Odie’s sister Perse lets him go into Dr. Laurette’s office by himself now. He’s twelve year’s old. When he was ten he would hide in the hallway and wait out the hour. Perse had to start walking him in by the hand. This is the third therapist he’s had to see since Perse took him away from Mother. The therapists talk to Odie but they’re evaluating Perse. A sister can’t be guardian of a brother who’s going to hurt himself. But he hasn’t even talked about that stuff in almost two years. He writes happy things in his journal now. He doesn’t use red-flag terms. When Dr. Laurette asks, he says, “Pretty good.” He says, “Typical kid.” Dr. Laurette sometimes asks how he likes living with Perse. He always says, “Great.” He says, “I love my sister.” He never says, “I miss Mother.” That’s a red-flag term.
Odie has to wear glasses. They’re thicker than most kids’ glasses. Odie’s glasses make him a freak amongst freaks. They fell off in gym class once. He didn’t see a basketball. It hit him right in the face. He pretended to be knocked out. They sent him to the nurse, then home. Dr. Laurette asked him how that made him feel. “Sad sometimes. But just normal sad.” Odie feels sad more often than he admits to Dr. Laurette.
Perse wears contacts now. Next to him in pictures her eyes look tiny. She wore glasses until she was five. That’s when she got hit by lightning. The lightning zapped an air-conditioner. Then it arced into the metal frame of her glasses. It knocked her into the wall. It burned all her hair off. It never grew back. She doesn’t even have ear or nose hair. She wears a blonde wig. It’s straight with straight bangs. She bought it fifteen years ago. She washes it with her bras. She wears a headband to hold it on. The headband also keeps sweat out of her eyes. Perse is thirty. Odie doesn’t think she’s pretty. She looks mad all the time. Her bald eyebrows make her look madder. He would be mad too if he was her. He feels sorry for her.
Odie looks back before he goes inside. Perse is smoking cigarettes in the stationwagon. She’s doing Sudoku. She solves a whole book every day. Numbers are easy for her. Sudoku makes her calm. It must be a nice break from people.
Dr. Laurette’s office is in a big building. There’s a dentist’s office in there. Odie can hear the drill when he walks by. There’s an acupuncturist. He looked that word up. They poke needles into nerves. It can make foot pain or head pain go away. Odie’s afraid to suggest trying it. It could help Perse too. Nerves are just electric wires. People run on electricity. That’s why Perse is so mad all the time. Odie thinks the lightning made her different. Her brain only understands logic now. That’s why she’d say no to acupuncture. It’s not logical. A lot of things aren’t.
She can’t talk to people. Dr. Laurette says, “If you need anything, this is my number.” Perse says, “What will your number be if I need nothing?” Her voice is deep and warbly. Most people don’t like Perse. It’s not her fault. It was the lightning. Living with Perse doesn’t make Odie logical. Just like living with Odie doesn’t make Perse emotional.
Dr. Laurette’s waiting room is all primary colors. The chairs are big plastic cupped hands. Odie might be too old for Dr. Laurette. If he changes therapists they have to get reevaluated. There’s a Sports Illustrated for Kids on the waiting room table. Perse always says, “How can people enjoy a game they don’t even play?” She says, “The games never change. How can people watch them as if they’re new every year?”
The day is flying by. Perse always says, “Time passes only at a constant rate.” But it feels like the day is going fast to Odie. His plans for the end of the day are coming quickly. It makes him feel nauseous. Perse suspects nothing. Dr. Laurette will suspect nothing. Tomorrow will be hard for them. It will get easier.
Between now and the end are Dr. Laurette and dinner. Dr. Laurette is always behind. Odie can count on the seconds crawling in this waiting room. It will give him time to think.
Then Dr. Laurette’s door opens. She peeks out with a smile. “Odie? Are you ready?” His end of the day plans are suddenly closer than he thought.
Brian’s a professional in his twenties but he learned the artform from the traditional school of thought on Clownery, so when he gets a call from the Spritzer’s Entertainment Agency saying he’s got a gig, especially a gig as cushy as wishing Lou Ellis a Happy 80th, he rubs on his face, draws on his smile, and then he’s Boom-Boom, and all of his human woes, like ever seeing little Clyde again, or the Agency’s Three-Strikes-and-You’re-Out policy, or the muffler on his Focus that’s held up by fishing line, no longer matter. Boom-Boom doesn’t understand woe: he’s a joybringer, an ambassador of fun, a window through which mirth blows across the world like a warm breeze, to use the words of Bonkers, his clown idol, the entertainer who made Boom-Boom what he is today.
