I saw Joker three weeks ago (finally, I know!) And I really enjoyed it But I would have give a lot to see this subway woman again in the movie, or at least Joker mentioning her.
So I needed to "exorcise that need".
I want to thank Lulu, my cunning friend, with whom I could discuss this fic, his ideas were very inspiring! Especially since it was a true exercice about anonymity in text, like Anne B. Ragde's books, so the writing was a bit laborious, just like translating it. I'm French and did it by myself, so I hope you'll be able to understand.
Even if he only writes in French, I want to mention a book, "J'aime les fous" ("I love mad people"), written by Dominique Friard, a psychiatrist nurse, who shared in this book many stories about patients he had met. I loved how he tell about his love for madness, how he said that sound minds and lunatics are quite close. I hope there's many psychiatrist nurses like him out there.
"I go alone now, calling your name
After losing at the game
You took me by surprise
I didn't realize that you were laughing"
Laughing – The Guess Who
« Nous sommes si nécessairement fous que ce serait être fou par un autre tour de folie de n'être pas fou. (1) »
When she came home, the day before, her roommate looked at her shoes in the most disapproving way. High, made of black buckskin and block heels. Feminine and stylish. Way too much feminine and stylish. They were really nice boots, able to drag gazes toward on the flared skirt right above. A dangerous association in Gotham.
When a city topples over — falls into — high criminality, women are the first to know it, and yet, as a protest, she went out with those new boots and her flimsy skirt. And between the clothes, her two naked knees.
Under her roommate's remonstrance, she slumped on the couch and got rid of her shoes with a vivid movement before throwing them away, without a word, in a corner of the living room.
In the morning, they were still there, almost denied.
Her memories were blurry, the subway woman stopped dwelling on what happened the night before. She had no will to think about those three assholes or that fucking clown who had laughed at her.
Anyway, nothing in Gotham could surprise her and her housemate anymore.
The neighbor who lived at apartment 107, a gay but discreet man, had found, last week, excrement on his welcome mat. A little piece of paper, stuck on it, had asked "enjoy it, coprophile?".
The gift was removed but it was still poisoning the air in the corridor.
In a sleepy silence, she turned the TV on and was about to go to the kitchen, attracted by the sound of the coffee machine which was filling her cup, but three faces on the screen held her back. Three faces seen in the shadows of a train, seedy neon lights making them look ugly.
And this morning, her TV introduced them as young, preppy, and also dead.
Nobody could get killed in Gotham. At least, nobody owning a full suit worth 1 200 dollars — and the price did not include the silver watch and leather Derby shoes. Nobody working in Wayne Enterprises.
The coffee machine was now silent, but she was unable to move: tense shoulders, she sat on the couch before she collapses. Her throat was too tight to be able to drink anything.
Yes, of course, she had heard gun shots, but she had not understood them. When she had left the subway, alone, she had thought the traders had been playing with a firearm before going somewhere else, pursuing the party. What about the clown? Oh, she had not given the single fuck about him. He could have tasted lead, she would have seen the crime as a compensation for the humiliation she had felt.
Medias were disseminating an appeal for witnesses, giving a hint about how helpless was police without proper facts.
Doing as society told her, formatted by worried journalists, she got up and grasped the phone. Her roommate was out to the grocery, so she would not be back before one hour.
She called 911 and, like a sign, tone was brief: a switchboard operator answered and asked the motive of her phone call.
"It's about the three traders killed in the subway last night—"
"Could you state your identity, please?"
"I'd rather testify anonymously. I was in the same train before they were killed."
"Do you remember if someone else was there?"
"Yes, there was a clown."
Now she sounded like she was telling a bad joke, yet she was sincere.
"Yes, a clown, a skinny man with a wig of green hair, that's all I can remember about him."
Apart from her and the three victims, there was only a clown.
The other cars were empty: she knew as she crossed many to get away from those guys.
There was only a clown.
That sudden evidence gutted her stomach in a heartbeat, and she felt her hair rising on the back of her neck.
Clowns are supposed to make laugh people, but in a city like Gotham, why they would not carry guns? What if they kill?
"Madam—? I need to know—"
She did not let the switchboard operator finish her question and hung up with such violence her phalanges hit the piece of furniture. The wooden surface had scratched her skin, but she did not notice: her mind was only about the laughing clown. His white convulsed face, his red wide, so wide smile.
Fear was rising like sea, rising from her cold bowels.
Day was growing, but it did not bring any light. She remained paralyzed until her roommate came back, and while she put her grocery bag on the table, the roommate looked at her:
"Are you okay? You're so pale." She picked a packet of frozen French fries, hoping to make her smile. "I wanted to eat French fried for lunch, what do you think?"
The subway woman had not enough time to answer and she ran to the bathroom, before throwing up on the carpet.
Despite his noticeable costume, the clown had disappeared in gray Gotham.
His face had disappeared, but not what he did: the border between rich and poor has never been so tangible. Those who had full wallets came to those young traders' defense, condemning an unfair and treacherous crime, while those with empty pockets, used to haunt hovels, felt pretty inspired to remind that having filled bank accounts did not demonstrate exemplary behavior, and since the assassin had not stolen a thing, it meant the traders were killed for another reason.
Still, in some courts, poor families were whispering that even if their goods had been robbed, they would not cry over it: maybe a dad gave food for his kids for at least a week thanks to these bills!
And if a triple murder was what it needed to draw attention on the real world, to make the mayor understand what was wrong, then the price was small.
