Short Story: Tears of a Clown

Author’s Note: strong language throughout

“You’re a bitch,” he says, and I shrug because it’s true.

He shoves the papers at me across the counter, jabbing at them with his long, white musician’s fingers, beautiful digits made ugly by his anger. “Just sign them.”

But I can’t. I think about picking up the pen and my body won’t obey the command. My hand twitches, but nothing more. His face gets red and pinched, and I think he’ll call me a bitch again, but instead he takes a deep breath and looks away. I watch as he forces himself to relax, as the anger leaves his body, as the deep sadness unveils itself across his features. I want to touch his face, to reverse the clock, but not even a clown can do that.

He looks at me. “Just sign them,” he says again. Then he takes his bag and leaves, closing the door softly behind him. I resent him a little for not slamming it.

I sigh, trying to free my own negative emotions out through my lips, but they are lodged deep and stay put. I sit on a stool at our gleaming white breakfast bar and trace the edge of the papers with my fingernail. My tears spot the page.

I am a bitch, but that’s not why we’re getting divorced. Why he’s trying to get a divorce. Not directly, anyway. It’s a combination of factors: we got married at eighteen, we’ve changed, he’s ashamed of being married to a clown. The last part isn’t quite true so much as he caught me sleeping with the ringmaster. So I guess we are getting divorced because I’m a bitch. A cheating bitch.

But really, he started it, with his performance partner. I have no proof, but I just know. Feminine intuition, or whatever. I see the way they unconsciously touch each other. I’ve felt the way the air in the room shifts when they’re together. I’ve smelled her on him more than once.

He started it, and now he’s trying to finish it, and I don’t think that’s fair. I only fucked Jacob once – okay, twice – and he’s been carrying on with Melissa for months. Maybe they aren’t sleeping together, but he can’t tell me he’s not in love with her.

The ticking of the clock is driving me crazy. I want to rip it off the wall. Instead, I go to work. I put on my brightly colored costume, I allow Marguerite to smear paint all over my face, I push away all the pain and manufacture some joy for the kids and their families out there under the big top. I steer clear of Jacob because I can handle twice, but three times is too many, and all I do is think about fucking him these days. I’d probably ask him to do it in my costume. He would, too. He’s weird like that.

The lights are bright and the crowd is loud. Sometimes they are lethargic and indifferent, but tonight they love us, and some of the fake joy becomes real. A tiny redheaded girl near the front is crying, so I move closer, offer her my lapel rose, but her father waves me away, frowning. “She’s afraid of clowns.”

Then why’d you bring her to the circus, dumbass?

The acrobats are starting their act. I sit to the side and watch. Gina is lithe and beautiful, so brave. She flies through the air like a bird and I wonder if she’ll ever forgive me for sleeping with her husband. Probably not.

My chest aches as I watch her, wishing I could be so light and free, maybe forgetting that Gina has a cheating husband and a sick kid, but she has a lightness to her, a goodness that I can only envy.

A kid behind me tugs on my wig and a flash of annoyance rips through me before I quash it. The real joy starts to skitter at the edges. He does it again so I turn and honk my nose at him, hoping that will appease him. No dice. I clench my teeth and move away, ignoring his squawk of protest.

I feel pulled taut, guitar strings tuned to the breaking point. Gina and Donovan have taken their bows, and now Tony has brought out his tiger. My heart thuds like I drank ten espressos. My hands shake. My partner, Fran, shoots me a look as I miss a cue and I struggle to recover.

“Clowns suck!” someone yells, and I’m done. The edges of the night shatter.

I point at the crowd. “Who said that?” I yell back, Fran looking at me askance. She tugs my arm but I shake her off, trying to set fire to the crowd with my eyes. “Seriously, which one of you fuckers said that?”

The crowd is yelling at me and I’m yelling back and then Tony is lifting me up by the waist and carrying me away, and now I’m out of a fucking job, too.

Being a clown is the worst.


Short Story: Tears of a Clown

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