There is a clown that sits by my bedside. He has many faces, and I never know which one I am going to get. He is mostly kind but can play too rough at times. How else is anything going to get written? You can’t make an omelet without juggling some eggs.
The first face is that of a gentle soul, he wears a costume of pure white and pastel colors. He is a nursemaid clown, a perfectly gentle fool. He drips honey from the light fixtures and toys with a little paper elephant, a folded trinket with stubby little legs composed of angles and tiny domed toenails torn out from childhood tomes. Tales of gingerbread men play out underneath big tops of scraps torn from fashion magazines. His elephant stands on one foot, balancing a ball on his nose. The clown wears a daffodil in his lapel which spurts warm sugared dew drops from its yellow center. He capers as if for a baby, in quiet colors making his nursery tricks as soft as goose down. My sweet Pierrot, with a face full of white make up, painted high brows and a tiny pink heart drawn under his right eye can do no harm nor wrought no wrong. Cherubs piss happily into champagne glass fountains. All the little soldiers lay down their arms and watch the walls of the prison softly burn with tissue paper flames, singing songs and drinking glasses of cotton wool topped beer, as flags stream held by embroidery cotton and lolly pop sticks, as Pierrot dances a slow waltz to the sound of the revolution, meant to lull children to sleep while the world burns around them. Pierrot will keep them safe, or at least distract them from the fury, fight and danger of the adult world that knocks on their door and disturbs their dreams.
Look again, and this candied world disappears. Pierrot cannot hold back the darkness forever. The second clown stares at Pierrot’s infantile capers, his almond and honeysuckle escapades with all the distain of a creature who realizes that the vaseline-softened lens of childhood has to be wiped clean eventually, and the world seen in all its visceral, stinky, grotesque, ribald fullness. He pulls off his white jumpsuit with the pastel buttons and pink pom pom-ed hat, to reveal a grey drab attire that has been in an attic so long it stinks of mothballs, and has the remnants of last year’s breakfast smothered across its frilly decaying bib. Sweat stains produce sour polka dots under his arms and in the pit of his groin. Pierre-Rotten’s make up is smeared across his face artfully. Elegant angles are drawn in thick black kohl and a tear drop tattooed under his eye. Above and below the heart that adorned the face of gentle Pierrot are the words ‘I’ and ‘chaos’. A thick cross cancels out the other eye and shrouds it in darkness. His hair is wild and long, his fingernails are stained with tobacco, and red wine has turned his teeth quite, quite blue, along with his long sensuous tongue that occasionally pokes out between those strained choppers. The elephant is hiding in his trousers. It trumpets loudly with the stench of Roquefort and brie. Where is it? That little trumpeter who was dandled on the leg of sweet Pierrot playing innocent games for tired children has morphed into something quite different. Occasionally his grubby trunk pokes out from the button fly of Pierre-Rotten’s grubby pantaloons, swinging in the breeze and giving off quite the scent. Shit smears his buttocks as he turns around to moon the adoring crowds. He longs for a microphone and a stage to stomp and bomp and chomp at the bit. Wild and rotten. Wild and free. Wild and filthy. Wild and wanting me to haul myself up and drag myself along, a marionette for the dance. A topsy turvy virginal whore for the caper. A sacrifice for the fire of creativity has to be made. He gives his hat, a shattered eyeglass and a stack of letters and throws them onto the bonfires of my shame. My cheeks burn almost as much as his venereal disease. We laugh. He holds my hand and spins me round. There is poetry to be found in the gutter, in the unwashed and the coarse and the dump truck of our hopes and fears and all the pristine perfection of a life gone to waste. It is not a waste after all, all this living. Grist to the mill. Fuel for the fire. Photographs for the trip. But it cannot stay this way because the darkness is coming.