Days flew by, and at first, only one or two guys were wearing clown masks or make-ups, but now, they were groups. Most of them were just bums, without a job, only a message to give.
The subway woman kept examining them, gazing at big red lips, sometimes pasty, sometimes pink cheeks, acid green curls, but no one was the clown she had met that night. Unless he opted for a mask now, the same a lot of people were wearing. It was the best way to remain anonymous, to blend in with the crowd.
As a charm to attract the criminal clown, she was wearing her boots again.
One night, at the same hour of their first meeting, she even wore the same skirt, gathering all the ingredients for a miracle, the luck to see him again.
He was a killer, a looney who had shot three rich boys, so if her roommate knew a single thing about her projects, she would have called her mad, and yet, the subway woman needed to know. Was she responsible too? Did she direct the barrel? Did he mean to defend her from the beginning? Did he laugh to scare or warn them?
What should she do? Thank him or curse him?
The swinging of the train made her theories knock together, giving her a head ache.
She felt ridiculous.
The morning before, while she was getting ready for work, she had follower the same routine: foundation, mascara and red lipstick. Usually, she would pick a more neutral color, but her hand had picked a vivid red. First, the stick had drawn the lines of her lips, but then it started to add a bigger mouth around, sketching a false smile.
She had shouted of surprise and quickly erased that second mouth.
She was obsessed with clowns. Yet she had never laughed so little in all her life.
Those dead guys weighed on her conscience. Maybe if she had not drawn their attention, they would be still alive; this clown would have not shoot these traders and Gotham would be still sinking without blows.
Until she was not sure if she played a part in this crime or not, she would still scrutinize those painted faces, search beyond those black holes in masks to meet eyes, and then, maybe one day, she will recognize a look, a laugh.
To be perfectly honest, she did not like the look of Murray's mug.
That septuagenarian was somewhat condescending, a thing he had in common with her moralizer father, and both seemed to be so sure that one could not learn without perpetual humiliation.
And his guests were not better.
Dr. Sally was giving precise advices about how to do a blow job, and the fact she was as tall as a child made the lesson really awkward to watch. The subway girl took a deep drag on her cigarette and looked away, avoiding the sex therapist's small hands. She did not want to picture Murray's guest sucking and kneading her partner's balls.
Her roommate and she had invited two friends to pass over tonight, but thanks to the riot, they could not come, and Murray's talk-show was still more enjoyable than demoralizing news channels.
A firecracker exploded under their windows, but no one reacted: they did not jump anymore, used to those rebellious noises. They did not even talk about it, so one was unaware if the other approved this riot or not, and tonight, the constant violence did not make their opinion clear.
Ash fell of the cigarette in the ashtray near the window. That gray heap was still hot, throbbing for the furious clowns outside. A car in fire passed in the street, and the infernal cortege lighted up the apartments around, even if it was impossible to know if the lights were dancing or lamenting over the walls.
"— Now, before our guest comes out, I just want to say that we're all heartbroken here and sensitive to what's going on in the city tonight. But, this is how he wanted to come on the show. So let me introduce— the Joker." (2)
The subway girl looked at the TV again.
After one moment of suspense, a man agreed to appear, as colorful as the opening curtain. His raspberry-colored suit was testing the capacities of cameras, torturing the saturation point of screens.
She held tight to her cigarette while the guest chucked his own, still dancing, free and confident. A thousand of guys also drew on their face a bright large smile and surrounded their eyes with geometric shapes, bringing in opposition red eyebrows and stylized tears, but this man has a long face, a skinny corpulence and an ecstatic smile. The same of the subway clown.
However, this one on screen was moving with such panache, such pride she convinced herself he was another person. That Joker was certainly some new dubious humorist, taking advantage of the riot to drag all the spotlights toward his painted face.
"Holy shit." Her roommate laughed when the guest grabbed little Dr. Sally and compelled her a long kiss. "If Dr. Sally never gave a clown a blow job, at least she's kissing one!"
In her laugh, she released a puff of tobacco.
When he sat down, Joker's gaze met viewer's one, and it showed how the triangle under his left eye stretched. Did he cry before he came on set? She felt uneasy: the thought of a clown crying was as frightening as the one of a clown committing a triple-murder.
"You want another cup of coffee?" Her roommate asked.
First, she shrugged, but then—
"Yes, please. There's such a mess outside, we won't be sleeping."
"Oh please, stop seeing future, I hate when you do it."
Her roommate's laugh was full of anger, because Friday was her most exhausting day of the week, and she already knew she would be tired tomorrow. She would be late too, thanks to the riot—
Despite the obvious embarrassment, the show was still on. Joker was clearly not welcomed in this court of VIP. His sense of humor was like a foreign language, too strange to be understood by the audience. There was also his laugh, that piercing sound, so different when compared to pent-up sniggers around.
The subway woman opened her eyes wide when she heard the "joke" about the son killed by a drunk driver. It was surprising that the team has not kicked Joker out yet, but it seemed like a second chance was granted to him.
Then she heard the joke about the three traders. That parody of an avowal. Or it was the opportunity to confess.
She puffed on her cigarette but there was nothing left expect for the downy butt. It felt like the filter was trying to deprive her of air, and without the riot outside, she would have got up and opened the window, but she was unable to react, paralyzed when watching how Murray was trying to make his guest confess it was nothing but a joke.
