Dead Clown by Robb Piggot

Editor Sarah Orizaga, Fiction, February 14th, 2019

"The thing about clowns? You never see them get back into the car."

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Fiction by Robb Piggot

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There is a dead clown on my couch.

It has been there for about two months.

I came home late Sunday afternoon, unlocked the door to my apartment, walked in, closed the door behind me, locked it, put my keys up on the dresser, turned around, and there it was.

Now, out of respect for Barnum and out of respect for Bailey, I would ask that you please do not ask how long it has been – because I really just do not want to go into it. Not now. Not until I undo the suspenders and let the pants fall down around the ankles, take off the wig and the hat and the oversized bowtie that spins round and round.  Only after that last rosy amber spotlight has been switched off and we can see things for who and what they are—when the last of the spilled popcorn has been swept and disposed of, those last few hangers-on have finally begun to usher out of the big top, wiping final threads of cotton candy from blue-stained lips, now climbing back down those steep narrow stairs and out across the darkened crosswalk  – with only cheap plastic souvenirs to light the way and distract from empty promises made – their twinkling rainbow lights already starting to flicker and lose their novelty—as the exhausted grab the younger by the arm, now hurrying them into the emptying parking lot.

The dead clown is starting to stink.

I tried opening the windows but they are laying the foundation for a fourteen-story office building directly across the street from me from very early in the morning to very late at night and the noise and the sounds and the smoke and the dust is just something that I can’t handle right now so I pull the curtains shut and sit there in the dark on my couch next to the dead clown and breathe only when I need to.

I hate this.

“Why don’t you just get rid of it? That’s what I would do!” says my next-door neighbor, as I hold the door open for her into the room where the big blue and green recycle containers are kept.

“I know – I should – I will”, my eyes wandering to the Help-Yourself shelf of knickknacks and unloved trinkets, thumb-worn romance novels, and self-help books.

“Take it back to the circus.  That’s what I would do,” she coughs, flicking her cigarette ash into the bin marked cardboard and throwing yet another shopping bag of empty wine bottles in the one marked glass.

Yes.  Take it back to the circus.

And so, I pull the dead clown off the couch, take my keys from the dresser, open the door to my apartment, carry it out into the hall, close the door behind me, lock it and drag it down six flights of stairs to the garage where I load it into my two-door coupe.

I should stop here and say two things before I go any further:

  • The thing about clowns? It’s all fun and games. A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants.  An oversized mallet or frying pan are traditional gifts of courtship.  How do you like your eggs?  Over hard!    I mean sure, they all knock each other around a little, while you’re waiting for that man in the silk top-hat and dazzling crystal brooch to take center stage, but the audience knows that no one’s really going to get hurt—at least not in the beginning.   But then, there’s a loud bang and a big puff of smoke and that little car door opens and out they all tumble. The one with the floppy necktie, the one with the polka-dot shorts, the one with the flowered hat and big gap in their teeth. The one with the long face and sad eyes even the one with the short face and even shorter coat. Out and out they pour, each more colorful and stranger than the last. “Where will it end?” you whisper, mouth agape as you sit on the edge of your seat, there in the dark, until when at last you think there can be no more, the tallest of all with eight colored balloons appears there on the sawdust as you leap to your feet in thunderous applause. His little white dog in its little ruffled collar and tiny pink parasol barking happily behind him, and you think to yourself as if he seems to smile right back at you, where were you hiding all that time?

and

  • The thing about clowns? You never see them get back into the car.  You always forget about that part until it’s just you, alone in an empty garage, shoving a dead clown into the empty passenger seat.

So, with only a half tank of gas, hastily written directions, and a deep breath, I back out of my garage. I pull up to the stoplight. A brightly-colored Volkswagen Bug pulls up into the lane next to me as sixteen pairs of hands wave joyfully out of the window. I force a smile as I reach over and take a hold of the dead clown’s wrist, happily slapping its limp hand against the window. They all make silly faces and throw a bucket of silver glitter onto my windshield before toot-tooting off.

I ask myself while squinting through clear open patches of silver—how it sparkles even now in the late afternoon sun—if going forward is the best idea. It is not. Not for me. Not for the safety of those around me. Not even for the dead clown, as it smiles up at me, having slipped out of its seatbelt and slid down further into the passenger seat, its knees now pressed against the glove compartment. Damn it. And so pull over to the side of the road, stop the car, take yet another breath, get out and try to wipe as much of the glitter off the glass that I can. It’s never going to be gone, no matter how hard I scrape—that’s the thing about glitter—once it’s there, it’s never really gone. But I do the best I can. That’s all I can really do at this moment and with the windshield clear enough, I get back into my car, take a deeper breath and start again.

