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Richie shuffled in his seat and checked to see if his first grade teacher, Mrs. Hamstead, was watching. With the coast clear he slumped down in his seat and lifted the lid of his desk, just enough to see inside.
“Are you okay, Gary?” Richie whispered.
Two large warm brown eyes, answered in the affirmative.
Seeing that everything was okay, he gently put down the lid, not wanting to draw attention to himself.
“Hey, roach boy, whatcha got there?” whispered Hank ‘the tank’ Wilson.
Richie froze in his seat and thought Maybe if I pretend he isn’t there he will just go away.
Richie would have no such luck. A punch to the back of his head told him so.
“Roach boy, I asked you a question; watcha got there?”
Richie twisted around and, without making eye contact, whispered to Hank.
“It’s just a grasshopper.”
Richie hoped Hank would not be interested in grasshoppers. He hoped that, just for today at least, Hank wouldn’t be interested in anything Richie did or had.
“Cool, show me.”
“I will…at lunch, okay?” Richie whispered back over his shoulder.
Richie knew better than to refuse Hank. Even though both boys were in first grade, Hank weighed at least fifty pounds more than Richie and often used his size to his impel other to do his bidding.
Richie slipped his hand into his desk feeling for the small plastic container that housed the grasshopper. Finding it, he very gently lifted the enclosure out of his desk. After Gary’s almost fatal encounter with Mr Giggles, the cat, he needed the gentlest of treatment.
It had been two days since Richie had seen the well-rounded fur ball trot across the grass with something in his mouth. Upon closer examination, he had discovered ‘Gary’, injured but still alive. Having suffered a traumatic amputation it was a wonder that Gary survived at all. Richie felt sure that recovery was quite possible, given Gary’s other five legs.
With much regret, Richie handed Gary over.
“Please be careful. He’s hurt and I’m trying to get him better.”
Richie didn’t want to hand Gary over but felt he had no choice. In the few short months he had been attending school, Richie had been subjected to the ‘wedgy‘ and the ‘wet willy‘, as well as being flushed, tripped, teased, and taunted.
Hank grabbed the plastic container out of Richie’s hands and peered through the opaque lid. Unsatisfied with the view, he peeled back the lid, revealing the five-legged grasshopper.
Hank’s face puckered into a grin.
Gary, unsure of the new face, decided he would leave. Richie watched with horror as Gary leapt from his enclosure, landing on Hank’s desk.
“No!” yelled Richie, gaining Mrs. Hamstead’s attention.
“Richie Brennan, sit down now!” she barked.
Distracted by the teacher’s order, Richie failed to notice Gary’s next port of call.
Landing on the sleeve of Caitlin’s blouse brought the poor girl to hysterics. Screaming and wailing she begged for the bug to be removed but Gary, sensing he wasn’t welcome, moved on of his own accord.
The class erupted into mayhem. Children leapt from seat to desk, others ran to the back of the room, all of them screaming.
Richie ran wildly, begging for Gary’s life as a few children attempted to squash the bug, but still Gary continued to hop.
Landing on Mrs. Hamstead’s nose was probably the worst place Gary could have chosen. Having the large green grasshopper ‘eyeball’ her was enough for her to fly into a fit of screaming while randomly swatting at her face. Mrs Hamstead, preoccupied by the bug on her face, failed to notice the rubbish bin before standing in it. This threw the frenzied woman off balance causing her to reel wildly and, in an effort to regain her balance, saw her grab at the edge of the nature display table. The panicked teacher never saw the frogs coming, only feeling their cold slimy presence on her chest as she lay on the floor.
Richie quickly scooped up Gary, relieved to find him unharmed.
This little incident caused considerable grief to Richie. His sister had inflicted her own punishment upon him for embarrassing her and his parents had berated him for taking Gary to school. Nobody seemed to care that Hank had been responsible for the incident.
Two large warm brown eyes looked at Richie, pleading for respite.
