Here’s a snippet from ‘One of Our Clowns is Missing. If you like what you read, you can buy the ebook now from Amazon.
'On Saturday Hal went to Peter’s place to wait for Tom, who was picking them up to go to a real paid gig – a children’s birthday party. Hal and Peter were sitting on the front step eating crisps.
“I got the impression from talking to Angie that she thinks that people don’t actually like clowns. That’s just not true, is it? I mean, look at children. They really love clowns, don’t they?” Hal was peering into the bottom of the crisp packet to see if there was a secret corner of crumbs he had missed.
“Not always,” said Peter.
“They love the idea of adults who seem to be even more childish than they are,” said Hal.
Peter watched him licking his fingers. “Sometimes kids are frightened by clowns. They think the clowns are going to hurt them.”
Hal hadn’t heard him.
“They love clowns,” he said, “because we break the rules that their parents teach them. Our mistakes are funny and, well, just a reason to love us more.”
“Clowns are frightening, like tramps. Kids are afraid of adults who are not in control of their lives,” said Peter. “And parents are afraid of these masked adults who have access to their children.”
Hal was smiling.
“That’s right, we’re like big children.”
“Some people carry on being afraid of clowns even when they’re adults,” said Peter.
“The violence clowns do to each other is pretty extreme but it’s OK, it’s cartoon. It doesn’t have any consequences afterwards. Clowns show children that bloodshed happens, but that it doesn’t always have to be fatal, and it is often really funny,” said Hal.
“It’s called ‘coulrophobia”.
“What is?” said Hal, finally noticing that Peter was talking.
“The fear of clowns.”
“That’s stupid,” said Hal. “Why would anyone be afraid of a clown?”
From the top of the street came a sound like some old World War II airplane about to crash-land. Tom’s van scuffed to a stop in front of the house. Brigit and Raymond waved as Peter and Hal picked up their bags and bounded down the path toward the vehicle.
Next they stopped at Angie’s sister’s place. Angie was waiting outside with her rucksack, leaning on the handrail of the stairs down to the flat. She climbed into the van and seated herself next to Brigit.
“I wouldn’t bother going to Stefan’s place,” she said as she put on her seatbelt.
“Why not?” asked Tom.
“Gone to ground,” said Angie. Tom seemed to understand.
“OK. Hal, you take Stefan’s parts today.” Hal nodded.
Tom checked his watch as they turned from a residential street and on to a busy main road.
“We need to go through our lines for the show,” he said over his shoulder and the din of the van engine. He had written the play to form the centrepiece of the kid’s party gig. It was an abridged version of a communist clown show the striking steelworkers used to perform at the shipyards of Gdansk, Poland, at the start of the 1980s. It was called, ‘The Starvation of Little Kolya’.
“It’s sad,” Tom had said, “and funny…in a communist ‘Theatre of the Poor’ kind of way.”
Raymond, on a bench seat that backed on to the front seats of the van, leaned his head between Hal and Tom in the front. He watched the road ahead for a few moments.
“I think we should just do ‘The Clown Painters’. And some face painting.”
Tom guffawed. “The children need clowning that develops their social consciences, Raymond. Not just ‘funny ha ha’ stuff, but ‘funny boo hoo’ stuff too. Kids are starving all over the world, in case you hadn’t noticed.”
“So when are you communists taking over the government then?” Raymond said after a while. Tom glanced back at Raymond, and smiled faintly as he checked his rear vision mirror.
“The overthrow of the capitalist state will happen when we have armed the workers.”
“What with,” asked Raymond. “Guns?”
“No Raymond, not guns. With jokes. The way to undermine the capitalist machine is through revolutionary humour. That’s what the Goon Squad is all about.”
“Does Stefan think that too?” asked Hal.
“No, Stefan doesn’t think that,” said Tom. “He favours the way of the gun.”
The birthday party was happening in a nice neighbourhood where the houses were large and expensive, and even the garages had their own garages. There was a gate at the top of the cul de sac, and Tom had to get out of his van and talk to an intercom before the gate automatically swung open for him, like a big inviting arm. But Tom’s engine had stalled before he could drive through and the arm came swinging back in a less friendly way, like it was shooing them back to wherever the hell they had come from. Tom had to get back on to the intercom to talk to the security guard again, and then all the clowns had to push the van through the barrier before it closed on them. They pushed the vehicle until they found the tall wrought iron gates of the house where the party was. There were balloons tied to the gateposts, and the two Doberman dogs behind the iron bars had little coloured balloons tied to their studded collars.