The birthday boy, Lou Ellis, is from the greatest generation, pre-Pennywise, pre-Gacy, the folks who saw Barnum and Bailey’s as an event and Bozo (admirational sigh) as a real celebrity; the kind of guy who recognizes a seltzer bottle and thinks scotch or, when the nozzle’s turned the other way around, side-splitting hilarity. Boom-Boom makes sure to pack his Clownery chest with the old favorites: cream pie, joy-buzzer, concertina, kaleidoscope ringed with ink.
Boom-Boom reminds himself to be thankful, when he’s Brian again, for this easy-gimme of a job, which he’s needed after weeks of being denied the ability to see or speak with Clyde (“Ex-boyfriends don’t have rights to another man’s son,” Jan texted and then either texted again immediately for emphasis or the text-service hiccuped), and after the Adult Education Center threatened to cancel his Pratfalls class due to low attendance, and especially after the two recent customer complaints filed with the Agency. (“Three strikes, Brian,” Mr. Darling reminded, and he growled back, “My. Name. Is. Boom. Boom. Sir.”). He only got this job because the guy who commissioned it, Buzz, a geezer with dementia who apparently was saved by Lou back in “the war” (Boom-Boom doesn’t know which one), knew Boom-Boom from his volunteer work at the Silvercrest Retirement home, where Boom-Boom gets amazing laugh-mileage from the same tricks every week.
Boom-Boom stands in the full-length and gives his soft nose a honk: it’s time to get zany.
He scuba walks in his shoes, which Clyde calls his “Boom-Boom Boots”—although Jan always corrects him, “Those aren’t boots, lumpkins, you know that,” but of course he knows that, it just sounds funnier and the kid understands comedy. He considers the past tense (Clyde called, Jan corrected) but realizes he’s not quite out of their life yet, not if he can help it, and besides, he’s a professional, and those are Brian’s troubles, and Boom-Boom has none of those.
Then he sees, tucked under the Focus’s one wiper, a bright green parking ticket, probably in regards to the hydrant only a few feet away, and next to it a note, and he just knows it’s from Jan, and Lou’s easy-as-cream-pie birthday gig seems further away than he thought.
Odie kills time in Dr. Laurette’s office. He sits on her blue chaise-lounge. The fuzziness makes his neck and arms itch. He looks at the ceiling so he can’t see her. She holds her yellow notepad. Once Odie saw it. She put it down to grab a tissue when she sneezed. He read, “History of abuse.” He read, “Unstable mother.” He read, “Bullying: overweight, antisocial.” He read, “Suicidal?” He read, “Hyperemotional.” He knows she’s doing her best. Tomorrow she will feel bad. He doesn’t know if she could really help him. She always asks about his feelings. She always asks about his dreams. She tries to trick him into opening up to her. Odie’s smarter than her tricks. Unlike him she looks pretty in glasses. She just wouldn’t understand. So he sits quietly. She sighs. The clock on her desk ticks.
Once Odie tried to help her help him. He told her about Sheila. Sheila was the woman who saved his life once. It was two years before. He was at the bus stop. She asked him what was wrong. Her voice was deep like a lawnmower. She wore a jean jacket. Her teeth were like old tombstones. He just sighed at her. He hugged his knees. She rubbed his back. Her callouses scratched through his shirt. That night he had also made end-of-the-day plans. Sheila didn’t know that. She missed her bus to rub his back. She said, “It can’t be that bad, son.” She said, “I have a double mastectomy on Tuesday.” He didn’t know what a mastectomy was. He told Dr. Laurette Sheila was an angel. Dr. Laurette asked if he believed in angels. He said no.
Perse would have pointed out the illogical. “You’ve stated that Sheila is an angel, thus you believe angels exist.” Dr. Laurette asked if he wished he could see Sheila again. He said, “No.” Then it was quiet. So Dr. Laurette just changed the subject.
Odie didn’t tell her that he didn’t mean angel. Later he realized he meant, “antibody.” He understands science better now that he’s in sixth grade.
Dr. Laurette didn’t understand the picture he drew once. It was a toothy-mouthed Earth with pointy ears and a tail. She asked if he thought the world was a monster. He just sighed. Dr. Laurette didn’t get it.
He wonders if Dr. Laurette will figure him out in the remaining twenty-five minutes. He wonders if she will be his antibody. Then he wonders about what he learned when he looked up “mastectomy.” He wonders if he’s a cancer. He remembered the story of his birth. Maybe he’s a cell that shouldn’t be there at all.
