It had been about an hour since the last guest arrived when the bell rang. The party had been very pleasant up to that point, even though Aunt Bea and Uncle Guy were in the same room. Jenna had been especially nervous about the two meeting up, ever since she drove Aunt Bea home last Christmas and heard her drunkenly whisper to herself that if she ever saw him again, she would shoot him right then and there. It could’ve been seen as an empty threat had we not witnessed when she pulled the steak knife on him after Matheo’s christening, three years ago. John quickly intervened, and the whole thing was now remembered as an anecdote rather than a warning, just another drunken episode of their endless quarrel. But Uncle Guy’s eyes frightened me that day. He knew she could do it. Aunt Bea might not have known it, but he seemed sure of it. I had hoped, when I sent out the invitations, that one or both of them would politely turn it down, yet they both showed up on time. To our surprise, though, the two were being very civil so far, successfully ignoring one another, choosing to focus on their own drinks. Jenna was actually telling me exactly that. She said, “Ben, I’m amazed. Your party is really pleasant so far, even though you got the whole family here.” And that’s when the bell rang.
“Who could that be?” Jenna asked, more curious than surprised. I counted everyone in the living room, and imagined the kids were probably upstairs, playing video games or drinking the alcohol they’d sneaked from the kitchen. We were all there.
“I have no idea,” I told Jenna before opening the door.
“Honk-honk!” the man said loudly while squeezing his big red nose. “Howdy, fella! Are you the birthday boy?”
A clown stood grinning on the front porch, waiting for my answer with inquisitive eyes that pierced me like spears. His face was painted white, with yellow diamonds around his eyes. His lips were a bright red, with a bigger mouth painted around his original one. He wore a wig made of multi-coloured strands, protruding from under a checkered top-hat that matched the checkered of his tie and baggy pants. He was holding an incredibly small suitcase in one hand, and on his feet the man was wearing really long yellow shoes. Oh, and, of course, he had the red nose.
“Who are you?” I asked, trying to recognize any familiar face behind all that makeup.
“Do you need glasses?” He said, striking a pose so that I could see his outfit better. He was not very tall, but not short either, bearing an uncanny average height. “I’m the clown! Are you the birthday boy?”
“Y-Yes, it’s my birthday,” I said, and watched his smile grow and grow until it took up most of his face, pushing nose and eyes up to have more room for itself.
“Well, isn’t that wonderful! Congratulations, kiddo! Now let’s have ourselves a nice party.” The clown started making his way towards the door, as if he had been invited. I had to put myself in his path to stop him.
“Sorry, but we didn’t order any clowns today. You can’t come in.”
“What do you mean you haven’t ordered any clowns? This is a birthday party isn’t it?”
“Yes, yes it is.”
“And I’m the clown! So make way, blue jay.”
This time the clown tried to make his way through the door with real intent, and I ended up having to push him. He was not really heavy, and rolled backwards with surprising agility, landing on his feet after two perfectly executed backflips and a somersault. The smile grew back on his face shortly after.
“Honk-honk!” He said again, squeezing his nose. “See? Now let me in and I can do these tricks for all your guests to see.”
I gave him a loud no and shut the door. Jenna came to see who it was.
“A clown. A literal clown. Did you book one for the party?”
“Absolutely no,” she said. “It’s your birthday, not a kid’s. And the family is entertainment enough for one day.”
The bell rang again. This time Jenna came with me, and she couldn't hold back a quiet but intense laughter as she saw the clown standing there, pulling a chain of handkerchiefs from his mouth. He probably took it as a sign of approval and gestured to the living room with inquisitive eyes.
“No, I told you we didn’t book any clowns. You probably have the wrong address or something. This isn’t a kid’s party.”
He gestured to me to wait and pulled the handkerchiefs faster. Took him about a minute to get to the last one, a yellow handkerchief, on which he gagged a little bit. We could see a small wet spot on it before he crumpled them into a ball and stuffed the whole thing in his pocket.