Her roommate came back with two cups, unaware of their weight or hotness. That's really that clown? she was trying to ask, but the question kept turning, winding like a streamer under her skull.
The subway girl was staring at Joker, hoping to recognize the man she had met once, but the picture was so noisy, it was not easy. Only his wig of green hair really marked her memory, just like his make-up that became quite common in Gotham streets.
Joker's words wasted a chill on set, and now, he was deploring that general attitude of a selfish and awful world. Clown's venom started to hurt people.
"Ok, so that's it: you're crazy. That's your defense for killing three young men?"
"No. It's because they couldn't carry a tune to save their lives."
Technicians were free to stop the show at this moment; they could have cut Joker's speech short, but it was like the clown was fascinating, even mesmerizing because no one moved: the audience stood still, Dr. Sally contracted her little fists and cameras were still on.
Murray's attempts to reason his guest were getting nowhere, quite the reverse: he fed a lonely and abandoned man's anger.
Joker did not mention the subway woman, not even once. He did not use her as an excuse for his crime, he did not say a word about the ill-mannered attitude of his victims. He did not introduce him as a hero or a knight.
That silence, intentional or not, should have comforted her, since it was minimizing her role in the crime, so why did she feel excluded? Hurt?
Victims sometimes need to show their wounds, to point at their persecutors' behavior.
Joker was sorry about the fact that no one was trying to think what it was like to be the other guy, but did he try to think what it was like to be her the other night? Why did he laugh at her if he stated that nobody was civil anymore?
She craved for another cigarette but her body was not so eager after all: the only real thing in the world was that TV and that screen she had to look at, especially now that Murray's guest was raising his voice. The so condescending, so paternalistic humorist was now cornered in his lessons.
"I'll tell you what you get, you get what you fucking deserve!"
And the gun shot exploded during the show.
Murray was projected back in his famous chair, his features frozen in terror. A thin line of smoke was dancing from the black hole on his forehead.
Joker remained at his place, agitated with nervous twitches, before being released by a merry laugh.
A laugh she was sure to know.
The body finally relaxed, the clown stood up, and the show continued until he wished Gotham good night.
The interruption finally cut the drama.
"— What was that?"
Her roommate's voice was tight in her throat.
Unable to answer, asking herself the same question and a thousand others, she wrapped her arms around her. Her knees clashed, shaking with spasms. She wiped her moist palms on her thighs, her head numb and suddenly very heavy.
She had found him, but she doubted she could get peace with answers—
Friday morning, all the Medias were mourning big names. Murray Franklin, of course, but Thomas Wayne and his wife too. They both had been found in a dark alley behind a movie theater, their son alive but traumatized. There were also all the unknowns who died in crowds, mostly policemen.
The clown that had been introduced as Joker had vanished into thin air — again —, but his identity has been revealed: his true name was Arthur Fleck, 35. He was living with his adoptive mother, Penny Fleck, who had recently died. Those descriptions were always near a picture, a portrait from a file from Arkham.
Arthur Fleck has been dismissed the day he had committed the triple-murder in the subway, still, the corpse of an ex-coworker was found in his apartment, stabbed repeatedly in the head and torso with scissors. The poor guy was killed a few hours before the talk-show.
It was very strange to discover his true name, his face without make-up: his origins could not match with his character, because she could not see him as human, thanks to this ability to vanish so quickly, as if Joker knew some backstage to hide in Gotham after leaving the scene.
Clown and criminal at the same time, Arthur and Joker at once, the demonstrator's idol was protected from forces of order the night Murray Franklin was killed.
The police station never called back the subway woman, accentuating the feeling she had never been there for Joker's first crime. Dragging by this man, she felt she could disappear as well. But it was unbearable to think she now must live in a state of doubt.
Next mornings, she was picking all the newspapers about the clown killer. All the front pages hid Murray's corpse, but they always showed Joker, sometimes serious, sometimes hysteric, the only emotions he had shown after his crime. Some newspapers had exaggerated contrast of black and white pictures, making Joker gloomier.
A few journalists called Arthur Fleck the Man Who Laughs, referencing to Victor Hugo's novel, to talk about his neurological condition at the same time. A fact the woman was surprised to read.
Pictures were mute, she could hear his anger anyway: she was haunted by how lucid was his madness. Only his words had been logical. His funny body language, his improvised dances and the long kiss he gave to Dr. Sally, all of this was not compatible with the fact he was carrying a gun way before the curtain was open.
He played some comedy to fit in, but had failed.
After all, it was a foregone conclusion: Murray had laughed at him in a previous show, and he had invited him to do the same again. It was obvious, knowing Murray's sense of humor.
Did Joker really know he was going to kill him?
She could not understand.
The subway woman crushed the cigarette butt under her heel and went into the train that just stopped. The first week was already over and life almost got back to normal. Well, Gotham normal.
She sat near a window and rested her temple on the glass. It was all confuse and chaotic, her head has to be supported.
Talks were rare, and the only ones were whispered, muffled by tortured rails noises. Apparently, a lot of passengers preferred to read quickly bought newspapers in silent.
It was not indifference that built barriers, but fear.
Everybody just yells and screams at each other.
Yet, somewhere in Gotham, a husband brought some flowers to his wife. Last week, they had fought about an error on the calendar for some appointment, tiny confusion that had become some kind of affair of state. The husband now understood it was time to ask for forgiveness.
Nobody's civil anymore.
Someplace else, a woman was knocking on her neighbor's door, an octogenarian lady, to ask if she needed anything from the grocery.
