“Will you bite the apple, Eve?” Pierre-Rotten was enquiring, as he sat with his back against the huge grey side of the elephant, the huge beast chowing down on a pile of emerald-green apples, and occasionally passing one over to Rotten’s waiting hand. The elephant did not mind sharing, for all intents and purposes he seemed like a quiet and gentle creature, one of the gang, coming along for the ride, not so much beast of burden, but more the strongest, most silent and most useful member of this clan of clowns. Pierrot was busying himself unfolding paper planes and tinkling tinny notes on a miniature white piano, only big enough for a baby or a doll.
King Pierre was taking stock of provisions, his guitar slung across his back, as careless as an assault rifle across the bruised shoulders of a mercenary. The King was a gun for hire of sorts. Some called him The Muse. Some called him The Devil. Some called him The King. Some called him Frankie. Many called him, but he rarely answered their calls or returned their messages. The trouble was their ability to hear him, or remain safely in control of their faculties after his jokerman-self actually responded. They often called, thinking they wanted to hear from him, but he knew, even if they did not, that if he actually rocked up, guitar, sweet French drawl, fisherman’s hat and a head-full of darkness and light, that they would do just about anything to make him leave again. They would end up gibbering, half losing their minds, and running for the nearest Priest to exorcize their surroundings, body, head and home.
Better the devil you know, and all that jazz, still, who wants to know anyone who has played the Devil upon occasion, even if he is as far away from that vast empty space-soul as it is possible to get. A person might drink a little absinthe and absent-mindedly watch Pierrot make a shadow puppet play on the wall, with hand-bunnies and origami exotic creatures vying for attention with riots and uprisings and torn down jail walls. A wanna-be artist might fool around with Pierre-Rotten, licking parking meters, humping Bowery dumpsters and throwing themselves around on stages whilst chanting something suitably stunning and shocking and attention grabbing, but fucking with The King was a different matter. It was not that The King was above a little stage-play, it was just that everything that lay beneath the surface, the quality of the words and the price of the trip was a little above and beyond the cost of messing with his smaller and more gentle brothers.
It was not that I chose The King. Nor that The King particularly chose me to go on this pilgrim’s road trip. I could hear him, that was all, and failed to be sufficiently scared when he rocked up. Curiosity might have killed various cats, but that is a trip that has been taken so many times before, and not one that I am interested in following. They say only clowns go where the Angels fear to tread, or something like that. Putting the cat amongst the capybara, seeing if she can lick her furry paws and blend into the gang, despite being not quite the right shape or species, and spark off a little rebellion, now that is a path worth going down, a trip worth taking.
Pierre-Rotten was staring at his apple with a mixture of interest and boredom. “I wish this was a nice juicy chicken leg, or an egg sandwich! I could even tolerate a nice apple pie and a jug of cream!” he cried to anyone who cared to listen, and gave the remains of the dull apple back to the grateful elephant.
King Pierre regarded his brother with a glint in his eye. “People ask always about the chicken and the egg, which came first, but what they should be asking is about the apple and the seed. The pie comes later. The tree in the field of wheat gives the apples and the sun and the rain soaks up good and proper into all that juicy goodness. Before the apple was the seed. And before the seed was a shower of gold and before the shower of gold was blackness and void and THE BIG NOTHING, and you don’t want to know what was before that.”
“I don’t want to know anything except where I can get myself a nice chicken sandwich, and a boiled egg for my breakfast tomorrow morning.” Pierre-Rotten returned snippily.
I looked down at my feet and saw first my left foot, then my right start to bend and change shape. My fluffy bunny slippers were starting to change into slightly elongated clown shoes, with a pom pom growing on the toe of each one. I regarded them with a mixture of wonder and fear. The forest had closed around the triple menace of the three clowns forming a little friendly hollow. Pierrot had got the fire burning brightly and was strumming a mandolin, humming a happy song that seemed to be mainly about the personalities of various flowers, blooms and bushes. Pierre Rotten was scrambling in the supply chest to see if somehow it would magic up a chicken or an egg, rather than an apple, or worse than that a seed that had to be waited for. Nothing grows in stillness on the road. The movement is constant, if sporadic and by the time the little seed had decided to germinate, let alone produce fruit, we would be a million lightyears away from this spot, this time, this hollow.
The elephant started to snore gently. There are certain needs on the road that have to be fulfilled, and having eaten my fair share of apples, drunk the dew from the center of large cup-like daisies, I found myself needing to wander off to find a quiet corner to pee. I was about ready to give up on demanding to go home, but not yet at the point of asking the useless question, are we there yet? I just wanted to find myself a spot in the fairy bower of the clowns and try the problem afresh the next day. But needs must when the clowns rise.