Tom managed to restart the van; he parked it and got out to talk on the intercom on the gatepost of the party house. The white-shirted security guard came down the drive and led the dogs away, who turned and gave the clowns uncanny ‘Don’t you worry, we’re not through with you yet’ expressions. The members of the Goon Squad unloaded the van and followed the guard as he led them up the tree and shrub-lined drive to the house.
A columned wedding cake mansion loomed up in front of them, bursting out of the ground and towering over them like a parent. The front of the house was ringed by classical Greek-style statues, and several large luxury cars were parked there too. The fibreglass statues looked like they had just climbed out of the vehicles and were having a bit of a stretch before getting down to their Olympic sports. The guard ushered the clowns around to the back of the enormous house. He led them through a series of marble-floored passageways till they came to a large airy kitchen. There was a collection of seven or eight women in there, perched vulture-like on breakfast stools and kitchen chairs. The women rasped loudly to each other, smoking and slugging back red wine.
A terminally-tanned blond woman intercepted the clowns and herded them back into the hallway. She sniggered over her shoulder to the other mothers something about “the babysitters having arrived;” she put her finger to her lips to pretend confidentiality, forgetting she had a half-full wine glass in her hand and a splash of claret streaked the carpet.
After showing the clowns into a room where they could get ready for their performance, she spoke from the doorway to Tom. “Your father called in a favour for you to do this. “I don’t really give a shit, just as long as my kid’s happy and you don’t disturb me and my friends back here.” Tom pretended he hadn’t heard her, and shut the door before she could say anything else.
The room was small. It was where the Dobermans normally lived. There were half chewed dog toys and snacks scattered around the floor, and the remains of some small animal that could have been a squirrel or a rat. The other clowns didn’t like the smell of the room and no one wanted to put their equipment on the floor because they didn’t want it covered in canine hair or scent. Raymond stood behind Tom while he was putting on his wig.
“I’m really not sure about this Polish play for a kid’s party. Maybe we would be better off just doing some party tricks. And I hate these tights, we’re not ballet dancers, you know.”
“Raymond, we have a responsibility to these children to bring them art, to show them something with depth and meaning. These kids would normally get some idiot in a clown suit who knows nothing about performance and who just blows up a few balloons, squirts some water, takes the money and runs. We are not that kind of clown.”
Raymond shrugged, and went back to putting on his wig and make up.
Angie was putting Hal’s makeup on for him. She had learned how he liked it and when she leaned in close, the tang of her perfume was strong. She was only about eight kissing inches away as she looked into Hal’s eyes and drew his eye make-up, and Hal, sitting on a small stool, gazed longingly back at her. Even though she seemed to be looking into his eyes, Hal knew she wasn’t seeing him. She was looking at the fine lines she was drawing with her eye pencil. But Hal was in a kind of libidinous parallel universe, trying to imagine what it would be like for him and her to make love with just their clown makeup and wigs on. Then she was gone, putting on her own costume and make up. Hal stayed where he was, with a stupid grin on his goofy clown face.
When they were ready, the clowns began to move tentatively toward the room where the children were waiting. Brigit made a short gagging sound, looking at Hal.
“You can’t go out there with that!”
Hal didn’t know what she was talking about. She pointed at his tights. And there it was.
“Come on, what’s the hold up?” said Tom, trying to bundle the clowns towards the door. Brigit pointed to Hal’s crotch. Tom put his hand to his mouth.
“You can’t go out there with that!”
“That’s what I said.”
“There are children out there.”
“What can I do?” Hal was covering himself now; he was blushing a deep red under his white makeup.
“Think of something horrible. Put cold water on it, I don’t know, but do something now, we need to get out there.”
Hal was getting agitated, and this wasn’t helping his problem, because agitation is another form of excitement.
‘I don’t know what to do,” he said, tightening his grip on his crotch.
“Just do something – now!” hissed Tom, before putting his ear to the door to try and hear what kind of mood the kids were in.
The rest of the clowns were standing around Hal.
“Put a red nose on it,” said Raymond, attaching his squirty flower on to his jacket lapel. “No one will know the difference.”