Nobody thinks what it's like to be the other guy.
A homeless man, occupying stairs of a block of flats, used to be invisible, rose his head for the first time for many years: a student was giving him a sandwich and an apple to make sure he could eat at least for today.
Even if they were timorous, signs of humanity had started to bloom in the city. Citizens mostly acted because of shame, maybe afraid to be killed for being awful, but they did act.
A lot of people were convinced by the clown's speech.
Now it was obvious that Gotham society was in deep trouble, it had to admit how it fucked up.
Sadly, in opposition to this, groups were taking advantage of Joker's despair to rule in favor of the clown, making Gotham a little more dangerous; they were opportunists instead of actors.
There were only two stations before the last stop, the one for going to work, but the doors were blocked by a team of aggressive clowns. Some masks were tainted with brown crumbly blood. The gloved hands were showing baseball bat used by violence. They were swinging them to make passengers flee deep down the car.
In the panic, not many people had the desire to run away. A thirty-year-old still tried to rush to reach the open doors, but his ankle was swept by the bat of a masked fool. All hope was canceled and the train was moving again.
The subway woman had left her chair, but already in the corner of the car, she was crushed by the crowd that was gathering against the metal walls. Passengers began to cry, scared by the silence of Pierrots and Harlequins who were staring at them.
One of them made a gesture to hit a passenger nearby, which caused a wave of strangled cries, but he suspended his gesture. A joke they judged very cleaver.
She could only scrutinize them, but the subway girl only saw masks. No makeup, no silhouette reminded her of Joker. They did not have his way to move, nor did they have his strident laugh. But maybe they had participated in his escape?
She tried to lift an arm, feeling how she missed air.
"Joker! Is Joker with you?"
Surprised passengers moved away from her, allowing her to catch her breath.
"Are you with—"
She could not finish her question: it was way too absurd.
Arthur Fleck was a fugitive criminal, a looney who needed treatment, but he had disappeared from Gotham's streets for eight days now. And that subway woman, that stranger that everyone had forgotten, asked if he was there, as if he was some acquaintance who could help her.
A clown in the front line allowed her to come closer.
"I know Joker. I want to meet him." She explained as the frightened crowd left a way for her.
In front of the clown who let her approach, she felt tiny, except for her head that seemed enormous and burning: the blood was beating, turning her temples into drums. She was unable to know if she was blushing excessively or if she was livid; her cheeks could no longer express the emotions that were unfolding from her chest.
The delay to the next station seemed infinite to the passengers, but many saw in this woman a sacrifice. If she could distract the clowns, it was all the better. Her fate did not matter very much anymore, even when the subway finally stopped and the clowns came down, taking away the one who claimed to know their leader.
The group of masked thugs did not go unnoticed, but in the corridors, the passers-by were so terrified that they only looked at them with glances, moving away as quickly as if they had been in the presence of lepers.
She was following them without a word, surprised by their desire to be laconic: instead of words, they had mostly laughs, and their hilarity attacked some people on the way. They jumped together, mimed violent or coarse gestures, always provoking without ever having an answer.
After leaving the subway, the entertainers passed by a bar where a man was drinking a beer on the terrace. One of the clowns grabbed the glass and greeted the customer without embarrassment, taking the drink without even a laugh, as if his flight was natural.
The subway woman buried her lips under her teeth, holding herself. She needed answers, but the price to pay was getting too high.
The fact that Arthur Fleck had been described as an insane person who had stopped his treatment was beginning to worry her. Could he reason? Would he understand the reason for her need to talk? Did he really ask thugs to do that? After his speech during Murray's show!
They bifurcated to a lane stuck between two buildings. The rain of the past days had not yet evaporated, and after staying in these austere shadows for so long, it diffused a smell of wet rot. Ladders were fixed on the walls of the buildings, but there was no door, no access to the ground, which turned the alley into a dead end.
It was enough for the clowns to surround their guest to understand that they had never intended to answer her request.
Now, she was even certain that none of them had ever addressed a single word to Arthur Fleck. They did not know Joker. They only took advantage of a violent movement to let off steam, they were nothing more.
The jester who had stung the beer had finished drinking, so he threw the empty glass to the ground, making it explode. Sharp pieces, more or less big, flew in different directions: the smallest slipped between the ankles, while the too heavy ones rolled barely on a few centimeters.
The clown picked one of them.
"Are you really going to threaten me for the three dollars that are in my bag?!" She exclaimed.
Her voice could have been louder, but fear dominated her too much: her provocation had ended in a stranglehold.
"It's not always about money."
There was also the love of chaos, a love that was cultivated since Joker's apparition.
The subway woman was paralyzed.
She regretted her quest. It was impossible for her to ignore the role that Arthur Fleck had played in her life — and maybe vice versa — but to chasing Joker also meant to flirt with danger. Was it really worth it—?
One of the jesters hit her in the shoulder blade with his elbow, making her tilt forward, but the sight of the sharp piece of glass encouraged her to quickly regain her balance. It was either hurting her muscles or welcoming the transparent blade in the face.
While dodging, she tried to sneak between two men, striking them with her shoulders, but a new blow hit hurt hip, much more searing: it was not a fist but a bat that hit her this time.
Her knees hit the damp ground and she found herself plunged into the shadows of the clowns. They did not even care about her bag or her body, not in a sexual sense; they just wanted to brutalize her, to torment her to feel better.
