Before Selina even unlocked the door she could hear it – the ominous tones of MLB 2K. She’d bought Bruce the Xbox thinking it would help distract him from his melancholy over losing his home in Gotham City, but it had proved perhaps too effective; he had been playing it nonstop for four days. Meanwhile she was picking up all the extra shifts she could at the café to ensure they would be able to pay rent on the first of the month.
Selina dropped her keys on the table loudly, and the baseball announcer continued. She took off her apron, placed it on the back of a chair, and walked into the living room.
Bruce was reclined on the couch, in the same position he’d been in when she’d left the apartment earlier in the day. He wore a pair of ratty blue pajama pants and no shirt, and his facial hair had quickly progressed from charmingly scruffy to something that could have bugs living in it. When he spotted Selina he lowered the volume on the television, but continued fiddling with the controller to make the batter swing at impossible knuckleballs.
“Listen, fucko,” Selina said. “If I’m not allowed to be a jewel thief anymore, your ass needs to get a job.”
“I’m retired,” Bruce replied. “Being the Batman didn’t come with a 401k, and Bane bankrupted Wayne Enterprises.”
“Shoulda put your money in the Cayman Islands like every other rich American.” Selina dropped a piece of paper on the coffee table. “This is the address of Italy Employment Services. Go there tomorrow or I’m taking my knife heels out of storage.”
Bruce smiled hopefully. “For sexy times?”
Selina bent over to glare right into his eyes. “For throat-slitting times.”
The next day, Bruce wanted nothing more than to spend the afternoon getting free drinks at the café where Selina worked while exchanging knowing looks with his former butler, but he knew if he showed up there, Selina would likely try to murder him, and with good reason. So he shaved, put on his best pajama pants and his least stained t-shirt and went to Italy Employment Services, a sad, gray concrete building where he had to wait on line for an hour before speaking to an older woman in a sad, gray business suit.
“I see here you have experience in being a playboy philanthropist and a masked vigilante,” the woman said dully as she scanned his resumé. “Luckily we have a program specifically for American billionaires who have faked their own death. Can you fold sweaters?”
“I can make my own bed,” Bruce said proudly.
The woman took a sheet of paper out of her printer. “I’m sending you to the GAP on the Via al Dettaglio. Speak to the assistant manager, Ken Lay.”
Bruce walked to the Via al Dettaglio the long way, stopping once to spend his last few Euros on an espresso. He thought he spotted a former maid, and spent a few minutes exchanging knowing looks with her, only to have her yell at him in Italian that he should go fuck himself. Luckily, he didn’t speak Italian, so he ultimately considered this encounter meaningful.
The front window of the GAP store was decorated with headless mannequins displaying faded jeans and V-neck t-shirts. Bruce walked in and approached the balding man working at the register. He had a face so pale it looked like he had been as intentionally faded as the denim in the window.
“I’m looking for Ken Lay,” Bruce said.
“I’m Ken Lay,” the older man replied. “You must be our new sweater-folding specialist from Employment Services.”
Bruce held out his hand. “Bruce Wayne.”
Ken eyed his hand suspiciously. “Died in a nuclear explosion, right? Yeah, I’m not touching your radiation poisoning, dude.”
“I don’t have radiation poisoning,” Bruce said. “The bomb was like two yards away from me. I’m totally fine.”
Ken shrugged. “You gotta talk to the manager, Mr. B. Follow me.”
Ken led Bruce past displays of faux-vintage graphic t-shirts to a large man in cargo pants bent over a box of children’s clothing.
“Mr. B, this is Bruce, our new sweater-folding specialist.”
The man stood and turned, revealing broad shoulders, a bald head, and a spider-like black tubular mask.
“Bane!” Bruce shouted. “But I saw you die!”
“I was only faking,” Bane said in his wry, electronic voice.
Bruce frowned. “I’m pretty sure I saw your guts come out.”
“I had bulletproof armor on,” Bane replied. “It was an illusion. I had a magic shield. Or whatever, fuck you. You ruined my favorite brown coat.”
“I told you, use your discount on that docking jacket with the drawstring hood,” Ken said. “It looks fab on you.”
Bruce advanced on Bane, his fists clenched. “I will not work for the man who stole my money, destroyed my city, and corrupted my girlfriend.”
Bane crossed his arms. “I was not Talia’s lover. I was her protector.”
Bruce pointed at Bane with both index fingers. “Well, I fucked her, so you got friendzoned, dipshit.”
