"Repent Harley Quinn!"
by Alan Strauss
With Apologies to Mr. Ellison
If you want to understand what he's all about, maybe it's this:
"The people in power will not disappear voluntarily, giving flowers to the cops just isn't going to work. This thinking is fostered by the establishment; they like nothing better than love and nonviolence. The only way I like to see cops given flowers is in a flower pot from a high window." - William S. Burroughs
And, then again, maybe it isn't.
Let me start in the middle, at the WGTV broadcast tower, 8:45 A.M., height of morning rush hour.
"Testing, 1-2-3," said the sound technician, so terrified the words rushed from his mouth like squeaking mice. "Testing…"
"Imagine, all this testing and me without my number two pencil."
He looked majestic. His clothes, however, were baroque absurdity. Double-breasted purple zoot suit over a lime green shirt, its French cuffs decorated with five dollar cufflinks shaped like dice. His grease paint white face held an easy grin.
"Harley," he said, "let my people go."
I flipped back the first switch on the remote I held and sighed. Except for the terrified looks on the crew's faces, the effect in the studio was sadly low-key. Out on the streets, however, it was pandemonium.
Everything had stopped--stoplights, traffic signals, bridges, tunnels, street lights, subways, railcars, even the big clock on main street. It was like the whole city had taken a deep breath and held it. For the moment, time stood still in Gotham; the control machine had been stopped and its people responded in stupid shock.
They looked desperately for the machine to tell them what to do--they looked to their TVs and their radios and their computers. There were probably accidents too, as their frightened brains short-circuited--car wrecks, riots and the like--but I didn't think about those right now.
Instead I looked to him, as did the rest of the city. His picture and voice appeared on the emergency broadcasts, on the big forty foot video billboard outside the WGTV offices.
"Good morning, people of Gotham," he said to the cameras. "How do you do?"
"I know what you're probably thinking right now--and shame on you! You're a married woman! Oh, but I'm only joking my friends. You know me."
"Or do you? You see I've gotten the idea of late that you have the wrong impression of me. Some of you have even taken to seeing me as your enemy."
Here the technician spliced in the footage we had given him; footage of zombie-eyed crowds milling outside city hall, carrying 'Kill the Clown' placards while burning my love in effigy. Doing exactly what they wanted them to of course, although the crowd was too dumb to realize it.
"Oh, Gotham…et tu? That would be the unkindest cut of all."
"Let me tell you about myself," he said, with a tired sigh. "I am a patriot, I am a humanist, I am a lover of mankind. It's true. I fess to it. Everything I do, I do for love."
"I look around this city and it what does to you, and I weep. I truly do. Why, just look at you! Running about like rats in a maze! Toiling your life away in meaningless work for meaningless pay with which you can buy meaningless objects and pay meaningless taxes to keep the whole damn thing in working order."
"And what do we get for this? Security, they say. Security to be spied on, brutalized, used, and dictated to. To be told you are free. Free? Free to mind their laws, perhaps."
"But do any one of you really live free? Do any one of you ever do what you really want to do? Ever say what you really want to say? Dress the way you want to dress? Laugh at the things you think are funny? Cry at the things you know are sad? Or do we instead mind their laws and accept their judgments without question?"
"Me, my friends? Why I live free, truly free, and will have it no other way. And, of course, they call me a lawbreaker in return. A criminal." He laughed. "And so I am. It is not admirable to cultivate a respect for law when the law would control you. Any fool can make a rule, but only a bigger fool will mind it."
"Gotham! In recognition of my love for you, I am going to give you a gift. An anniversary present if you will. It is a laugh in the face of those laws that keep you chained. I ask you, humbly and as a friend, to join in this laugh with me."
He smiled and then turned to me with a gentle nod.
I pulled the second switch.
In the beginning, he was my patient.
I wasn't much of a doctor to him though. I couldn't be; they kept him so pumped full of drugs that he was unconscious most of the time. They told me this was because he was so dangerous, particularly to the doctors and the staff.
Now, of course, I know better. He was a danger, alright, but not to us. To them.
Three months after I was given his case, he suffered heart failure in bed. It was fortunate one of the nurses noticed in time. Apparently, a stroke had been brought on by the drugs. The Asylum argued that one of the medical technicians had simply given him too large a dose--she was new--but the courts wanted none of it. They ordered that he be removed from all unnecessary pharmaceuticals.
And so he got better. We began to have regular sessions.
At first, he didn't have much to say. He was weak from the drugs and the attack, and skeptical that I meant him anything but harm. In order to make him more comfortable and demonstrate good faith, I began to share facts from my life, about my childhood and schooling, about the loneliness that had led me to this place.
He was a very good listener. There was a brightness in his eyes whenever I talked, a sharp intellect that glowed beneath his disarming smile. The more I told him, the more he told me.
He did not seem so strange from what he said. Or frightening. He seemed disturbingly normal. In fact, we were not so unlike--trouble at home, trouble at school, trouble in finding a place in this shoddy world. A feeling of not belonging.
And he never once suggested that he had not done the things he was accused of, or that he had been wrongly diagnosed, or that anything from his past was an excuse for the present. In fact, whenever I brought in some crime report or newspaper article I'd dug up on him, he would smile.
