The Song of the Clowns

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Mr Goitre sits in the sizzling light, amazed at the pie flying towards his face from the hand of Mr Hernia.

***

Dishevella is a dirty slut of a clown. She sits in doorways in her torn stockings and smeared makeup, laughing obscenely at passersby. Sometimes, when business is slack, she stands in the middle of the pavement and pirouettes on her left foot, mechanically, clumsily, like a toy in need of repair. But you should see the smile cracking across her face!

***

The dressing room is a scene of carnage: noses, red and swollen, lie on the floor; someone’s lunatic face stares up from the table; enormous gloved hands crawl over chairs and torn costumes. In the mirror, threaded with cracks, is the appalling spectre of Mr Goitre’s head and torso, naked, white, fractured, slashed with red, knotted, pimpled, a dead chicken!

***

Mr Garrotte screams with laughter while his masked assistants set fire to Mr Hernia.

***

As the lights go down Dishevella is left alone in the arena, clasping a rag doll to her crimson heart. The doll’s head lolls mournfully to one side. Lights out. Ferocious applause.

***

Messrs Goitre, Hernia and Garrotte are battling it out in the arena over the affections of the lovely but dissolute Dishevella. Mr Goitre is armed with an enormous hammer, which he swings about with drunken panache. Mr Hernia’s fists, monstrous and red, beat the air and the persons of any who get too near to him (with the exception of the beautiful Dishevella). Mr Garrotte is unarmed but he moves with remarkable agility for one so rotund, jumping over canons and bodies, ducking and scampering away from the attacks of the other males. Occasionally he succeeds in striking an antagonist with the heel of his silly, oversized shoe, in a lightning movement like the kick of a donkey. And amidst the noise and violence, Dishevella becomes ever more aroused by the sight and thought of these virile specimens fighting over her body. Whenever one of the combatants gets close to her she encourages him with a pout and a pantomime wink, whilst picturing him bouncing up and down on top of her. She does not have a favourite, though the size of Mr Goitre’s hammer gives her something to think about. But ultimately she must accept whoever wins the battle. Last night it was Mr Hernia, and the night before it was Mr Goitre. The night before that… but it is no good, she cannot remember that far back. So she executes her robotic Salomé dance and waits for the end of the act.

***

Mr Hernia cannot even walk across the arena without stumbling, tripping, falling flat on his contorted face. The apparently simple business of getting from one place to another is not so straightforward, after all.

***

Mr Garrotte has been wedged into the barrel of the canon. Only his head is clear of this terrible gun. He weeps and screams and begs mercy of the naughty Dishevella, who affects not to hear him and bends over very ostentatiously to light the fuse, wiggling her swollen rump in the air for the benefit of the dads in the audience. Then, still bent forward, she creeps backwards, away from the canon. The thick fuse wire hisses and throws off sparks, shrinking with the rapidity of the collective heartbeat of the audience. The arena falls silent, save for the sibilance of the burning wire and the strangulated pleas of Mr Garrotte. Mr Mort, the Circus Master, has even instructed his cringing minions that there should, on this occasion, be no drumroll to build up the tension, as it is quite clearly not needed. The world waits. Mr Hernia is perfectly still, for the first time this evening. The fuse has almost completely burnt down. Dishevella puts her hands over her ears and somehow raises her behind even further in the air. Mr Goitre, waiting to go on after Mr Garrotte’s body has described an elegant parabola over the circus ring, is suddenly aware of the silence, and he closes his eyes and waits. Mr Garrotte too closes his eyes and stifles his tears. The fizzing fuse runs out. The last spark. And nothing. Nothing happens! Several seconds go by, and still no explosion, still Mr Garrotte is stuck in the canon. Dishevella straightens up, disappointed. People in the audience start mumbling and giggling. Messrs Hernia and Goitre breathe out, shrug and get ready for the next act. Mr Mort shakes his great leaden head. And in the barrel of the canon, Mr Garrotte opens his eyes and starts laughing, like a man set free, like a child, like a delirious victor, like a baboon, like a madman.