“Well I fucked your mom,” Bane shot back.
“My parents are dead!” Batman shouted.
Bane glared. “That explains why your mom’s head fell off when I fucked her in the face.”
Batman swung at Bane, but Bane sidestepped the blow, and Ken rushed between them.
“Okay, enough,” Ken Lay said. “Who among us hasn’t, at one time or another, destroyed part of America and allegedly killed some people? Que sera sera. Let’s focus on our objective now.” He took one of the children’s shirts out of the cardboard box. “Folding sweaters.”
“I challenge you to a battle to the death,” Bane growled.
Bruce puffed out his chest. “What are your terms?”
Bane pulled a tri-folded glossy brochure off a nearby shelf. “Whoever opens the most GAP credit accounts between now and next Friday wins, with bonus points for selling impulse register keychains…” He narrowed his eyes. “…and dog bandanas.”
“Challenge accepted!” Bruce shouted.
By the time Ken trained Bruce on the register and showed him the proper way to fold a sweater, it was closing time.
The next day, Bruce insisted on taking on register duties, determined to win his bet with Bane. He managed to sell two keychains and open one new credit account before Bane took over the second register, assigning Ken to loss prevention. The registers faced each other, so the two men glared at each other all day.
At one point a young woman approached with two small children and an armful of clothing.
“Welcome to The GAP how may I help you!” both Batman and Bane shouted out at the same time.
The children ran ahead of their mother, chasing each other around some mannequins wearing strapless drawcord dresses.
The mother smiled. “Who should I go to?”
“Come to me,” Bruce responded immediately. “I am an incorruptible and everlasting symbol of justice.”
“Come to me,” Bane countered. “I am the League of Shadows, and I am here to fulfil Ra's Al Ghul's destiny.”
The woman smiled and approached Bane’s register. “Nice to meet a fellow student! My oldest took taekwondo with Ra’s until that batguy killed him with a train.”
Bane started scanning the woman’s khakis and rompers. “That batguy, what a dick.” He held out a brochure. “Would you like to apply for a GAP card?”
The store got busier after lunch, and the two men worked with only minimal breaks, tirelessly promoting the GAP card. Ken kept a running total of who had opened the most credit accounts on his clipboard, and by 3:00pm they were tied with seven each.
“I’m going to beat you,” Bruce called out as Bane struggled to get the security tag off a maternity striped knit top. “You can’t win unless you kill me.”
Bane managed to get the pin out of the plastic and threw it all to the floor. “You do not fear death. You welcome it. Your punishment must be more severe.” He pointed to the rear of the store. “Go work the fitting room.”
“Damn you Bane!” Bruce shouted as he stormed off.
Bruce chatted with the men and women going into the fitting room, and managed to open four more credit accounts before the end of the day. He was delighted when he checked Ken’s clipboard and found that Bane had only opened two.
Bane leaned against the double-knit zip hoodie display and glowered at Bruce. “I was born in the darkness, and tomorrow for the first time you shall see the true nature of the shadows. Prepare yourself for an unimaginable blackness from which there is no escape.”
Ken walked up, picked up his clipboard, and gave Bruce a sympathetic look. “Annual Flip Flop Sale.”
When he got home, Selina was playing Call of Duty on the Xbox and eating pizza right out of the box, and Bruce curled up on the couch next to her, too exhausted to even eat.
“So how is the new job going?” she asked.
“Weird,” Bruce replied. “I get a discount though, and they have these ballet flats with cat faces on them.”
Selina leaned down and kissed Bruce on the forehead. “I grew up poor, honey, but not poor enough to wear that tacky shit.”
Bruce made a mental note to return the denim-washed, garment-dyed, skinny-fit blue khakis he’d bought for himself earlier in the day.
The next morning Bane gathered Bruce, Ken, and two young temps in the break room. He held up a walkie-talkie connected to a headset.
“Behold,” he said. “The instrument of your liberation. Identify yourself to the world. It will be a trying day, but we will prevail. Now's not the time for fear. That comes later. So go forth and take control…take control of this GAP store!”
Ken snapped his gum. The two temps were texting on their phones and not paying attention. Bruce picked up a headset, muttered, “you suck” at Bane, and went out to his register.
Both Bruce and Bane were on register, with Ken on the floor and the two temps in the fitting room, but the crowds were still overwhelming. Before the store even opened people were lining up outside, excited for one-dollar flip-flops and all the other sales and specials. The fitting rooms were full all day, and the temps struggled to get merchandise back on the racks before piles of unwanted clothes filled entire fitting room stalls. Ken was out of breath all day, helping customers find sizes, confronting shoplifters, and dealing with angry customers who found the item that they wanted sold out early.