"Oh, I did that," he would say preemptively. "I most certainly did. I remember it very well, doctor."
Then one day, during a discussion of his abusive family life, he interrupted me.
"Dr. Quinn," he said. "May I ask you something?"
"Why do you think they keep me here?"
"Well," I said, "because they think you need help."
"They think I'm crazy, is that what you mean?"
"Is that what you want me to say?"
He laughed. "No. And it isn't true at any rate. I don't belong here."
"Spare me you file-ial obligations, doctor. You know I'm right. I'm not like your other patients." He smiled. "Not to toot my own horn, but it plays a steady tune. I am very bright and I am very rational. I am probably a genius. Few, if any, of my plans would have worked if I wasn't. Tell me if you think I'm wrong to think that?"
I said nothing and let him finish.
"I suffer no recognized mental illness. I harbor no delusions and no denial. My actions are anti-social, according to their rules at least, but why not prison then? Why not prison, Dr. Quinn?"
I catalogued the possibilities in my mind. His chart was a mess of confusion, that much was true. Previous doctors had tried on a vast number of labels--meglomania, multiple personality disorder and even schizophrenia--but none of them quite stuck.
"You have shown a distinct lack of remorse for your actions…"
"Because I have committed no crimes against nature, only institutions." He shook his head. "No, let me tell you why they put me here."
"They're afraid of me."
"Afraid of you?" Paranoia, then, after all?
"Yes, afraid because I don't fear them. Because I don't fear their rules and regulations, their disproval and threats. I don't conform to their system. I have found a way to exist outside of it."
"Outside of their system?" I repeated. "And who are they exactly?I don't think I understand."
"Of course you do. They're the ones who told you the right kind of clothes to wear to these little sessions of ours, the exact length of skirt, the proper way to do your hair so that you can be professional and fill the pre-programmed expectations of your patients. They're the ones who set the rules on what you can say to us and how you record what we say to you. They're the ones who define every little thing we do, the ones who program our robot souls."
He smiled and leaned forward. "And you know something, Harley? I know you've been breaking those rules; that you hate them like I do."
"What are you talking about?"
"You're not supposed to tell me--a sick, disturbed mental patient--where you grew up, are you? Or where you live, or the names of your parents, or the p-"
I bristled. "Are you threatening me? Is that what this is?"
He sat back in his chair and looked sad. "I wouldn't threaten you Harley. You mean a great deal to me."
"And why is that?"
"Because we're in love."
A flush came to my cheeks. I stammered. "I'm sorry but that was inappropriate…"
"Is that you think or what they'd tell you to think?"
"I'm leaving," I said, standing up, "Given your behavior, I'm afraid you'll probably have to be assigned to a different doctor next week…"
"Oh, Harley, don't let them break you so easily. They only win when you let them break you. They will never break me, I promise you that."
"I don't know what you're talking about!"
He smiled wistfully.
"It feels so wonderful to be free..."
He escaped a week later.
Nobody was certain how but I wasn't surprised. Escaping, I realized, is what he did.
Once the files were opened, the whole situation became a black mark on my record. Unprofessional behavior and inappropriate conduct were the smears they hung on me. I would be fired from Arkham, certainly, my career damaged if not ruined.
I didn't really care.
I had, over that last week, grown sick of the things I saw. Sick of the drugging and conditioning, of the scripted therapy sessions, and of the expectations that everyone in here could--if the right switches were pulled and the proper thinking instilled--eventually be turned into everyone out there.
And that this was right and proper, a benefit to society--the altar we all sacrificed to daily. I found my profession suddenly sickening.
It was not long before I escaped as well.
I pulled the switch and there was laughter, glorious laughter everywhere.
A moment later the enemy smashed through the studio door.
"Cut!" said my love as he shot the camera man. He tried to swing his pistol towards his onrushing attacker next but was a fraction too slow.
His arm was broken, then his nose, then his ribs. He collapsed on the floor in a twisted pile.
"Harley," he burbled, still grinning. "Isn't he hilarious?"
I looked. He was tall and muscular, square chinned and pig-eyed. He wore black leather jackboots and a matching mask. He was the funniest thing I'd ever seen. I laughed out loud until tears came to my eyes.
"Give up, Harley Quinn," said the Batman.
"Get stuffed," I sneered.
"There's still a chance for you," he said. "You don't have to ruin your life this way."
"Go scare someone else. I'd rather be dead than live in a dumb world with bogeymen like you."
"Those people are dying Harley. He killed them. Do you really want to be a part of that?"
That was where the laughter came from, of course. Joker's poison gas was filtering through the traffic-jammed streets below us, smothering people in their cars until they died laughing.
"Do you think I didn't know?" They were free now. That was all. No great tragedy.
So I went for my gun and he hurt me. He punched and smashed and beat me until I couldn't move.
But he didn't break me.
When he was done and satisfied, the cops had their fun, and the courts played their game, and the media said their piece. Everything went according to the same old script and the break in the machine was swiftly repaired.
And when at last the asylum door locked me into my own little room, I was more free then I had ever been before.