somewhere, in a better gotham, the joker was born a woman, with eyes like candy apples, smooth skin. babysoft.
in the gotham we know, the joker fell into a pit of toxic waste and turned green with envy. in this gotham, the better one, the joker is a tall, thin lady walking down the street. “smile, pretty” follows in her footsteps. when she stands at open mic laughter nights, she’s heckled from the crowd. they won’t smile for her but they resent her frown.
her mother says that her best feature is her body. the joker spends hours staring in mirrors. picturing a trophy-wife kind of life. smile, pretty. smile pretty. smile. pretty. she’s sixteen the first time she tapes her lips up, just to see if she can teach her skin to learn the shape better. your teeth are your best feature. in the wild, smiling is a sign of fear.
she’s twenty and lives alone with her dog and tries to be okay with that. another night where she’s losing money on transportation, but she goes to the open mic anyway. the guy before her talks about airline food. she gets on the stage and immediately booed. and it’s years like this, in a pattern, in the weave of her passion, so that every night is thrown beer bottles and shouting and comments that make her sick to her stomach and being told she’s nothing special and being told women aren’t funny and being told her voice is shrill and ugly and being told when she’s too animated that she’s crazy and being told when she’s too stiff that she’s boring and being asked out by every single sleeze in the zip code and being shouted at when she says no and the neverending tumble of it because maybe tomorrow will be better, maybe tomorrow will be better, maybe tomorrow
he comes up on stage with her and soaks her shirt in beer. now that’s a show! the man calls. he gets cheers. she doesn’t cry, just walks out the back door before doing something stupid. the manager pats her on the head while she leaves. it’s okay, darling. he looks her over. i don’t get it. a body like yours? you should be an exotic dancer. comedy isn’t for everybody. you’re not funny, sweetie.
she’s not funny. not funny. not funny. the words turn alarm bells. the one thing she’s supposed to be talented at. the one thing she loves is just to make people laugh. and she’s not even funny.
hey you know what’s kind of funny? the way it feels at the bottom. how flat everything turns. how unreal. she skims like a rock. your body is your best feature. she tries again on monday. “you know what’s funny? i thought about murder the other day”. don’t we all, sweetie. on the bus, come home with me. on the street, why aren’t you smiling.
maybe some people are born close to the camel’s back, maybe some people have just always been looking for the straw. it’s too much in either direction. she goes home and smears makeup on her skin. tears her hair off. dyes it green, a shock, to match her eyes and spite and envy at men who can tell the same jokes and get laughter for it where she gets nothing and nothing and nothing, where she is pushed off of stages, where she is mocked.
well, isn’t it her turn to do the mocking.
in this story, in this better gotham where vigilante is sometimes good, sometimes a few letters from villain: who will stop her? in this life, when harley walks in, the two are different, best friends, sugar-on-pie because isn’t it true the world has it out for women. in this life, when harley shows up with hyenas, the joker thinks about the wild and the laws of it and says, “oh, of course, let them in”. in this life the violence has a name.
and nobody says it without laughing.