Where Did the Clown Go?
The carnival was a cacophony of noise and confusion. There were brilliant colors everywhere, from the big tent, with its red, orange and yellow stripes, to the streamers of balloons, jockeying for attention, to the Merry-Go-Round, et al. The amplified noise of the organ grinder, presided over the pop-pop of the Shooting Gallery, and the shrill voice of the clown. The smell of popcorn and peanuts permeated the air. Marci was enthralled with it all, all except for the clown.
“Stay away from that clown,” she instructed Toby, who, of course thought the clown was the most awesome part of the carnival. His eyes were glued to the lanky figure, elevated six feet above the crowd, on a platform that was well worn with age and use. The clown’s face was artistically arranged into a happy expression, with a smile that stretched from ear to ear, giving him a jolly exterior. He had on these shoes, that were like miniature kayaks on each of his feet.
“Mama, can I have a snow cone?” It was July, and there was enough heat for everyone, so the snow cone was a given, just not yet.
“Sure you can, Toby, just give me a minute to get situated.”
“What’s situated mean?” Toby asked a lot of questions.
“It means if you want a snow cone, you’ll give me a minute.”
The voice of the clown carried over the other noise. “It’s all happening under the Big Tent,” he exclaimed, as Toby edged a little closer, straining against his mom’s hand, as she kept a firm grip. Her mother had drummed it into her head. “Never take your eyes off your little one at a carnival. The clown will go after him every time.”
She didn’t know too much about the clown part, just the part about not taking her eyes off of her child. She was only at the carnival in the first place, because Toby had seen it, on the way home from school, on Friday, and had been talking about it since. He was six years old, and tall enough to ride the go-carts that were out back of the exhibit halls, and cost a buck for a five minute ride. It was so worth the buck.
Now he was clutching his hat, instead of leaving it on his head, along with his backpack, instead of leaving it on his back. And he was bugging Marci for a snow cone. How was he even going to be able to carry it?
“What flavor snow cone do you want, Toby?” Now Marci was standing in line, rifling through her purse to find the two bucks in change, she needed to get him his snow cone.
“Cherry!” She could feel Toby’s hand gripping her pocket, as he stood just behind her in the line, as she dug down deep in her purse to get that last quarter. Triumphantly, she held it out to the vendor, received the icy treat in exchange, turned to hand it to Toby, and he was gone.
One instant she could feel his little hand, and the next second, as she had shifted her weight, ransacking her purse, her concentration divided between her child, and a recalcitrant quarter, that pressure on her side, vanished. And then he was gone.
There is no adequate comparison, in terms of sheer terror, to that of a mom, who realizes that her child is missing. Even the word, missing, sounds like the hissing of a snake. For that is what it would require of this kind of deed. A snake in the grass. A true conniving rattler, one with huge shoes and a painted-on smile.
Marci whirled in the direction of the clown. He, too, was nowhere in sight. She saw the colors, she heard the organ, she heard the pop-pop of the Shooting Gallery, but she did not hear Toby. And then all she heard, was the sound of her own screaming, as she let loose with one peal after another, quickly stilling the crowd in her immediate vicinity.
Where was the clown?
There is a tremendous difference between the scream of terror of a kid on the Hammerhead, and a woman who has just realized, that everything she has of value in the world, has vanished, as efficiently as that clown.
Where did the clown go?
People were gathered around, Marci had gone from “totally lost it” to “ballistic” in the time it took to realize, that it was her screaming, that had silenced the crowd, and that something was horribly amiss.
“Where’s the fucking clown?” she screamed, her terror lending fury and volume to her wail.
The crowd turned as one in the direction of the clown, and there he was, suddenly, straightening up at the base of the platform, only he was no longer a he, he was a she; you could tell, because she had peeled off her face, with its ubiquitous smile, and she was gesturing under her platform, for something to come out. Was that a dog?
No, it was Toby, clutching at a handbill, featuring a clown on its front, a clown with an ubiquitous smile. Marci stopped screaming and started crying. And the crowd cried with her, all except the clown. The clown was smiling.