Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot
In all the excitement of Christmas morning, Harley forgot to take her medication.
She didn't remember until hours later, when her and the Babies were curled up in front of the television, watching Scrooged. She glanced guiltily down at the sleeping hyenas, each with a head on her knees, and found she simply couldn't wake them. Instead her hands had lifted to softly smooth down their fur, her heart swelling as she gazed upon their peaceful furry faces. If she moved they would wake up. If she moved, they would stir. If she moved, they might glimmer and vanish, like a Christmas miracle bestowed for only one day before being taken away again.
The day had all passed in a sort of dream. Determined to make her first Christmas out a merry one, Harley had shopped for a full Christmas feast, only to gaze at her stocked pantries and fridge in a sort of wistful fury, the sheer amount of food a pointed reminder of her solitude. But with the Babies at her side once more, there was reason to cook and so she did.
Miraculously, the turkey had not burnt or gone dry, and the roasted vegetables were crisp on the outside and soft within, but not even a little soggy. She put garlic in the mashed potatoes and they emerged creamy and fragrant. Even the steamed greens were somehow perfectly done and Harley wondered if a little true Christmas magic hadn't visited her after all.
Beneath the dressing of brandy custard, ice cream and fresh whipped cream, her store-bought plum pudding was rich and flavoursome.
The Babies ensured there were no left-overs and Harley gazed upon them, knowing a sweet gratification as they licked the gravy from their whiskers and bent their noses to their dishes of cream and pudding.
When the clock ticked over to midnight, Harley had gone to the kitchen, retrieved the plate of food she'd kept warm in the oven and gave it to the Babies before going to bed.
The next day she woke to the singular bliss of a warm, adoring body on either side, pressed close against her and smiled sleepily before drifting off once more.
She rose only when Bud and Lou hopped up and began to sniff about the apartment for breakfast.
When she opened the drawer beside her bed to take her medication, she started back as though her fingers had been burned on the small pile of red and black spandex nestled within.
Heart racing, she tentatively snagged a corner of the material and drew it out, lip trembling as the two gloves separated, one dropping to the floor.
She tossed the other onto the bedside table and took her handful of pills. But in her discomfiture she missed one.
Later on, she began to take down her Christmas decorations, beginning with the tinsel hung along the walls. Small strands floated to catch in her hair and in the folds of her pyjamas, catching the light as she strained on tippy-toe to tug them down before bundling them into the garbage. The Babies danced about, snapping sharp teeth at errant tendrils and she giggled to see them. It was only after she'd taken the bags out to the bins it occurred to her it would've been more economical to store them for the next year.
But after a moment she shrugged and went to play fetch with Lou.
That evening, before she went to bed, she glanced at the mistletoe arranged in her doorframe and noticed that the leaves were beginning to curl. She decided it could wait until the morning.
In the morning, she woke late and as she'd wanted to catch the sales early, she forgot all about the mistletoe, dashing about beneath it first dripping wet in a towel then her underwear then finally a warm pink wool dress. Scrabbling behind the sofa for her red boots, she jerked back and hit her head on the mantle when she saw the red and black pixie slippers that had been placed neatly there, their toes just peeking out.
She swallowed hard, then saw the time and in her rush to leave lost track of which bottles she'd swallowed a pill from, counting six when it had only been four.
The Babies whined as she raced to the door, but she kissed them cheerily, inhaling the dry scent of their fur and knowing they would be there when she returned home.
She bought racy lingerie at savagely discounted prices and only smiled when the store assistant said someone would be happy to see her in it. Makeup was on special too and she bought spectacular false eyelashes in hues of peacock, with a row of rhinestones and one pair with glittery orange tips. While she was there she picked up a jar of white greasepaint and supposed it would come in handy next Halloween. She had intended to buy some new curtains for her bedroom, but she didn't want to leave the Babies alone too long.
That night she began to take down the Christmas lights that framed the windows, giving her neon Santa a sweet kiss as he ceased to flash and sparkle. Afterwards her apartment seemed still and colder, no longer bathed in dancing rainbow hues as the lights pulsed. She put the dimmer on low and made shepherds pie for the Babies. She placed some aside, reasoning they could stand a lighter meal or two after the excess of Christmas.
She glanced up at the mistletoe as she made her way to bed and decided it only made sense to throw it out when she took down the tree.
When the morning dawned, the sun golden despite the cold, she marvelled at how clear and focused she felt and opted for just three of her little pills. The new sense of clarity was as sparkling as the sun on the snow and though she was sure her medications were very good for her, a couple of them did make her feel a little like her skull was packed with damp cotton-wool.