A new blow fell on the top of her cheek, knocking her for six.
A frightening sound rang out, putting an early end to this ordeal: it was a gunshot and the bullet had reached the knee of a clown who began to scream. The pain was such that the mask was unable to cover the cry.
Standing up, the subway woman recognized the man, rather small but stocky, with blond and wavy hair. The one who tried to enjoy a glass of beer before one of the thug stole it.
He fired again, aiming to nowhere, divided between the desire to eliminate or scatter these fools.
The third bullet finally pierced the plastic forehead of the one who stole the beer, and the anonymous body crumbled.
"Are you having fun, fuckers? Want to have the same?"
Bats and fists were of no use, so the clowns abandoned their prey. They managed to escape without difficulty, as the man did not spoil bullets in unnecessary warnings.
The subway woman was a few inches from the clown who had wanted to disfigure her with the shard, but she did not have the strength to get up right now. The stocky man stood there, and after a spit on the corpse, turned around, without asking the woman if she needed an ambulance.
In what chaos bathed Gotham? People stole glasses on terraces and victims took revenge by killing.
Fearing for her life, even with this man who had just chased the clowns, she rushed out of the cul-de-sac, running as if the devil was chasing her.
Passers-by did their best to ignore her bleeding nose, looking away. In fact, she did not see them either.
When she could not breathe anymore, the pain in her shoulder blade emerged again, forcing her to slow down.
It would be nearly ten o'clock, and with a strange lucidity, she realized she was late for work. She had to warn them of her absence, she had to file a complaint as well. But since the last Murray's show, the police stations could not collect all the sentences of the city. They had never been able to, it was true, but the difference today was that this disability had become horribly obvious.
Using her sleeve as a handkerchief for her nose, she went to the first phone booth she found. While she typed the number of her work, her tongue passed over her teeth, happy to find none shaken enough to threaten to fall.
When her boss picked up, she managed to say on the phone that she had been assaulted in the street. Of course, the need to take a few days was granted. Yes, she would send a copy of the complaint as soon as she had it — as soon as she could file a complaint —, yes, she would go to the doctor to ask for a proper sick leave.
She had thought that she would become hysterical by explaining what had happened to her, but realized, with painless fright, that as a citizen of Gotham, she had become accustomed to this chaos. After all, famous presenters were killed on their set on TV. Nothing could surprise a native of this city.
At the moment of hanging up, she saw at the end of the avenue an armory. Her bag was still there, with her ID inside. Her blank criminal record would allow her to easily obtain a weapon. Now, maybe her face could be a problem: of course the salesman would understand that a woman who had just been attacked needed a weapon to feel better, but revenge was in vogue and he could have received restrictions—
But she did not intend to use it. Not really. Not immediately. Maybe she would not buy bullets, and the weapon would only serve to intimidate.
In any case, she had to try her luck in the armory, to know if she could stand out by being ready to defend herself.
After the shower, aches amplified.
Under the water, she had burst into tears, exhausted by the adrenaline that had disappeared. Since her roommate was absent, she had allowed herself to shout, getting so tired she had felt nothing when she saw the bruises on her back, her ribs, her thighs, her cheek.
Cornflowers were Gotham's only flowers, like sprays of blood, and they grew, grew every day like weed.
She had put on pajama pants and a camisole, before wrapping herself in a woolen vest. Concealed in the darkness of the corridor, she promised herself to forget Joker. Arthur Fleck was an insane man that society had left behind, and deprived of care, deprived of attention, his mental state had reached the bottom of madness.
She should stop looking any further, because she could never understand his intentions.
Her shoulder seemed to be made of stone while she reasoned: she had a life, she was in good shape — physical and mental —, she even has a future if she continued to keep her head out of the water. She could not sacrifice all of this for Joker.
The next time she tries to cross him, it could be her last attempt.
As a final argument, she told herself that since the Murray's finale, Joker had disappeared from Gotham. But the TV she had just turned on took pleasure in contradicting her: a special flash announced that Arthur Fleck had been seen in the subway very early in the morning, at this time when the sun has not yet returned colors to the city, at this time when ghosts are not bothered by the living.
Nobody dared to stop him and when the police had been warned, he had already fled.
A picture had been taken in the alley of the subway, and Joker, not very resentful, was smiling at the photographer. The shot was fuzzy, but his smile was an obvious provocation.
The only evidence was that the fugitive criminal appeared to be in good health — the best he could —, his suit impeccable and his makeup fresh, implying that some Gotham's citizens had not hesitated to welcome him, hide him, harbor him.
Knees bent under her chin, she stared at the screen, haunted again by the clown: at the moment she promised to turn the page, as difficult as it may be, he emerged again, smirking and proud.
The worst thing was that this subway corridor was the one she had to cross before she got to work. And he had been there a few hours before her. Instead of walking in his footsteps, she had followed, like a fool, mobsters who had let her believe that they were on Joker's side.
Did Arthur Fleck really have a side? His triple homicide and his appearance on television made him win plenty admirers, but that did not prove anything about his feelings. Trapped in madness, he was perhaps doomed to loneliness.
She glanced at her bag on the table, thinking of the revolver inside.
Of course, she wanted to give up this quest, this man, but now she was armed, it would be different now. She squeezed her arms around her legs, holding to contain the tremors that shook her.
For the next two days, she had given up going out, leaving the apartment only through the radio or television, refusing to put a foot in Gotham for the moment. She had called the doctor, but his office had been vandalized and he could only see her if she took the subway to the North of the city; an ordeal she could not overcome so soon.
