“But Puddin’, you promised!” Harley Quinn’s expression was indignant, her lips screwed into a little moue and her brows knitted together.
The Joker blinked at his girlfriend and cocked his head to one side. “I don’t remember doing that,” he protested matter-of-factly.
Harley’s expression of vexation increased and she wiggled her shoulders. “But you did! You promised you wouldn’t for a whole year!”
The Joker tapped his chin thoughtfully with his long skinny fingers, eyes rolled up to the ceiling. “That doesn’t sound like something I would do,” he finally said and Harley stomped her foot.
“It was my birthday gift!” she screeched. “On my birthday! You promised me that for one whole year you wouldn’t do that because you know I hate it so much!”
The Joker pulled his expression into one of blank incredulity, eyes wide and lips pursed.
“But I didn’t actually mean it, Pooh!” he tried to explain to her in a reasonable tone of voice.
Harley made a gasp of outrage and thrust her chest out toward him. “How could you!” she cried.
Now the Joker was really quite astonished. He stepped back and gestured to himself with a flourish. “I’m the Joker,” he explained simply. How did she not get it?
Harley’s jaw dangled and her eyes bulged as she registered her boyfriend’s explanation.
“That is your excuse for not keeping your birthday promise to me?” she shrieked. “You’re ‘the Joker,’” her voice rose in mimicry. “You’re the Joker huh? Well, if you’re the Joker, then guess what I am, buster? I’m gone!”
With that, Harley turned on her heel, marched to the door with her nose in the air, yanked it open and with a final glare at the Joker, departed, slamming the door so hard every object in the lair rattled, from the glass test tubes in his chemistry set to Harley’s collection of Happy Meal toys arranged prettily on a bookshelf.
The Joker blinked at the door for several moments as he registered what had just transpired.
Harley had left him. Harley had gotten angry with him, and she had left. She had stormed out, leaving him all alone by himself, in their lair. Harley had left.
“HOORAY!” he shouted, punching his arms up into the air.
Chuckling and rubbing his hands together gleefully he ran over to the couch and threw all the cushions from it across the floor, scattering them far and wide. Then he leapt onto the couch and began jumping up and down, throwing his arms up in the air and proclaiming ‘whee!’ with every bounce.
The springs weren’t that great though and the couch was hard underneath and he stopped after a short while, frowning.
That he registered the automatic rifle discarded on the coffee table.
He blasted several holes into the couch cushions, whooping as small sprays of stuffing burst into the air and once the couch was suitably pockmarked, he tossed aside the rifle and went at it with his hands, tearing great chunks of stuffing out by the fistful.
He couldn’t really say why the couch deserved so much attention. Perhaps it was because at some stage in the last twenty-four hours he recalled Harley and he had sat there and watched the original The Producers. Or perhaps it was because of the spectacular blowjob she’d given him on it. At any rate, he’d enjoyed himself on it with her at some point in recent memory. Plus she’d been so very rapturous of the leopard print upholstery when she’d first brought it back.
He sat back and blew strands of errant hair off his forehead, then looked about him, pondering what else he could do.
He caught sight of the large canvas propped up over by the windows and his eyes lit up.
The cause of his liberation was only half-finished, a gleaming abstract in marvellous swirls of colour. He’d switched on the news and had seen his own beautiful, smiling face illuminating the screen as the newsreader reported the delightful little commedia he’d enacted at the art gallery. Then Harley had blown him, and in the aftermath of bliss he’d been inspired.
While Harley had vanished into another room to work out on her balance beam, he’d immediately set to work and become lost in the creative process, delirious with vision.
Then Harley had come back in and flipped her lid.
When burning with creative fire, he needed always to act quickly. He’d needed jars for his paints and on a nearby shelf, there had been a row of tumblers, right there as though waiting for just this very purpose. He’d shouted in delight and gathered a bunch of them.
But apparently they were a part of Harley’s collector set of Disney Princess limited edition glass goblets.
And it wasn’t the first time he’d done this.
“I have to use turpentine to get that paint off!” she’d bawled. “And that scratches the picture!”
He’d lifted one up to eye-level, a translucent pink affair with a lavish illustration of Belle with an insipid smile on her face holding the ridiculous skirts of her yellow ball dress out to either side etched into the rosy glass.
“But they’re so ugly,” he’d said incredulously.
That had made Harley crosser and then somehow it had come up that he’d made a stupid promise for her birthday (did she even have a birthday? He certainly couldn’t recall any!) and she’d gotten mad and stormed out.
He glanced at the goblets where they sat on the windowsill, smeared and blotched with paints in all colours. Then he glanced over to the shelf they had come from and realised there were another five, sitting there untouched.