“It’s not about booking, B-boy. Can I call you that?”
Jenna laughed even harder at this.
“Ok, birthday boy it is. It’s not about booking. It’s your birthday party and I’m the clown, that’s just how it is. Come on, you know that.”
“I do not. Now goodbye.”
Only when the door closed did Jenna stop laughing, huffing for air while she dried the tears that formed and were at the tipping point of her eyes.
“Oof, I need some water.”
As soon as she entered the kitchen, I heard Aunt Bea shout, “Asshole!” to Uncle Guy, who was standing across the room, sipping on a green glass with something definitely alcoholic in it. His posture seemed calm, but he stared at her with nothing but sheer rage in his eyes. Jenna came running into the room. Everyone else turned their attention to the divorced couple, trying to dissuade their hatred and distract them with unrelated small talk or a made up urgent business in the kitchen. It seemed to work. Then the bell rang again.
This time the clown had a more serious brow, and was smoking a really thick cigar. The smoke from it was very light, almost as if from a match.
“Look, B-boy — sorry,— Birthday Boy. I’m just trying to make your party less of a drag. That’s my job. Just let me in and you’ll see.”
I crossed the door and made sure to close it behind me. It was a very hot and sunny day, and I wondered how he was not sweating his makeup off.
“I already told you man, we don’t need a clown at this party. So please, just go.”
BANG went the cigar, and the clown jumped into the same somersault as before, but this time he made it look as if he was going to land on his face, only to quickly throw his legs under himself and land on his feet, shouting a loud ta-da! that accentuated the black dust that tainted his makeup, or his face. It was hard to tell the difference.
“See, that was good, huh? Tell you what, I see you’re not a big fan of clowns, and I’m starting to not become a big fan of you, Mr. B-boy.” He was coming toward me wiping the dust off his face without tarnishing the makeup. “But you’re a birthday boy and I’m a clown, there’s no way around it. We gotta do what we gotta do. So let’s make a deal: I do a half show for a quarter the price, huh? This way we’ll get it done in no time, and we can both move on with our lives.”
“And you want me to pay?”
“Well, naturally, my lord,” the clown said with an intentionally fake British accent.
“For the last time man,” I said, approaching him with the most menacing grin I could think of. “I don’t want no fucking clowns at my party, ok? So you leave right now or I’ll call the police.”
The clown stood his ground, measuring me with deep intent for a few seconds, then said, “Honk-honk!” and sat cross legged on the front lawn, making a dove appear from a white piece of cloth. Jenna came to the door, her face a mask of preoccupation, and called me inside.
“Things are not looking good,” she said as we went to the living room and saw that everyone was trying to break off or prevent a fight between Aunt Bea and Uncle Guy. It took three men to hold him down, and two women to hold her back, but they kept shouting at each other.
“You piece of shit!”
And so on.
The only thing that put me at ease were Uncle Guy’s eyes. They were unshaken, confident, despite Aunt Bea’s cusses and threats. Behind all the rage on their faces, though, I could see they were both drunk. But this could be either good or bad.
“I think your grandma is calling the police,” Jenna said, trying to ask if I should let her do it. “I mean, John’s gonna have to make a run for it.”
I’ve never cared much for my cousin John since he was arrested for the first time, but I thought it a good idea to use him as a guarantee that things wouldn’t escalate. Uncle Guy and Aunt Bea were always covering up for him, and would never risk it over their petty fight. So we told them we were calling the cops.
Uncle Guy was the first one to give in. After a loud sigh, he apologized. The men let him go. He stood up and fixed his untucked shirt, apologizing one more time to everyone for the scene. To everyone except for Aunt Bea, who broke free from the family’s grasp and rushed to the bathroom, cursing loudly at him, at John, at us, at herself.
