. Yet dusting always seemed to him the most tiresome task of all, and probably one that had to be done continually during the day, as that was what Alfred was usually doing. Not to mention he did it on the console in the Batcave as well.
He drifted over to his computer. He could dust in a few minutes. First he would just find—oh, a new email. His mind drifted away from chores and settled on his inbox. He clicked the open button. It was an ad. He sighed.
“Audible.com,” it said, “your only stop for listening to audiobooks online.”
“That sounds interesting,” Bruce commented. He opened it. You had to pay, but seeing as Bruce was a millionaire, he clicked the “register” button. After typing in his billing information and name, he found himself being welcomed by the text on the site as a brand-new member of audible.com.
Bruce glanced across the table. The orange duster seemed to be staring at him.
He pushed it behind the computer.
Now that his account was created, it was only right that he use it. Quickly, he grabbed his phone, and downloaded their mobile application. He grabbed his headphones and put them in so he could walk around. What to listen to? He scrolled down the page and stopped when “Star Wars Trilogy” caught his eye. He’d never actually listened to that—in fact, he’d thought it had been a movie.
He closed his computer as the narrator gave the author credits.
The duster was still there.
Bruce turned around and began to whistle, stopping only when the narrator started to read, “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” Bruce sat down, crossing his arms pointedly and spinning his chair away from the duster.
A few moments later, he slumped down, hiding his head beneath its frame.
There was a pause. And then he jumped up, taking the earphones off, tossing the headphones onto the table and throwing his arms into the air. “I can’t take it!” he yelled at the duster. “You keep looking at me. How am I supposed to get any listening done around here. I’m caving, you know—you’re just too intimidating!” he slumped onto the table, head on his arms.
There was a knock at the door.
Just as Bruce was trying to remember who might be coming, they entered the room.
“Bruce,” said a familiar voice, “What are you doing. Is everything okay?”
“Sorry,” said Bruce, getting up and brushing off his suit, “Fine. —did I never call you to change the time for our lunch date?”
“I’m afraid not,” said Selina.
“Sorry. The Joker—it’s his fault.”
“You two have been spending a lot of time together,” Selina said, smiling mischieviously. “Should I be worried?”
“Despite what you might think,” Bruce said, “that’s really not funny.”
“Something is wrong, isn’t it,” said Selina after a moment’s pause. She walked over to him and placed a hand on his shoulder. “What is it?”
“It’s the dusting,” he said.
“What?” She looked a bit perplexed.
“Alfred’s gone, and I don’t know what to do. This place is so big, and I just don’t like dusting! What do you do?” he asked.
“I have a maid,” she said. “And a small apartment. What’s that?” she said, distracted for a moment by his phone, discarded on the table. She picked it up and put it on. “Oh, looks like you missed the beginning of your story,” she said.
“I couldn’t just sit there and listen while that dust problem was settling on my skin.”
“What if you listen to this while you do it?” she asked. Bruce brightened suddenly. “That’s actually a good idea,” he said.
“I’m full of them,” she replied. “How bout I come back in a few hours? You can dust and I’ll see if you did it when I come back. After all, I’m sure I can find some way to pass the time.”
“All right,” he said.
She leaned forward and kissed him before turning to walk out the door.
“Your chores better be done by the time I get back, or there’s no going out for you tonight.”
An hour later, Bruce was dusting. He was also listening to the Star Wars trilogy. Before he knew it, he’d also started vacuuming. Suddenly it wasn’t a dull machine, but a powerful tractor beam collecting foreign matter. His teapot was a star ship as he poured himself tea, and his curtain rods were the tightrope from the chapter he was sure wasn’t in the original story.
He picked up the phone. He’d better call Selina. He’d probably be doing this for the rest of the night.
Across Gotham, in a small apartment, Catwoman set down her phone.
“What is it?” asked Maven.
“He cancelled on me!” she said indignantly, sitting down on her chair. Then she stood up. “I guess I’ll steal back those cats tonight,” she said cheerfully, and in a few moments she was out the window.
By the time a new day had dawned, Bruce got up with a spring in his step, ate breakfast as fast as he could—and skipped drinking tea altogether. Something in his life had changed. A large smile passed over his face.
Bruce looked forward to dusting.
A week later, Alfred came home. He was quite ready to stop all that tiring “relaxation,” and get back into the normal flow of things. It was so much harder to try and float around in some pool, than to organize bedsheets in the hall closet. The monotonous moves of dusting while Bruce was on a case would be a homely thing to get back to. And it took so much less time than relaxing.
He walked inside, smiling at the thought of all the housework that would be ahead of him. He swung open the door, preparing himself for the lovely sight of dirt and grime covering the mansion, waiting to be cleaned by him, Alfred Pennyworth, the most essential piece in the workings of the household. His jaw dropped.
Bruce turned, startled, setting down the mop.
“Alfred!” he said, walking over to the man and hugging him. “Here, let me help you with that.” He took Alfred’s bags and carried them to the bottom of the stairs.
“How was your trip?” he said, shutting the door. “Would you like some tea?”
“You—” Alfred started. “Ah-wha-clean-what?! Sir?”
