Fiction: CLOWN TOWN Intro
“My makeup is dry and it clags on my chin,
I’m drowning my sorrows in whisky and gin,
The lion tamer’s whip doesn’t crack anymore,
The lions don’t fight and the tigers don’t roar.”
~ Dave Davies, Death of a Clown
Outside of Marceau’s Nite Club, deep in the heart of the city of Sarkasa, raindrops fell from an angry sky. Tumbling in the air like tiny, shiny coins, the drops pounded the ground with an incessant shishing sound. The opalescent droplets struck the tarmac in a fireworks display of moisture. Then, they exploded into infinity. The rainwater would then make its meandering way across the black roadway, into the gutter, and on toward the sewer and the sea. The multi-colored streetlights reflected gaily off of the dark, pavement, creating a blinking kaleidoscope of chromatic radiance and deep darkness. The street was an Expressionist’s suicide scene, brilliant splashes of color splattered across a motor oil and gutter water canvas.
It was, in a word, beautiful.
The city of Sarkasa sprang up around Marceau’s like an industrialized metastasis. Tall, pillars of chrome and glass stabbed at the sky like King Poles, the municipal sprawl expanding for as far as anyone eye could see. To the East lay the city of Brahma and the agrarian Wilds where cowboy and injun roamed free. To the North were The Scaries what lived in Regulus and the commercial monolith that was Geartown. To the West and South lie Sarkasa Harbor and the sea.
But the city, the city was where every clown’s heart truly lay, where it beat strong and fierce. From Grandstand to Backyard… it was Ben Nye’s Gotham City. So, of course, it was where the important doin’s were gettin’ done.
And all everyone knew - all everyone needed to know - was that The Business was being done up there in those high, chrome towers and The Business was something most of The Zanies who lived down below left to those better qualified. From Harlequin to Mime, as long as everything remained Aba-daba, it was all jeep and jake.
And up above, on roofs which seemed to scratch the very sky… the familiar scalloped shapes of Big Tops gone by. Banners flew proud and the traditions remained honored. It was just how things were done. How they’d always been done. The Circus and The Bunce may have gotten too big for the tents, but The Business…
The Business never changed.
And when The Business was good, it was all “Flag’s Up,” “Cookhouse Open,” and “Come and get your Dukey Lunch.”
The Big Happy Happy, y’know?
Sarkasa, with its hi-rise, monolithic spires and thriving harbor, was a place where every mother’s clown’s dream could come true. It was a place of High Times and Hallelujahs, of Hope and Hootenannies. Not like it had been before.
Before… in the Dark Days.
But, Before was something not even Forty-milers talked about.
Everyone knew that Before was before and thank Barnum for that. These were better times. These were The Salad Days. Gone were the dismal days of Mud Shows and Flea Bags. Gone were the sketchy nights spent sleeping in the rain in some farmer’s far-flung field. Gone were the Heat Merchants and the Soft Lots and anything that felt Hinky, Finky, or Larry.
Those days were All Out and All Over.
Nope, things were different in this hippodrome. This was big. Bigger than Big Bertha herself. The Greatest Show on Earth. And Marceau’s…
Marceau’s was at the center of it all. At Marceau’s, Life was always Bop and Brass Rails, a swingin’ testament to just how big The Biz – and The City - had all gotten. For a clown looking to make a name for himself, Marceau’s was a wellspring of opportunity where men like Monk, Morgan, Mingus, and Montgomery held sway.
Once, the joint was little more than a Back Yard speak-easy, what many who were of a certain mind-set considered to be ‘a low-down Mime Bar.’ But when all was said and done, Marceau’s was a place where you could throw a little jazz at a girl, get your whistle wet, and have yourself some good times. And at Marceau’s, the hooch was always Top Shelf, The Pie Car always four-star, and the dames… Well, let’s just say it was nice to spend a little time with someone who wouldn’t – who couldn’t – give up your secrets.
