30 Dollar Sunglasses
WARNING: Contains Language and Themes of Abuse. Discretion is advised.
This work is a fan-made story based on characters from DC Comics
How does anyone buy these willingly, she thought as she inspected the rack of sunglasses. At least the men’s looked somewhat normal, if not a little stupid with the yellow or rainbow sheen lenses. But everything on the women’s side of the display was gaudy and downright ugly. She had half a mind to leave and go to a proper store for a pair she might actually like. But the faces and looks of everyone who’d already seen her made her stomach clench in shame and fear. It seemed everyone’s eyes kept lingering on her black eye.
As she grabbed the largest pair of sunglasses to try them on, she caught a look of herself in the postcard sized mirror on the display rack. Her makeup was slathered on as thick as icing, uneven and clumped on the edges of her wrinkles. It covered up the rest of the bruises well enough, but there’s only so much makeup you can put around your eye without potentially blinding yourself. Especially with the cheap-ass stage makeup that he bought. The pure white of the makeup made the blotchy mess of dark purple, red, and black seem so much worse; the blood red of her eye where the white should’ve been just compounded the effect. Quickly, she shoved the glasses on. The lenses covered half her face, which is what she wanted. She sighed a little defeatedly as she saw the $29.99 on the price tag. Thirty bucks and I don’t even like them, she thought.
Harley wandered the gas station, looking at the candy and snacks, the wall refrigerators of ice creams and drinks, trying to decide if she’d buy something. But the thought of eating churned her stomach and the lure of sugary soda was lost on her. She went back to the front and stood in line. Harley had clocked the old woman’s watchful eye on her the second she stepped into the convenience store. “Judgemental bitch,” Harley mumbled to herself. Sure, she wasn’t a stranger to shoplifting, and since she started shacking up with him she had drawn more attention from store managers. Today, though, Harley didn’t need more trouble, or attention. She just wanted to disappear.
“Next,” said the manager and Harley stepped forward, still wearing the glasses.
“Just these,” she said, tapping them. The old woman crossed her arms.
“You need to take them off.” Condescending bitch, Harley thought.
“I’d…rather not. Can’t you just scan them like this?” she held out the price tag between her fingers so the barcode was visible.
“No,” snapped the manager. “Take them off and put them on the counter. Along with anything else.” Harley felt the rage fill her throat and tears begged to burst from her eyes. But she just ripped the tag off the glasses and slammed it on the counter.
“Scan it,” she said through gritted teeth. The woman didn’t move.
“Take. Them. Off.” Harley bit back her anger and dug in her small pocketbook. As the woman glared at her, Harley pulled out a twenty, a ten, and a crumpled up five. She slammed the money on top of the price tag.
“Keep the fucking change.” she stomped away before the manager could reply. “Fucking bitch,” she said as she walked onto the sidewalk.
The morning sky was a perfect, pristine blue. But the throb of her eye made Harley wish it was pouring rain. At least then everyone else would be miserable with her. She buried her hands in her hoodie’s pocket, hunched her shoulders, and walked into the first coffeeshop she passed. The smells of bitter Americanos and sweet, creamy mochas hit her like a mallet. Memories of early morning crunch sessions in places like this as an undergrad made her eyes well up. Thoughts of graduate school, interning, and residency crackled in her head like radio static. Long past memories she didn’t feel connected to anymore. A voice snapped her back into the present.
“Ma’am? Are you waiting?” Harley straightened up and walked to the register.
“Yeah, sorry,” she said with the best smile she could muster. “Just a medium black coffee, please.”
“Sure thing,” said the young man. Jesus, she thought, How much did all those piercings cost? She lost count at around twenty as he handed her her change. A girl no older than sixteen with bubblegum pink hair handed her a white paper cup with a cardboard sleeve. Harley turned to leave, when her body seized up as a loud cackling laugh came from behind her. And all at once, she was back there…
It was late when he got home. Harley was halfway through a “Three Stooges” DVD when the front door slammed. She turned down the volume. The light of the fridge shone for a moment in the dark kitchen before a shadow overtook it.
“Hey, Mistah J,” she said. When no answer came except the clinking of bottles, she muted the TV completely and raised her voice a bit. “Heeey…Mistah J?” A dry cough, and the fridge light went out. She stood and slowly walked to the kitchen. Her slender hand found the lightswitch but she paused. “Mistah J? Are you alright, hun?”
“Go away, Quinn,” came his raspy, broken voice. The faintest of chuckles was cut off by a hearty throat clearing cough.
