A love letter to all the nurses who've helped me these past few months....still in progress...
"Gran'ma, I'm bored."
She's been sick for four days. Over those, she's watched at least sixteen hours of cable television, played five movies and maxed out the levels on at least one game. She's also sewed a lace trim on her favorite flannel shirt, helped make cookies, had at least eight phone calls to her chums and issued numberless tweets and IM's.
She is clearly at her nine year old wits' end.
Her grandmother thinks for a moment. "Well, there is something." She turns to the top shelf of the linen closet where no one goes, and takes down some plastic-wrapped pieces of cardboard. "They're very fragile, so don't be too harsh on them."
"These are different. They may be a little ...adult for you, but I think you can understand at least a little of them."
They spilled out on the bed, their garish covers faded to nostalgia, their titles blaring like distant car horns in the night: Mystery Comics#25, CatWoman, Cat and Mouse, Cat's Eye, Kitten, Cat and Dog, A Cat has Nine Lives,Owl and the Pussycat, Pyewackett, and a dozen others, all sealed, to give to others...
"Gee, where do I start?"
"Start at the beginnning."
"Do you like cats?" the old woman asked, her eyes glittering.
"Yes, why do you ask?"
"I may have a gift for you."
Selina Kyle put her blood pressure cuff away, and checked her lungs and heart. The patient was in good shape to go home, as far as a woman her age might be. She'd just gotten pinned and capped as a nurse, and the patient's name meant nothing to her.
"I live at Katoaad Estates. Do stop by at teatime.
At the nurse's station, the girls were all abuzz.
"Maggie Kittridge?" one said. "THE Maggie Kittridge? She's asked you to tea?"
"What's so special about her?"
Katoaad Estates turned out to be a well-kept retirement community, with individual apartments set around several small parks, and a recreation center. Maggie's apartment was small, but most of the furniture looked like it had come from a much larger, more affluent, household. It was, however, deeply comfortable and pin-neat, with floors covered with thick Oriental rugs. The walls were covered with photographs and framed awards, interspersed with exotic souvenirs from the Middle East, shelves of books and more relics and awards. "And this is, well, I don't suppose you were even born when he was President, but a darling man...This is from my time in the War...my nephews gave me this collected Miss Marple, I don't think you'll see a thicker book! But you look tired. Perhaps a cup of tea?"
"Yes, I suppose..." She was getting to be, not tiresome, but..."I don't think I can stay very long."
"Now don't you worry, I know how you feel, what with school, and work and your own life, and all. You should take time to relax sometimes, and remember, there are rewards to a life of caring for other people, as you can see here. And there are other rewards, far beyond these, and it is from this, you can derive true energy..." she said as she puttered around in the kitchenette. "This is my special blend, a friend sends it to me from abroad. It really needs a proper pot and Blue Dot glasses..."
Selina sat down. Maybe she was being a bit hard on herself. Anyway, what harm could it do, indulging a crazy old lady?
A long-legged cat came over to investigate, with the grace of a young ballet dancer. The animal rubbed her leg and meowed.
"Isis likes you." Maggie came out with a pot and cups, and a plate of tarts. "I'm glad."
The tea was different than anything she'd ever tasted, deep and rich and resinous. A deep calm welled up inside her, and she found herself utterly content to sit and listen to Maggie's wildly veering chatter, the purring of the cat in her lap, and was it raining again? She shut her eyes to listen to the pattering...
...when she opened them again, she was ...
Torchlight behind a curtain. A girl in a white gown, with her hair in many braids, pulls it back with a smile.
There was a sound of women singing, and flutes and harps, with an insistent percussive line, like a large motor, somewhere in the background.
As if in a dream, she allowed herself to be dressed and led outside, where an Egyptian temple stood at the end of a garden with many leafy trees. In the low-hanging branches, and here and there on the ground, many cats slept, crouched, or simply wandered about.
Between two cat-headed figures, the Priestess sat waiting, accompanied by a score or so of maidens singing and playing music. And standing in front of them all was Maggie Kittridge. At her arrival, they all stood and chanted. Maggie translated.
"We are the Sisterhood of Bastet. In daytime we heal the sick and wounded. By night we hunt the low and creeping things, and are foe to all vermin."
"Welcome, child and sister. Be as a kitten to our kindle, and take comfort in our sweet milk."
One of the maidens brought out a tray, with milk and honey and bread, to a glowing marble table in which images appeared..