Dr. Laurette tilts a cup of colored pencils at him. She holds a piece of yellow construction paper. “I don’t want to draw,” he says. She puts it away. Behind her desk a small drawer squeaks. She pulls out a Rubik’s cube. “I don’t want to play games,” he says. A larger drawer creaks open. She pulls out a big cage. There’s a big rodent inside. It smells like sour wood chips. Its face puffs when it squeaks. Odie shakes his head. “I don’t want to do whatever that is.”
Outside in the waiting room after his session there’s a girl with her mother. The mother knits. The girl has two braids. Her overalls are hooked upside down. She’s coloring in a book. Odie sneaks a peek. The girl is coloring a clown. She’s using the long edge of the crayon. She’s only coloring the blank space around the clown. She’s making beautiful textures as she rubs. She gives the empty space motion. The girl’s eyes are wet with heavy tears. Maybe she’s like him. Maybe she can feel the sorrow that’s in the air. Maybe she knows sadness is like radio waves. Maybe she hears it like ringing in her ears. Odie wishes he’d met her before. He can’t talk to her now. It’s not nice to meet someone the day before he’s gone.
Boom-Boom clutches the wheel tightly with his white-gloved hands, his Boom-Boom boots on the passenger seat, his purple-socked feet furiously alternating between gas and clutch while some asshole in an Acura in front of him does just under the speed-limit and and pauses a three-count at every red light and stop sign.
The parking ticket is in the glove compartment with the others, but he put Jan’s note in his front pocket, stuffed in with about thirty feet of colored scarves. As a professional, he has to remember to remove the note before performing, even though he knows he won’t forget about it, despite the fact that he should—and that bitch, Jan, knew he was getting ready for a gig, he bets, and put that note, written in Sharpie on a napkin (because apparently she didn’t have any Wal-mart receipts available) under his wiper just to jingle his bells before he went out on a job that she probably knows he absolutely needs.
She’s like that, cold and calculating behind a warm, innocent face that tricks everyone, even him (in the beginning) when they met outside the bouncy house at that smug whiny Garrison brat’s birthday party and she saw how much her crinkly-eyed little boy loved him and thought, probably, “Score, free baby-sitter, and all I have to do is sleep with him and have him buy me dinner a few times.” In his heart he knows that it wasn’t like that, but his head’s hot, teeth are gritted, every one of his memories colored by his moods lately which have been red as his nose or bluer than cotton candy, despite the fact that, as Boom-Boom, he only has one mood: kooky, which would be easier to get to if the asshole in front of him would step on the goddamned gas.
The note says:
1) Confusing to Clyde
2—Upsetting to Marcus
3… You ? Father Material
It’s a response to the last thing he said to her before she hung up on him: “Give me three solid reasons why I can’t see Clyde again and I’ll leave you, and him, and your damned ex-husband alone forever, and you guys can get remarried and I won’t even send a card, not out of spite but because of this agreement, to which I’ll be bound—” and then the phone went dead, so now Brian is unaware how much of that statement she heard, although clearly she heard as far as “three solid reasons”.
The GPS says he’s ten minutes from Lou’s house, and the appointment’s in ten minutes, so if he can get past the guy in front of him he’ll be fine, as long as he can get himself out of the Brian-stressed-out-mindset and into the mind of high-kicking, confetti throwing, slipping-on-a-banana-peel-but-impervious-as-long-as-there’s-laughter Boom-Boom the clown. He thinks of anger management class (which he went to twice at Jan’s request before she dumped him anyway) and tries breathing techniques, none of which work, especially not with the red demon eyes of the Acura’s brake-lights blaring in his face every time he starts to get control over himself.
Get it out of your system, he thinks, so he allows himself these ten minutes to be Brian, to plan what he will say to Jan when he inevitably addresses this note (a cowardly attempt to yank on his suspenders), which he will do in several days, in a calm voice, in a public setting.
First: Confusing to Clyde? Clyde learned all of the constellations in one day when Brian put them on the ceiling of Clyde’s bedroom in glow-in-the-dark paint and then sat with him with the lights off—you try naming a constellation, he’d say to Jan, name one, and she’d probably say, “The Big Dipper,” but Clyde knows Ursa Major and Cassiopeia, without even having lines drawn between them, and the only one he gets wrong is Orion, but that’s on purpose, with a big grin on his face: he calls that one Boom-Boom.
The Acura slams on its brakes so Boom-Boom slams on his brakes and the Clownery trunk in the back seat slides forward, guaranteeing there’s a an overturned tin plate and cream pie all over a lot of his props.
