I met the clown on the sly, behind the ticket taker’s tent. He’d offered to guide me to some understanding about my situation. Naturally, I suspected his motives. But then, he was a clown. Of course he was up to something. You don’t just wake up one day and decide to adopt the big floppy shoes out of a new-found fashion sense, after all.
Behind the tent it was surprisingly calm considering we were only feet from a bustling midway. The noise of the great machine separating locals from their loose change and common sense became an indistinct hum.
He’d come prepared. A green cloth was spread out on a small folding table. His other supplies were in a bag at his feet. He simply awaited his audience. And a small donation to the betterment of all retired clowns, of course. He made the small purse of coins vanish without looking at it, and smiled.
“This should prove interesting, my son.”
I wasn’t, incidentally, his son. Clowns.
“A present once bought cannot be returned to the past, you understand?”
I nodded, then added “Yes, sir,” just in case. His rubber nose was hypnotizing. I shook my head to clear it.
“Good. Now let us begin. You asked for advice. I offered to show you insight. All we lack is the third guest at this little gathering.” He plunged his hand into the bag, and pulled out a rubber chicken, which he held aloft triumphantly. “Say hello to my little friend!”
I wasn’t sure if he was talking to me or the chicken, but decided to just stay quiet. The chicken landed on the table with a thump, and amazingly didn’t roll off. Its beige badly molded skin stood in sharp contrast to the green table. Its legs joggled as he reached for the bag yet again. This time, he surfaced with a wicked looking knife in his hand.
“Now we’ll see what you hold in store!”
If it hadn’t been for the roar of the circus in full swing around us, we would surely have been heard and interrupted by now. As it was, I wasn’t sure if I would need rescuing or resuscitation, or if either were even a possibility. The blade gleamed in the fading evening light. He plunged it into the chicken. Indeed, it looked for a minute as if he’d plunged it through both chicken and table. But that had to be a trick of the light and angles.
He cut a gash in the foolish fake fowl’s belly. Thankfully, there was no blood. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and blood would have been among the more surprising things that could have appeared. No blood erupted, and he dropped the knife with its pristine blade back into the bag, removing a small tray and setting it next to the bird.
The gash drew my eyes, morbidly curious about what might come out. Yet, when the small bat poke its head out, I still jumped. It turned to look at me, then kept turning and looked all around. Then it unfolded its large, leathery wings and flew off into the twilight.
“I wondered where that had got to,” the clown muttered. “No matter. It’s flown the coop. Let’s see what else we have to learn.”
With that he began stirring his fingers inside the chicken, and occasionally removing an object and adding it to the growing pile on the tray. Most objects he just held up for us to contemplate. None made the least bit of sense to me.
The crumpled up ball of paper turned out to be a summons to traffic court for driving without a license, or seatbelts, regard for traffic signals, or regard for the intended maximum number of occupants in the car.
There was a well-worn hobo’s stone soup stone. He presented that to me with a shrug and a smile.
There was a single pink sock.
And finally there was a hand grenade, of the classic pineapple style. It took a moment to realize what the quiet hissing sound was, but then I noticed that the pin had been pulled, the spoon was missing and its match was lit. My brief life flashed before my eyes. Then the hissing stopped and the grenade fell open revealing a small cloth square that had “Boom” printed on it.
He looked at the grenade, at the now empty chicken, at the rest of the assorted strange things, then up into the sky where the bat could be seen faintly playing games with the gnats and mosquitos in the fading light.
“But what does it all mean?”
He just shook his head, and packed everything back into the bag.
The chicken went in after its entrails. Then the table-cloth followed, and to my amazement so did the table. He then picked up the small valise, tipped his hat at me, and wandered off.
I stared at the stone, and watched the bat, and pondered.