Luckily the kids were all upstairs, in the TV room. Things looked under control in the living room, so I decided to check on them, see that they wouldn’t witness anything that could scar them for life. The door was closed, and I could hear their laughs and giggles behind it. Should I barge in on their prepubescent secrets as Aunt Bea had done so many times in the past when my cousins and I were trying to get away from the family’s blunders? I knocked at the door, but got no answer besides a burst of laughter and shouting. I knocked again as I opened the door. My two thirteen year-old nephews and three younger second cousins were all huddled at the only window in the room, clapping and laughing at whatever was happening outside.
“Honk-honk!” shouted the clown as he juggled five bowling pins while balancing himself on top of a unicycle on top of the roof of the backyard porch.
“That’s it, man!” I said, approaching the window and interrupting his little show. “Now you’re trespassing. Get your stuff or the police will be here to take you in no time.”
He got out of the unicycle, took out another gigantic cigar, lit it with a flame that came out of his thumb, and sat cross legged at an imaginary chair he unfolded. The smoke looked like regular tobacco smoke this time. Smelled like it as well.
“You do that, B-boy. You do that, and we’ll see who has the right to be here, doing their job.”
Enveloped in rage, I shouted at him things that the kids should not be hearing, and had to stop myself from leaping out the window to bury a good, clean fist on his big red nose. Instead, I dialed nine-one-one and tried to look as enraged as I really felt. The line connected, and as the woman picked it up on the other side, greeting me with the worried-but-sure tone they are trained to deliver, we all heard a loud BANG.
“Is there an emergency, sir?”
The clown’s face was still white, and his cigar still lit. Soon the wails and cries from the living room made their way to the second floor.
“Sir? What is your emergency?” the woman repeated, a bit more concerned. Maybe she’d heard it too, so I gave her my address and told her to hurry.
The first thing I saw when I got to the living room was the ice that had spilled from Uncle Guy’s glass. Then I saw his body on the floor. Then I saw the blood staining his shirt, coming out of his chest through a hole so small a finger could not fit in it. Aunt Bea was standing in the center of the room, eyes closed, holding the gun close to her breasts, as she would hold a rosary in church. It was a really small gun. Jenna and the rest of the family were crouching behind the furniture and the kitchen door, trying to hide from any possible development of the couple’s tragic fight. Everyone seemed frozen in place when the clown came skipping down the stairs and halted as he saw the same as we did. He looked around, assessing the situation. In two skips he was beside Uncle Guy’s body. He checked for a pulse.
Aunt Bea heard his voice and finally opened her eyes. Seeing the clown standing by her deceased ex-husband, she dropped the gun and fell on her knees, dumfounded.
“W-who...?” she stuttered.
He turned towards her, smiled, and approached her calmly, silently. There was an aspect of holiness around him, the colors of his clothes and makeup seemed even more vivid as he moved from the body to Aunt Bea. She couldn’t look away, and neither could I. Behind the makeup, his face seemed different. Less clownish, more human, more… Uncle Guy-ish.
When he touched her forehead and nodded, tears came down Aunt Bea’s eyes. She clasped her hands together and started praying in a whispered voice, begging forgiveness. The clown gave her a handkerchief, a sole white handkerchief, then kicked the gun away.
“It’s okay,” he said, shushing her. “It’s over.”
She let out a piercing scream and prayed with more intent, trying to scrub the sin off of her hands. John finally mustered the courage to get out from behind the couch and hug Aunt Bea, joining in her prayer. Jenna came to my side and asked me why I let the clown inside. There was terror in her voice.
“Why?” she insisted, but I was frozen in place, speechless, still looking at the clown, seeing his face merge back with the makeup, becoming a clown’s face again.
“Now!” he shouted and clapped his hands loudly. He looked to one side, then the other. “For my next trick, I’ll need a volunteer! Where’s the birthday boy?”
“Here! Here!” one of the kids replied from the top of the stairs, pointing to me.
Slowly, the clown turned with a huge smile and a piercing stare of satisfaction. I could hear the sirens approaching when he started juggling seven rainbow-colored balls.