S H Binney

Extract from:

All Hallows' Eve


Mad Love

The costumes are on the bed, empty and flaccid. His outfit – the one he won’t be wearing – looks so large. I finger the sleeve of the long purple coat. It looks soft, but it feels rough under my fingertips. The trousers are the same. On top of them are a green waistcoat, and a strangely patterned tie. A green wig sits askew above the suit. It looks like a ghost’s costume, slithering, slippery – something you could pour. Holding up the waistcoat I realise how large it is. You could fit two of me inside it. I glance around – no-one’s watching. I slide into the outfit, holding up the trousers through the long, floppy sleeve of the coat. I’m so much smaller than him – ‘slight’, he calls me. On one of our first dates he took my hand, turning it in his. ‘I could snap this wrist with one finger,’ he said, amazed, kissing its delicacy.

      I shiver, pulling the costume tighter. In the mirror my face is all wrong – I’m still wearing my normal make-up, the kind that looks natural. I open my mouth into a grin, trying to look Joker-ish and creepy, but it doesn’t work – I still look like me. I can imagine it, though: the white face, the red lips, curved in a malicious grin.

      The face I imagine is his. I pull off the wig and throw the clothes on the bed. They don’t seem ghostly any more – just crumpled. I wonder where he is. I picture him in a bar, in his shirt and suit trousers, grinning and drinking and giving slaps on the back. Having fun, away from me.

      Shouts rise up from outside, and the clang of gates. I freeze. Adrenaline starts coursing even as I grind my teeth and force myself to go to the window, to look out. This stupid fear will get me nowhere. I’ve got to face it, beat it down. I twitch the curtain and peer down at the street. It’s just kids, dressed up. They’re trick-or-treating. Guising, my granny called it. Disguise-ing.

      I turn back to the costumes on the bed. It’s time to decide. Am I going to my sister’s big Halloween party, or am I staying home alone? I push my hair out of my face. Our costumes match – the Joker and his Harley. But he’s out – I should be too. Harley would go out alone without a second thought, especially on Halloween. What harm could it do?

      I strip, and pull on my costume. The long leggings and shirt are black and red, with diamond shapes stuck on. I don’t have a wig or hat, but I found red and black ribbons to tie into my hair. I pull my hair apart, brushing it into two high bunches, and thread the ribbons through them. It looks quite good.

      In the bathroom I clean my face, scrubbing until it’s pink and fresh. Then comes the paint – white first, in fat daubs across my skin. I smear it into my cheeks and forehead, the tip of my nose and underneath my chin, that awkward bit between my nose and upper lip. I cover every sliver of pink, dabbing at my ears and craning to make sure I’ve reached the back of my neck. My mouth is still too pink. I know I should wait to do the lipstick last, but I can’t resist. I never usually wear anything this bright and vivid – he bought the shade specially for this costume. I smack my lips and grin into the mirror. Even though my eyes are still bare there’s already a shift. I’m not totally me any more.

      My eyes will be black, darker than bruises. I use precise streaks of eyeliner for the diamond outlines, then fill the rest in with paint. I’ve bitten my reddened lip in concentration and need to re-do it. He’d roll his eyes at that, if he were here.

      There – finished. I look in the mirror again and I’m her. I mean, it’s her, Harley Quinn, in the glass. She grins at me, not crazed and twisted like the Joker but soft and deceitful, playfully cruel. She winks. I like her. I’m glad she’s taking me to this party. The thought sounds crazy in my head. I push it away. Harley’s not real – she’s just a costume.

      As I pick up my bag I try out her voice, nasal and cloying: ‘Mistah Jayy!’ That’s what she calls him, the Joker. The strange accent makes me smile. But then I catch a last sight of the empty costume in the dark bedroom. In spite of everything I wish he were coming with me. In the cartoons I watched as a kid Harley would set off by herself, ready to infiltrate a fundraiser or a party. She lay the groundwork for the Joker, who’d show up later for the big fight with Batman. Bam. Pow. Bang. The Harley in me grins, wishing it were true. But he won’t come, tonight. I’m on my own.


The complete story can be found in our UEA Special Edition Volume Three

Originally from Scotland, S H Binney now lives in Norwich. She is a PhD student in Creative and Critical Writing at the University of East Anglia, and is writing her first novel, a contemporary retelling of the Celtic legend of the kelpie. She also teaches and plays music.