"Cats do one thing that no other animal can -- they purr." There was nothing of the dotty old woman she'd seen in Katoaad Estates. She'd been a great lady once, and she lectured like a general at a sand table, indicating various parts of the picture. "They purr when they're resting and content, but they also purr when they're in pain, giving birth, and even dying."
"Humans lack the throat muscles for purring. That's why we carry the Systrum." She pointed to her pendant. "It does the same thing as the rattle you see in the hand of that girl in the orchestra. Like a cat's purr, It calms and speeds healing. and it compels truth, even from the unwilling. It will multiply your stamina. And from time to time, it will take you back here."
"But where do I begin as a..."
"Every kitten who learns to hunt begins with something already caught by her mother. Look for this boy in Pediatrics." The stone glowed to show a boy of about six, or perhaps seven. "He's had a tragic...accident, involving several bones. Visit him and apply the Systrum. Look up his family...
"But...I don't have the money to go around being a superhero. "
"Virtue is its own reward. We can make sure it's also very lucrative."
"I...don't have the energy. I mean, being a nurse...it would be like two jobs."
"The Sistrum provides all. You'll learn to adapt, recharge when you can."
Maggie closed her eyes for a moment. " I can mentor you, but my time on Earth grows short. Soon I must take my place in this world, and will make it my home, sharing my wisdom with all the others before me. It's been a long, good, happy life."
She laughed. "They spin and weave flax and hemp and wool here. Maybe I can teach them knitting. The cats would like that, I think."
She opened her eyes. Maggie was still chattering on about how she'd met Lawrence of Arabia, and how difficult it was to find clothing that made any sense any more, now that her favorite shop had closed. "...nice man, Mr. Kuwell, I don't think he was ever quite the same after Mary died, but I keep looking for the perfect camel's hair coat, nonetheless...Why can't you get bloomers anymore? My, has the tea relaxed you that much? It's made with blue lotus flowers...."
"I...must have drifted off. Funny. I had a dream."
"Package came for you, Selina. Looks like one of your patients likes you." It was Maggie's locket, with a note.
Employ it wisely and well.
"He hasn't spoken since he got here."
He regarded her warily.
"I'm here to help." So is everyone else. Not the best of lines. "So. You don't talk. Do you not talk to everybody?"
She pressed the locket.
"That's a pretty big word, if you don't talk. Why won't you talk?"
"I'm afraid of telling lies."
"Do you often tell lies?"
"All the time. Anything bad about my family is a lie."
She knew what she should do. She went into Pharmacy and packed a syringe with the best sleeping agent she could find.
Meanwhile, another package had come to her apartment....
It may have looked like a Halloween costume, but it worked. It was made of black shiny stretchy material, and had ears and a tail. She wondered, for a moment, whether she looked slutty. In the mirror she saw ...someone else. Someone confident. Someone.... dangerous.
All of a sudden, her tail...lashed. Her ears twitched. At first, she put her hands over her human ears, but then, she realized that it wasn't her own ears that were moving. She could hear through them, too, and her vision swam with new data: air currents, small movements.
Her suit had made her a cat.
"I only hope that I'm not afraid of water." she said.
Early evening in Gotham's Tenderloin.
One stop shopping for sex, drugs, porn, cheap souvenirs, and "for display only" Asian weaponry, it was a warren of fast food joints, movie theaters, low bars, and shops of questionable nature, which were supplemented by touts of various kinds offering "acidspeedacidspeed" and "iceiceblueiceblueice", young men with leather pants and more swagger than wisdom. Now and then, a hobo or a group of teenagers, or single, lost souls...Diagonally, across the street, a Mask, an aristocrat of the streets, was making his way, surrounded by his entourage: his woman, his yes-men and enforcers.
Don't act scared. she told herself. This is no different than making rounds of a floor, to these people it's not a circus or a sewer, but an ordinary night at the office, doing what they do best. Don't look too involved, don't meet too many eyes, just keep walking...ignore that fellow trying to follow you, he'll find another...
"Nice outfit, lady." the bartender said. "We don't get many Masks in here. Class up the joint." He touched his forehead. "Chablis, a whole dollar."
"I'm called...The Cat." she said, huskily, and took her drink to a table, near where a jolly-faced man was practicing some obscure trick with a lighter. Each time he missed, a bored looking woman in a camisole missing important teeth laughed like a machine lacking a sound card. On the bar TV, Batman was being given yet another award for turning in yet another high-profile crook.