I roll down the windows. Let some air in. The dead clown’s head rolls clockwise to the right and then slumps against the door with a dull thud. Its tongue now sticking out like a dog, that same little white dog with its same little ruffled collar and tiny pink parasol who was so happy to be wanted on that afternoon as he stood up on his hind legs and leaned out the window as far out as he could—on that lazy Sunday afternoon when we drove out into the country, as far away as time would allow, away from the bears and the seals and the spectacle and the crowds—just the three of us, for no other reason but to spend the day alone together—you, me and the little white dog between us, dozing quietly on your lap, so happy to be wanted.

Beep-beep! The car behind me leans on its horn. Green. Go. I raise my hand, making a halfhearted attempt to apologize into the rear-view mirror as I take the foot off the brake and move forward into the intersection, not sure of which way I should be turning but knowing that for the moment a choice must be made: left or right. I look over at the dead clown, its head now hanging lower out the window, smearing greasepaint along the door, red nose bobbing somberly. That’s okay. I’ve been needing an excuse to get my car properly detailed. Little extra money and time, yes—but so worth the effort to have everything shined back up almost like new again. Right. Onward.

And as I drive through the city, past the supermarket that had that special flavor of fizzy water you like, past the restaurant that night I almost fell asleep in your lap and you dabbed whipped cream on my nose, past where you said goodbye as I boarded the streetcar and looked back to see if you would turn back around and watch me go—it seems like so long ago but only a short walk across the bridge that divides us. No matter. Head up. Another quarter of a mile and I can be rid of you. Not my monkeys. Not this circus. But when I reach the fairgrounds, it’s what I suspected—or worse, what I might have secretly known all along even before I started the car. There is nothing left for us here.

Just an empty field. The wooden pegs that anchored have been pulled up and the tent folded. The man-eating lions have been put back away into their cages, as have the tigers and fat grey elephants and the sideshow. There will be no high-wire acts this evening. No man on the flying trapeze.

And no ring at its center.

And it’s getting late and I’m getting hungry and there is a dead clown in the passenger seat of my car and I can’t just leave him here, so I turn around and begin to slowly drive back. Back to the noise and to the smoke and to the sounds and to the dust. The ride home is always quieter. You always forget about that part. And now the sun is going down as I turn into my garage. Button pushed. Metal gate slowly opens. Inch forward. Wait for the clang. I pull back on the collar of the dead clown’s little gold jacket to roll up the window and he falls forward onto me, his painted smile leaving a red streak across my cheek and it is then and only then that I catch sight of myself in the rear-view mirror and see that I have wasted, given, spent—no—made that choice and I want to get angry and I want to cry and I want to scream and I want to break each and every last memory that we made into tiny little silver bits that can be blown off the windshield and scattered never to be seen again as I drive with full speed into the next intersection. Only it’s never really that easy is it? Once it’s there, it’s never really gone, is it?

What are you going to do? You need to eat something.

And so, with that, I squeeze back into my space—looking behind me and so careful not to cross that white line as I park for the night.  I pull the dead clown out of my car, drag it to the elevator. The heels of its over-sized shoes leaving black scuff marks across the floor. Door opens, dead clown goes in, button pushed, and up I go.

And as I get out on my floor and begin to drag it back to my apartment, I pass by the trash chute and I wonder as I peer down into the black smell of decay and things that are no longer wanted—if one day soon—but no, not now.

You’re still much too big to fit.

 

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Header image courtesy of Erik Jones. To view his Artist Feature, go here.

A Washington, D.C. native,  Robb Piggot is an award-winning playwright, essayist and storyteller, whose work has been produced on the stages of New York, Boston, Denver and South Florida.  He now lives with his ungrateful cat, Slugworth in Portland, Oregon, writing for and performing regularly at local theatres, spoken-word events and other dens of ill-repute .  His newest piece, “Bed, Bath and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls – A Nightmarish Parody of Sex, Drugs and Kitchenware”, will be terrifying audiences later this summer.

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Sarah Orizaga

Sarah is a fiction writer living in Portland, OR with her wife and cat. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Pacific University and a BA in International Development from Portland State University. Sarah is new to the NAILED team and is excited to read fiction that serves the soul through a unique view of the everyday. She is constantly on the lookout for new and emerging voices that explore culture and identity in fresh, positive ways. When she's not reading, writing, or editing you can find her watching true crime series and anything narrated by David Attenborough.