“No, Gary, don’t look at me like that. You know I have to, Mommy said.”
Richie gently placed Gary back into his enclosure.
“You wouldn’t like it anyway, it’s gonna be full of stupid girls all giggling and stuff.”
Richie did not want to go to his sister’s birthday party. He knew exactly what would happen. First Kelly would be especially demanding and order him around. Then, once all the guests had arrived, she would act like a perfect angel as she graciously accepted her gifts. But it was neither of those things that really bothered Richie, no; what he dreaded more than anything else was the makeover.
Last year, on her seventh birthday, Kelly was given a new makeup kit full of vibrantly coloured eye shadows, glossy lipsticks, and shimmering blushers. Richie, lured into Kelly’s room under the pretense of rescuing a spider, had been subjected to ‘the makeover’. With his blond curls lassoed in pink bows, Kelly proceeded to coat his eyelids with vivid green powder. According to his sister, such a colour would make his blue eyes ’pop’, the idea of which terrified Richie. Kelly had completed the look by smearing bright red lipstick over his pout and dressing Richie in a delightfully frilly frock.
Kelly was mean. Being four years older and six inches taller seemed to endow Kelly with the inalienable right to use her younger brother for whatever purpose she desired. Naturally, her parents thought her to be angelic. They were delighted that Kelly spent so much time playing with Richie, involving him in her games. In fact, Mr. and Mrs. Brennan were so delighted they took numerous photographs of Richie sporting his new look.
Once Richie had finished changing into his good clothes, he looked over at his friend.
“I promise I’ll come in and check on you, okay?
Two large warm brown eyes followed Richie as he walked out of his bedroom.
“Oh, Richie, you look gorgeous,” cooed Mrs. Brennan as she admired her son.
“Do you need to go pee pee?” she added in hushed tones.
“Mom!” Richie was horrified she had even asked.
“Well I just didn’t want you having an accident. Here, take these paper plates out to the trestle table. Make sure you put a cloth over them please. We don’t want any bugs crawling over them now, do we?”
As Richie carried the plates out into the yard, he muttered something about bugs being better than sisters. His disparaging comments were lost in the hubbub of various friends and family members as they inflated balloons, hung decorations and laid out plates of delicious treats. Richie, finding a bare spot on the linen covered trestle table, set the plates down. After covering the plates with a napkin, he slipped under the table, and watched the assortment of legs zigzag across the lawn like ants.
“You had better not ruin my party booger-head.”
Richie, startled by the unexpected message, nearly sent the entire trestle table tumbling as he spun about to face his nemesis.
Kelly’s pretty green eyes had narrowed and the angelic crop of blond ringlets did little to disguise her malevolence.
“This is my party and if you embarrass me with any of your stupid little bug stories I’ll make sure Mr Giggles has a lovely grasshopper lunch.”
Richie was under no illusion as to Kelly’s warning. Mr Giggles was her pride and joy and Richie had already suffered for depriving him of his find.
“I-I-I wasn’t gonna,” stammered Richie, genuinely afraid for Gary.
“Good,” said Kelly, her eyes returning to their normal shape. “If you’re lucky I’ll get make up for my birthday. Then I can give you a make over.”
Richie made not a single sound as his sister stood and smiled pure evil. With a flick of her head, she skipped off, blond locks bouncing like dead men in nooses. As soon as it was safe, Richie extracted himself from beneath the table scurrying to a secluded corner of the garden.
Richie sat in his special place and watched a spider wrap her lunch. He wondered if he could find a spider big enough to wrap up his sister. The thought brought dimples to his soft round face and a giggle from his mouth.
A loud popping sound snapped Richie from his fantasy causing him to stand and look around. A rumbling putt-putt-putt approached from the street and Richie found his feet as he ran around the side of the house to investigate the odd noise. Clouds of blue grey smoke billowed up over the hedge that separated the Brennan’s house from the street. Richie watched as a rusty old van putt-putt-putted up the driveway.