Second, upsetting to Marcus? The guy who, when the doctors said Clyde had a “syndrome” said, “I know my limitations and I can’t be the dad he needs me to be,” (THEN he figures out how to “pull out”) and for years after only sent birthday cards with cash inside (the most recent one two weeks late) and never acknowledged Christmas? Apparently dropping sperm in something gives you forever privileges to reclaim it, meaning Brian should probably head back to his parents’ house and reclaim a few towels and a square of carpet.
Jan acts like it’s Marcus’ status as Clyde’s father, which, “Clyde has a right to have!” that led her to invite him back into her life, and not the fact that Marcus is a firefighter and a paramedic and not, in the words of Jan’s mother, a, “grown man in a costume” (although every damned Halloween you can be sure there’s a dozen or more kids trick-or-treating as firemen, so how is that any different?). She acts like their weekly (sometimes daily) fights near the end were because of Brian’s “anger issues” (a clown, who smiles while kids throw cake at him and volunteers his time at the Silvercrest Retirement Community) and not because of the way she felt when her jesterphobic friends looked at her when Brian missed weddings to make balloon animals at the mall, as if his degree, from the fully accredited Bonkers’ Academy of Hijinx and Tomfoolery, wasn’t as legitimate as their boyfriends’ from their “state schools” and their “masters programs.”
The light turns green and the Acura hesitates, probably day-dreaming or, for christ’s sake, texting, causing Boom-Boom to lay on his horn and practice his breathing techniques again—blue in, 1, 2, 3, red out, 1-2—and the light turns yellow as the Acura rolls through it, then red, and Boom-Boom decides, “Gun it,” and stomps on the gas pedal, and then it’s lights like blue fireworks behind him and he smashes the steering wheel with his forehead, leaving a white makeup smear, clicks on his blinker and pulls over. Lou is going to have to wait.
Outside Dr. Laurette’s office Perse is talking to a teenager from inside the stationwagon. He’s crouched down at her window. He has black hair. He’s handsomer than Odie. He probably has a girlfriend. Perse is leaning forward. “EXTRA cigarette?” she says. Odie has heard this before. “As if I entered the story only desiring 16 cigarettes, but due to packaging standards and society’s aesthetic symmetry demands I was unable to buy less than 20? Is that what you’re asking?”
The teenager is confused. It makes sense if you just think about it. People don’t think in ways that make sense. Nobody thinks like Perse. That’s why she’s always angry. Odie ignores the teenager and climbs into the passenger seat. Perse tosses her cigarette. She rolls up her window on the teenager. She pulls away. Odie wants to listen to the radio. Perse hates the radio. Odie can smell cigarettes from her wig.
Perse asks what he wants for dinner. He wants to say, “Doesn’t matter.” He knows how she’ll respond. “It certainly matters, Odie, in terms of cost and where we travel, as well as nutritional benefit and a dozen other factors.” He wouldn’t correct her, but what he means is, after that night, what he had for dinner won’t matter at all. He could only win that argument if he used red-flag terms.
Odie asks for roast beef sandwiches. Then there’s a heavy warm greasy sack on his lap.
The cop’s a little guy with glasses and a high-pitched voice, but he stands taller when he sees Boom-Boom in the stereotypically cramped car wearing a frown with a big red smile drawn around it, and says with a smirk after Boom-Boom hands over his license and registration, “Where are you headed tonight, pal?” and doesn’t say, but Boom-Boom imagines him saying, “…the circus?” and Boom-Boom says, “Not the fucking circus, if that’s what you’re thinking.” A minute later Boom-Boom is standing outside the car, his purple socks on the just-rained-on-tar as he walks a straight line, his nose honking as he touches it with alternating hands, passing car tires crackling along the wet ground and he prays that none of the passersby is Marcus, or Jan’s mom, who would immediately tell her that Brian was, in fact, ? Father Material.
Back in his car, waiting for the cop to bring back no doubt a ludicrously high ticket, Boom-Boom struggles to be thankful the cop only half-searched the Clownery trunk and didn’t make it all the way to the bottom, where he kept stashed the little graduation gift Bonkers himself had given him, “Old-fashioned clown style justice,” Bonkers had called it, the big shiny old-timey revolver Bonkers had nicknamed “Big-Top Betty”. Boom-Boom thinks maybe, after making Lou Ellis’ birthday a mountain of fun, he could swing by Marcus’ condo so they could have a little chat, clown-to-man, and maybe he’d give the guy a clown-style scare, which makes Boom-Boom chuckle to himself in his hiccupy Boom-Boom laugh.