“You could bind it up maybe,” suggested Peter.
Hal glanced furtively at Angie. She was looking away, with her hand shielding her eyes.
“I’ll go to the bathroom,” he said.
As they waited for Hal, the rest of the clowns didn’t talk much. They listened with Tom to the noise of the children behind the door. It sounded like about ten or twelve drunken Chihuahuas hacking at the furniture with ice picks. A few of the clowns caught each other’s eyes briefly and they swapped edgy looks. A toilet flushed across the hall, and Hal slunk back into the room. He was pretty much back to normal. Tom opened the door to the performance area. It wasn’t the scene of mayhem and chaos they expected, but silent and still; the only movement a tiny white goose feather drifting to the floor, having been ripped from a cushion a few moments before.
The children were distributed evenly about the room. They all watched the clowns with bright, glinting eyes. Tom edged slowly into the centre of the room, nervous that any sudden moves might trigger the children to attack. All his five senses were telling him he was in great physical danger. His sixth sense was telling him to listen to the other five senses. Tom looked about himself and saw soft furnishings that were slashed and torn. Disembowelled sofas leaked fluffy kapok entrails across the floor, and a goldfish gave a last flick of its tail as it dried out on the carpet next to its broken glass bowl, and a squished slab of birthday cake.
Tom began the performance. He walked into the centre of the room and held out his hands, with his palms facing up, imploring the children. He wore one of the saddest clown faces you could ever see.
“I am Kolya. I am the spirit of Gdansk. I have not eaten for five days.”
Two of the clowns, Angie and Raymond, were about to make their entrance as ‘The People’s Geese’, who glide in and feed little Kolya some nourishing pondweed. But before they could come in with their weeds, an apple flew out from somewhere in the audience, hitting Tom hard on the side of his head.
“Who threw that?” Tom said, still in character as the eight-year old Kolya.
The children grinned fiendishly. Someone farted from behind an antique ottoman sofa. Raymond whispered loudly from off stage.
“Forget bloody Kolya and start juggling.”
Tom didn’t move. He was still stunned from his blow to the head.
“I am Kolya. I am the spirit of Gdansk,” he began again. “I have not eaten for five days.”
A blob of raspberry jelly splattered across his cheek.
Raymond walked on to the stage area.
“Hello children. Which one of you is the birthday boy?”
The boy had long blond hair and two front teeth missing.
“Seven years old today, eh? And what’s your name?”
“I’m not telling you anything, you filthy creep.”
Raymond gave him a big toothy smile and carried on.
“Now, boys and girls, I’m Tabasco the Clown, and we’re going to have fun, fun, fun today! But before I introduce you to all my other clown friends, I want to tell you three things about the show. First, if you see anything that you like, I want you to clap your hands. Try it now.”
There was the sound of no hands clapping.
“Second, if you see anything that you think is really funny, I want you to go ahead and laugh. OK? And third, I want to show you the magic line. He pulled a roll of string from his pocket and set it down on the floor in front of him. Now if any children cross the magic line it will stop the magic and the show will have to stop too.”
He signalled for all the other clowns to come out. Muffin, Dingo and Fondoo crept tentatively on to the silent stage to join Calypso and Tabasco. Tom implored the children once more.
“I am Kolya. I am the spirit of Gdansk.”
Raymond made a sausage dog out of pink balloons. He knotted plastic and air expertly, with his tongue hanging out for added comedy concentration. He handed the finished balloon dog to a little girl with a flourish. But instead of taking the dog she snatched at the clown’s red nose, the elastic pinged and the nose was gone as the child skipped away with a shrill giggle.
Angie stepped toward a small boy, blinking shyly and offering her hand to be shaken. The boy dipped his hand in hers and Angie pretended his grip was vice-like, hopping about the room clutching her ‘throbbing’ hand. The kids laughed angrily. Five of them wanted to have a turn at hurting the clown too, so they grabbed both Angie’s hands and tugged and dragged her until she overbalanced and fell. The children leapt on to her and started pulling at any detachable parts of her costume they could get their hands on. Then the children pounced on the rest of the clowns and Raymond’s magic line of string was breached. The rest of the clowns tried to get out of the room as fast as they could, which wasn’t so easy for those wearing big clown shoes.'