Richie couldn’t read yet, well, actually he knew a few words but not enough to make out the signage on the side of the van. It didn’t matter though; the picture that accompanied the writing made it obvious the clown Kelly had requested, was here.
The battered driver’s door refused to open, even when the driver threw his body weight against it. Richie watched as the strange looking clown fossicked around in the glove box, finally finding what he needed. With the hammer in his hand Mr Sparkles promptly smacked the exterior panel of the door insisting it release him. The door protested with whines and groans as it finally opened.
Richie wondered if the cigar wedged between Mr Sparkles’ yellowed teeth was the kind that magically produced flowers. The trail of pungent smoke leaking from its lit end told Richie it was not. Coughing and hacking, Mr Sparkles hurled a number of items from his van. A black dropped to the ground followed by two red shiny shoes.
“Hey kid, pass me my shoes will ya.”
Richie gathered up the wayward shoes and wondered how Mr Sparkles managed to talk without releasing the gripped cigar between his teeth. Handing Mr Sparkles the shoes, Richie stood and stared at this most un-clown-like clown.
The white face paint, clumsily smeared over his gravitationally challenged face, could not hide the deep pockets of skin beneath Mr Sparkle’s blood-shot eyes. Three-days-growth of hair erupted through smudged red paint that faked a smile. Dirty gray clumps of hair sprouted like weeds from beneath a frizzy orange wig that sat awkwardly of center on his head.
Reaching into bright orange and green striped pants, Mr Sparkles retrieved a small silver flask, winking at Richie as he removed the cap.
“We’ll keep this our little secret aye kid.”
And with that said, he poured a portion of the flasks contents into his waiting mouth.
Richie was much relieved to hear the front door open as his mother came out to greet the entertainment. Mrs. Brennan’s warm smile quickly slid from her face at the sight of Mr Sparkles. Remembering her manners, she quickly replaced the lost smile with a fake one she kept for such occasions.
“Ah Mr Sparkles, hello, I’m Barbara Brennan.”
Much to Mrs. Brennan’s disappointment, Mr Sparkles extended a rather unsavoury looking hand for her to shake. Tentatively holding just the smallest portion of his fingers, she shook and released his hand, wiping her own on her trousers.
“Great ta meet ya Barb, now to make the day run smoothly I like ta get me money affairs sorted out up front. That way you’s can relax and enjoy ya daughters party and I can do me job.”
“Oh yes, of course. Let me get my purse, I’ll be right back.”
Mr Sparkles watched her walk away, admiring the firmness of her bottom.
“Ya mother’s a bita alright ain’t she kid,” said Mr Sparkles, nudging poor Richie so hard he nearly sent the young child sprawling.
Richie didn’t know what ‘a bita alright’ was so he declined to respond. Mrs. Brennan return, purse in hand, still with the same fake smile on her face.
“Now, how much do I owe you,” Mrs Brennan asked, pen poised and chequebook open.
“Well, for a nice lady such as yaself I’ll make it three hundred, normally see, I charge three fifty but, I’m feelin' generous.”
Mrs Brennan’s eyes widened and her finely tweezered eyebrows nearly flew right off her forehead.
“Three hundred? Your advertisement said sixty-five dollars!” Mrs Brennan’s voice and risen in pitch reflecting her shock at his prices.
Mr Sparkles lost the sparkle in his eyes, replacing it with the cold hard stare of a businessman.
“Look love, the ad says from sixty-five dollars, from. And that‘s for a fifteen minutes show, no balloon animals, no candy scramble.”
“Listen Mr Sparkles; don’t play me for a fool. You never said anything about the price when I called and booked you. I told you then and there exactly what I expected.”
“Well, if ya ain’t gonna pay, I ain’t performing. You can take ya tight prissy ass back in there and tell ya girl that you’re to tight ta pay for a clown for her.”
Mr Sparkles snatched up his bag and shoes and turned toward his van.