Of course now he’s late to Lou’s house, so he parks down the street, knowing an 80 year old man would be suspicious and terrified by a stranger driving up without warning, plus it’s a bigger surprise when a clown walks up to your door than when he gets out of a shitty Focus with a rusted out muffler.
He rings the doorbell and waits, clearing his throat, summoning his baritone Boom-Boom voice and the laugh that pops like firecrackers. It’s only 6:30, just barely dark, but old people do go to bed early, so Boom-Boom rings the doorbell again—and at this point, he needs this, not just to pay for the ticket he got for running a red light and his expired registration sticker but because he needs to be a joybringer, needs to be a window of mirth like he used to be, and also because one more complaint and that’s it for the Agency, and good luck being a freelance clown nowadays.
Boom-Boom flop-walks around the house, notices there’s no car in the driveway but sees one light on, a pale blue light—maybe a TV, maybe watching 60 minutes before bed—coming from a window on the far side of the back of the house. He flops across the lawn and approaches the window, peeks in, and through venetian blinds sees a bedroom, a small desk-lamp with a blue bulb screwed in casting its deep glow over the bed and the open closet door, into which two bedsheets, tied together, hang, one end fastened to the base of the bed, it looks like (although he can’t quite see) with the other twisted up into a loop, hanging over the closet rod above a small stool.
Boom-Boom imagines for a moment a lonely perv doing unspeakable things in the privacy of his lonely home (trying hard not to picture what the old man, while choking, would stroke it to) but then he realizes: Lou Ellis was planning to kill himself on his 80th birthday! But he was in luck, because his old pal Buzz, whose life he saved back in the war, sent him a joybringer: Boom-Boom, who, with his Clownery trunk, was going to be a hero to this old guy—a fact he couldn’t wait to share with Jan, because how many lives had Marcus saved, not counting, of course, the paramedic stuff, and the fires he helped extinguish, but that was all for a paycheck so it doesn’t count as real “heroism.”
Boom-Boom flop-walks around the other side of the house to the front door where his Clownery trunk still sits and bangs on the door again, leaning into it with his shoulder, yells, “Lou? Mr. Ellis? Open the door, it’s going to be okay,” and then Boom-Boom notices there’s a stationwagon in the driveway he didn’t hear pull in, probably because of his bulky blue wig.
As they pull into their driveway Odie notices something outside the front door. It looks like a package. Then it looks like an old chest. He squints. He’s never seen it before. Perse puts her hand on his shoulder. Her voice gets quiet. Perse whispers, “Odie, stay in the car.” Odie doesn’t know what she saw. Before he can ask, she says, “Be quiet.” She gets out. She tiptoes around the house like a burglar. She looks around the corner. Odie is not afraid. He’s just confused.
He wants to see that trunk. It’s purple. He opens the door and gets out. Then he sees a clown. He freezes. Odie thinks of the braid girl. He thinks of Sheila.
The clown has big floppy pants. He’s got a huge green bowtie. He has a big blue wig. His shoes are like flippers. He’s knocking on their door like he needs to get in. Odie ducks behind the front of the stationwagon. He hears the man say, “Hello?” He says, “Is that you Lou?” Odie wonders where Perse is. Then he hears the front door open. He hears a click and something sprays. He hears the clown scream. Odie runs to the front door. The man falls back on the purple trunk. Perse is inside the house. She’s spraying him in the eyes with pepper spray. She looks really really mad. Odie yells, “Stop! PERSE! STOP!”
Thick milk drowns Boom-Boom’s face—Jesus, what is it, half-and-half? Whipping cream?—and only then did the fire in his eyes and nose start to go out, and his face, which felt like it was folding into itself, starts to unclench, and he realizes that he’s wide-mouthed wailing while bony fingers hold his head still against a sink so he stops, starts to catch his breath in panicky chest-filling gulps, and somebody digs into his eyes with a wet cloth, which feels like sandpaper on his cornea.
“You’re gonna blind me for Chrissakes!” he yells, then snatches the cloth and starts rubbing his eyes himself, dropping to a fetal position on the floor while a voice like a Scooby-Doo ghost says, “You’re getting milk all over the floor. Stand up.” Finally when some oxygen gets to his brain, he rises to his feet, opens his eyes and the room comes into focus like a Polaroid: he’s in a kitchen with the candy-apple shaped kid from outside and some woman, who looked like she’s both 20 and 60 at the same time, wearing a blonde wig she must have picked up in the USSR in the 70s and a bandana, something wrong with her face he can’t put his finger on.