Sweet Pierrot looked concerned. “Do not wander too far. Just far enough, if you know what I mean, but not too far, ok?” Always so scared of being misunderstood, worry worked its way across his sweet painted features. His make up was all smeared, his hat askew on his head. The holy fool, of if not holy, at least sublime. Sweet Pierrot passed me a battery powered lantern and patted me on the shoulder.
The King was still pacing, while Pierre-Rotten was scrambling around still hoping to materialize a chicken, some pastry and perhaps a nice slice of pie. Hope kept him eternally scrambling around despite the fact reality continued to disappoint him greatly. The reality of my bladder, however kept me pressing forwards. I climbed out of the hollow, through stifling briars and prickling bushes. The path closed in on me and seemed to twist its way around my ankles and push its boughs in my face. The panic of breathing in confined quarters overwhelmed me. “There is no point in panicking. It is how it is, it won’t help you get where you are going any quicker!” I told myself, strictly, getting on with business now I was far enough away from the triple menace.
Watering the briars is a time honored tradition, as is holding a lantern before you trying to wind your back back the way you came. I must have taken a wrong turn because as I looked up I realized that it was not the overhead branches blocking out the starry sky, but instead a huge web. I wondered who lived in it and whether I could slip past without being noticed. As I looked closer and the sticky network of branches and fine-spun threads caught against my arms and face, it became apparent it was more like a nest than a web. The huge buzzing of rubbing insect legs, the metallic chatter of bugs started to rise and overwhelm my senses, but still I could not see the creature. I pushed forwards once more, before deciding to go back the way I came, and wishing I had been sensible enough to tie some string to branches as I went so I could find the path back. I must have come much further than I realized.
It was then that I saw her. She was magnificent. What seemed like a vast locust blackness, was an iridescent peacock feather oil spill richness up close. Her legs moved as if to beckon me to her. Her voice sounded like the grinding of metal against gears, like the song of long forgotten machines that speak to each other in the emptiness of outer space. her wings flickered and rubbed against her nest as she called to me. Tuning in her voice, I realized that to fight was hopeless. There was no winning against this primordial Queen of the Insectoids. She was the Mother of all Bugs. You could either have the lady bug, the queen bee, or else pit yourself against the scarab and the things that crawl in filthy places and lose. I made myself behold her in all her glory and stepped into her arms, kissing the stiff carapace of her body, rubbing my head against her roughly textured legs.
“Come closer my child….closer…Yes, Yes, that’s right. Come here, let Mama see you!” She coaxed me into her nest, into her sphere, cocooning me in her vast shiny body, and holding me against the armor of her articulated belly. She connected me to her hive mind. I felt my body turn into hers, a miniature version of her legs and arms and belly and wings. I felt my body transmorph into her insectoid glory. I buzzed along with her. I surrendered. I capitulated. I joined the Bugs. I rested in her nest. The forest either side of me had disappeared entirely. It was then that she held me forth in her front forearms and launched me back onto the path. The path before me had clearly been civilized at some point, but now had fallen into overgrown disrepair. I despaired at ever seeing that naughty troop of clowns again. Even King Pierre would be a welcome sight.
Sometimes there is nothing for it but to dance through the briars. It is a tricky dance. You have to fold yourself down low and duck under sections which will not let you clamber over the top. You have to slide through, straight and narrow like an arrow. You have to bend yourself dancing through the undertow believing that it will somehow clear. Your arms get torn up, your clothes get snagged, your lantern gets trapped between a rock and a thorny place, but then, then…oh then! Then it opened out, so beautifully to the gates of a rose garden. Written in looping black painted script across the gate was the phrase “Le Jardin des Roses.” Pink and red roses vied for space between time-worn statues and the tinkling of fountains. Trellises tumbled amongst rows of glorious roses and piles of orchids and lilies. A few drops of moisture fell into a pond where koi carp swam and frogs sang the songs of their ancestors. A vast foot stepped down next to me. I was but a child next to this perfect foot in a perfect sandal, attached to a perfect leg.
“Why,” boomed a strong female voice, “what have we here! A new rose!”
“I am not a rose,” I squeaked hastily. “I am a girl!”
“Ah, no. You are a rose. A very stubborn rose.” The voice fell firmly amongst the flowers of the garden. “Shall I pluck you? I think I shall! Stay still! Let me pick you!”
I could see the glint of a pair of shears heading towards me. Looking down my arms were leaves and my petals were tightly closed. Thorns adorned my ankles. “Please don’t! I don’t even know how I came to be in your garden, Ma’am!”
The voice sighed, a single strand of golden hair trailed along the path I was walking as she bent down to look at me.
“Well, look at that, you are not quite a rose yet, after all! Not ready to be plucked. Not yet! Not nearly. Well, you have to be going now, but you are welcome in the garden if you ever find yourself returning here again.”
The gates sprung open. I could hear a chorus of clowns calling my name, and the steady unmistakable thunder of the feet of an elephant trampling down an overgrown trail.