Nowadays, kids just don't like clowns...
|Joey Jopachian was a clown.
He'd always been a clown: the class clown, the high school clown his girlfriends dumped, the clown at work that always got fired, and the clown of a husband that his wife called ‘a damn fool’ the day she left him for the lawyer that had written up the divorce papers.
It wasn't like Joey didn't try . . . he tried. In fact, the harder he tried the worse things got. He even tried to win his wife back, but only ended up crippling and nearly killing her fiancé lawyer. Soon after, he suffered a serious nervous breakdown and that put Joey into the Kramer Mental Institution. The ’wiser-than-thou’ doctors there told him he suffered from extreme depression, plus a fervent fear of succeeding, and that with the right medication, he could learn to get over that little hump that swelled at the breast of success. Laughing, Joey agreed with his jailers wholeheartedly, and after they released him, he immediately threw their medicine away and wandered out into the beckoning night.
Joey had learned something while he had been locked away, something more precious and astounding than success could ever bring—something that promised him power and an end to all his depression and lack of self-confidence. It happened late one night, right after he had totally given up on life. A voice spoke to him inside his head, and then Joey was transformed. The transformation rode in him like a worm in an apple, and made it almost impossible for anyone to truly see him for what he really was.
But that’s another story.
This story is about Joey Jopachian, a clown, who decided to become the one thing he felt he was genuinely cut out to be . . . Jo-Jo the Clown
Jo-Jo the Clown
Twilight had begun to steal across the day and the atmosphere felt charged the way it does sometimes just before an electrical storm. Joey had shaved and painted his head and face whiter-than-white, decorated his cheeks with blue crystal-shaped tears, and then drew an exaggerated scarlet nightmare of a smile across his mouth. He topped it off with a ridiculous red rubber nose and a wig of sickening lime-green hair, then donned a loose silk jumpsuit that was split up the middle by its red and blue color. At the neckline, he sported a white circular accordion-shaped collar that surrounded his head. The whole outfit was topped off with a striped coat and tails that boasted every color imaginable on the outside and had an inner lining of pitch black.
Joey was ready. It was time to go to work.
He found himself wandering in front of a small house that appeared to be nothing more than a frowning pile of red bricks. With his new inner voice, he sensed there was a birthday party going on inside—a surprise party.
Joey hated birthday parties, hated all the high-pitched squealing and obnoxious behavior. Nowadays, kids didn’t like clowns, but that suited Joey just fine. Children were vicious. Hidden behind their innocent faces were sharpened, disobedient tongues that could cut you, inflicting thousands of invisible wounds. Joey had felt them before—felt the scorn of their teasing and laughter. The misery of it filled his throat with a loathing that threatened to block his breathing.
The cold autumn wind blew through the Maple trees with a keen edge that billowed Joey’s multi-colored coat around him like the wings of a rainbow bat. The rousing breeze tore at the leaves on the trees making them appear to be thousands of giant green butterflies preparing for flight. He laughed and clapped his hands together half expecting the air about him to also break into applause. Joey felt good, self-assured, even a little giddy.
Sniffing the air like a wolf, he licked at the beginnings of a cold sore that clung to the corner of his mouth, and then put on his best grin that had over the years become a thing of raised eyebrows and clenched teeth. Under his pasty-white makeup, a vein beat in the center of his forehead.
It was time.
There was a large rosebush beside the cracked and crooked cement path that led to the front door, and he dawdled there for a moment lost in the magnificence of its blood-red blossoms. He reached out to touch one and saw the flowers tremor at his presence, and then he quickly picked one and ran the shortened stem through the button hole in his lapel. The beauty of it tugged at Joey like a fishhook, yet seemed to fill his heart with stones.
Gaily, he sauntered up to the door and rang the bell.
A heavy-set woman, obviously dressed to disguise her form, answered the door. She wore a loose muumuu and hair that was teased beyond all legal torture. Her pudgy frame filled the doorway as she furrowed her plucked eyebrows at the clown before her. Between her ankles was a small irritating dog that growled at Joey. “Yeah, what do you want?” She asked, eyeing him up and down suspiciously.
Without saying a word, Joey magically produced a brightly-colored bouquet of paper flowers from behind his back, and then bowing elegantly, as if she were the Queen Mother herself, he handed them up to her.
“Oh! Why…thank you,” she fawned. “You must be here for Chelsea’s party. She’s not a very popular girl, you know. In fact, it was all I could do just to get a few neighborhood kids to show up to this ridiculous affair.”
Joey smiled at her knowingly.
“I don’t know who hired you, but I do know she doesn‘t deserve it. Well, come on in since you’re here. It’s okay, I guess, as long as it ain‘t me that‘s paying.” She turned and led the way into the house.
Joey’s eyes blazed with excitement, and he quickly followed her inside. The black-and brown mutt cowered, now finding itself left alone, and then ran out. Joey closed the door and locked it.
In the living room, four children had gathered in a circle around a blindfolded little girl with stringy mousy-brown hair. Joey's gaze rested upon her as if she were the daughter he never had. She wore a red dress that hung loosely from her shoulders as if it didn’t quite fit, and holding her arm out in front of her, she dangled a paper drawing of a donkey’s tail between her dainty fingers. On the wall was the picture of a tailless jackass, but as she approached it, a grimy-faced boy with green teeth and wearing a pointed party hat, stuck his foot out and purposely tripped her. The little girl fell hard, a discernible ‘oomph’ escaping her thin lips. Everyone in the room laughed. As she removed her blindfold, revealing corn-flower blue eyes filled with tears, she began to weep in large, her whole body quaking.