The candy-apple kid sits there, slender limbs on a big bulbous core, short crew-cut hair and thick glasses that triple the size of his eyes, with a hand over his mouth, and at first Boom-Boom thinks the wide-eyed kid is shocked, but actually the kid’s got a grin he’s trying to cover up, or maybe he’s about to throw up, but it’s still hard to see clearly.
“You’re trespassing,” Disco Nadia says and points to the door.
“You pepper-sprayed me!” Boom-Boom shrieks, and he stops, clears his throat, looking around the kitchen he’s in, which is nice, a tight squeeze with one small table under a hanging lamp and a wall that’s just fridge-oven-sink in a row, all in dull shades of brown. “Are you insane?”
The wig-chick folds her bony arms, looking like pipe cleaners you’d never get untangled, and says, “Whose sanity is in question? Because you were the one pounding our front door dressed in that absurd outfit. Get out.” Now his feelings are hurt, and he doesn’t care how the suicidal geezer fits into all of this, he just wants to be away from this, but there’s a sticker for the Agency on his Clownery chest that either of them could have seen, and the phone number is on the website.
“Perse, he’s a clown!” whispers the lollipop kid, his goofy eyes bugging out even bigger behind his telescope-lens glasses, and Abba-slavia says, “Speaking observations does not pass as conversation, Odie,” so the kid with glasses is Odie, and the cancer chick is Perse, he figures.
“Normally I’m a little better composed than this,” Boom-Boom says, putting the wadded up washcloth in the sink next to the now empty bottle of—wow, who drinks whole milk nowadays? Out of a bottle?— and a clear snot-globule metronomes from his nose before falling to the ground with a splat.
“What are you doing at my house?” she hisses. As she crosses back into Boom-Boom’s line of sight, he sees the small canister of pepper spray still clutched in her fist so he holds up both hands defensively, clears his throat, adopting his rubbery Boom-Boom voice through the phlegm, and says, “I’m here to wish Lou Ellis a happy 81st birthday!” and looks around, hoping Lou will walk into the room at the mention of his name.
“Who’s Lou Ellis?” Odie says, wiping mucus from the floor with the washcloth, never taking his eyes off Boom-Boom.
“He owned this house before I did,” Perse says—and Boom-Boom realizes what looks weird about her: there’s no hair on her eyebrows so she looks like a mean turtle—“He died here, in the room right down the hall.”
Goddamned Buzz and his goddamned dementia.
Boom-Boom shakes his head, explains the situation, asks if there’s anything he can do, apologizes, and then heads for the door, hearing the popcorn-crackle from the other side before he opens it and has to acknowledge that now it’s raining, and his Clownery chest is soaked.
“I hope you have an umbrella,” Perse projects coldly.
“I do,” Boom-Boom says, flicking open the two latches on the Clownery chest, barely opening it as he pulls out a bright red umbrella and adds, “But I don’t know if it’s going to help me much.” He opens it up, dumping a bucket’s-worth of confetti onto the floor around him.
Perse growls and Odie gasps, and Boom-Boom remembers the oath he had taken at the Bonkers’ Academy: “…and I do solemnly swear to spread joy through shenanigans wherever needed, to act as an ambassador of fun whenever the opportunity presents itself…” Boom-Boom remembers the noose, the most desperate cry for fun he’s ever encountered.
“I’m already paid for,” Boom-Boom says, “and I’ve got pretty much my whole act in this trunk. At least until it stops raining, maybe a little mini clown-show?”
“I hate clowns as much as I hate trespassers,” Perse says.
“Just until the rain stops,” Boom-Boom says, and adds, “You pepper-sprayed me!”
The pipe-cleaners come untangled and she heads for the kitchen, and Boom-Boom counts that as a maybe, dragging his Clownery chest inside the door where it soaks the carpet. The details may have changed but he could still leave this place as a joybringer—and a hero!
In the kitchen, as Perse leans against the table and Odie plops down on a three-legged stool he drags in front of the stove, Boom-Boom starts out small (knowing he doesn’t have long before these two weirdos kick him out), juggling two balls, then three balls, then three balls and three tissues, and Odie smiles a little and Perse checks her watch. While he was hoping for a little applause, he’s no stranger to a tough crowd, so next he’s on the uni, keeping six bowling pins in the air (with extra style points for accommodating the low ceiling) while pedaling a tight circle around Odie’s stool, meanwhile struggling to evaluate the two of them as best he could: whose room did he see? Which one of these weirdos wants to hang from a bedsheet, the grumpy chemo lady or the tubby retard?