Over the years though, a funny thing happened. Somehow, Marceau’s managed to accrue for itself a thing equaling class. For the Sarkasa social scene, the club had become more than a Water Wagon Joint or a Stick and Rag Show. Marceau’s was all done up right. No matter who you were or where you fit in under The Top, everyone came to Marceau’s.
Marceau’s was a G-Top. It was The Place to be seen. And, if the Ducats were right, it was place not to be seen. But in the end, it was the place to get “happy.” And nothing was more important in a world full of clowns than to get happy.
Amidst the hubbub and the clamor along Midway Boulevard, among the Downtown Wagons, and the Ducat Grabbers, and the Forty-milers, no one noticed when a nondescript cab pulled up to the curb outside of Marceau’s. Nor should they have. None of the Joeys or the Rubbermen milling about had a reason in the world to so much as glance up when a young, blonde girl, coat clutched tightly around her body, climbed out of that cab. And even if they had, they would have guessed by the white paint on her face and her flower-bud lips that she was just another Marceau’s Girl showing up for her shift and nothing more. The hearts painted on both cheeks… The checkered outfit… it would have all made sense.
But, if they would have paid a little more attention for a little while longer, they would have seen this particular Mime look around nervously as she dug deep into her pocketbook to get the cab’s fare. They would have been watching as she shoved the money into the space between the driver’s window and its frame. And then, had they but looked a little while longer, those same Joeys would have seen her bending over and saying something to the driver. Something perfunctory… something polite… something classy… like, “Thank you.” Because if they had seen that, if they had seen a Mime speak, well… that would have caused quite a stir, kicked up a ruckus it would’ve. Set off a full “Stars and Stripes Forever” scene.
See, Mimes didn’t talk.
Mimes couldn’t talk.
It was what made them Mimes. And, believe you me, being a Mime was never a status grabber. People were only too happy to go to them for their – shall we say – diversions, but treat them as actual equals? Not gonna happen. And the scariest thing was that having a child that couldn’t speak was something that could happen to anyone. From Rodeo to Auguste to the most affluent of Harlequin families, no one was exempt from deformity. And make no mistake; it was something every parent worried about during their pregnancies.
And the most insidious thing of it all was that the condition didn’t present itself until the child was of an age when they were supposed to be learning to talk. It was like a small piece of them - the one that gave them the ability to speak - was missing. As the child aged, it simply never started speaking. Many families would try to protect the child, with euphemisms like ‘Johnny is a late bloomer” or ‘he just doesn’t have much to say,” but soon… people found out and scandal followed. Having a Mime child could ruin families, no matter who they were. So, people just sort of looked the other way when a child ‘went to live with relatives’ or simply disappeared. The family had an obligation to raise the child, but once the kid cleared adolescence, they were pretty much on their own.
And in Sarkasa, “on your own” for a Mime meant working at Marceau’s.
In actuality, it was a marriage made in Heaven. With the social stigma of being a Mime being what it was, having a place for them to work and be of use was a win-win for everybody. Marceau’s meant that they could earn their way, thereby giving what many considered to be a social outcast a place in society as a contributing member.
And, again, Mimes being Mimes… everything that occurred at Marceau’s was always kept on the Q.T. See, for them what worked at Marceau’s, keeping an average fella’s (and, as time went on, some not so average fella’s) confidence and confidentiality was a point of pride. According to the ones Bumbo knew, it gave them a certain nobility. Despite their questionable social standing, if there was one thing a Mime could do, it was keep a secret. And in Sarkasa, everyone had secrets. And most of them wanted them kept quiet and out of the light of public scrutiny.
So, it wouldn’t have been every day that a Harlequin like this girl - Angeletta Trivelino, by name - would have come to Marceau’s. Not someone this young … not at this hour. And not through the front door. Nope, not one of those Grimaldies out on the street had enough sense to pay attention, so, as this girl gathered her courage and started walking across a street which glittered like it was made of diamonds, she walked unnoticed and alone.
(full story appears in MOONLIGHT SERENADES available now)