At work she pined for the Babies, worrying whether they were lonely, cold, hungry, missing her… they could've been traumatised by their separation from her in the zoo. Maybe they even thought she'd abandoned them. The thought had her blood rushing and she ground her teeth so hard her jaw began to ache. She took drinks to the wrong table and delivered a steak to a vegetarian. Mrs Astley, brows furrowed with concern, asked her if she was feeling okay and she took the rest of the afternoon off.
That evening, as she took the decorations off the tree, she wasn't so surprised to find, dangling from the glistening white plastic branches, two ruffled cuffs and a frilled collar. She placed them on the mantle and let her gaze dart frequently to them as she watched a Buster Keaton DVD.
But at midnight, she sighed and gave the Babies the rest of the shepherds pie.
The next day she phoned in sick although she knew she desperately needed the money after the Christmas extravagance.
She spent the morning eating candy and watching cartoons while the Babies cavorted throughout the house. Skittles left colourful circles of sticky residue on her hand as she devoured them by the fistful. Hot chocolate washed away granules of sugar and she sucked melted marshmallow off her teeth. The Babies wrestled together on the carpet nearby and she giggled as Lou rolled over to Bud, every time. One time, after another victory, Bud trotted up to Harley, her amber eyes gleaming with affection, and gave her a quick lick on the cheek. Harley's heart had strained with joy.
She'd made the executive decision it was time to start weaning off her medication. Dr Leland said one day she'd be able to stop taking a few, forever. Harley decided that day was now. She was down to just two pills and couldn't remember when she had last felt so lively.
It may have been last New Years. Just as the clock had struck midnight and she'd raced the Batman to the detonator. He'd won, but the race had got her adrenalin pumping and as the fireworks had burst about them against the stark night, she'd been laughing.
The mistletoe was beginning to wilt, its berries had turned brown and begun to give off a slightly pungent scent as she packed away her teddy bears and Santa Clauses, pausing to rearrange a fur-trimmed coat or straighten a crooked cap. They were so cute, really quite adorable. Maybe she shouldn't throw them out. Maybe she should give them to charity…
Bud and Lou came up, sniffing at the toys and she gave them a pat before throwing a particularly plump Santa across the room. They galloped off after him and gripped him in a fierce tug of war while she laughed.
When she opened the cupboard doors to put the box of toys away, she was so unsettled by the sight of the red and black checkered unitard hanging amongst her coats that she dropped the box. It tipped over, spilling furry teddy-bears across the carpet, their soft bodies folding up.
When she woke, it was snowing thickly, piled up high against the sill of her bedroom window. Gazing at it made her feel drowsy, the warmth of her bed far too cosy to even contemplate wandering far. There was no reception to phone work.
Instead she made eggnog and spiced it richly, unable to help the pleading little glance she threw the drooping sprig of mistletoe as she padded into the living room and began to pull apart the tree. Bud and Lou each grasped hold of a branch and toppled the plastic monstrosity. It fell with a groan, spraying needles of white fibre in all directions, like sharp snow. The Babies attacked it gleefully, wrenching off limbs to chew. She laughed and they wagged their bristly tails and laughed with her.
With a start she remembered she'd forgotten to take her medication and darted back into her bedroom to do so, swallowing the single pill with satisfaction.
She plumped the pillows up as she snuggled into bed that evening and her fingertips encountered silky fabric. Slowly, she withdrew the object mashed beneath her pillow to find a red and black cowl dangling from her fingertips. She swallowed hard when the liliripes sprang out, the pom poms at their ends quivering.
When the clock clicked over to the first minutes of the thirty-first, she sighed and got up from bed to finally wrench the mistle-toe from the door way, the leaves crumbling and the berries staining foul juice across her fingertips.
There were no pills to take that day and Bud and Lou paced the apartment, infected by her edginess. She was restless and so were they. She fed them steak and kidneys, but they refused to eat and she couldn't.
She flicked on the television to find something to focus on and a news reader cheerily informed her the fireworks lining Sprang Bridge were in place and that harbour side restaurants and walkways were already choking with people staking their spots to witness the spectacle due to illuminate the bridge at midnight. The mayor had promised this year's display to be the most extravagant and spectacular yet.
"We would like to remind viewers that the SPCA have advised you to ensure all dogs and cats are secured in doors in preparation for the evening. Every year frightened pets, disturbed by the noises of the fireworks, are lost when they flee property to seek refuge. In other news, still no word from the Joker since his Christmas morning assault at Gotham Zoo…"
She winced. Harley loved fireworks, loved them with all her heart. Loved their colour and sparkle, the way they hissed and whined before exploding into the most brilliant of patterns and shapes. She could never grow tired of them.