One bowling pin misses his grasp, strikes the ground, and then they all follow and he topples backwards, the force of the ground against his back punching the wind from his lungs, so he lays there, stunned, thinking: for eighteen months the r-word didn’t even exist to me! But he’s still a professional, and on the job, so he somersaults backwards and lands upright on both feet, gasping out, “Ta-da!” while he sees the woman death-glaring him and the kid looking puzzled, like he’s doing mental algebra.
“You like animals, Odie?” Boom-Boom asks, and from his pocket he pulls out a blue balloon, stretches it with both hands five times, then blows it up, deftly twisting it into a dog, handing it to Odie, who holds it gently between both hands like it’s fragile as a soap bubble, and Boom-Boom adds, “You don’t want your new friend running away on you, though, do you?” so he pulls out a purple balloon, stretches it, and blows it up, twisting the end into a loop, belting out, “Here’s a leash!” then, daring, remembering—it takes balls to be a hero—he makes eye contact with the kid and gives the leash-balloon a few extra twists above the loop—this look familiar, Odie?—and the kid’s smile fades as Boom-Boom puts the balloon-dog’s head through the loop and places the other end in Odie’s hand.
“Odie, go wash your hands and face before dinner,” Perse orders, a bony stem pointing him out of the kitchen.
“No, wait,” Boom-Boom says quickly, “a few more tricks and then—“
Odie’s gaze bounces from blue wig to blonde and then back. “But—“
“Does anything suggest that this is a discussion?” Perse says so harshly Boom-Boom almost thought the lights would flicker—no wonder Odie wants to off himself—and the kid rises from the stool and his potatoey body bounces away.
Perse, when he’s gone: “This is absurd. You need to leave.”
Boom-Boom waits until he hears the bathroom door close and whispers, “I think he wants to kill himself,” too quickly, and realizes it sounds crazy when it’s out in the air, and he struggles to figure out how to explain himself further, and really hopes he didn’t guess wrong, because boy, would that be an awkward conversation!
Perse pulls wrapped sandwiches from a greasy-clear bag, setting them up on plates she pulls from a cabinet above the stove and says, “I’m aware. And it’s time for you to go.”
“No, you don’t understand, I saw a noose in his room.”
Perse, facing away, freezes. “I. Am. Aware. Please leave.”
“You don’t even care?”
“You’re making very definitive judgments after collecting incomplete data,” Perse says, placing the plates at opposite ends of the table, and her fists clench, then relax, and she goes on, “Odie has been obsessed with his own death since he was very young. Our mother is very unstable, and he inherited some of that… plus, I took him away from some serious mistreatment when he was too young to understand. I don’t even understand it. He resists his therapy, and won’t take his medication. Now I just do what I can to keep him alive each day.”
“He’s going to hang himself.”
“He just wants to think about it. If he goes too far… I took a jigsaw to the closet rod. It won’t support his weight.”
Boom-Boom shakes his head, this chick talking about thwarting suicide plans like she’s trying to keep Odie out of her liquor stash, and he starts thinking about Jan and Clyde, and wonders why he can see what’s wrong in these situations better than they can. He stomps forward and yells, “Lady, why don’t you try telling him not to kill himself? Try telling him you don’t want him to die! This is absurd!”
“You are a mediocre juggler who just fell off a unicycle. I should get a mirror to demonstrate to you the concept of absurdity.”
And now she’s gone and hurt his feelings.
Odie walks from the bathroom to his room. He accidentally left his lamp on. The dark blue glow makes the room somber. The white sheets soak up the blue light. He gives the noose in the closet a tug. He’s sure he tied it right this time.
It was supposed to happen after dinner. But it might happen right after sunrise. Maybe rosy, purply sky was the last thing he wanted to see. The sunrise looks like every breakfast juice spilled together. It would either make him happy or sad as the last thing he saw.
Odie was born dead. Mother told him many times. When he came out he wasn’t crying. The nurses panicked. One held Mother’s hand. She told her things would be fine. Odie’s pruney lump body wasn’t breathing. His teeny heart didn’t move.
Odie imagines Mother’s tired whining. He pictures faint grunting from the doctor. Nobody in that room would notice the whisper of light floating up and away.
