Friday, 16 April 2010

Death of a Clown [final version]

The Death of a Clown

I leave the dressing room door open as I walk in. The make-up is hot and heavy on my face. I sit in the chair, feeling the weight of my body pull downwards and I smell a funny smell in the air. It could be the mop in the corner, or the greasy paints and make-up in front of me, but all the smells are mixed together. In the mirror, a clown's face is looking at me – ugly as a germ, magnified a hundred times under a microscope; an old, crawling thing; blue, white, and red.
The single light bulb hanging from the ceiling burns thin streaks of
light into the room allowing me to see where the thick mascara has bled, leaving inky crow's feet near my eyes. My dry, ridiculous mouth, stuck in a permanent grin, is thick over the lips with the powdery consistency of eye-liner. I lick my lips, tasting the greasy paint. I roll it on my tongue, it tastes a bit like wax crayon. The metallic smell is getting up my nose and begins to sting and gives me a headache. My tired eyes are kept open with painted-on plus signs near my corpse-white cheeks. Green hair shoots out past my ears. It's my real hair, I don't wear wigs. All this make-up makes me feel heavy. But my reflection seems to like it a lot with that mad, crooked smile.
A cold draft blows in through the open door and a small fly buzzes in.
Its sexless, compound eyes watching me. It says:
– First she took off her clothes, undressing with the slow precision of a machinist, dropping a thin layer of fabric showing muscle discharge and afferent, the articles of clothing like shedded skin … Always drinking … Always drinking … Lips no use for kissing; tongue like a rat's tail …
The fly buzzes around my head and dips in and out near my ears, the
sound rising and falling as it does. It's small and sickening. It's a little black dot moving from side to side like the pupil of an eye. I look back to the mirror and I see myself, cleaning off the make-up. I apply Pond's Cold Cream with my hands and rub it in an upward motion over my cheeks, then in circular patterns, then under my nose and over the thin skin of my eyelids. I rub it over my forehead, moving towards the centre of the glabella between my eyebrows. It's freezing to touch at first, but then it goes cool and my skin becomes sensitive so I can feel the draft coming in through the open door behind me. The colours melt. I wipe the cream off with a tissue, and now it looks like my eyes have burst as black goo runs down my cheeks. My lips are swollen. The white skin wipes off. I am a ghost. I look terrible. My eyes are bloodshot as if I have been strangled and my head is pounding, still, from that horrible metallic smell. My stomach contracts. My hands clench and relax. I feel sick. I want to be sick. Am I wearing clothes? Yes, I'm wearing clothes. The door is open. There is no one there.
– You look ridiculous … Always drinking … Slow muscles, the clothing,
the skin … You look as bad as her … Covered in paint, poor old thing … Creaks and moans, struck down with sick grins, the moaning catches a glimpse in the mirror, undressing with slow precision, ruined her body … Stuck, you go back and forth … Wipe your face, you look terrible …
Now my make-up is ruined and I look ridiculous. More ridiculous than I
did before. I'm so tired and I just want to sleep but I can't with that fly buzzing over my head. Why are you so attracted to me? I say to the fly. I turn and my spine cracks and there is the odd moment when my spine makes the only sound in the world, like gunfire behind a pillowcase. I lean forward and bang my fists against the dressing table and the lamp jingles and everything rattles, the rubber chicken squeaks, one juggling ball rolls and drops to the floor with a muted thud as the fly flies around the room watching my every thought.
– You look terrible. You look ridiculous. Put that make-up back on …
Always drinking … Covered in paint … Stupid thing, used up … Struck down with a knife, with slow precision of a … Poor thing, she was, her sick grin, no clothes, painted face, you look … Muscles, the clothing, the skin …
Why should I put the face back on? I say.
Because you look terrible without it. So did she, that's why she wore it. Haha!
In front of me are a number of face paints and some make-up with
coloured thumb prints on the lids. I apply a red paint over my mouth, which feels so thick it's like lard, and now my lips are thick and swollen again like a woman's. The red has gotten onto my teeth. The carmine hook I call a mouth is stuck in a permanent grin. I am tired. I … I am … this flesh-thing sits … face like some dead creature … face white … face like melted oils, morphed into an animal … I can smell the danger like a dog.
I look into the mirror. I hate having to clean my face, and I haven't
even finished cleaning it; pale with red lips, I look like a dead woman. The fly buzzes around my head. It says:
– You are old and used up, just like she was, poor old slut … poor and
old … I know you're thinking of her, it's all over your face …
– I hate you. I was never old.
– Poor old thing … Hate was such a strong word, throwing them back and
forth, back and forth … Your body is old, it creaks and moans, she was a scorpion's tail stuck suddenly like a knife, but it doesn't hurt … Aren't you going to clean your face? You look funny … She looks funny … Poor old thing she was, stuck suddenly, but it didn't hurt though, it didn't hurt … It didn't hurt, not really, not like you did … Old thing … Sick grin, the slut, smells of oil … Throws the knives back and forth … Your mouth looks funny, she said, stuck in a permanent grin …