Mr Sparkles turned back around, a hint of a smirk played on the corners of his mouth as he faced Mrs. Brennan.
“I’ll give you two hundred, that’s it.”
“Deal,” said Mr Sparkles, smiling once again.
With a truce declared, the pair entered the house seemingly unaware of their audience.
“Gary!” whispered Richie, his eyes lighting up as he remembered his little friend. Turning heel Richie ran around the side of the house til he saw his bedroom window and quickly climbed inside.
“Wanna come play Gary?”
Two large warm brown eyes, answered in the affirmative.
With Gary successfully smuggled outside, Richie settled down on the ground, placing the grasshopper on a concrete paving stone in front of him.
“There you go Gary. Now you can get all nice and warm in the sun.”
Gary stretched out his wings, stumbling a little in the process due to the missing appendage. Richie watch with amazement, admiring the grasshopper’s awe-inspiring anatomy.
Not twenty feet away Mr Sparkle was disappointing the party goers with mangled balloon animals and un-tricky tricks. After half an hour of painfully pathetic attempts to entertain the children, a time out was called. Richie wasn’t interested in the cake and drinks on offer preferring to sit with Gary while he rested.
“Whatcha got there kid.”
Richie looked up at the bulging cheeks of Mr Sparkles. Pieces of cake escaped from his mouth landing like sweet snow on the ground. Mr Sparkles placed his glass of juice down on the garden table before retrieving his silver flask from inside his trousers. Uncapping the flask, he topped up his orange juice with the vodka before replacing the cap and stashing the flask. This addition to the orange juice must have met with Mr Sparkles’ approval; he downed half the glass in a single gulp.
“This is Gary. He’s my grasshopper. The cat was going to eat him but I saved him. When he gets better I will let him go again.”
“Ya know they’re a pest dontcha,” grinned Mr Sparkles, placing his drink on the garden table.
“No they aren’t,” retorted Richie, feeling rather brave. “They are amazing, way more amazing than you are!”
Richie wished he hadn’t been so brave when he saw the menacing scowl on the clown’s face.
Mr Sparkles narrowed his eyes in much the same way as Kelly usually did and leaned in close to Richie.
“Ya might wanna watch ya mouth ya little brat,” he hissed at Richie.
The malignant smirk that puckered one side of his face had distracted Richie from the large red shiny shoe that descended on the sunning grasshopper. A crackling crunch drew Richie’s eyes down to the offending shoe. With a final crunch, Mr Sparkles twisted his foot as he turned and walked back to the waiting children.
Richie, immobilised by the sight before him, could not think to speak or cry. The green and brown smear on the concrete paving stone ripped at his little heart. Gary was dead, destroyed, and it was all his fault. If only he had left Gary inside, if only he had listened to his mother. A single tear cascaded down Richie’s rounded cheek dropping onto the remains of Gary.
Richie wiped the tear away angrily. Crying just didn’t seem to be enough. There was something bubbling inside him, something he hadn’t felt before.
I’m mad! I’m really really angry!
Rage filled his little chest, burning inside him, as he had never felt before. Richie remembered all the hurt and humiliation he had suffered at the hands Kelly and Hank and decided things were going to change.
For the first time ever, Richie knew what it felt like to be indignant.
Richie stared at the cruel clown who continued to embarrass himself with his amateur entertainment. Richie’s mind struggled to find adequate words to express his anger, finally settling on one his sister preferred.
You..you…you booger-head, you are gonna pay for that.
Richie stood at the dining room window and watched the children gather up their party favors as they prepared to leave. The nasty Mr Sparkles packed his props and the murder weapon into his black bag.
“Richie, darling, do you need to go pee pee?” asked his mother.
Mr Sparkles grabbed his glass of juice he had left on the garden table and throwing back his head, finished the entire glassful in a few gulps.
Richie smiled as he watched Mr Sparkles, and then replied to his mother.
“No, it’s okay mom, I’ve already been.”
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