A wicked smile sidled up his face.
Moments later he had all ten glasses lined up in front of him and was squeezing tubes of paint into each one, giggling maniacally. Eventually he’d emptied every tube of paint he had into the glasses and immediately set back to work, swirling brushes in the vomitus mixtures as lurid technicolour Disney heroines smiled at him inanely. They appreciated his work.
After a while he’d realised that the lavender-painted wall just above the canvas had something hidden deep inside it, just waiting to be unearthed. He’d shoved the canvas aside and set to work with his crayons, carefully drawing out the concealed children who giggled behind trees as they waited for the police to arrive and arrest their harmless old Math teacher. Such mischievous little tykes!
He was so preoccupied with the task that he barely noticed the room growing darker and darker as the light beyond the windows faded, his face so close to the wall his long nose practically brushed it, tongue stuck out in concentration. Finally he straightened up and his back creaked and he got bored and quickly snapped all of his crayons in half.
He turned back around and glanced dazedly around the room. The paint, mostly unused, had congealed in the glasses. The couch was mostly scattered around the room. Almost one whole wall was covered in crayon scribblings. His back ached, he was thirsty and the room was dark. Where was Harley?
He flounced over to the window, pushed it up and leaned out into the evening. “HARLEY!” he yelled. “HARLEY! HAAAARRLLLLEEEYYY!”
He was fairly certain she was still nearby. Probably waiting for him to call her back.
But the minutes dragged on and she didn’t appear.
He pouted in his undershirt, glaring out at the decrepit street that stretched in either direction below him. The night air was cool and refreshing and the street was quiet and still. There weren’t many streetlights in this part of town and as he surveyed the rows of crumbling houses tightly sealed up for the night he caught movement at the far end of the street.
He perked up and watched as it steadily approached. He realised quickly it was a woman, all by her ownsome, arms crossed defensively across her chest, glancing nervously from side to side as she walked to whatever her destination might be.
As she got closer, another figure stepped out of a laneway behind her in silent pursuit. Joker’s brows lifted with interest. A man. A man with cruel intent in his eyes, hands shoved deep in his pockets, shoulders hunched over.
Joker saw the woman’s expression twitch; her eyes grow wide with alarm. Some primal instinct told her there was a predator stalking her and she nervously picked up her pace.
The Joker clapped his hands together and giggled quietly. What fun! He just had to join in.
Not stopping to put his shoes or shirt on, he rushed out of the apartment in his trousers and undershirt, arriving at the front door just as the strange man passed by.
He waited a moment or two then fell into step behind the fellow.
After a few feet, the man in front became aware there was someone following him now and partly glanced over his shoulder. Joker kept a reasonable distance between them, observing with glee as the man tried to return his sinister intent to the woman who was practically jogging down the street in front of him.
But he was nervous now, continuing to dart little glances over his shoulder, jiggling his hands in his pockets.
When he whirled around, Joker was ready and ducked quickly behind an abandoned car. In the darkness, the man could not see him peeking around to observe as the fellow looked up and down the street, trying to figure out if he had been imagining things or not.
When he reluctantly turned away and began walking again, Joker leapt out and pursued, shoulders shaking with mirth. The man paused as he sensed him and when he turned around again, Joker was already ducked behind a cluster of garbage bins.
Further down the street the woman broke into a run, hurtling up the front steps of her building and fumbling with the keys to get inside. As the door slammed behind her, the man became enraged, furious as the opportunity to prove himself vanished, further emasculated by the fear he was experiencing.
“C’mon man!” he shouted into the night, throwing his arms wide. “You want a piece of me? Huh? C’mon out then! You too pussy? Huh?”
Joker waited patiently until he’d finished his tantrum and had begun storming off down the street again and then moved silently in behind him, quickly now until he was mere inches from the man. His prey snapped up straight as he became aware of the presence behind him, then turned sharply in alarm, staring up into Joker’s face with wide, panicked eyes.
“Boo,” Joker said softly and the man shrieked and took off in a run, tripping over his feet in his eagerness to get away.
Joker stood on the sidewalk with his hands in his pockets and head thrown back, laughing for a little while until he’d realised he’d just saved a woman from being raped. He would have to send a postcard to Batsy!
He ran up the steps of the building the woman had disappeared into and threw a brick through the glass doors, unlatching them from within.
The first few apartments he tried were wrong but he hit paydirt with the fourth. He could tell it was the same woman from the street because she sat at her kitchen table with a glass of whiskey clenched tightly in her hands, trembling at her near miss.
