This story was suggested to me by a friend, who sent me HIS short story about a clown sentenced to perform, day after day to the children waiting to enter the gas chambers and some how I began to think about a group of clowns,acting outside of time and space whenever children are in pain or peril.
So, thank you to S, for such generous sharing of the eternal clown.
The flan hits the face again, perfect shot and then a pause,
Count 1 and 2
Tip of tongue, shocking pink against a moon white face and the clown licks at the custard covering his eyes and mouth and nose.
He begins a toilette, carefully removing the yellow glop.
The children giggle at the hopelessness of the task and then stiffen, cover their mouths with their fists, become quiet, watchful.
The big clown, completely absorbed in his task has completely failed to notice the two lesser clowns, creeping up behind him, their faces overshadowed by an insanely over-sized bucket.
They mime counting
And then they hurl the water over the oblivious clown.
He leaps into the air, face contorted with mock shock and then returns to earth, his bottom landing first and into the supposedly forgotten custard pie.
The children’s laughter almost drowns out the crump, crump of falling artillery.
And on the Kindertransport, the child’s mouth is a perfect O as she watches a clown bend and twist balloons to make a small pink and red bear. She clutches a stained and grubby stain ribbon, all that is left of her bear, dropped, left behind somewhere in the dark between trains, when the adults said that there was no time to go back to look.
The balloon bear completed, the clown leans forward and dedicatedly lifts the ribbon from her hand and wraps it around the balloon bear.
The child and clown smile carefully at each other.
The wooden boat clings to the shore and even then the movement is enough to make the children puke.
These Peters and Brigettes, sworn to liberate the Holy Land from the Infidel, wait for the journey to begins and while they wait, cold and wet and hungry, they watch the clowns, sea salt eroding the matt perfection of their clown faces, juggle elegantly with an impossible number of silk scarves.
The shack is dark, lit by one guttering candle, there are children everywhere, some almost old enough to work in the fields, others tiny, still reaching out for the mothers, but all eyes are intent on the 2 clowns performing in the least dusty corner.
It is so dark that the children are almost invisible, reduced to just gleaming teeth and glistening eye whites as they watch the clowns chase each other in tiny ever diminishing circles until they are forced to run amongst the children.
The biggest clown tries to hide, choosing the very smallest children to crouch down behind, so that he is absurdly visible, his tattered red trousers are the only patch of colour in the room.
This hiding and seeking game is unsettling some of the older children, reminding them of more deadly games played out in the cotton fields when one of the bucks, most likely a new African, turns rogue, tries to get away, get home.
The clowns notice, pull back and quickly produce an old favourite, the teeny tiny cycle.
They both clamber on, smallest clown on the shoulders of slightly less small clown and legs move madly, piston like as the bike careers into the crowds of children. The clowns clear a path, scooping up the very smallest children to take a turn at the red bicycle ride.
The room is almost silent, just the beep beep of the machines, the steady thrumm of cables and wires and at its centre, the child, still, almost invisible under the burden of leads and bags and drips.
The smallest clown sits at the foot of the bed, floppy hat flopping with the weight of pink plastic flowers.
This is no place for tomfoolery, for noise, for jolly japes.
Instead, the smallest clown, face in shadow, blowing iridescent soap bubbles.
One by one they float into the air and then, soft as a butterfly, one lands on the child’s wrist.
The clown pauses, but there is no reaction.
The clowns are processing, Russian doll figures made real, biggest, smaller, smallest.
They lope across the playground, clown shoes dip into last nights rain puddles.
They are playing kazoos but the sound is almost drowned by the screams and shouts of children as their skin burns and bubbles.
The clowns, undaunted, try to make more noise, reaching into pockets to pull out impossible instruments that cannot have been hidden in such baggy pants.
Drums, trombones, cymbals appear, the smallest clown tries to execute some business, catch the middle sized clowns’ ears between the two brass discs….but the children are weeping, reaching out for help.
The clown dog, small , brown, a little yellow ruff around his neck, trots from child to child, terrier face wrinkled in distress, a growl just held back.
The clowns regroup.
Take stock and then the biggest clown scoops up the little dog, musical instruments vanish back into hidden pockets and they walk away.