The shared register line was at a minimum of five people at all times, and often grew to more than ten people, snaking around the fast-emptying flip-flop display racks and the disheveled mannequins wearing tribal print skirts and sugar wash scoop neck tees. Bruce said phrases like, “would you like to apply for a GAP card?” and “how about a sassy new dog bandana?” so many times that the words lost their meaning.
In the late afternoon Bane suddenly disappeared, and Bruce cursed under his breath as he was forced to scan double-time to keep the line manageable. When a teenage girl came to the register with a blouse and said, “The tag says 19.99 but the sign said 17.99,” Bruce felt his will to live quickly drain away. He leaned down, put his head in his hands, closed his eyes, and said, “Enough. I can’t make it to closing. I’m gonna die.”
Suddenly there was the noise of something falling in front of him, and he opened his eyes to see a Big Mac, a bottle of water, and a Jamba Juice on the counter. Bane stood there with a look of triumph in his eyes. His voice was thick and soothing in its strength. “When every last flip flop is sold,” Bane said. “Then you have my permission to die.”
Bruce stood up straight and grabbed the blouse from the teenage girl. “Suck my dick, it’s the price on the tag. Now sign up for a GAP card and buy a fucking keychain.”
The girl just shrugged and grabbed the credit application.
At closing time the store was still packed, and the temps gingerly tried to usher everyone to the register. Forty-five minutes after closing time, one lone grandmotherly woman was still browsing the floral-print scarves. Bane tore an arm off one of the mannequins, stood over the woman, and shouted, “What will break first? Your spirit? Or your body?” The woman swore at him in Italian and ran out of the store.
The temps were sent home, and Bruce wiped down his register’s counter area as Bane sat behind his and began organizing piles of card applications, return forms, and receipts. Bruce put down his bottle of Windex, dragged a chair to Bane’s register, and sat beside him.
“Can I help?” Bruce asked.
Bane waved him away. “Go help Ken.”
Bruce made no move to leave. He looked at the towering pile of card applications and the scratchy, rushed handwriting on them. Suddenly his GAP card fight to the death seemed meaningless.
“We’re not so different, you and I,” Bruce said. “We’re both the products of great tragedy, forged by hardship. Perhaps it has taken another tragedy, the Annual Flip Flop Sale, to show us this.” He looked over at Bane. “I don’t have many friends in Italy.”
Bane flipped through the return forms. “I have armies of minions spread across the globe ready to do my bidding to return glory to the League of Shadows and plunge the Earth into chaos at my slightest command.” He sighed and let the forms fall back into a messy pile. “But yeah, not a lot of friends.”
“I mean…” Bruce fiddled with the device for removing security tags. “You’re still my nemesis of course.”
“Of course,” Bane said. “And I may have forgotten to mention it, but after I fucked the decapitated head of your mother’s corpse, I fucked your dad in the ass.”
“That’s kinda gay.”
“Homophobia is a sign that you’re not comfortable with your own sexuality.”
Bruce shrugged. “There’s nothing wrong with being gay. I have gay friends.”
“I had tons of gay friends in prison.”
Bruce bit down on his lower lip a moment before continuing. “Once I had a sex dream about Harvey Dent.”
Bane scoffed. “Join the club.”
Bruce stood up, but kept his eyes toward the ground. “You know, my girlfriend’s into some awesome weird sex stuff, and asked me once to bring a dude home, so…”
Bane kept his eyes on his paperwork. “Corporate says managers can’t date employees.” He looked up at Bruce with a wicked glint in his eye. “So you’re fired.”
Bruce started walking backwards toward the door. “You know the apartments on River Street? Number 25.”
Bane nodded. “Give me an hour.”
“Gonna finish the paperwork?”
“Gonna burn down the store.”
Bruce smiled. He turned and ducked under the partially-closed metal gate to exit the store.
Ken Lay walked to the front of the store. “Why’s he leaving? I need help with hangers.”
“He’s fired,” Bane said.
Bane stood up. “Because he’s the clerk The Gap deserves, but not the clerk The Gap needs right now. So we’ll fire him. Because he can take it. Because he’s not our best retail sales associate. He’s a front end cashier, a fitting room attendant.” Bane looked out the front window and into the darkening night. “A sweater-folding specialist.”