Sarah Stadler’s Office (1), Three Months Later
There was a picture on Sarah Stadler’s office that always captured Bruce’s attention. It was dark, black with shades of grey, that seemed to emulate, in its curves and lines, a kind of pregnancy, though the curled legs and round midsection lacked a face or arms. You could look at it and get lost in it. Anyway it was often easier than looking straight at Sarah, whose eye contact never broke. Bruce guessed this was one of the most important elements of a therapist’s training: if someone was never afraid to look you in the eye they kept a natural advantage.
“My birthday’s coming up,” Bruce said. “I’ll be twelve. We’re gonna have a party at my house. Everyone from school and Wayne Enterprises will be there. I don’t know what to think about it.”
“Do you think it will be fun?”
Bruce said nothing at first. His eyes strayed to the painting.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I used to have my friends over a lot. I just kinda stopped after what happened, you know? I haven’t seen any of them outside school since.”
“Since the deaths?”
“Yeah. I mean, it’s scary. I’m all alone now, and I know I have too much money. I don’t want to be taken advantage of.”
“It’s very cruel, what happened.”
“Don’t I know it. I think this girl Maria likes me. She call me sometimes and we talk on the phone. I think I could have a girlfriend if I wanted one.”
“What’s keeping you?
Bruce said. “I think I’m afraid. What if something happened to her too?”
“It’s very natural to feel that way. But being with friends might be good for you. You’re good here with me. Very attentive. You might be thinking too much about it.”
“I hate him so much.”
“The man who did it?”
“I wish I could get him myself.”
They’d returned to a topic Bruce believed made Sarah uncomfortable: his dreams. He thought she didn’t know what to make of them.
“I had another one last night,” he lied. It had been a week ago.
“Yup. Seeing through his eyes, hearing his thoughts.”
“He was in East Park again. He’s found another one. He looks at them for a while before he does it. He’s getting ready. But it’s like I know just enough to know it’s happening but nothing I could pin on him. I don’t even know the person’s name or if he’s a guy or a girl. I’ll find out in the paper. I’m always afraid, looking in the paper, but the dreams haven’t turned out to be wrong yet.”
“Bruce, you know what you’re saying is impossible.”
“Well how do you explain it? Soon enough you’re going to see that I’m right, again, which is just what I keep seeing.”
Sarah didn’t answer. They were looking at each other, but, like always, her expression didn’t change. She could be quite inscrutable.
“Don’t you think it’s convenient that you don’t know anything concrete?”
“I don’t know what to think. It’s like someone’s testing me or something. Seeing what I do about it.”
“And isn’t that just what you want? The opportunity to take this man on in person?”
“More than anything.”
“Well there you go.”
“But what about the earlier ones? I’m not lying to you. I saw him get them before I saw it in the papers.”
“So you’ve told me.”
“I might try to intercept him,” Bruce said.
“Except if I do it I want to do it right. The dream people told me to prepare myself. When the time’s right I’m gonna do it. Seems like the cops aren’t up to the job themselves.”
“You’re so young, Bruce.”
“Almost a teenager.”
“Be careful. Think before you do anything rash.”
“What, like go back to his bank? No I won’t do that. I don’t want him to know it’s me. But I also don’t want him to kill again. It’s like the dream people are teasing me. I want to clean their clocks too.”
“If they’re real you must admit it’s very reprehensible what they’re doing to you. You shouldn’t have to think of it as your own responsibility.”
“Well, it’s like I’m grieving for my parents my own way. Imagine how good I’d feel if I did ever actually get him, pin it all on him, have him arrested.”
There was a slight smile on Sarah’s lips. Bruce believed she thought highly of him.
“Your first job should be taking care of yourself,” she said. “Even without the dreams you’re being forced to take on a lot of responsibility. If you ask me you’ve handled it swimmingly. But you should try to make yourself happy. Your friends and this girl Maria might be able to help with that.”
Bruce nodded but didn’t reply at first.
“I like that painting,” he said. “Who did it?”
“A cousin of mine actually. It’s his hobby.”
“It makes me think about pregnancy.”
“Does it? I’ll tell him one of my patients said so.”
Bruce thought about telling her about the idea that had been growing in his mind, coinciding with what the dream people might want of him. The dark protector. He’d spent hours in his mother’s studio working on him. But he decided this was a secret he wasn’t yet willing to divulge.
“Seems like we’re out of time,” Sarah said.
“Okay. I’ll see you here next week.”
Sarah smiled. Bruce left. She put the questions of the dreams out of her mind. The best she could do was remind herself that inexplicable things happened sometimes.