Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2278014-A-portrait-of-a-clown
by Alexi
Rated: 18+ · Fiction · Contest Entry · #2278014
Wolf Lesley is a clown with PTSD. Perhaps “the little magic of life” will help him.
Wolf Lesley was a man running from himself. He squatted in the shadow of his apartment building and shakily took his meds. He knew what he looked like. How could he not. He wasn’t stupid. It would have been easy to look at him like just another drug abuser, but if anything, he disliked the green capsules his psychiatrist prescribed him. Still he washed down the pill with a swig from a single-use water bottle. It crunched under the pressure of his finger tips. He fidgeted with his jacket. It felt wrong on his frame. The wind nipped at his nose and it started to run.

It wasn’t right. Something wasn’t how it should have been. He shouldn’t have come out here. It was a mistake.

But he had come out here, and now he had made his jacket wrong. His nose continued to drip slightly. His hands trembled. A car passed and he felt death had come for him. Its icy hands squeezing his heart with boney fingers which ripped and tore, pinching at every joint of the skeletal hand. Yet on the outside, he just remained quiet. Perhaps his breath was a little labored. Perhaps his eyes blinked faster than usual.

Mentally he had fallen onto the hard cement, and could only look up at the clear blue sky. It was the kind of blue that scared him a little like the way somethings can make your skin crawl. A blue that was a little too blue. A blue he associated too much with memories he would rather he forgot.

After standing up again, mentally, he turned around and walked straight back inside his apartment. It didn’t feel as bad in there. Once the medicine kicked in, he could try to collect his fraying thoughts. For now though, he just needed to cope with these feelings. Get through another bad day and persevere.

It was to be said that his apartment wasn’t so much an apartment as it was a cave, with a disappointing treasure trove of miscellaneous junk instead of jewels. Still, he valued each strange pile of assorted items more than his own life. It was as if he could feel his heart pulse inside each old package ribbon and amateur photograph from years ago, when things were better.

However, he did not look at the piles. Instead he retreated further back into the even darker bedroom. The blinds and curtains were drawn shut and dust showed that they had remained so for a very long time.

Wolf returned back to bed and pulled his blankets to his chin, curling into a tight ball. He did not fall asleep. He simply stared off into nothingness, ears tuned into any noise that occurred and his mind ran wild, but he couldn’t bring himself to move. Instead he just lay there unmoving for hours, looking at nothing in particular, as his body sat dormant, wrapped in warm blankets.


It was noon the next day when Wolf got up again.

His phone buzzed, reminding him that the public library had hired him to perform in honor of national reading month, and he needed the money. Slowly, he breathed in and out, mentally preparing himself for the journey.

He stepped out, double checking he locked the door firmly. Not that anyone would want to steal his junk, but that wasn’t why he did it. Afterward, he began his walk to the library. Luckily, it wasn’t far. Otherwise he would have declined their offer.

In the electric buzz of the public bathroom, he assembled his costume and makeup.

It had been his great grandfather who had originally made him interested in clowns. His great grandfather had been one of the most famous clowns in all the old country, at least according to the man himself. Wolf doubted the claim, but at the time, his young mind had been fascinated. Clowns of the old country were special from the others.

“Not like the ones here”, his great grandfather had told him sternly. “Ours told jokes, performed magic, and feats of skill. It was an honor to be a clown in those days.”

The old man disdained clowns of this country, calling them barbaric, a stain upon the art of clowning. Wolf was slightly glad he hadn’t been alive to see what clowns had become today, little more than a monster of the week.

His cake makeup was stark in the light. Lines of black and white, bending and coiling. Clowns were supposed to be magical, his great grandfather told him. People from another world much like ours, but foreign nonetheless.

By watching a good clown, you could learn a lot in how they performed. Many of the best clowns died under authoritarian regimes for their secret messages of resistance.

“Clowns naturally protest against the status quo. They are a show of resilience. That is why powerful people find them scary. There is power in playing the fool. A soft, but powerful force, Wolfie,” his great grandfather had said. His eyes had been alight as he spoke.

Wolf looked at himself in the shabby mirror. He looked better today, though he still felt weary. Perhaps it was a sign that things would go better this time. He had washed the grease from his hair, though the heavy duty gel in it would mean he would have to wash it again once he got home. He tried to smile at himself in the spotted mirror.

“It’ll be okay.” He told his reflection before heading out to his doom. Like a soldier sent into battle, he wore a different kind of armor.


That evening, he didn’t go back to his apartment. Instead he was sitting on a park bench across the street. It was getting late, but he didn’t feel strong enough to walk back quite yet.