But the Babies hated them.
And then she knew.
Slipping back into the spandex felt so natural it left her shivering, pausing to catch her breath as the fabric tingled against her flesh. The material clung to her like a second skin. The greasepaint glided smoothly across her flesh and even the stink of the spirit gum as she affixed her mask was sweet.
Her eyes brimmed with tears when she saw herself in the mirror, like yesterday and all the days before it had never happened and it was still the last New Years, the last time she'd worn this costume.
Bud and Lou leapt to their feet and skittered about her ankles when they saw her, panting excitedly. Outside, the cold barely registered through the thin material as she darted through the streets, the Babies at her heels.
From the tower in Gotham Square she would have a clear view across the harbour, all the way to Sprang Bridge, across the teeming crowds of people lined up and waiting to see their city illuminated by sparkling explosions.
As she reached the top of the stairs, Lou whined and then Bud darted out ahead, Lou following closely. Snow drifted gently from the sky, flakes cold on her nose and cheeks but she didn't notice her shiver.
He was silhouetted against the indigo sky, his back to her and his shoulders dusted white. She noticed his head was bare, his hair damp from the snow and something wrenched at her heart. Bud and Lou were pawing adoringly at his feet and she watched as he removed a hand from one pocket and gave Bud a careless pat.
The view of Sprang Bridge was perfect; it arced on the horizon like a golden rainbow. From across the city, the distant hum of thousands of voices drifted to them, but there above it all in the wintry night, they seemed more than alone. They seemed in a world of their own creation.
"You're just in time." His voice made her tremble. It was soft with dark humour, low with subdued excitement. There was not, she noticed, a note of triumph to it, nor even a shred of surprise.
She knew she was supposed to hate that he took her coming for granted, but she found she could feel only elation.
"In five minutes, they throw the switch and give the city a show," he continued as she stepped across the icy cement, her slippers growing damp.
The steps she took were slow. Her knees were quavery but it was more to control the overwhelming urge to throw herself into his arms, to smother him beneath her embrace. She was sickened with emotion, her heart beating painfully against her ribs, her stomach twisting. As she drew closer, she caught the scent of his aftershave and had to pause and shut her eyes a moment. A tear fell when she did so.
"All those poor puppies and pussies," he mused, lifting one hand to his chin to gaze thoughtfully to the sky as she drew up beside him. He had not so much as glanced her way. "Thinking the world is coming to an end. Then for days afterwards the city has to tear around rounding them up, delivering them home to weeping kiddies. Though some never find their way home at all, do they."
She swallowed. "No, Puddin'," she said softly, though he had not intended it as a question. Beside him, on the ledge that ran around the tower, a bottle of champagne sat within an ice bucket, two flutes by its side, filled with a pale golden liquid. He must have poured them out only seconds before she arrived for foam still skimmed the top. Then, next to them, a squat black box with a red button upon its top. Despite her emotion, she couldn't help the quirk of her lips when she caught sight of the smiley face drawn onto it.
He leaned forward on the ledge, an exaggerated frown contorting his features. Across the harbour, the glittering yellow lights of Sprang Bridge were switched off, leaving it a black skeleton against the night sky. "So I thought to myself – well, why not save the city a little trouble and just plug the chaos at the source."
He straightened and turned to her finally and her breath hitched. Somehow, he was more beautiful than she remembered, even with his hair damp and plastering down across his forehead, even with the bluish tinge around his lips, black in the dim light. It only made her yearn to step forward, sweep his hair back and kiss the chill from his mouth.
"But I couldn't do it without you, Pooh. I know how upset you get when the Kids are distressed."
He gestured to the detonator as the night shook with the sound of fifteen thousand voices: "Ten… nine… eight…"
She bit her lip and tasted the bitter black of her lipstick. He smiled at her, his teeth flashing white and every strand of her being heaved with the desire to touch him.
"… seven… six… five…"
She watched her hand float down to the detonator. She felt the button depress beneath her fingertips, felt the click of the mechanism beneath.
He handed her a glass of champagne and she took it as he stepped closer, holding his glass to hers, his other hand slipping about her waist and drawing her against him so they connected.
"… four… three… two…"
Then finally she smiled. Beyond them, as the Sprang Bridge bloomed in a series of fiery explosions, he bent through the falling snow and kissed her.
I know we're all JxHQ shippers here, that for them to be back together is candy to our sugar craving, nonetheless I hope there's an undercurrent of tragedy here.
Happy New Year.