In truth, if she had told her roommate that she was curious about the outside world, she would have lied: she was interested in newspapers only if they mentioned hordes of clowns. And their prince.
The photo taken in the subway at dawn had made a new front page, and she had seen the opportunity to keep the portrait when her roommate had brought back the newspaper. The rest of the pages had been thrown away, but the one where Joker was grinning with joy had become a relic.
"Is everything alright?" Her roommate had asked her the third night of her confinement. "You panic as soon as this guy is mentioned on TV. Are you afraid he might attack you again?"
"He didn't attack me." Neither the first time, nor the second time. "I'm just— fascinated—" Her roommate's brow raised so high that she realized the term was not good, not good at all. "I mean— I know that's sick curiosity, but I can't help myself. How can a stranger land, dressed up as a clown, on TV, kill a star and become a figure of revolt?"
"Hey, watch out, that's how Ted Bundy's groupies started before asking him to marry him in prison."
She forced herself to sneer to reassure her roommate: no, she would not go that far. Yet her fascination had turned into an obsession. It was undeniable.
"But those who attacked me were not with Joker. They were just assholes who take advantage of the movement. I'm sure they didn't even remember what Joker said at Murray's!"
While she was thinking about it all the time.
She plucked a cigarette from the packet on the table and lit it, ready to confess a secret she had kept, both by shame and jealousy.
"Hey. Do you remember the night I came home late? I was wearing my boots even if you told me they were too flashy."
"I do, yeah."
"In the subway, on the way back, I was bothered by the three traders." Her roommate, also smoking, was holding her cigarette in the air, mouth ajar. "It looked like they were coming out of a party. I don't know if they were stupid morons or just very drunk, but they started to throw me French fries, to make advances to me— There was another man in the car." Arthur Fleck, dressed up as a clown. "I didn't think he'd say anything, after all, he was all alone and the traders were three, but I was looking at him. I wanted him to look shocked, or disapproving at least." I wanted him to notice me. "Instead, he burst out laughing. He was disguised as a clown and he was laughing! He was laughing so much!"
"What did you do then?"
"I was fucking humiliated. I got up and went in another car. I couldn't stay."
Pinching the bridge of her nose, hoping to contain the emotion, she finally spoke the truth:
"It was Arthur Fleck. I left, and then he killed these traders. I don't know why."
The vapors of the cigarettes snaked, heavy. A police car passed in the street, screaming so loud it was more appropriate to compare them to banshees instead of sirens.
Once the silence returned, the roommate observed:
"Arthur Fleck's sick. He said it himself. You don't have to try to understand what he did. You're not responsible for what happened."
What about the clown who stole the beer? He was killed by that man. If she had not asked them to see Joker, maybe they would not have got out at this stop, maybe they would never have passed that bar.
She was not responsible, but it was a series of meetings, reactions and attitudes that led to this chaos.
The truth was she wanted to be part of this sequel, this universe, because since she was alive, she had her place in this world.
A wish she shared with Arthur Fleck without knowing it.
"Yeah, I know. But I'd really like to understand and have a clear conscience at last." She muttered, claiming it was only about her, when this event included all Gotham.
When she got up and went to the kitchen, she kept the Joker photo like a lucky charm. As if keeping this portrait would eventually attract or even invoke him.
She put the page on the accumulated mail and began to open the fridge, but a noise behind the wall stopped her. Several noises, in fact: someone had moved a piece of furniture in the kitchen with a certain brutality. A table has hit the shared wall maybe? Then she heard laughing, more movement, and finally, moans. Evidently, the neighbor of apartment 107 has company.
After quickly checking if the previous day's salad had not turned brown, she took out the salad bowl, glad she did not need to cook the chicken breast that was ready. She did not want to listen to what was happening next, so she grabbed the front page and— froze. The love that was shared in the next room and this picture of this man who occupied all her thoughts left a strange, disturbing contrast.
Tomorrow, she would go out, or she would go crazy.
The subway lights were still sordid, but that night, they were blinking with a lazy pace. Under her heels, she did not even feel the jolts of the car that was racing in a dark tunnel.
Deep in the train, behind the woods formed by metal bars, the three traders were laughing. They were even roaring with laughter but in silence. Their hilarious convulsions were interrupted only to imitate hisses or obscene kisses that she did not yet understand.
Under the neon lights, they were as livid as corpses. To desire them would have betrayed a necrophilous tendency.
Confused, she took a step back. Although reassured by the bars that were more numerous than usual, making the way through the car difficult, she did not want to confront these guys again, and in her hurry, she hit the other witness.
Before even turning around, endowed with the omniscience of dreams, she guessed his identity.
She was not back in time, because it was not Arthur Fleck: it was Joker.
The green-dyed hair was real, not just some wig. The raspberry suit replaced the worn clothes and, in his gestures, his pace, sweated a confidence in him that had nothing in common with the fear they had shared the night of the drama.
He did not laugh because of nervousness; he laughed because he despised these traders and wanted to make it clear. And unlike the silent snorts, his laughter was loud, aggressive, maybe cruel.
Suddenly inspired by this humor, she gave the traders a second gaze and laughed, laughed like she had not done for many years, becoming an accomplice of the criminal.
Although unusual, this sound warmed her chest, reviving it. So, feeling confident, she put an arm around Joker's waist. He also put a hand on her shoulder, keeping her close. They were laughing so much they needed to hold on to each other.
