“This man I married is buried deep
And the more I try to wake him, the more he sleeps
I used to think I knew this man
The tenderness, not the back of his hand.”
Harley Quinn lay sobbing her eyes out onto the pink and red striped comforter she was entwined within, her round face blotched red and swollen. A rapidly growing damp patch spread across the material of the comforter as she bawled out her misery, her Mistah J plushie clutched hard against her chest, its plastic eyes scraping against the scarred J between her breasts.
He’d gone too far this time.
All these years she’d told herself she could forgive and forget. That her Puddin’ was a tormented genius who needed an understanding heart. All the little hurts and pains he’d caused her she’d brushed off as though they were no more than nitrous dust, sprinkling down upon her shoulders after a spectacular explosion that held her in awe. No big deal. Just part of the territory. One of the little sacrifices she made to be by her Puddin’s side so she could otherwise bask in the glory of his company.
But not this time. No, not this time.
She had a limit. And he’d finally reached it.
She squeezed her eyes shut and whined shrilly through her teeth, biting down on her plushie’s nose as she did so. She couldn’t stand this agony. It was far beyond anything she’d ever known before. She was in so much pain she honestly couldn’t bear it. Her heart felt twisted, as though it were contorting itself into agonising shapes. She clawed at her head and arched her back, wishing she could evaporate, vanish into nothingness and escape this torment. It felt as though it would never end.
But she’d made her decision. This was It.
“It's been two weeks since he last had a drink
But the time bombs ticking, I can never sleep
It would be easier if he did
Why do you stay here, stay with him?”
Damnit, she was a human being. She had feelings. Needs. But he didn’t care! To him she was nothing more than – than – a cream pie – all delicious and tempting when it was fresh and brand new, but worthless once it had been thrown in someone’s face and the joke was over!
They’d all been right. Everyone. The doctors at Arkham, Red, even – and Harley sobbed harder – even the Bat!
Her ankle twinged as though in response to that thought and irritably she kicked it out against the bed and then yelped, the pain shooting up through her leg a harsh reminder of the night’s events. The events that had driven her away.
He didn’t care. He’d never cared. Anyone who could do something so horrible to her was incapable of love. He was just a big brute. A meanie. A horrible bully.
Well, no more! She was going to get out on her own and make a name for herself, out of his shadow once and for all! That’d show him! That’d show him exactly what she was made of and then he’d be sorry! Sorry he took her for granted, sorry he passed her over and sorry he hurt her so bad!
In a burst of righteous fury she catapulted herself upright on the bed, ignoring the shriek of protest from her cracked ribs, untangled one arm from the comforter and threw her plushie across the room, where it struck bullseye on a poster of her former Puddin’, right in the kisser. Yeah! She only wished it had really been him!
Then she threw herself back on the bed and opened her lungs to sing along with the chorus at the top of her voice:
“Why do you do it?
Why do you treat us bad?
When you've got two kids that love you
And a wife that's missing you bad!”
In the next room Poison Ivy let out a screech of frustration as Harley’s nasal voice shrieked through the thin walls in time with the blaring music. The tweezers she was using to carefully extract a string of orchid spawn from a petri dish fumbled, crushing the delicate strand.
“Harley!” Ivy screamed furiously, leaping off her moss stool and storming over to the wall to rap on it fiercely through the ivy and lichen that coated it. “Harley, turn that down, I’m trying to concentrate on important work in here!”
Harley’s voice continued on unabated, in time but out of tune with Toni Childs’. Ivy levelled a vicious kick at the wall, then yelped as her bare toes smarted. For pity’s sake, every single time! As soon as Harley had left this time, Ivy was going to break the damn CD in half.
“I've got to go now
I've got to say goodbye
Don't try to stop us now
And please don't you cry no more!”
Harley’s voice caught in a sob on the final words. It was such an amazing song. It could’ve been written for her – all the depth of pain in it, the tormented sense of betrayal – this song understood her.
She pressed a hand against her aching ribs and struggled into an upright position, swinging her legs over the edge of the bed and then limp-shuffling over to the pink Disney Princess dresser, her ankle throbbing, still cocooned in the comforter and sniffling piteously as she did so.
She missed him so bad. She hated to admit it, but she couldn’t deny it. Her soul, her heart, her skin, her brain, her lungs and kidneys yearned for him. Every part of her thrummed with wondering, asking her where he was and why she was inflicting this pain of separation on it.
She picked up the tub of Haagen Dazs that sat melting on the dresser and scooped a mouthful out with her fingers, shoving it between her lips. Her jaw ached too, from the vicious roundhouse punch it had taken. She snivelled, and glanced up at her reflection, wiping away the chocolate and honeycomb smears from her swollen lips, the dark mottled colour of her bruises reminding her of why she was here.
Her anguish flared anew.
She had to be resolute. She couldn’t keep going back. Not after this. She had to be strong. Had to train herself to endure without him.
Maybe… even… be happy without him?
Her heart clenched and she whimpered, gripping hard at the material of the comforter, heedless of the ice cream stains her fingers left. No. No, that was too much to consider now. Right now all she could do was focus on getting stronger. Facing the world alone.