“Oh my God,” she choked out when she saw him and he made a sweeping bow.
“Your saviour,” he declared. “I thought you might appreciate the opportunity to thank me.”
“Please,” she wept, “Oh please don’t – “
“What?” he snapped, drawing himself up and bristling. “Don’t what?”
She was sinking to her knees on the patched linoleum, her plain face contorted in fear.
“P-please – don’t – don’t – f-force m-me – “
The Joker experienced a sense of insulted rage, igniting white-hot in his chest.
“What?” he roared. “You consider me on a par with that thuggish lemming? I, the Joker?”
He towered over the woman with clenched fists, quivering with fury. “Is this how you show your gratitude to the one who just saved your miserable life?!”
The woman was hysterical now, wheezing great sobs out, holding her arms up to cover her head. “I’m s-s-sorry!” she hiccoughed in a high-pitched whine. “I’m s-s-sorry!”
His rage faded, gratified by her terror, and he cocked his head curiously to the side and stared at her where she cowered on the floor.
“Poor thing,” he cooed and held out a hand to her. “You had a nasty fright out there, didn’t you?”
She blinked up at him through swollen red eyes and after a moment’s hesitation, she took his outstretched hand and he assisted her up.
He sat down on one of the rickety chairs and gazed at the woman who stared back at him in mute terror, trembling violently.
“Could you please make me some food?” he enquired pleasantly. “My girlfriend usually does, but she stormed off in a huff today.”
While she tearfully grilled him a steak, he whistled and wandered around the shabby kitchen, marvelling at how the other half lived.
Just as she was transferring the steak to a plate and he was smacking his lips in anticipation, a man in a transit officer’s uniform walked into the room.
“Honey, why was the front door – oh dear God!” he fell back at sight of the Joker, who glared accusingly at the woman.
“You didn’t tell me you were married,” his voice was indignant, but the woman just cried. She was getting a little tiresome.
He glanced back at the man who was looking desperately about the room for a weapon.
“Sit down, Bob,” he said casually. The man looked like a Bob. “We should chat.”
“Please,” Bob lifted his hands in entreaty. “Please just take whatever you want. Please just don’t hurt my wife.”
“Hurt your wife?” the Joker touched a wounded hand to his chest and pouted. “But don’t you know, you silly boy? I saved her life!”
Bob glanced in astonishment at his wife, whose shoulders shook as she forced the words out: “I – I don’t – kn-know what he-he’s talking ab-about.”
“Mary,” Joker said, irritated hurt written across his brow. “This is no time to keep the truth from him.”
In silence the tormented couple stared at him, thoroughly confused.
The Joker took a seat at the table then gestured to the seats next to him. “Why don’t you both sit down?” he said calmly.
Tremulously, exchanging anguished looks, the couple took a seat on other side of him and Joker smiled, glancing from one to the other.
“There, isn’t this nice?” he chirruped. “Very civilised. Now,” he continued, leaning back and fixing a chiding look upon Bob and Mary. “Something tells me that you two haven’t been entirely honest with each other in your relationship. How about we open the lines of communication?” he delved into his trouser pocket and brought out a straight razor, which he placed upon the table. Then a wicked grin spread over his face, his eyes gleaming with anticipatory menace. “How about a game of truth or dare?”
Sometime later he finished his steak while Mary sobbed quietly in a corner of the kitchen, Bob’s bloody head cradled against her chest. The steak had not been too bad, not tough the way Harley made them at least, and Bob and Mary had had plenty of condiments to slather it with. Between ketchup, mustard, relish and a package of instant potato mix he’d sprinkled on top, Harley couldn’t say he hadn’t had his vegetables. So there.
He wiped his mouth on the bloody sleeve of Bob’s uniform jacket and then stood up.
“Thank you, that was lovely,” he said to Mary’s shaking form. “I enjoyed myself immensely. Just make sure you don’t forget to tell everyone about how I rescued you tonight. My reputation could use a little polishing.”
His laughter echoed through the small building as he departed, rattling the staircase,
Back in his apartment (his apartment, not their apartment) he showered for an hour or so, singing Cole Porter classics at the top of his lungs, lathering his body up and down, over and over again. After that, clad in his pyjamas, dressing gown and slippers, he padded out through the lair, axed Harley’s balance beam in two and then went and stared at the kitchen.
He wanted a banana split.
Harley always made him banana splits. It was possibly the one thing she did perfectly each and every single time. The bananas were always just slightly over-ripe, and the ice cream was in three flavours with four different types of toppings. And there was always whipped cream and sprinkles and crushed nuts and a little glace cherry on top. And an umbrella.
