You see, I don’t have any particular claims here. Nothing. I don’t own the place. I wasn’t around back when it first appeared. Hell, I don’t even love it all that much. I only have my working hours to declare, and it has recently dawned on me that I have 36 years of those. No small thing.
Where do I work? Circus. And I don’t say that in any indirect, conspiratorial way. I do mean ‘circus’, the very one: kids, clowns, cotton candies. I’m an illusionist, and have been all my life. I can make your watch disappear and be suddenly found around the wrist of an old lady sitting at the opposite end of the circus. I can take up to sixteen eggs out of my mouth and then break them in front of your very eyes. I can do it with cards, rabbits, hats, anything. I can do it with anything. I can do anything. But that’s onstage.
Offstage there’s this clown.
Offstage there’s this clown.
Coulrophobia, ever heard about that one? It means fear of clowns, and apparently many people have it. Mostly kids. In fact, up to some point I strongly believed it was only kids. But I was wrong. The moment he came to our circus, everything changed. Like I say, I’ve worked here for 36 years, so I can’t fuck anything up onstage, not anymore, but in a way and after thirty it’s the heavy pull of the offstage that gets you. Offstage hits me like a cold ocean wave. Coulrophobia. We all have it. We are all afraid of the clown.
It somehow pains me to admit it now, 6 years later, but I think I felt it from the start. When he swept past me on his way to our director's office just two days after Mitford’s heart attack – I felt mocked and humiliated. His erratic hair, his sickly breath – we would all have to get used to it, and act as if it was all right. What else would have to be all right? Well, many things: his lewd jokes, his misogyny, his fingernails.
As a kid I loved circus because of clowns. I adored them. The loose motley trousers, the stuck-on noses, the silly jokes – it really couldn’t and shouldn’t have worked. It had to fall apart and be written off as one vulgar and ridiculous non-sequitur. And it did fall apart, of course, but in a most weird and transfixing way. I was amazed. Oh it worked so well that my father had to resort to bribery and intimidation trying to dissuade me from becoming a clown. I was born a family of illusionists, you see, so I had to become one. I had to give in and follow the tradition. For the record, I have never really regretted it. Because you don’t want to be a clown. You can admire him, love him, be amused by him, but you don’t want to be like him. That said, I could always establish a good relationship with a clown. Mitford used to be a good friend of mine. There was this rapport. He would teach me a clumsy, hilarious gesture, and I could always teach him a card trick or two. But that was before the terror began.
Terror is not in the actions or what your eyes do. Terror is in the presence. Terror is abstract, it has to be rationally inexplicable. We all had classmates whose occasional absence could spark a sedate feeling of calmness and joy. With them around, raising hand, smoking outside, mocking teachers, – it was edgy and strained. Why? You don’t know; it just was.
Offstage – it’s him, the clown, who’s the illusionist. He can say something stupid, nonsensical, and still make you fear for your life. He can put on a freak show, effortlessly. Really bizarre stuff: like a giant bloody hole in his forehead, razor-sharp teeth tearing through his cheeks, multiple nostrils. I could never understand just how he does all that, but it surely has a sickening effect on my senses. You feel desperate, nauseous. And it’s not only me he feels this way. I’ve talked to everyone, in hushed whispers, after work. We are grown up men, but that’s the only way you feel safe mentioning those sinister wigs, that childish gait. For when the clown is about, you just get splashed flat against the wall, prison style, and feel eager to do anything he might ask you to do. Yesterday I brought him a glass of water. He took it without even looking at me. Which makes me think: I shouldn’t have spared the spit.
If he needs it, the clown can have the circus ring all to himself (he usually performs alone). Doing his juggling, dragging his pants down. And the thing is, he is a really crappy clown.
So yes, I hate him. I despise him, I wish him dead. But it seems like there’s nothing we can do. We don't have any claims. You see, when you’re in a circus, you are entangled in this odd camaraderie. You’re one team, you fake bonhomie. Onstage, offstage, on tours. You’re in it together, you’re all alike: animal tamers, clowns, jugglers, illusionists, acrobats... I should know: I work with mirrors.