Just her and the Babies. Against the world.
Fresh tears prickled at her eyes at that poignant thought.
Toni Childs’ anguished voice continued to pump through the speakers at full volume as Harley half-hummed and half-hiccoughed along, swaying in place. She grasped a bottle of Belle Epoque and took a swig before scooping up another mouthful of ice cream, her muffled voice belting out the words through her mouthful:
“Must be addicted to all this pain
Cause I keep coming back for the shame
Dear God, give me the strength to leave
I've got to keep going, keep going this time…”
How could he be so cruel to her, when all she had ever done was love him? She’d stood by him, through thick and thin, freedom and imprisonment, laughter and tears, Bats and boobs. She’d dedicated her entire life to his happiness and yet he cast her away like a used tissue – Harley blew her nose loudly into a pink rose-scented Kleenex – never realising she was the last one in the box!
Or something. She was sure the analogy had the right feel to it anyway.
She loved him. Maybe she always would. But goshdarnit, a girl had to have a little self-respect too. She had to know when enough was enough. She had to know when to walk away.
There was only so much anyone could take. And as much as it hurt, as much as it tore her apart, as much as it made her want to rip her eyeballs out through the back of her throat, she knew she was making the right decision.
She could do this.
“Can't you see. we've all been through it
It's all been said before
With all these fears,
For how many years can I keep coming
Back for more?
The song touched Harley deep within and she hugged the ice cream tub to her bosom throwing back her head as hot tears stung her cheeks and cold ice cream slid down her throat, snuffling around her mouthful. The lyrics spoke to her very soul. It so perfectly described her relationship with Mistah J over the years. Well, except for the being married bit. And Mistah J wasn’t an alcoholic. And they didn’t have any kids. Except for the Babies. The Babies who sat in their second basket, an over-sized leopard print monstrosity in a corner of the room beneath a purple gauze canopy, nuzzling each other and blinking sympathetic eyes at their Mummy.
The Babies loved her! They were loyal! Yeah, it’d be her and the Babies against the world!
Harley’s voice rose once more, tunelessly warbling out her own twist on the lyrics:
”Don't try to stop us now
Don't pull that stuff on me
I've got the Babies all packed up
Bud’s in the back chewing his rubber duck!
Lou's fallen asleep again
I've got to keep driving till I reach the end”
Suddenly the door of her bedroom was kicked savagely open, causing the CD to jump in her Barbie stereo.
“Harley!” The Joker yelled, his eyes bulging furiously in his white face. “Where in blazes have you been? What is wrong with you? We’re not playing this silly game again are we?”
Harley leapt to her feet, the comforter falling down around her ankles to reveal her pink heart-patterned footsie pajamas, heedless the Babies had leapt up and were chattering excitedly, bristled tails wagging to see their Master.
“Get out of here Clown! It’s over! I ain’t got nothin’ to say to you!”
The Joker’s furious grimace slackened, then he rolled his eyes dramatically and leant up against the door frame. “Oh we are playing this game again. For the love of Heaven, Harley, why do you have to be so interminably boring and take everything so seriously?”
Harley plonked herself back down on the dresser chair, wincing as her ribs protested, then crossing her arms painfully over her chest and sticking her nose in the air.
“I’m not the only one who’s been a sourpuss lately!” She said haughtily. “Not the only one who can’t take a joke!”
The Babies looked from one to the other, an expression of unmistakable boredom in their eyes.
“Some joke!” The Joker scoffed and Harley screeched and threw the tub of Haagen Dazs at him.
“It was so funny!”
The Joker neatly dodged the tub of ice cream, yanking in the tails of his greatcoat around him and smiling a little when he noticed the tub landed on one of Ivy’s more exotic looking plants in the room beyond, spilling its sticky contents straight into the earth. The Babies chattered and galloped out after it to lick up the sticky treat with gusto.
Then the Joker turned back to Harley and pointed an accusing finger at her.
“It was lame, old-hat and furthermore, you were trying to upstage me!”
Harley gasped in outrage, one hand leaping to her fleece-covered bosom in indignation.
“I would never!” she said and began to sniffle again. “Ho-how co-could y-you t-think s-such a th-thing? I was trying to make you laugh!” she finished in a frustrated cry.
From the room next door there come a furious wail followed by a decidedly unladylike stomping, the screech of a door kicked open and then five green feet of quivering, twitching, furious Poison Ivy was in the room with them, her hands clenched into claws by her side, her red hair writhing around her head.
“For God’s sake, just apologise!” Ivy screamed. “The next song is Love is a Battlefield! Don’t you understand? She’s on the third repetition of the damned album already! And if I have to endure Total Eclipse of the Heart one more time someone is being fed to my Gigantus Fly Trap. I feel like I’m in nineteen eighty five all over again and I hated it the first time!”
She turned on her heel and stormed out, pulling the door shut behind them so hard the frame splintered.
”I've got to go now
I've got to say goodbye
Don't try to stop us now
And please don't you cry!”