“You seem perplexed Alfred. Oh,” he smiled, realized Alfred’s gaze was lying on the cleaning supplies. “I took up a new hobby,” he said.
“Doing my job, sir?” said Alfred, taking the tea from him and siting down.
“Don’t worry, it’s not like I’m going to be replacing you,” Bruce joked, “I couldn’t find the soap in the hall closet.”
“That’s because it’s in the pantry.”
“We’ve got a pantry and a hall closet? Good thing you told me,” he said, getting up.
“Where are you going?” asked Alfred.
“Getting the soap.”
“I thought you said that was my job.”
“It is, but I can do it. Just stay here and rest.”
“Now see here—I’ve had quite enough of resting—do you know how tired I am? All I’ve been thinking about on my way home is cleaning this place.”
“Don’t worry, I thought you’d feel that way.”
“You did?” Alfred asked.
“I didn’t clean anything upstairs today. Just my bedroom.”
“Oh thank goodness,” Alfred sighed in relief. “In that case, I’ll see you at dinner.” He rushed up the stairs. Bruce didn’t think he’d seen him move that fast for many, many years.
Two days later, Bruce had still not stopped dusting. This was quite getting on Alfred’s nerves.
“Master Bruce,” he said, as Bruce entered the room with a large tool he’d just bought that had a long handle for dusting the corners of the trim on the ceiling, “dusting is not your job. It is my job, and I do it because you’re busy, and have better, more interesting things to do with your time. I refuse to let you do all this work,” he said, grabbing the duster. Bruce pulled his headphones off.
“Sorry Alfred. Did you say something?”
“You’re acting like a teenager with those headphones on all the time,” muttered Alfred.
Alfred had been getting back into his routine, and even though Bruce had been doing quite a good job of cleaning, everything seemed a lot neater since the man got home.
Bruce seemed to walk around aimlessly, dusting any surface he could find. Alfred had taken to muttering incessantly whenever they were in the same room about how annoying this was, but Bruce never heard him.
“He’s practically obsessed,” said Alfred. “I wonder what Miss Kyle thinks about this.”
Bruce looked at him. “I heard that,” he said.
After a couple more days, Bruce took to playing the tapes on a speaker while dusting the larger rooms so he didn’t have to wear the headphones. On one of these days Alfred entered the room, sweeping the floor.
Bruce was spinning in circles with his extension duster, making tractor beam noises.
“Are you quite all right sir?” Alfred asked.
“What?” said Bruce, looking up.
“It sounded like you were chocking.”
“Oh,” said Bruce. “I’m fine. I’m not chocking, I’m a tractor beam.”
“Less like a teenager, more like a two-year-old.”
“I heard that, too,” said Bruce, smiling. He continued to turn in circles. Alfred found that he had to keep avoiding him so as not to trip him with his broom or get bumped into. Later that day, while Alfred was cooking, Bruce began dusting the stove.
“You don’t dust the stove!” said Alfred. “Especially not when it’s on!” he whacked Bruce’s hand with a dish-towel. “You know,” he said, “this dusting of yours is really getting out of hand. It’s the only thing you do cleaning-wise, and the only thing you do at all! I think everything’s gotten quite dust-free by now.”
“Lighten up Alfred,” said Bruce, as he picked up his portable speaker and began to dust it.
Two days later, lying in bed, Bruce finished the last chapter of his story. He smiled, and drifted off to sleep, dreaming of defeating his foes in lightsabre battles.
The next morning Alfred was setting an omelet at Bruce’s plate at the table, when Bruce came down. “That smells delicious!” he exclaimed, sitting down. He began to eat, savoring each bite. Alfred seemed slightly surprised that he wasn’t gobbling it down like he had been for the past week and rushing off. He hmmed and poured him his tea.
After breakfast Bruce entered the room in which Alfred was organizing books, to see if he wanted to help solve a riddle that had come up recently in one of his cases. “Hey Alfred, he said, “I was wondering… what do you think the answer is to this riddle is?” He cleared his throat to begin reading it aloud, but before he could the look on Alfred’s face stopped him.
“Why aren’t you dusting, sir?” he asked.
“I don’t like dusting,” said Bruce, stretching and giving Alfred the paper with the riddle written on it.
“Whatever do you mean?”
“I mean it’s quite boring,” he said, sitting on a chair and crossing his legs. “Anyway I’ve got lots of work to do, not to mention a date with Selina tonight. And after that I’ve got to take Joker to Arkham.”
“You’re saying that—this whole tedious week, you’ve been dusting simply to get on my nerves and haven’t enjoyed it at all?” asked Alfred incredulously.
“It wasn’t the dusting I was enjoying,” said Bruce, “it was the story. I finished it last night,” he explained.
“Do you mean to say you could have been sitting in your room listening to that? You didn’t have to be cleaning?”
“No, that extension duster was a perfect lightsabre.” There was a joking glint in his eyes.
Alfred sighed, but a smile was on his face. “Well, I’m glad we’ve cleared that up.”
“Oh I’m done clearing anything up. It actually got me quite tired. In fact—I think I might take a vacation.”