Pierre-Rotten is an offensive but benign incarnation of the clown that sits at the foot of my bed and reads me bedtime stories while I toss and turn in my fever dreams of pain. He has another side to him, one he prefers to hide and seeks to control and tame and push away. Sweet Pierrot cowers when he sees him rise, and Pierre-Rotten groans with the anticipation of the trouble to come. He is washing his face. There is play-corruption and then there is that which does not come off in the shower. The hair is teased out into a halo of curls and confusion. A towel is rubbed over his sinuous legs and stinking pits. He is a clean machine. An efficient expression. Striped vaude-villian pants are pulled on over scrubbed thighs. A white shirt neatly buttoned up to the neck. A long black silk scarf tied into a loose bow around his neck. A finely tailored jacket pulled over honeysuckle scented arms. A soft felt hat adorned with flowers and feathers pulled onto his head. For a moment I see his face cleanly shaven and naked. He shivers to see himself seen. Fine scars network his skin. A razor blade smile upon his face. His tongue looks as if it could cut so thinly, so perfectly that the victim might never recover. He takes a handful of white stage zinc cream and smears it over his face artfully, as if to seem that he does not care at all. In fact, he cares very much indeed. Eyes are lined with black, as they stare wildly, the sclera circling the iris fully, wide open, seeing it all before him. King Pierre is in the house. His silken gloves cover his hands which move in geometric shapes and strange configurations. The anger boils in him like a pot put on to simmer by a drunken mother and then forgotten in the haze. It has almost boiled dry, only a thin foam of violent bubbles remain. He is coyote quick. He is made out of switchblades. He is composed of sharp edges. He is in full command of his retinue and his act is practiced and perfect. King Pierre is perfect in every conceivable way. Perfectly terrible, that is. Imperiousness follows him like a dog scared of a beating. Kindness cowers before him. He eyes me in my sweetness and summons up the darkness within me. Sweet Pierrot is silent, only the tinkling of music box ditties accompanies his dancing. Pierre-Rotten is loud and crazy, drunken and forceful. King Pierre sings so sweetly you might fall under his spell, into his trap and not even realize when he has moved in for the kill.
King Pierre gives me the old side-eye.
“You can’t live in the light. It has to be night eventually, Kiddo.” He pulls on his big cigar and lets a thin stream of smoke escape his thinner pursed lips.
I ignore him and eye the cowering couple behind him. They make quite the triad. Pierrot is making his paper elephant dance for me, giving desperate glances at the window. Pierre-Rotten is half laughing, mocking, and winking at me, as he stinks up his corner of the room. King Pierre makes them disappear with a flick of the wrist. I hear their howls echo in the realms of the night. They will be back, but not tonight. The night is made for the King.
“And now, they have gone. For my next trick I make the Queen disappear!”
I don’t like the sound of that. He pulls out a tarot card, the Queen of Discs. Her horned helmet safely upon her head, her staff in her hand, her Queen-dom laid out before her, her goat safely fettered by the security of her skirts – she is invulnerable, imperious. Unbeatable. He waves his left hand in front of the card, and when he moves it back again to show me, she is missing from the scene. Gone. Walked off.
“No,” he replies sourly. “Not walked off. Dead.” A flood of red fills the landscape, her goat has become a skull and her helmet has fallen amongst the long grasses.
I laugh and grab my staff. “No, not dead, just moved position.” I grab my helmet from out of the painting and tear the card from his hands, shredding it into tiny pieces.
Deadly words fizz at his lips. Vicious vowels and shattering syllables hiss steamily, escaping from the caverns of his fury. Machetes and jack knives, cane-swords and sneaky little butterfly knives clatter to the floor as he whips off his jacket.
“Surrender!” He is shouting now, lost his cool, and I am laughing. Laughing at his act. Snickering at his ridiculousness. Giggling with exhilaration. Letting myself tumble into clowndom. I rise up from my bed and smash a cream pie into his perfectly outraged features.
“Nah….not my style!” I reach out one twisted finger and serve myself up a smear of his humiliation. “I do love a good Bavarian cream, don’t you?”
And he starts to laugh red bloody tears of hilarity mixing with the patisserie that is spoiling his perfectly tailored suit.
“But what I want to know, King Pierre, is where is the fucking elephant? You can’t just hide an elephant in a room. He has to be somewhere!”
The King sits on my bed, trailing pie as he walks, taking a tissue from my nightstand, as he holds my hand gently. He opens up his pocket watch, and pulls out a snow globe. “It is about time, I suppose,” he murmurs. The snow globe starts to snow, and draws me in. I am standing in a snowy street, with a big top just ahead of me. In my hand is a long red and yellow rope. My eyes follow the rope up, up, up…all the way to the top. The elephant at the top of the rope is a huge beast of burden. His face is painted and stars adorn his belly. On his back is a howdah, decorated with luxurious pillows, soft blankets and a cheeky hookah pipe. The King appears next to me, leans a ladder up to the side of the great beast and starts to climb.
“Well, come on then!” The King beckons me to follow as the elephant stands like a statue, only the length of trunk moving softly, making gentle sounds of encouragement. As we move off, huddled by magic carpets and swaddled in deep horse-hair stuffed cushions, the King produces a mandolin and starts to sing.
“Now this…this is my greatest trick of all.”
Pierre-Rotten leads the great creature, while gentle Pierrot sits upon his neck laughing while the sun sets and the walls of the snow globe slowly disappear.