"Goody two-shoes creep." Camisole said, slurping her beer. "I'll bet he has money."
"The Penguin ain't too poor neither."
"Where have you been, love of my life?" It was the man who had been following her. She could smell the breath spray, the too-insistent cologne, and the aura of cheap synthetic fabric. He'd bought a glass of well whiskey on the rocks, and oozed cut-rate sophistication.
"Are you sure I'm the one you're looking for?" Best not to look too eager. Play with your prey. She smiled and raised an eyebrow. She was sure, now. "Or are you the one I want?" Her tail curled around her hand suggestively.
"I can tell you're not cheap. Not like some of the broads around here." He nodded towards the laughing woman. "So, what does a girl like you do for a good time? I know some people who can find you some party favors, if you know what I mean."
"Oh, I can get myself drugs." And how! she thought. "Frankly...the subject bores me."
"Take you to dinner?"
Soon the two of them were sitting down in one of the few restaurants in the area, a cheap steakhouse holdover from older, better times decorated to look like an expensive holdover from even older, better times. Under the influence of half of a house pitcher of beer and a few bites of what passed for prime rib (with complimentary two sides and salad bar), he grew expansive, dilating on his genius career, his boat, his car and condo, pausing now and then to pull pictures from an overstuffed wallet.
"Only thing is my wife. She don't understand me, like you do. She never listens. It's always the house, or the garden, or some weepy crap she heard on the radio. She don't wanna go out no more. But I gotta son."
She tried to control her shock at seeing the same boy she had spoken to just that morning.
"Aren't you going to eat that? Or do you want it wrapped? Let me tell you, I can give you a dessert that will have you eating off the mantlepiece..."
"Just desserts?" she smiled. "Or do you have something else in mind?"
You could tell the desk clerk would forget them as soon as they checked out. Maybe sooner. The room was like most cheap hotels, with cigarette burns in the nightstand and stains on the carpet. Her ears twitched, and it was all she could do to keep her tail from lashing.
For the second time that night Selina wondered just how far she'd have to go. One thing for sure, she was not going to trade any body fluids with this man. Or get into the shower. Or undress at all, for that matter.
Luckily, she'd gone to high school.
"Let's say we cuddle first, get to know one another a little better..."
"Oh, a tease, you are..."
"I'm a cat, what do you want? Mmm..." She reached for her pendant. "So? You were talking about your wife...."
"She just don't do it for me anymore. So I figure, what's the harm? I go out, and I have my fun. So, one night she comes all, what are you doing? I mean, I owe some people some money here. Well, I know about jewelry, and I'm working for one of those engagement mills. Now, I could easily take her jewelry, pretend it's someone else's, sell it and...take it back. Plus, there are a couple stones that...go awry now and then. Well, we got into a fight. So, I decided to...take a necklace her mom had left her, and a ring with an old mine-cut diamond, and I'm going to be leaving the country in the morning..." His eyes had gone out of focus. She left him there, and went into the bathroom.
"Big...pinch!" she cried, pushing down the plunger.
She was almost giggling when she called the police.
"I don't know what you did for that boy, but let's just say, it's a miracle."
"Really? The fractures..."
"The bones are knitting. All the wounds are healing. He's happy and talkative, and sleeps and eats well. He's quite a handful! Only one thing...he keeps asking us for a kitten."
In Gotham City, there are two heroes by night.
One flies high, dealing with the crimes of the
great and wealthy,
One creeps low, her quarry the foes of the
"That was great!" She yawned suddenly. "I feel sleepy, all of a sudden. Do you think Mr. Stripes will come sleep with me?"
"Can't see why not...I'll wake you when you need medicine." Grandma said, fingering her golden Ankh locket...
People have told me that Catwoman must be a villian, else, there's nothing to her character. That is, if you're working within the Code, and the idea that her honeypot sex appeal is the center of her character. So what if her real story is that she''s "really" someone you don't see? A kindergarten teacher, a secretary....a nurse. And that she works with...and this is from one of the people I talked to....real crimes, not the high-profile craziness Batman deals with every day. Little vermin, the pedophiles, the wife-beaters, the deadbeat dads. What if she's both? She heals the sick, and she fights the wicked. She's got a power suit that''s just one step ahead of the possible. (For now.) So?