The ground is forty feet below me.
“As Tears Go By” •
Part 1Wednesday, March 15, 1967
There’s no net.
Nothing holding me up. I let go of the flying trapeze and, for a moment, I’m flying. I can hear the gasps, the collective holding of breath, and even a few shrieks rise from below. I’m starting to fall, but I’m not afraid. I just stretch out my arms, and I know she’ll be there to catch me. Because she’s always there. Because she always does.
The gasps echo, louder this time, as we both go sailing through the air. Me, dangling in mid-air, and my mother holding onto my arms with her legs hooked around the trapeze bar.
Then she lets go.
The screams pierce the air. I shut out the audience - the blur of faces and lights - as I tuck into a ball and flip through the air. Once. Twice. What they don’t see is my father, standing on the platform. He let the trapeze bar go right as I finished the first rotation. Coming out of the second, I plane my body out. My hands open wide, the trapeze bar smacking right against the palms. Holding fast, I sail through the air. Dismount, tuck into a backflip, and make the landing on the platform.
The cheers break out, even as my mother is following suit, until all three of us are standing on the platform together. The applause grows in intensity as she dismounts and joins us, then transforms into a standing ovation as we take a bow.
“The fearless Flying Graysons! Let’s have a great Gotham round of applause for ten year old Dicky Grayson
. The youngest acrobat performing today!”I step back, and soon I’m the only one standing on the platform. The performance goes into the second act and I’ve got the best seat in the house.
Stepping back from the platform, I put my back against the tent pole and slide down. The strength seems to go out of my legs and I’m starting to realize that my arms are numb. My heart is pounding in my chest and I’m still trying to catch my breath. Below, it probably feels a little cool inside the tent. Up here, with all the lights, it feels like it’s a hundred degrees.
There’s a strange twang overhead. I look up, but it’s just the tension wires. In between the platforms, mom and dad are really putting on a show. I know every move. I know each routine. But it’s still incredible to witness. It takes my breath away, and I get to see this every day. The audience below? Amazed would be an understatement. I wish that I could be out there with them, but I’m still too little. Mom and dad are worried that I’ll get tired. Tired during practice is one thing. We have nets and safety harnesses while we learn a new routine. It gives us that little extra security to push ourselves to the limit to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Which, in my case, usually doesn’t. I hit the net four or five or even a dozen times some days.
But that’s practice, and this isn’t. So I come in at the start of the performance for the first act, then I’m sidelined for the second, and come back toward the end of the third. But I don’t really have any stunts after the first act.
The sound again. Louder, the cable and support structure giving a snap-CLAP of protest that echoed like a roll of thunder. I heard it. I bet the audience below heard it.
My parents heard it.
They’ve paused their routine, missing the jump. They’re lower than they should be. From this vantage point, I can see that the trapeze is sagging. My dad’s looking up at the cables. My mom’s looking at me. I can see her face.
I can see her fear.
The cable snaps before I can even get back to my feet. “DAD!” I see them drop, and lunge forward. I collapse onto the platform, peering over the ledge and I see everything.
I see the end of the world.
+ - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - +Friday, March 15, 1968
Present Day | Post Theme
A layer of chalk dust seemed to permeate through the room.
A clock on the wall ticked away the seconds, dragging out the hours through a litany of minutes that seemed to subsume an eternity between which the hands made only the most subtle of motions around the white face that was etched with stark, black numerals.
Brentwood Academy was a private school out on Gotham’s west side. A rival to the prestigious Gotham Academy boarding school, Brentwood was known for a number of its alumni getting into Yale -- as opposed to Gotham Academy’s reputation for sending alumni to Harvard.
The world’s youngest aerial acrobat wasn’t dressed in tights anymore. The end of the school day emerging with a well-rumpled shirt coming loose from where it had been tucked into short pants. A heather gray, scratchy, woolen sweater vest was the only thing keeping the uniform relatively together. The dark mass of hair was askew, giving the youth the appearance of having just woken up from sleeping in his clothes.
Tossing a few books into a narrow locked, the disheveled youth plucked out a history text before swinging the locker shut. Hooking the lock into place, and then snapping it up into position, the boy dropped the text into a worn, leather satchel. The overlapping flap was monogrammed with an ‘W.’ It was an heirloom piece, passed down through the generations of a family that wasn’t his own.
Three lockers down, another boy had his head concealed behind the open locker door. Faded, buffed out scratches in the front of the locker were still readable, despite attempts at covering up the jagged, racial scrawl. It was the locker of the one black kid in all of Brentwood, and about the only one who’d give him the time of day.
It gave the self-described ‘cool kids’ options. They could never decide whether they favored dubbing him ‘circus freak’ or ‘nigger lover.’ So, it broke up the routine a little bit. Encouraged a little bit of variety in an otherwise mundane bit of bullying.
Tim Fox was his same age. His old man worked for Mister Wayne, so they’d actually met through some Wayne Enterprises corporate social whatchamacallit. Picnic. Bunch of fake smiles. That sort of gig. They actually had a lot in common. They were both used to being the ‘outsider’ where ever they went.
Tim’s dad spoke to him about turning the other cheek, of the good word of non-violence preached by people like Martin Luther King, Jr, or of not stooping to the level of people’s prejudices.
The circus hadn’t been any of that. It was rough, and it required a certain roughness to survive in that kind of competitive, constantly moving, constantly changing environment. As a result, Dick had learned that when life pushed you... you pushed back. His first day at Brentwood, he’d wound up in detention and the other kid had wound up in the nurse’s office. It had cemented his reputation as the ‘circus freak’ around the school.
Suffice to say, it wasn’t certain yet just whether Tim was a good influence on Dick or if Dick was a bad influence on Tim. People were quick to talk, in roving packs of idiots who had advantages in numbers, but they’d back off pushing Tim around after Dick had come around. For now, anyway. But it was a respite they both enjoyed, however fleeting.
Dick got the feeling Tim hadn’t had a real friend before. None of his ‘white friends’ ever wanted to come around the house, or have Tim over to theirs. And Dick hadn’t really, either. He’d met plenty of people. Shit, he’d met a ton
of people. In Las Vegas. In Atlantic City. In New York. But he’d never stayed in one place more than a single month out of the year. So, it was strange to still be in Gotham. To have a routine. To be going to the same school, day after day, seeing the same faces, and putting up with the same crap from the same cats.
As he swung the locker closed, the afro headed youth turned to look up at the other boy. If there was one place the both of them had had enough of by that point, it was Brentwood Academy.
The two headed from the lockers toward where the bicycles were stacked up against the side of the school. Dick was supposed to sleep over at the Fox’s tonight.
It was a welcome change from another night living in someone else’s home, when they weren’t even there. Just Alfred. Another evening with a stranger whose sole purpose was to remind Dick that he wasn’t ‘Bruce.’
Whatever that meant.