Joey moved lithely through the small throng of children and helped her back to her feet. At the sight of him, the laughter snagged in their throats like the silence of a room without hope.
The boy stepped back, startled. There was something in the clown’s smile he found creepy. But he had been emboldened by the fellowship of laughter he had caused, and pointing his finger, he bellowed, “Hey, look, it’s a stupid clown!”
Joey drew up straight and tall in front of the boy, and when he finally spoke, his words filled the dusty house like smoke. His whisper had nothing like a joke in it at all, but more like the power of a nightmare, a voice that’d make you sit bolt up in bed on a dark rainy night.
“There‘s too much snicker in you, boy,” he sneered, grotesquely bending the happy-face that was painted over the steely arcs of his humorless smile. With unbridled gloom, he spoke in a breathy voice, a voice like a cloth being ripped inside his chest, “It is a coward's appetite to take pleasure in someone else’s pain. It is one of those dark gifts we learn as children. Many never outgrow it.”
The words hooked themselves into the boy’s mind and would not let go.
Joey pulled a red balloon from behind his back, and smiling, held it above the boy’s head. The kid leaped at it the way a hungry fish might leap at a sparkling lure, and then it popped with a loud ‘bang’, smelling of rotten fruit, and knocked the boy back on his butt.
Confetti rained through the air, and as the boy looked up from the floor, he got the uneasy feeling that somehow the clown was inside his head, looking out through his eyes. His face paled then, as though something had been shaken loose inside of him. The clown’s unyielding gaze fed on that fear as he held out his hand to help the boy up. The child cringed at the thought of his touch and scurried behind the sofa nearly in tears.
“Don’t be afraid,” Joey smiled wickedly, his eyes rolling like ping-pong balls inside his head, “it’s just a little magic trick.”
Then he moved toward a small stack of gifts and studied them for a bit. “I think it’s about time we open your birthday presents, Chelsea. What duya say?”
“Go on, you stupid girl,” her step-mother goaded, pushing the thin girl forward. “It’s getting late and these kids wanna go home. Open your presents, and then we’ll cut the cake.”
Joey picked up one of the small gifts, held it close to his ear, and then shook it. “Come on, Chelsea,” he said, “let’s see what these presents really have to say.”
The clown scared her, but she felt sorry for him too. Warily, she walked toward him, as if the ground were made of ice.
“Hmmm…now let’s see,” Joey said, grabbing and shaking each present and then dropping them to the floor like used tissue. “These presents seem to say: this didn‘t cost me anything, it doesn’t mean anything; you don’t deserve anything, but let’s just pretend.”
He bent to one knee and then whispered darkly in her ear. Her eyes shivered as he spoke, “I know the thing you most want cannot be put into words.”
Her breath caught in her throat and she shuddered as if her deepest secret had just been revealed.
The fat lady, pretending to be a loving mother, entered the room with a double-layered chocolate cake. Seven candles blazed in its center, and she set it down on a cheap marred coffee table in front of the girl and clown. The children all gathered around and after much coaxing began to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ in perfect one-part kid harmony.
Just before Chelsea blew out the candles, Joey again stooped beside her. “I’ve saved the best for last,” he said. “Watch this.”
He extended his arms and strangely his hands withdrew into the piping of the sleeves. Hundreds of small black balloons shot out and covered the ceiling until you could barely see the chicken-shit that had been sprayed there. Then, without warning, they began to explode, and the smell of gasoline filled the room.
“What’s this?” the fat lady howled. “What’s that smell?” The children became confused and afraid, then started to cry. They tried to rub the stinging gas from their eyes.
Joey bent to Chelsea’s ear. “Everything begins and ends in darkness, now close your eyes and make a wish, then blow out the candles.”
His voice was animal-like, but there was a strong seductive pull that embraced and hypnotized her.
Chelsea closed her eyes and made the wish that she had kept hidden for so long in her heart. When she opened them again, she blew upon the candles.
The seven little flames jumped from their wax perch and quickly gathered together and ran down the side of the cake. They raced across the saturated carpet and caught at the tip of the step-mother’s shoe. For a moment her mouth formed a perfect ’O’ as if she were about to say something in protest, and then the flame licked up her fat legs and engulfed her. She squealed in agony.
The children ran for the front door screaming, but it was locked, and the birthday flames followed them catching each one.
Joey slipped out of his coat and held it in front of Chelsea. “Do you know what vengeance is?”
Chelsea shook her head, her eyes nearly popping from her skull with fright.
“It is a dark mirror in which we cannot see ourselves; and nobody deserves it as much as these.”
He opened his coat. The inside was so dark it seemed she could plunge her hand through as if it were a window looking out into a deep lake of night.
“Step right up, dear,” he encouraged her. “This is the Grand Finale.”
She hesitated amidst the high-pitch shrieking of the human candles that ran about the room, and then bolstering her courage, stepped through the coat and disappeared.
Twilight had begun to steal across the day and the atmosphere felt charged, the way it does sometimes just before an electrical storm. Jo-Jo the Clown stood outside a white two-story house. He could sense there was a birthday party going on inside, and he smiled as he approached the front door.