Roy William Scranton
A story starts with a sad child. A story starts in front. Flat in contrast, numbers well within range, okay, right, go. Here come the clowns.
The clown breathes heavy, wet air into a red balloon, a pink balloon, a green or purple balloon, the fleshy stretch tightens expanding with each huff and hew, he ties them off squealing. The child watching with whom our story started still watches, no less sad but at least distracted now. He’s seen this kinda crap before, but he still doesn’t know how he gets them long like that then twists them, squeak, squeak into giraffes. Hey, look at that.
He suspects it must be a certain kind of balloon you buy, not the regular kind at the store but a special clown kind, like maybe they got a clown store where you get clown supplies and that’s why all their tricks are the same no matter where you see the clown at the park or the hospital.
A story starts somewhere with a face and voice and a tree or two in the background, local color. Or the boardwalk at Coney Island where the barker screams shoot the freak. A story starts with a sad child who wants to go, or is going, or has gone to the magic, the fair, the somewhere, whatever.
He goes down the carpeted steps of his duplex home in bare feet and Luke Skywalker underoos, his tiny hand running along the metal banister cool in the very early morning, and walks down the front hall, his eyes on the closet door. It’s like somebody’s crying in there, that’s what woke him, and when he opens it the body falls out, head split, missing the top back skull, gummy with congealed blood and brain. He steps back, sick and shaking and primed to run, staring at the red-plowed forehead, when a noise down the hall grabs—“Whosat?”
“Me,” he says, turning toward the light coming out of the bathroom.
“C’mere,” dad says.
He walks away, turning his back to the body, terrified of throwing up. He smells his dad before he sees him, a rank stew of shit and cigarette smoke fugging up the air.
Dad sits enthroned, cigarette in hand and tighty-whities around his ankles, a mass of hair and flesh and early morning stink. “What’re you doing up?”
He looks down the hall. A story starts with a body. A story starts with the end.
“I thought I heard Uncle Jerry crying.”
“I thought I heard him in the closet.”
“Go to bed.”
“Go to bed.”
“What’re you deaf? Go to bed.”
He turns and goes back up the stairs, counting them one by one, thinking of Uncle Jerry down there lying in the hall with his brain split open. He knew when his dad found him there’d be trouble, he knew that he’d get blamed.
In bed he lay back down, watched over by the clown on the wall his gramma gave him, the one with the teeth and eyes, and a story lies. A story starts with lies.
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