It had only been in this world for a second. It didn’t have a name. It was on its way into the next world. It didn’t know to be sad about leaving this one. Then the doctor grabbed that puff of life with his thumbs and jammed it into a body that didn’t work on its own. The doctor pumped the broken brand-new heart until it started again. He breathed into the unused lungs. Nature had stopped them both but that doctor made them move. Then his mom named the thing Odie.
He remembers his fifth Christmas. Mother drove him to pick out a Christmas tree. She told him to wait next to the perfect one. She’ll be right back, she said. She was gone for hours. The lights started going out. The lot owner had to drive him home. Mother was with a policeman when he got home. She told everyone he ran away. She acted angry with him. He didn’t understand. She shook him. He was so happy to see her again.
She locked him in the basement when he was eight. She said he had looked at her with hate in his eyes. He didn’t even understand the word yet. For two days he pooped and peed in the corner and cried. She slapped him when she saw the mess later. She demanded he clean it up.
Then his big sister came. She took him away. He never saw his mother again. He missed her. When he was older he realized he was wrong in his core.
That’s what Dr. Laurette could never understand. He touched the afterlife before he felt life. Everything since has always seemed slow. Dark. Sad.
But then Boom-Boom came to entertain a dead man. He made that leash look like a noose. Odie pictures the confetti umbrella. He wonders if it’s hard to ride the unicycle. “Clearly it is or else the skill would lack value,” Perse would say. He pictures Perse dumping milk into the clown’s face. He thinks about how the white makeup wiped off around his eyes. Underneath the drawn on smile Boom-Boom has a mouth that can frown. Odie heard him holler. Odie feels tightness in his own chest. He wipes an eye.
He will give Boom-Boom one more chance to make him happy. Then he will eat a roast beef sandwich with Perse. Later he will stand on the stool until the sun rises. Then he will know what he’s going to do.
Odie turns off the blue lamp. He walks into the hallway. Perse and Boom-Boom are quiet when he walks back into the kitchen. Only two plates are set up on the table. Boom-Boom won’t be staying for dinner. Perse looks impatient. Boom-Boom looks sad.
Boom-Boom moves so quickly it scares him. He drops down and grabs his shoulders. “We know what you’re going to do, Odie,” he says. Odie doesn’t know what to say. He looks at Perse. She doesn’t move. He wonders what they talked about. He wonders if Perse knows. He wonders how Boom-Boom knows. Things are going too fast for him to understand.
“Life is too damned important to throw away,” Boom-Boom says. He shakes Odie until his teeth clack together. Perse moves closer.
“That’s enough. Leave now, clown,” she says. She says the word like it’s a very bad thing.
“A lot of people don’t have as much as you do, don’t you know that?” Boom-Boom shouts. He doesn’t look fun anymore. He looks scary. He looks kind of sad. Sometimes Mother would scream for no reason. She would get the look that Boom-Boom has right now. Odie doesn’t understand.
“I’m calling the police,” Perse says.
Boom-Boom backs away. He runs into the front room. Odie hears the trunk open. He hears Boom-Boom rifle through it. Boom-Boom comes back with a shiny metal gun. He pulls back the hammer. It clicks. The middle part rotates. Perse doesn’t move. Boom-Boom points it at Odie. He can only see the black hole at the end of it.
“Is this what you really want?” Boom-Boom says. His voice is whiny. The gun’s going to shoot a bullet. Odie doesn’t know what to say. He’s shaking. Perse isn’t moving. “If you want to die so bad, consider me the good fairy. Wish granted. Time for your medicine, Odie.” Boom-Boom walks close enough to touch Odie’s forehead with the gun barrel. It’s cold. Odie can’t stop shaking. He opens his mouth and nothing comes out. He wants to see the sunrise.
Odie hears the squeak of a drawer. Perse moves so fast she’s standing next to Boom-Boom between blinks. She’s got a black box in her hand. A tiny bolt of blue stretches between two prongs at the end. It buzzes like electric bees. It crackles when Perse presses it into Boom-Boom’s neck. Now Boom-Boom is shaking. Odie smells burning hair. Boom-Boom’s eyes roll until they’re white. He bites his tongue. He stands like a zombie and shakes so hard. Then he falls to the ground. He’s still twitching. Perse is next to Odie now. She wraps one arm around him.
Suddenly Boom-Boom sits up. His face is a monster mask. He looks surprised to be awake. He reaches toward Odie. Perse and Odie flinch together. Boom-Boom shouts with his mouth open. Perse grabs the gun. She points it at Boom-Boom. The hammer goes CLACK.
There’s no boom.
A tiny flag pokes out of the gun-barrel.
It says, “BANG.”