I wave my hand through the air to shoo it away and I catch a glimpse of
my half-done face in the mirror and I feel like laughing at it. I should clean the rest of it off to get ready for the next performance in the theatre, but I see this sick grin over my lips beneath low hung eyes caked in blue powder, and I don't want to lose it.
– Pay attention to me … Why aren't you paying attention to me?
– No, go away. You get on my nerves. I say. I think I'm smiling.
– Stuck suddenly like a knife, the scorpion throws strong words … She creaks
and moans … Poor old thing, moaning, back and forth, back and forth … It didn't hurt though, she looked ridiculous with that sick grin, hardly one to clean her face … Such strong words, weren't they? … Poor old thing, poor slut … Put that make-up back on! Haha! Makes me think of her, old thing, dead as a body …
– Can't you stop that?
– From the left ear to the right, through that old shilling you call a brain
… Makes me laugh sometimes, when I think back … Back and forth … Throwing those old strong words … It didn't hurt, though … Remember her, do you? She would draw attention in the same way you would empty rooms … You still do empty rooms … Stings suddenly, stuck like a knife, forth and back, she throws them, hardly ever wiping clean her face … cleaning, cleaning, but still the flies, like me, flies round you … She catches a glimpse in the mirror … The poor old ridiculous thing …
I dab the Cold Cream over my face again, rubbing over the lips and then
wiping the paint off with a tissue. I toss the scrunched up tissue aside and wipe my face with facial wipes, making weird, contorted mouth shapes as I do. My skin is slightly pink now, but quite soft. I might get a rash on my cheeks if I don't moisturise, but I don't feel like doing that right now. The pores in my skin still feel clogged up. So, that's what I look like. I'd forgotten what I looked like. I'm looking in the mirror and my eye sockets are huge black dents with green circlets inside. It's this skeletal figure with a cubic jawbone looking at me, the faded red smile almost entirely gone. I'm hardly recognisable at all without the make-up. I feel the cooling effects of the cream on my skin and smell a mixture of antiseptic and grease. There is that metallic smell, too, coming from either the metal aerosol cans or the pigments in the colours, the vapour sucking up all the air in the room; my head is so painful now, making me wince. I don't have any painkillers, just make-up and paint and more greasy colours all over the table. Used tissues with black and red smudges, and empty spray cans mixed in with the full ones.
The fly buzzes around my head, almost hitting me. Once it hits the
mirror, making a papery sound and it almost falls down, but it carries on flying, dipping up and down, getting so close to me I can almost smell it. I am still sitting on the chair. I am smiling. I say:
– Why don't you just go away and leave me alone?
– Left ear to the right ear, back and forth … She would draw attention, but not anymore … She would creak and moan, but not anymore … She used to sting, not anymore …
– She did this, she did that. Is there anything she didn't do?
– She used to wear that make-up like you do, remember? That would draw attention, not like you … Poor old thing … Stuck a knife in her, that happened, didn't it?
– Poor damn thing … Damn thing, damn thing, I say.
– Stuck suddenly, you didn't think it could happen, did you? Stings like a
knife … She moans, she moves back and forth, back and forth. God, don't you love it?
– No. Of course not. Shut up, now, I don't want to hear anymore of it.
– But she's not here anymore.
– I didn't do it.
In this little dressing room, I feel a chill on my naked face, and I realise
I have taken off my face. I feel so bare. I turn my head away from my reflection at last, and stand up. She protrudes like fingers when I reach the door, and there is the icy breath of the draft on my damp face. It makes me shiver. I begin to smile a lot wider and a small giggle hiccups out of my throat. The fly buzzes over my head and I start laughing, I can't help it. It's almost like a seizure in my diaphragm and it hurts; the sound of a horrible mechanical thing as I think Two clowns walk into a bar and I burst into a fit of laughter, holding onto my stomach. The fly watches me and I can't stop laughing. I knock over a bottle of moisturising lotion and the rubber chicken and I laugh so hard I feel the blood pound in my forehead. My stomach begins to cramp. I can hear the buzzing above me and I just can't stop laughing. I smell the medicinal smell of soap and creams and a metallic smell and the laughter is coming out of me like vomit.
– What's so funny? It says.
– We're just clowns. That's what's funny.
But the fly doesn't laugh, it has no sense of humour. I take in a huge
breath and let out a long, relieving sigh, still grinning, knowing she won't be coming back. What's funny is that I'm still dressed as a clown with my baggy pants and suspenders. I still have green hair, too. There's no escaping it. I think I'm always going to be a clown whether I wipe it all off or not, and I find this hilarious. But what's really funny is that she's still here, on the floor, where she died. The blood is still warm on her arms, half-congealed over the floor and her baggy pants. There is a fly buzzing round her smell. Her rainbow-coloured hair hanging off with her head hung down. I realise the noise I must be making down the corridor when I begin to laugh again, and I hear the manic echo of my voice, going on and on. The fly leaves and there is silence. I close the door shut.

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