She could not catch her breath, as the blood flowed to her temples, but she quickly realized that her laugh was not responsible: by a strange retrospection, Joker was kissing her as he kissed Dr. Sally, his hands under her jaw.
Her roommate had told her not to wear these boots and skirt together.
The air did not matter anymore, just like the answer she thought she needed to keep her sanity. She clung to Joker's collar, welcoming him as the sex therapist would never have done.
In spite of her closed eyes, she was certain that the traders kept laughing at the bottom of their muteness. Yet she did not care, even when she raised her flimsy skirt to leave a passage for the clown.
In the distance, in the invisible tunnel, someone pushed a piece of kitchen furniture before laughing and sighing. Unless this lustful laugh came from her?
Her mouth was now as red as Joker's, the skin bewitched by the macabre charm, convinced by the taste of crime.
She crossed her wrists behind his back, which she knew was bony. Her fingers stretched and curled up, excited by joy, a flood so surprising that it was comical.
Joker's hips made backwards and forwards movements, but it was closer to a dance than penetration, even if the sensations that waved her belly could not fool her. The jolting of the car did not exist; only those of their waltz were true.
Her limbs were numb and feeble as Joker became stronger. At the end of her fingers, she even felt that the air was getting heavier.
"Shoot." She heard him whisper.
She saw in the hollow of her hand a revolver, shining with amusement, and the dark cannon was pointed at the three spectators of this burlesque romance.
"You already did it."
His face was against her throat, but she could hear his words as distinctly as if they had been whispered in his ear.
"You can do it again."
However, she did not have the courage to obey: her finger was tense instead of folding on the trigger, and rather than face the laughter, she lowered her head, clinging to Joker's shoulders. Just like last time, she preferred to rely on him and let him do it, focusing more on their chaotic embrace—
Until a gunshot rang and plunged them into the dark.
As she jumped into her bed, the alarm clock showed it was four o'clock in the morning. It was still dark and it was perhaps the quietest hour in Gotham, when even the criminals succumbed to sleep.
Yet the shot had seemed so real!
While laying her palm against her throat, she was convinced she had laughed even in her sleep. Her body had reacted to her agitated imagination. Besides, for a moment she could not move her other hand — the one holding the weapon — as it was too heavy. She curled in a ball on the mattress still hot, realizing that her thighs were numb, exhausted.
She would be unable to go back to sleep. Not only because her fantasy had been too violent, but because she was becoming lucid in her delirium: the night these traders had approached, she could have told them to go fuck themselves and leave, she could have, but she had glanced at the clown knowing that no one in Gotham would ever lift a finger even when witnessing an assault.
From the beginning she had wanted him to act. And Joker had acted. Whether it was for him alone or also for her no longer mattered.
It was the origin of this fantasy.
She remembered her bag and the new revolver inside. She still did not want to use it, relaying her worries to more desperate clowns. But it was time for that to change.
Tomorrow, she would let the whole world know, she would identify herself as a new werewolf with the pack that had invaded Gotham. She would no longer hide her fascination for clowns.
She may have been crazy, totally touched, hysterical, but the quarter moon in her head had cast a saving light (3), casting off the weight of questions as the real moon would have repelled the most disturbing shadows.
The doctor was surprised to welcome a serene patient.
The young woman had been beaten in the street, and yet she was standing there in her bra. Her mouth was wearing poppy tones, beautiful and unaware of the bruises over the body that had become green now.
Did she want to see a psychologist? Oh no, everything was better now. After all, everyone was being attacked in Gotham, it was like a baptism to become a citizen.
"— Can you imagine if all the inhabitants of Gotham had to consult? There would be more shrinks than hairdressers."
A wide smile accompanied this disillusioned humor, and the doctor did not know what to say. He just nodded, reminding her that if needed, even later, she could go back to see a specialist. But she thanked her doctor and left the office with the purse stuck under her elbow.
In the movement, the revolver inside banged against the plastic mask she had managed to buy from a homeless man who had several copies.
Since the riots, the sale of these clown faces had been banned. The factory was ordered to destroy all the molds. But the last copies were still circulating in the city, and for the one who could face the austerity of the alleys, the masks were always accessible.
And of course, stuck in her wallet, the front page where Joker was smiling. The portrait she admired.
The media had made several calls to witness to find the mad clown, fearing that Joker would come back with more followers, but the criminal on the run was too discreet. Or he did not intend to gather resistance fighters.
After all, he did not believe in anything, except maybe chaos and madness.
Concepts that the subway woman had ended up accepting as well.
She had put her boots again, to the surprise of her roommate, matching them with various skirts, and always finishing her outfit with bright lipstick. A personal war painting that only clowns could understand.
When the evening was well advanced, when the trains were empty, she no longer felt any fear.
Her heels beat time in the corridors, on the metal platforms, in the deserted alleys, signaling her presence. Or warning that she was there.
Sometimes, she would wander at the hour of witches, leaving the yellow streetlights dressing her in poor gold. On the sidewalks, curled up silhouettes of homeless people could be confused with swollen garbage bags. The shadows became pieces of leather, the buildings became broken teeth. The heat coming out of manholes imitated nauseating chimney fires, bringing the same warmness but without the comforting scent of burning wood.
Gotham by night was no less sad, but a unique charm invited insomniacs to go out and rock themselves in lonely shadows.
