Three months later: Wednesday, 4:46pm: Dark Horse
Sunlight slanted in the high windows above the bar dividing the space and turning the circulating dust motes into a kind of glitter. The place had an expectant feel: glasses lined up and waiting, floors mopped, chairs down off the table tops. Helena reveled in the pre-opening quiet; the crowd would get there soon enough.
Business had been good. New customers attracted from most of the myriad levels of New Gotham’s social scene came not just for the strong drinks, friendly service, and attractive staff but also to take in the music. Helena paired the local and out-of-town bands in inspired and often musically disparate shows which sometimes made for some strange crowds. She hadn’t made another appearance on her own stage though. Helena refused to sing there or, despite hinting, prodding, and outright begging from Davey Cruz, with the jazz band she played in on Wednesday nights at the Blue Note. Losing herself in the music as her hands coaxed magic from the piano was just one way Helena had filled up the deafening silence created by Barbara’s request for time.
The first few weeks had been brutal for Helena. Brutal and filled with doubt and self-recrimination, and second guessing over the doubt. Some part of her knew that she’d betrayed Barbara’s trust while another equally stubborn part kept insisting that she hadn’t really done anything wrong. Some days it was a little like the metaphorical devil on one shoulder and angel on the other. Some days Helena wasn’t sure which opinion was which.
The nights those first few weeks that Helena hadn’t been behind the bar moving on rote she’d spent trailing Dinah on sweeps. She’d given the teenager just enough distance to avoid overhearing her communications with Oracle but had stayed close enough to provide backup if necessary. Once she was sure Dinah would be fine, Helena’s sweeps of the city became solitary. Not as effective as they would have been with assistance, she was sure, but they worked the nervous energy out of her system and reduced street crime even in a New Gotham patrolled by a suddenly vigilant police force.
But as two weeks stretched into four, four into six, and six into ten, the silence solidified around Helena and her need for motion, the need to do something, anything, itched along every nerve and fiber of her being. She filled the void Barbara left with every sensual pleasure she could find: music she played with the jazz band and booked at the Dark Horse; food she learned to cook herself so she could taste it and know she was still alive, still real; sweeps where she left the fights with her muscles pumped from the adrenaline and the criminals in a tidy a pile for the next patrol car; sex, the rush of endorphins, scent, and warm skin on skin, with any woman that caught her eye.
One frenzied weekend she steamed the wall paper off the walls in her apartment, shoving all the furniture from room to room so she could repaint everything. A week later when she and Gabby showed up for dinner Dinah stared long and hard at the shredded piece of wallpaper Helena had framed and hung back in its place on the living room wall; she’d stared but she hadn’t asked. For that Helena had been grateful. She was grateful, too, for the fact that Dinah refused to take sides, refused to even acknowledge the change. She gave Helena the comfort of stasis by not mentioning Barbara or sweeps or anything that involved the life the three women shared. Helena was certain the teenager did the same for Barbara.
The weeks passed and Helena’s unsundered life, the one without the space she so desperately tried to fill with pieces she sensed didn’t quite fit, started to seem more like something she’d dreamt than lived. Without the redhead’s voice in her ear sharpening the edges and reminding her of what was, that dream-like quality persisted. It persisted until Helena realized one morning on the way home in the early dawn quiet, the scent of some anonymous woman still clinging to her skin, that not only wasn’t she getting anything done she wasn’t enjoying herself.
The itch, the need to move wasn’t really the desire for forward motion at all; it was fear, fear of punishment lurking unacknowledged and shadowing her subconscious. All her grasping, all the diversions, really only killed time. Helena realized in that instant that there would be no punishment from Barbara for her night with Jess Kalen, for the betrayal not just of Barbara’s trust as her lover but of her knowledge of the redhead’s weaknesses of self-perception. No, the silence was her penance whether Barbara intended it to be or not.
She’d stopped on the street corner, morning sun hitting her face like a spotlight, as the force of the realization ripped through her. If the clouds had opened and angels had sung Helena wouldn’t have been surprised. It was then that Helena began to learn the difference between quiet and silence and how to embrace one and acknowledge the other without letting it rule her life.
What she did from then on she did because it felt right not because she couldn’t bear to face her life, to face the silence outside and the noise inside her own head. Her piano playing, kicking ass on the streets at night, the occasional third-wheel outing with Dinah and Gabby, flirting with Caitlyn her lead bartender, even randomly accepting the staff’s invitations for drinks after closing; everything she did added up to a life that felt almost complete. Almost.
The silence in Helena’s life reduced down to a small hard ball at her very core, something she knew she could carry nearly indefinitely. Some days she could ignore it, and on some days, like today, when the sun threw spotlight shafts through the windows and the newspaper was filled with fallout from the arrests and exposure of corruption in the city government, she felt that silence keenly like a physical presence in her body.
Helena shook her head as she finished the latest article about the grand jury testimony. Jess Kalen completed two days on the stand the previous afternoon only to be whisked away by the FBI to “an undisclosed location.” There was no mention of her brother. Helena snorted. She could think of at least one person who could find them both if she really wanted to. She set aside the news section and dug through the paper for the comics.
“Hey boss, you’re in early,” Caitlyn said, ducking through the service cutout at the end of the bar.
“I’m leaving early,” Helena replied, taking in Caitlyn’s subtle curves with a glance. Helena silently gave herself two points for being smart enough even in her darkest hour not to sleep with anyone on the staff, especially not the smart, perceptive woman she’d put in charge of her bar.