“Imma turn the light on, okay?” and she flipped the switch. He flinched, shielding his eyes with a groan against the orange-ish light.
His own makeup was smudged with dirt and sweat, making his facial wrinkles seem even deeper. The red makeup was wiped away, exposing the permanently red-stained skin around his lips that stretched into a wide, forced smile. He glared at her with puffy, bloodshot eyes. The ire in his face was even more unsettling juxtaposed against the vibrant colors of his suit. One eye was swollen with a bruise and several gashes on his cheek and forehead still oozed crimson blood. He took a large swig of the fifth of vodka he held.
“Anything you need to talk about, hun?” Harley asked. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, leaving a chalky white smudge on the bright orange glove.
“I said, go away, Quinn. I don’t need any of your psych-bullshit. Just…just…leave…me…alone.” He struggled through the last sentence as he involuntarily started laughing. As he strained to stop, his expression was of choking pain instead of hysterical amusement. After several gasps, he was able to regain his composure and he fell into a coughing fit. He took another drink.
“Okay, fine,” Harley said, turning back to the living room.
“Thanks,” said the Joker.
“Whatever,” Harley said, then quietly, “just trying to help.”
“What was that tone?” he said coldly.
“Nothing. I’ll just leave y–,” she didn’t even hear him move. His vice-like grip dug into her shoulder and he yanked her around.
A giant hiss of the cappuccino machine snapped Harley back. She blinked and wiped her eyes under her glasses. Her heart beat a tattoo against her ribs as she tried to calm her mind. The flash of sharpened steel, pain, and his maniacal laughter slowly faded and she found herself again. She fled the coffeeshop and into the crowd on the sidewalk. She went with the flow of the morning commuters through the streets of Gotham. Being among so many people somehow calmed her. There’s safety in numbers, as the saying goes, and she hoped no one would recognize her. Eventually, she found herself at the entrance to Gotham Central Park. She sidestepped out of the crowd and looked around her before quickly walking onto the path into the park.
She walked at a fast pace, her eyes darting all around her. She knew he wouldn’t be out at this time, and he barely left the apartment before sunset. But she just kept waiting for him to appear somehow. Finally near the center of the park, she stopped next to a park bench. It was under a huge oak tree that had vines clinging to the trunk like green netting. Harley sat down. It wasn’t until the rest of her was still that she realized her hands were shaking. She gripped her coffeecup tighter to steady them, and took a deep breath as she looked around. Green used to be her favorite color as a kid. The first time she wore nail polish, she’d asked her mom for any green they had. And the next day she went to school with shamrock colored nails, beaming with joy. Now, all she’s allowed to wear were red, black and white. No matter what, that’s all he provided; and the only green in her life is the grotesque diarrhea green of his hair. That and the green of half-healed bruises. But, this place was beautiful with every shade of green possible. As she watched a white poodle rolling around and getting progressively more grass-stained, she couldn’t help but smile a little.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” said a woman’s voice. Harley looked over at the tall redheaded woman looking at the oak behind the bench. She looked up at the branches overhead too.
“Oh, uh, yeah. It is.”
“Mind if i join you,” asked the woman. Harley slid to the end of the bench and the woman sat on the opposite end. “Thank you. You know, I just love this season. When all the world is green and lush. It’s just paradise.” She was wearing a bright green dress with a pattern of leaves and flowers on one side. She crossed her long legs and took a sip from her cup. “Don’t you think so?” Harley nodded.
“Yeah. It is. I…I don’t get out much.” Nervously, she sipped her lukewarm coffee. The woman scoffed and nodded at a man in the lawn across from them.
“Now there’s someone who doesn’t get out much,” she said. He was fat and walking a pitbull on a chain leash. He stopped and looked around aimlessly as his dog squatted. When it was done, they just kept walking. The red haired woman’s nails clenched around her cup. “God, look at that. Fucking disgusting. Not a single ounce of courtesy. God, I hate men, don’t y–.” She looked over at Harley and stopped short. “Are you okay? You’re really pale.” Harley tried to respond but her voice caught and she started crying. Shocked, the woman put a hand out. “Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean anything by it. I just –.” Harley waved a hand and tried to calm herself.
“N…no. I…it’s okay. Fuck…I’m just h…having a rough day. S…sorry,” she wiped her eyes under her glasses. Her black eye was still tender and throbbed slightly.