And always, always, a hot melted marshmallow squished between the two halves of the banana, a luscious little surprise as he reached the end.
He pouted for a moment and then decided to just make his own.
A half hour later and he was staring down at his attempt with deep dissatisfaction etched in his brow, fingertips tapping irritably on the kitchen counter. He’d found all the ingredients, but as it turned out assembling them was harder than he’d anticipated. Before him in the long oval dish, a jumbled, lopsided mess of ice cream, sprinkles and sagging whipped cream looked more like the spewed up stomach contents of a child who’d had too much McDonalds ice cream cake than an appetising and delicious banana split. He scooped out a section from the centre and took a tentative bite then stuck his bottom lip out. The banana was starchy. And the marshmallow had gone cold. The whole thing was a disaster.
He threw the bowl at the wall then stropped back into the main living space where he flopped into his purple leather armchair and picked up the phone, switching on the television and flicking through the stations until he found what he was looking for.
One by one the pre-recorded messages played, and when a girl with a high bubbly voice announced herself as Merry, he decided it was a sign and selected her.
She answered the line with a bright and cheery greeting, and his spirit lifted: “Hiya, it’s Merry and who am I lucky enough to have on my wire?”
“Someone who’s looking to get his wire strummed,” he quipped and her giggles were like bubbles.
“That sounds like fun,” she said in a playful voice. “What gets you vibratin’, sweetie?”
Joker had slumped down in his chair, rubbing his free hand on his hip. “I have a little something in mind,” he purred and she cooed.
“Oooh, tell me all about it!” her voice was breathy and Joker grinned, his fingertips now playing at the waist of his pyjama bottoms.
“Well, it’s you and me,” he said confidentially, “we’re in a funhouse,”
“Kinky!” she squealed delightedly. “What am I wearing?”
He pondered the question for a moment. “You’re in a red and black – “ he began and then hesitated. No, no, he couldn’t say that. It wasn’t as though he missed Harley, after all. But in truth he really did think her costume just about the sexiest thing he’d ever seen a woman wear, and that wasn’t really about Harley, that was just a personal preference thing. “You’re in a skin tight red and black harlequin costume,” he continued, his voice edged with excitement.
“Wow, I’ve never worn one of those before,” Merry said in a sultry voice, “but boy I sure like the way the material rubs against my body.”
“Yes,” the Joker said, his breath beginning to come a little heavier, hand sliding into his pyjama bottoms. “you look so cute, baby. So naughty.”
“I’m very naughty!” Merry said in a bad girl voice that made Joker shiver. “What are you going to do with this bad girl?”
“I’m going to hand you this long – thick – “ Merry moaned down the line as Joker followed his fantasy. “ – knife.”
Merry’s moan broke off abruptly. “Okay,” she said with a trace of confusion.
“And behind you,” Joker continued in an eager voice. “There’s a man, and he’s a very bad man.”
“Ooh, I love threesomes with very bad men. Are you bad too?”
“Not as bad as this man,” Joker said seriously. “He’s insulted me. He’s hurt my feelings. He told me I had a face like a grinning death mask.”
“… he did?” Merry sounded very confused now but Joker paid it no heed, his hand working slow and teasingly inside his pyjama bottoms.
“Yes, and it’s made you very upset,” he tilted his head back against the chair and shut his eyes, teeth grinding. “And you’re going to take that big, thick, sharp knife and you’re going to peel the skin from his face – “
“What?” Merry sounded aghast but Joker ignored her, his hand working harder.
“ – and when you’ve finished tearing off his ugly face, you’re going to hack the muscle from his bones – “
“Listen, I’m not really into this – “ Merry’s voice was quavery now but Joker was lost in his imaginings, pumping fast into his hand, eyes bulging and jaw tight with feverish excitement.
“ – and when all that blood-smeared white bone is revealed you’re going to stand back and laugh at him and say – “ and with his final words, his voice pitched upwards into a nasal twang in unconscious mimicry: “ – ‘who’s got a mug like a death mask now, creepo?’”
There was a click and then a dial tone. Joker held the receiver away from his head and stared at it curiously. Merry had hung up on him. How odd.
After a few minutes of twiddling his thumbs, feeling slightly frustrated, he picked up the phone again and dialled Commissioner Gordon’s house.
When Gordon answered in his usual gruff grunt, the Joker enquired politely: “Hello, could I please speak to Sarah?”
There was a pause on the other end as Gordon rationalised it was just an unfortunate coincidence. “No, no one lives here by that name.” He said finally.
“Oh sorry, wrong number,” Joker hung up then cackled gleefully for several long moments.
Five minutes later he did the same thing again.