And the subway woman continued her quest, attentive to the signs, sometimes wearing her mask. She had always been anonymous in this story, but that symbol illustrated her philosophy, and if anyone had the idea to annoy her, seeing that clown face would let people know that she was perhaps as crazy as Joker.
It took almost a month, walking into Gotham's backdrop, before she had the chance to meet him again.
The coincidence was so ironic she was dressed the same way the first night. The only differences came from her mouth and her mask.
Otherwise, she was the exact copy of the subway woman.
She got onto the train five stops earlier and was aiming for the last stop, waiting for the end of the trip on a bench, when he had entered. The empty car allowed them to have a face to face. Sitting right in front of him, she pulled out her revolver, her face hidden under the plastic clown face.
Joker stared at her without even jumping. He burst out laughing, dropped the sports bag he had in his hand to draw in his gun too.
The doors had just closed, cutting them off from the outside world, which disappeared into a tunnel without light.
And he shot.
The trigger clicked, but it was not followed by any explosion. Only Joker's laugh was loud, joining the screams of the subway.
The woman lifted her mask, still holding out the revolver, and pulled the barrel out. It was full. The sight of danger did not prevent Joker from continuing to laugh; he would have even smacked his thighs as the situation seemed so funny to him!
She got up and put her weapon back in her bag, releasing at the same time the mask she had worn.
"I wasn't going to shoot you. I've been looking for you for weeks." She just wanted to surprise him.
"Many of you are looking for me." He replied with a wave of his hand. "As for the police, I can understand, but you?"
The train was moving, but if their mental balance was unstable — damaged by society — their physical one remained reliable. They both managed to stand up on these metal waves.
"Because I wanted to ask you why you killed those three traders."
"Oh, Gotham still thinks about it? The bank has been robbed three times since, and nobody talks about it! I thought money mattered more than life?"
"No, that's not what I meant."
With her fragile balance, she stepped forward, and suddenly, she was struck by a detail that the television had hidden from her: the contrast between Joker's watery eyes and his tense smile was terrifying. He was nothing but a Pierrot in a Harlequin suit. A sad and tired clown wearing bright colors.
Turning his eyes away, keeping his grin, he lit a cigarette, snubbing the "no smoking" sign.
"Joker—" She grabbed his wrist, a thin wrist, so skinny it could hurt. "Do you remember me, Joker? I was in the train the night you shot these three traders. I was there."
He stopped smiling only to release smoke. Then, in tobacco steam, his hilarious expression was again invoked.
"Did you do it for me too? I want to know."
"That's why you're all still thinking about it. This is your favorite sketch, right? Okay, fine!— What do we get when three traders and a clown take the subway together?"
She tightened the grip of her fingers around his arm. So close, she could notice that some locks were agglutinated because of the dye that had been badly rinsed. The green was actually as bright as when he appeared at Murray's. Where could he get his hair done again?
Wondering about it, she forgot to answer, and not to spoil his joke, Joker said:
"A triple Big Bang!"
He was the only one to laugh, convulsed. Sick.
"There was a woman too. The subway woman."
"Really? I don't remember." He looked at how this woman's hand remained around his wrist. "It's an old joke anyway."
It was not an exaggeration to say that this answer would have hurt her in the past. Today, it just confirmed that she was losing him.
Her palm followed the gnarled arm. Their position, which tilted gently, reminded a complicit dance. She brushed his cheek, taking care not to erase the makeup. She had needed an answer, convinced that it was up to Joker to give it.
In the end, it was up to her to formulate it.
He stared at her. His red eyes gave the green irises a new color.
"Thank you, Joker. Thank you."
He had to kill to finally exist, to be the object of various admiration and gratitude.
In recent weeks, he had met so many people. Their identity and their history were already forgotten because they did not matter, but the emotions he had witnessed had always been strong. New.
They had moved away from their family, their friends, their job for him. For Joker.
He was not mistaken when he said that his life was nothing more but a comedy.
And there was this subway woman, that dark-eyed girl, that lady with the feminine boots, clinging to a clown, a criminal on the run, a lonely looney. Was not it comic?
The train was coming to the next stop, and before the doors opened, she wrapped her arms around him so he could not disappear again. In reality, he had not sketched the slightest movement, and this success made her laugh. The doors did not even open, respecting their isolation.
When she finally moved away, it was to grab the sport bag, a bag full of clothes, makeup and, between two shirts, there was a revolver and dynamite, she thought with a smile, laughing to her own joke.
"If you've got nowhere to go tonight, I can welcome you."
"As a sign of gratitude?"
She dusted his mustard-colored vest, still glad of this fantasy was real. He raised an eyebrow, stretching one of the blue triangles.
"I've a roommate, but she shouldn't be a problem."
(1) "We are all so necessarily crazy that it would be craziness in another way to not be crazy."
It's a difficult sentence, in terms of grammar, but I hope the main idea is understood. Michel Foucault was a fantastic guy who worked about society, prison, madness and so many other things. He died in 1984 and I bet Arthur would have loved him.
(2) Sadly, I saw the French version of the movie (or luckily, since all the voice actors did an amazing job too), so I don't know what Murray says exactly and I picked the line in the original script. I might correct it later when I'll be able to watch the original version.
(3) There's a beautiful French expression for madness that I love: "avoir un quartier de lune dans la tête" (Having quarter moon/a piece of moon in the head), about the connexion between looneys and the Moon. I can't see any equivalent in English and it was just too sweet to get rid of it.