“What for the love of Pete?” Joker said in confusion, staring at Harley who had risen proudly to her feet and recited the song lyrics to him.
“Ya heard me!” She snapped. “Can’t you see we’ve all been through this? It’s all been said before! With all these fears, for how many years can I keep coming back for more?”
“Talk some sense, woman!” Joker growled.
“Don’t try to stop us now!” Harley was on a roll, (very gingerly) stomping her sprained ankle, bosom thrust out and quivering chin lifted high. “Don’t pull that stuff on me! I’ve got the Babies all packed up!”
Joker gaped at Harley, his arms dangling by his sides, brow creasing.
“Have you been drinking?” He asked.
Harley’s lower lip quivered. “It was funny. You’re just mad you didn’t think of it!”
The Joker grimaced, his lip twitching, but Harley lifted her chin up high and stared at him. Damnit, she wasn’t going to be afraid of him anymore! She was telling it like it is!
“I’ve done things like that a thousand times over!” he snapped irritably. “And long before you were on the scene. You just looked like you were imitating me – badly.”
Harley stood her ground. “I still got a killer puss outta the Batman!” she asserted and a sudden vision of old B-Man’s startled face leapt into her mind, water dripping off the pointed nose of his silly cowl. She’d managed to fix the false button over his grappling hook when he’d been busy cracking her ribs. It’d been painful, but so worth it when he’d pushed the button and reeled back as the jet of water sprayed his face. And the look on his sour mug afterwards…
She couldn’t help the grin that twisted her face then and seeing it the Joker’s lip twitched also.
“Well,” he said graciously, lifting his chin and grasping the lapels of his jacket. “I suppose it was a trifle amusing. The look on his face was rather priceless. Not as spectacular as anything I’ve mustered, mind you, but it was rib-tickling on a sort of superficial level.”
Harley’s eyes were growing rounder, a glittering joy taking light within them. Oh, she’d just known her Puddin’ would acknowledge it eventually and make amends to her! He was so wonderful!
The Joker glanced at her, pursing his lips. “Perhaps I was a trifle harsh on you, saying you were about as funny as Adam Sandler in a chimp costume. After all, you’ve clearly been paying attention.”
Harley gasped, the beat of her aching heart beginning to speed up with a pulsing elation. “Oh, Mistah J, do you really mean that?” He really was the most terrific guy in the world! How could she ever have doubted him? He cared!
The Joker grinned winningly and swaggered towards her and her eyes misted as she admired the tilt of his hips. “I suppose, all things considered, I’ve taught you well, Pooh.”
Harley’s happiness was so absolute, all she could do was squeak.
As her gorgeous, perfect, divine, amazing man towered over her, his lips pressed into a charming smile, she felt her heart swell with perfect bliss. Her poor, tormented genius never meant to hurt her. He was just an emotional guy. The torment of only moments ago was instantly forgotten, as distant and dissipating as a whistle on the wind. The burning glow of her love made her buzz better than any champagne.
The Joker’s face twisted into an expression of exaggerated sympathy as he surveyed her bruised face, taking her chin in both gloved hands and tilting it a little.
“That mean old Batsy really did a number on my little Punkin Pie!” he coddled, gripping her then by the shoulders and drawing her into him. She winced as the movement provoked a fresh wave of pain from her battered ribs but went willingly, nestling her face joyously into his waistcoat.
The Babies, having finished the ice cream and torn the plant to shreds, came trotting back in, licking each other’s muzzles and sitting at the feet of their embracing owners, pleased but unsurprised by the return to the status quo.
“He made me all owie!” Harley sooked and Joker lifted his hand to twine it in her blonde curls, pushing her face further into him and she squeezed her eyes shut in the wave of her impossible joy, breathing him deeply in.
“Awwww! Poor little lambeykin!” He pinched her cheek, indulging her sulk and she contentedly gave herself over to the babying. “I’m gonna haveta be sure old Guano-breath really busts his gut next time to teach him a lesson for manhandling my things!”
Harley was flooded with a warm ecstasy and squeezed his waist as tight as her sore ribs would allow. “You’re my hero, Puddin’!”
”I can't come back here anymore
And I know it
And I know it
I can't come back here anymore
And I know it
And I know it!”
“What in blazes is that?” the Joker enquired distastefully of the slowly fading music as they walked to the door, the Babies loyally at their heels.
“Hrmm?” Harley was too blissful at the feel of one of the Joker’s hands pressed commandingly to the small of her back to pay attention to much of anything else. “Oh, the music! Isn’t it awesome? It’s my eighties power-ballads achey love-songs album. I keep it here at Red’s for whenever I’m over.”
“Thank God for that,” Joker muttered, pushing Harley out the door and slamming it shut behind him.
The room was silent for a moment and then a pulsing electronic beat began.
“We are young
Heartache to heartache –
No promises, no demands!
Love is a battlefield!”
From the next room there came the sound of Poison Ivy’s loud groan followed by the shattering of glass.
“Was it too difficult to press the goddamned stop button? HARLEY!”