by Jon Stuart Pearson
The clown wasn’t dead. He was just pretending, lying there with the flowerpot on his chest. But he was really soaking death in. You knew something was going to happen. Something next. But you didn’t know what. So NEXT became the biggest, most magical thing of all, like a golden room everything had to pass through. Seeing the clown in the spotlight, it seemed almost pleasant to be dead, lying in the middle of a circus ring with zillions of people watching, and there you are in a shiny purple costume with big orange polka dots and giant yellow clown shoes. You could really go to heaven with a bang. “Hey, everybody! I’m here! Where’s God? I got some fabulous clown tricks. Wanna see?” And maybe it would be a slow day in heaven, a Tuesday or something. And you could show people how to play the harp all funny and wacky, upside down or inside out or with their toes. Heaven would go nuts.
But then, of course, you are dead, so it’s supposed to be serious. But not really, since you’re only circus dead, flat on your back in the dirt. With funeral music washing over you, but circus funeral music, which is supposed to be sad, but mostly is just loud and woozy. Circus music makes me feel like I am jumping up and down on my bed in my pajamas chewing toothpaste. It’s fun. It’s nice. But even while I’m bouncing up and down, I know it isn’t that fun and it’ll be over soon. It’s practically over while I’m doing it. Which, come to think, is almost the loneliest feeling in the whole world. Maybe even worse than being dead.
Mister Clown was really milking the dead thing. Next would have to be a very big deal. And I knew it sort of wouldn’t. I mean if he burst into flames, that would be cool, but probably he’d just hop up and start running in circles. “Where is Mom?” I suddenly thought. I knew she was at home. But wouldn’t she like to see the clown get un-dead with Dad and my brother and me? Maybe she wasn’t a circus person. When you are ten, your mom is like an entire country. So, “Why isn’t she here?” wasn’t even a thought. It was more like wind coming through an open window in your head, filling you. The clown sprang to his feet and everyone cheered. I still hoped he would have burst into flames, though. Then I would have cheered.
I looked over at my dad. He was half smiling. But he wasn’t looking at the clown, he was looking at the elephants or something. They were at the far end of the ring. They looked a hundred million years old. And even at a distance, they looked heavy. And tired. As if tiredness itself had turned into boulders on four legs. I looked at my brother. He was trying to peel his lips back, I guess to look like a chimpanzee. Mom was home making spaghetti. I don’t know why spaghetti. I just pictured it. It was the most un-circus-y thing I could think of. Mom took us to the movies, though. Dad almost never did. I guess he wasn’t a movie person. My brother was kicking his feet, and any second Dad was going to tell him to quit it. I could feel it.
The clown was now running around and around this chair in the middle of the ring. Then he stopped. Stared at the chair. And decided to climb on it. I guess he just wanted to stand on a chair. But instead of just stepping up onto the chair seat, he tried to get on it like a horse, putting his huge clown shoe on the rung beneath the seat like it was a stirrup and trying to swing his leg up, but he was holding a plastic pail in one hand and a toy shovel in the other and it was just impossible. He tried a ton of ways to get up on the chair. None of them worked. But it was the funniest thing. I thought, when the guy in the clown suit actually goes to heaven, he ought to get his hands on a chair and show all the angels how not to be able to stand on it. Heaven would be in stiches.
Then, out of the blue, I saw my mother at the stove, in her bathrobe and her worn-out slippers, stirring spaghetti into a pot, all by herself in the kitchen. For fun I imagined her in giant Bozo shoes and a big dumb hat with tassels and bells. She was trying to slide spaghetti out of a box into a pot of water but nothing worked, nothing, including yodeling, singing, and barking like a dog. Right then the clown, with his arms stretched straight up, was begging God to let him stand on the stupid chair. He was praying and praying with all his might. And it was supposed to be funny. But something else hit me, something without any music or angels or elephants. I realized—in my whole life I had practically never seen my parents hug or touch or hold hands or even laugh together. It was like some kind of chair they couldn’t stand on. And while everyone was laughing, I started to cry because I suddenly knew why the clown was praying so hard.