The event had been excruciatingly slow for him. The entire time he hoped for people to warm to the idea of a clown to no avail. The industry was failing, even if it was one of the few things that connected him and his great grandfather. But, he made it through it all, and he was a little proud of that. Even if it was such a small victory.

Maybe he had been born back with his great grandfather things would have been different. They could have taken the world by storm and things would have been different. Better. Happier. Maybe people would smile then.

His great grandfather had once promised to take him to see the old country, but that had never happened. He wasn’t even sure which country was ‘the old country’ and now he never would. He was in the car with him when the truck took his great grandfather’s life. He should know the best that the old man wasn’t coming back. It was an end he never expected for such an elderly man. He almost wanted to laugh. It was as absurd as his dreams of being a clown.

Despite how close they were, there were still so many questions he still had for him.

He leaned back to look again at the sky, craning his neck as far back as it would go. He wondered if his grandfather could see him now. Probably not, but it was a thought that circled inside his mind like a goldfish in a glass bowl. Sometimes it resurfaced at times like these.

As he thought this, a short, stout man in a black suit jacket sat down beside him on the bench. Wolf felt uncomfortable, but he watched him, and saw the small tears in the jacket and tear stains down the front.

The man was just as bad off as he was, he decided, and let him sit down despite his nerves. In a way, he was reminded of the Slavic clowns he had seen perform once. It made him nostalgic. Perhaps he was biased.

The man held his head in his hands for a moment, before pulling out a carton of cigarettes. He pulled one out and held it in his mouth, then lit the end. It caught and the man took a breath. Slowly he blew the smoke back out. He looked out over the empty park.

When he saw Wolf, he startled as if he hadn’t seen him before when he sat. Wolf couldn’t help but snort slightly at the man’s reaction. The man continued to look at him as if seeing a ghost as he took another drag of the cigarette.

“Oh! I did not see you there.” The man said. He had a foreign accent that was hard to describe. “Excuse me for my intrusion.”

Wolf shrugged. “It doesn’t matter, benches are for sitting.”

The man nodded at that. They both decided to look over the park, though there wasn’t much to look at.

“The park closes at sunset,” Wolf said absentmindedly. “But if you stay a little longer you can see the fireflies.”

The man suddenly looked delighted by the prospect.

“Ah, yes, the little magic of life.” He said. As the daylight dimmed, the glowing insects began their nightly flight. It was still cold, so it surprised Wolf that they would even come out this year, but they still did.

“My great grandfather would take me to this park.” Wolf said quietly to himself. The man looked at him, though he did not mind as much anymore. His accent reminded him strangely of his great grandfather’s.

“Sounds like a good man.”

“He was.”

“Hm.” The man hummed in acknowledgment.

The two sat there, in quiet company until the sun had set beneath the tree line. Wolf got up, but the man stopped him. He tapped his cigarette butt three times on the bench and it turned into a small clover flower, like the ones his grandfather braided together into little shapes and objects. The man handed it to Wolf.

“It is good that you remember your great grandfather. It is important to remember where you came from, as well as the small magic. Many people overlook them for better distractions.” The man said mournfully. “Keep your chin up. You will make it, eventually.”

Then the man walked off into the empty park and faded from sight. Disappearing from reality. Wolf watched, bewildered at the exchange.

He walked home in a stupor, remembering the stories his great grandfather had told him of magic and a world better than this one. He always associated it with his great grandfather’s stories of the old country, but perhaps there was something more behind them after all.

He put the small clover into a cup with water and set it on the window sill.


Wolf woke up the next morning in the pitch black of his room. He rolled over on his side and took the day's medication, washing it down with old water. He was shuffling out into the living room when he spotted the clover, still in the glass. It had wilted slightly, tingeing its petals brown. It was a silly idea, but he slowly drew back the curtains and raised the blinds. The sunlight was blinding but it looked better. Hopefully it would be happier this way. The thought made him smile.

He looked out the window.

“The little magic, huh.” Wolf said quietly.

Wolf looked out, over the new day. He could do this, he told himself as he started sorting his great grandfather’s old things. Among them were the old gift wrapping and ribbons he had kept from birthdays and Christmases, faded photographs of him as a baby and what he imagined must have been his great grandfather with his grandfather on his knee.

This time, he let himself grieve what he had lost so many years ago. Yet he still held that little hope. Hope that he couldn’t get rid of, like a fool. Or a clown.

The clover sat in its cup, lit in delicate rays of a new day. A new beginning even.
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