'Like a Song' Short Story Contest, December 2020
This day his spirit sank so deep Clarence was frightened he’d lost it forever. Like I was at the bottom of the deepest well, where I could only V-E-R-Y dimly see the slightest glimmer of light… and remember which way was up... and dream.
That’s how Clarence described it to me; being at the bottom of a shopping trolley, beneath a pile of other rejects of the so-called ‘toy’ variety, the first time I saw his dear face. I was witness to his woebegone plight—filthy and smelling bad—with raggedy spots as well. My heart ached for all those needy and worthy small people. I could take just one this time, and my choice was Clarence the Clown. Sitting still was never enough for a clown of his calibre; even in his current, most needy circumstances.
Instead of the gentle hand-washing I normally clean up my rescued knitted kids with, Clarence demanded my machine’s sturdiest washing cycle. I knew he was getting his act together when I heard him shout ‘WHEEE-EE-EE’ and ‘YIPPEE-EE-EE’ as he whirled around at top speed in the machine’s spin cycle. Such an irrepressible spirit Clarence Clown had when he was all spiffied up and mended—and named, as well.
No other name would do after I read him Archie Langford’s poem:-
I remember when I joined the circus
A circus of great renown,
I wore baggy clothes and a little red nose
And they called me Clarence the clown.
It didn’t take long for the idea of being a clown in a circus to slip way down Clarence’s ‘bucket list’—all the way to the bottom of that deepest well, where his heart had already plummeted when he learned the other Clarence Clown’s first job; to follow elephants and horses with a bucket and spade, picking up whatever they dropped (and I promise you, it was not riches from wallets and such). Uhrr… NO! Rich it was, but that was exclusively in the odorama department.
Plan B offered him the exclusive chance to become the Cannon Clown. In dreams, Clarence was lighting a lengthy fuse on a gi-normous cannon with a supercalifragilistic-type flourish, watching it splutter and splatter sparks in every direction before a great cannon ball exploded from the barrel to soar far away into the never-never of the vast blue sky. The audience would scream in fright at first, then applaud him long and loud to show their amazed appreciation of Clarence's courage to stand right alongside that fiery monster.
Alas, this was not the plan the Ringmaster had in mind for the Cannon Clown. His vision was for the clown to BE the cannonball… the ACTUAL missile shot out of the great black barrel. Whilst polishing the barrel, the better to admire his own reflection, he smiled (fiendishly, Clarence believed!).
“But no worries, old chap. We’ve most carefully measured how far a body will fly (did it with a store-window dummy, to be sure)… and there will be a great net to catch you. Nothing left to chance, I assure you!” Clarence held grave doubts about the Ringmaster’s ‘foregone conclusion’. He held the strongest belief his balloons had NO chance of survival—and he feared—NOR would he.
“No way,” he said. “I need my balloons to hit people with. Gets rid of a heap of crossness!” And this time he ran away FROM the circus.
Hit people? Crossness? These words caught my attention. Hmm… interesting! I soon noticed odd moments of a possible dark side, with Clarence showing a slightly ‘off’ type of humour at times. Not long after his arrival, I discovered the answer. It was one stormy night when I cuddled him because of his fear we may send him on his way, just like others had before. He told me he couldn’t seem to stop himself acting badly sometimes. It was almost like testing if we’d still love him when he was naughty. And he told me of being bullied badly — way back in Clown Technical High School.
“Those bully clowns would be mean to me nearly every day. Things like taking my lunch and squashing it. And sometimes they’d all hold hands and make a circle round me and keep closing in tighter and tighter and make me fall over when they weren’t holding me up. Then they’d pick me up and do it again, and again… and laugh. As if it were a super joke, they’d all laugh… but mean laughter, not happy-type. There were heaps of other things, but I can’t handle talking about any more just now.” Clarence sniffed, and I had to do a furtive wipe of a tear myself. This will never do, I thought. I’m here to comfort and support the poor little chap. And I kissed the top of his head and cuddled him tighter. He liked that, but only briefly, before he sat back with a deep frown and his mouth pulled down in a great upside down ‘U’.
“Sometimes it’s SO hard being funny all the time,” he told me, peering into my eyes most earnestly. I nodded. So often I’d read about so many comedians (and clowns, too) being terribly serious inside, even getting depressed, far too often. They said they hid it from their audience… hid everything but their humour, because that’s what the onlookers wanted for their entertainment. Clarence agreed and nodded his head so hard I feared his hat may slip off, but it was OK.
It took an unusually long time and a tsunami of hugs and kisses to help him get back to his usual cheeky, active self that time, but I’m imagining it will take a lot longer for Clarence to believe in the healing power of love and togetherness the rest of the rescued knitted kids offer and will surround him with. They understand. Each one has been through his (or her) own particular stresses and trials.
They’ve truly earned their place in our family and their name —
‘The Small Knitty Gritty Kids.’