“No, no. Don’t apologize,” said the woman, scooting closer. “I get it. If I may ask, do you need to talk about anything?” That renewed Harley’s sobs and the woman just put her hand on Harley’s, patiently letting her cry. Her hand was warm and soft as a flower petal. Gradually, Harley composed herself and wiped her cheeks and runny nose on her sleeve. When she saw the white smudge of makeup on it, she quickly turned her face away. The woman smiled sadly. “What’s your name?”
“Harle–. Harleen Quinzel.”
“Hi, Harleen. I’m Pamela. Could I look at you?” Harley felt her face flush, but she took a deep breath and turned back around. Pamela’s eyes widened with concern but she only smiled and patted Harley’s hand. “Oh, sweetie. What happened?” Harley grimaced. She had wiped away some of the makeup, revealing her bruises on her lip and jaw. She pushed her sunglasses harder against her face. “Did someone do this to you?” Harley nodded slightly.
“He’s not always like this,” she said. “He does a lot for me. He…” she trailed off, trying to go on. But a tornado of emotions swelled in her and she lobbed her half-full coffee at the ground. “I can’t do this. I just can’t. I’m scared all the time. He keeps me trapped in this shitty apartment. I’m not allowed out. Only time I can leave is when he says I can. And even then, it’s only when he needs me for one of his stupid fucking schemes. Then I’m just fucking bait for him to fucking play with. I don’t even like him anymore. I’m just fucking scared. But he’ll kill me as soon as I object or he sees me as useless to him.” She paused and wiped her nose. “I’m not a bad person. I tried to help people. But everyday I feel less like who I used to be.” Harley glanced at Pamela. “S…sorry. I shouldn’t. I gotta go. Sorry.” She began to stand, but Pamela held her hand down.
“It’s okay,” Pamela said quickly. “Believe me, I know. None of it is your fault.” Cautiously, she pointed at Harley’s sunglasses. “May I?” Harley paused, filled with fear. But she sat down and gave a shallow nod. Pamela slowly reached out and slid them down her nose. Pamela’s momentary shock was quickly replaced by a soft, motherly smile. “Does it hurt?” Harley nodded and quickly pushed the glasses back up as a police officer approached. His eyes lingered on the two women but he kept walking. Pamela sighed. “It looks fresh. Dammit. If we were at my place I could help more. I’ve got some wonderful salves and creams that would at least help with the swelling. Oh well.” She dug in her sun-yellow purse and pulled out a pen and notecard. She scribbled something quick and handed it to Harley.
“Take this. If I had more time, I’d take you home now. But if you can get away again, come by.” Harley nodded.
“Thanks. I…I don’t know. I doubt I can get out again. I shouldn’t be out now. I don’t know what to say. I–.”
“Don’t say a thing. I grew up with monsters like that. I know what it’s like. I promise you, it will get better.” Pamela put a hand on Harley’s and squeezed slightly. “Sooner than you think.”
“I…I don’t know. I mean. He’ll find me. He’ll find me and then I’m fucked. Like thank you, Pam. But I don’t know.” Harley felt herself flush again as she rambled. Pamela only smiled gently.
“It’s okay. I get it. If you can find a way, I’m always here. You can be safe, okay?” Harley swallowed then nodded again. “Good. Now, I gotta go. Would you like a hug?” Harley nodded again and Pamela slid over and embraced her. She smelled like a bouquet of wildflowers and citrus fruits. Her hug was gentle but also incredibly firm and warm. Harley just wanted to bury her face in the crook of the woman’s shoulder, but she didn’t want to smear makeup on Pamela’s green dress. When they pulled apart, she gave a wide, bruised smile and Pamela got up.
“See ya,” Harley said shakily. Pamela leaned over the bench and plucked at something behind it. When she straightened up, she held out a large red rose head. Harley’s eyes widened. “I…was that there before?” she twisted to see the large rose bush growing at the base of the tree.
“I’ll see you later,” Pamela said as Harley turned back and took the rose. Then, the woman in the green dress with red hair turned away. Harley watched her leave, feeling impossibly warm inside. When Pamela was out of sight, Harley took out the card from her hoodie’s pocket. She smiled at the signature. It was a small heart next to the word “Ivy”.
It was just before sunset when she entered the park that night. After making sure he was still asleep, she had packed a small backpack with some clothes and the few things of hers that she couldn’t leave behind. Now she was walking the path headed to the south side of the park. She stopped when she saw them. A line of single roses, sprouting in a straight line across the field between the asphalt path and the dense trees beyond. She took the note out again and smiled.
“If you need me, just follow the roses.”
And Harley stepped onto the green grass.