***

Broken bottles, spilled beer, overturned chairs, a smashed table. Dishevella and Mr Goitre sit on the floor, legs and backs straight like wooden toys, heads slumped forward. Dishevella giggles to herself, with the puny, fairy-like voice of a little girl. Mr Goitre snores and mumbles, erupting occasionally into belligerent glossolalia and then, still asleep, subsiding into relative quiet. Upright against the wooden door, his lurid green suit pinned to it by several large throwing knives, is Mr Hernia, whose head, like those of Dishevella and Mr Goitre, is also slumped forward on his breast. Unlike the two on the floor, however, Mr Hernia makes no sound. A little drop of blood trickles out of the corner of his bloated mouth and runs down the greasepaint.

***

Mr Mort, the Circus Master, wears a black suit and never smiles. He avoids sunlight, and is often to be found sitting in his caravan, sipping scotch. He has fifteen murders to his name, eight of these being his own clowns. He is a man easily disappointed. Loved to excess as a child by a mother maniacally maternal, he now styles himself as a modern Timon, cultivating his misanthropy with graceful detachment. He reads a lot of Baudelaire and regards himself as a poete maudit, his tormented strophes the colourful spectacles he offers to the moronic masses, his exquisite alexandrines the polish and glitz of the show.

***

Mr Goitre sits naked in his dressing room, staring at his reflection in the cracked mirror.

***

To crazy music, Mr Hernia dashes about the circus ring, throwing bouquets of flowers from his tiny bowler hat to the outstretched hands of women and children in the audience. As he runs around his nose gets bigger and bigger, until it is so large that he is forced to beckon over the masked assistants and ask them to carry it before him. More flowers, more colours, more scents, more enchanted women and children. And the nose gets bigger, a monstrous embryo, a sack of blood and madness, a red planet.

***

Fully wound up, arms and legs twitching on the ends of strings, eyes agog and unseeing, body polygonally rendered and realistically textured, waiting for the hand that will flip the red switch, springtensed and panting, his big red tongue flopping listlessly out of his painted mouth, Mr Garrotte sits cross-legged in the centre of the abandoned circus ring, desperately lonely, desperately unhappy.

***

In his dressing room, before the cracked mirror, Mr Goitre’s swollen hands grope Dishevella’s breasts, thighs, neck. Fat fingers trace trails in the greasepaint sweating over her face. Malevolent eyes stare into the mirror.

***

In an alleyway on the outskirts of town, a good two miles from the circus, Dishevella is dancing for Mr Hernia. He is sitting on a dustbin, hands in pockets, fag in mouth, watching her stilted twirls, her automaton arabesques. Pirouetting, she laughs the heartily filthy laugh of the jaded and degraded. Mr Hernia could watch her for hours. For once he has no desire to fuck her. It is enough for him to see her body move in this extraordinary way. He sits enchanted by his favourite toy.

***

For Mr Mort, violence is an art form. So when he smashes a bottle in the face of one of the masked assistants, or throws Mr Garrotte into a vat of sulphuric acid, or disembowels Dishevella, he does it knowing that he is the artist and the victims his materials. He does not expect anyone else to understand this.

***

Mr Garrotte has malfunctioned. Mr Hernia has him bent over the dressing room table, and is trying to rewire him. He pulls out handfuls of red wires, blue wires, green wires, yellow wires, black wires, uninsulated wires (if only he had some rubber gloves!), thick wires, thin wires, stiff wires, flexible wires, coiled wires, straight wires, wires attached to nothing, spaghetti wires, worm wires, snake wires, live wires, dead wires, string wires, silk wires, gossamer wires, tough wires, gentle wires, loving wires, sensuous wires, insinuating wires, hateful wires, despairing wires, hopeless wires, faithless wires, reams and reams of them, reams and reams and reams of unhappy, entangled wires.

***

Dishevella cannot even talk to Mr Mort, the Circus Master, without stumbling on her words, tripping, falling flat. The apparently simple business of communicating something to someone is not so straightforward, after all.

***

In the mirror, as before, the fractured torso and head of the melancholy clown.

From The Small Hours. All texts and images on this site are the copyright of James Knight. All rights reserved.

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