“Same number, pal,” Gordon said and Joker apologised again.
When he did it a third time, Gordon was beginning to sound very annoyed. “You oughta check your numbers, buddy. This is the third time now.”
“Whoops, silly me, do forgive me!” Joker hung up the phone; then wondered if he’d given himself away. He decided he didn’t care and dialled a final time.
“Hello, is Sarah there please?”
Gordon was furious now and growled into the phone: “No, for the last time, she isn’t and if you dial this number again I’m going to get a trace on this – “
“Oh ye of little faith, Gordo!” Joker interrupted him gleefully. “I’m sure she’s there in spirit, living on in our hearts and minds! She’ll never be gone, not really! Buck up!”
“Why you sick sonuva – “
Joker hung up.
By the time he’d stopped laughing, dawn was beginning to creep over the horizon outside his window and he decided it was time to get some sleep. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d gone to bed and he knew he needed a little, just enough to keep him fresh and ensure his skin stayed smooth.
He went to the bathroom and did a pee then wandered into the bedroom, gazing with dissatisfaction at the king-sized heart-shaped bed. He waited for a few moments and realised that no one was going to plump up the pillows and tuck him in. He would not get his glass of warm milk, not unless he made it himself and after the earlier banana split disaster he decided to give it a miss.
Grumbling discontentedly to himself he flounced over to the bed, kicked off his slippers directly into the air, high, high above him and crawled beneath the covers. As he lay down, one of his descending slippers smacked him on the head and he picked it up furiously and tossed it across the room.
Then he wrapped his sleeping mask over his eyes, mashed his head between two pillows and waited for oblivion to creep over him.
It didn’t come.
He rolled over onto his stomach, spread his arms and legs wide, let out a nice deep breath and waited some more.
He curled into a foetal position, wrapped his arms around himself, set his jaw and ordered himself to sleep.
Blast it all, where was Harley? If she wanted to leave, that was fine with him but couldn’t she have the good grace to come back when he needed her?
He tossed and turned for hours, got up to pee again, taped the curtains against the wall and pulled the covers over his head. Nothing, nothing, nothing.
He drank half a bottle of Jagermeister, burnt a quart of milk in the microwave and forced himself to swallow it all.
But sleep was evidently being huffy, insulted he had not indulged for a week or more and determined not to visit again until he’d been made to suffer.
All that liquid made him need to pee again. And again.
If Harley were here, she’d massage his back and tell him silly jokes until he’d relaxed enough to drift off. If Harley were here, she’d curl up against his back, legs twined around his and annoy him into sleep just to get away from her for awhile.
He lay in bed, glaring up at the ceiling with grinding teeth, hands fisted into the satin sheets before finally letting out a furious shout and kicking the covers away. He kicked and kicked until they were tossed from the bed then he kicked into a standing position, then he kicked his way out of the bedroom and into the living room where he kicked the coffee table, yelped and hopped about, then picked up the phone and called the Penguin.
Five minutes later he was storming down the street, still in his pyjamas, muttering furiously with a look of thunder on his face, squinting in the daylight.
The hotel was only two blocks away and he kicked over every garbage bin he passed until he reached it. It was a ramshackle affair he knew well; having availed himself of it many times whilst on the run and when he burst through the doors, the desk clerk quavered only a little and immediately told him the room number.
He marched up the suspiciously stained stairs, arms clenched into fists by his sides, not even smiling as he usually did at the blotchy rust-red smear on one wall he’d put there a couple of years back. He stomped down the corridor, barely registering the stickiness of the carpet on his bare feet, reached the flimsy-looking door and began hammering on it furiously.
A second later and it was flung open. “What?” a fuming underwear-clad Harley Quinn demanded, before she realised who it was and her expression changed abruptly to one of surprise. “Mistah J?”
He barged past her and into the tiny room, punching the television off, yanking down the blinds and tossing the bag of candy from the bed.
“I don’t want to discuss this,” he roared. “I’m too tired. Just get into bed and shut up.”
He flung back the covers and leapt into the lumpy bed, turning his back to her and wiggling about until he was comfortable. In the dark room there was absolute silence for a long moment before he felt the bed give beneath her weight as she crawled in beside him and his coiled body relaxed against hers as she snuggled close, one arm snaking about his waist, the other smoothing into his hair.
“Don’t think this means I’m coming back to you,” she snapped as she slid one leg between his.
He reached down with one arm and twined his fingers into hers, holding her hand against his tummy.
“Fine,” he grumbled. “You think I care? Now be quiet and let me sleep.”
Five minutes later he was peacefully snoring and Harley was smiling into his neck.