The trouble with giving someone else the out, someone else the Big Bath, another soul the benefit of compassion and kindness, no doubt at all in the mind or heart, is that then there will be a price to pay. Equal and fair exchange is one heck of a bargain. In the moment of giving, that instance of self-sacrifice, giving everything you have, and then three steps more beyond that, it is meaningless if it is resented. Such epic trips into compassion and empathy cannot be taken half-heartedly, they have to be made out of the entire stock held within of empathy, desire to lessen suffering and of innate kindness. It is strange, the world does not hold much stock in kindness, not now, perhaps not ever. For one fleeting moment in the 1960s, people asked “but what I want to know is are you kind?” But The Grateful Dead are now mostly gone, and the soul that asked that question on behalf of the hippies has passed on, perhaps the victim of others lack of compassion. Who knows? I wasn’t there. Perhaps I should have been, but I was born too late. I am just a girl with a few Clowns on the road with an elephant, a magic chest (no carpet-ride for me) and a heartful of love which was driving me insane.
I suppose the Clowns showed up because I was in trouble. I mean, I knew I was in trouble, the world had started to press down on me to the point of no return. I was checking out, I was not drifting away, but sinking under the weight of it all, but I still loved. Oh how I loved! Love is a tricky thing to manage. It can be the most glorious emotion that we are capable of feeling, inspire acts of great protection, selflessness and kindness. Gone bad, love stinks, love kills, love leads to huge violent gestures and terrible things. Love is so vast, so big, so overwhelming that it has to be kept on the right track. People look at obsession, and they know, deep down, it is just another part of love, the part that keeps you true, but when it gets out of control, it IS control itself and what it can’t control it destroys.
Clowns, eh. What are you going to do with them? Can’t live with them…can’t live without them. At least the Clowns have pranks and tricks, and try and make smiles, at least while they are not being Utterly Rotten or King-like, but too much sugar and they turn into a fragile toy for children with a voice that barely escapes the throat by way of the chest. Still, I am a bit of a Clown myself. I live for the topsy-turvy, the circus tricks – which I prefer to do for myself, rather than let the Clowns get all my thrills for me; I live for the Big Top, the Show, the everchanging landscape outside the window and the thrill of the trapeze. I am not the kind of girl to keep still very long. I have to move, at least in some way, some days.
It was the only thing to do, to give Star the out, the Big Bath, the compassion. After all my suffering was so very small compared to hers, and the suffering I cause to others by virtue of my existence is not so big, at least not compared to the blooded and Stabby Star. Still, that is not who she is any longer. Pure. Free. Perfected. Loved: the bits of her that didn’t deserve it all dissolved by the collected love of those who dropped their tokens of compassion into that bathtub.
Still bills have to be paid, that Piper don’t play for free, no matter what. Equal and fair exchange is lesson one of the day, and the bill for that Bath was vast, and I had offered to pay up. That shadow was still looming. Rotten still had my back, though not my front. My front was my business, still that Clown was not going to let anything or anyone attack me from behind. I think perhaps that is my new definition of a friend, someone, who out of love, will not allow anything to attack me from behind, and who I would do the same for. It is as good as any other way of trying to sort the Clowns from the Straights, I suppose. No sense of humor is not good for a soul. At least my Clowns hide their tears behind painted smiles. At least they cared enough to take me on the road. Get on the Elephant, man. You know you need to…
Meanwhile, there was a shadow in the Garden of the Dancing Children. It sat round fires, and hid in treehouses. It cast a dark shadow over the beauty. It threatened to ruin the beauty of possibility. Behind me Rotten was fighting all manner of beasts, lizards and gore-chewing machinery with jaws that nipped and bit at his ankles, trying to get to me to attack me from behind, to surprise me. With his rapier and his switchblade, and the sharpness of his wit, he evened up the odds and made it a fair fight for me.
Over the hill came a giant, with a pentagram carved into his forehead and a jewel embedded within the center of that powerful and profane symbol. He wielded a club made of the skulls of his victims and roared. The battle was on.
My eyes went to blank as I was transported back to a different place and time. I watched a tall man with floppy dark hair and a prominent brow put his arm around the neck of a young man who was doing the garden outside a mansion in the soft dusk light of a California afternoon. He choked him out and dragged him to a waiting van where the Shadow Giant was sitting in the flesh suit of a man, with a cowering girl sitting next to him. The cowering girl was Star. As the long knives fell and the young man lost his life, I flinched in horror. That girl needed that bath, but the Shadow Man was worse. Using little girls to do his bidding, using them to do his dirty work, using love to control and to wreck violence and death and suffering and misery, turning the garden to blood and stone and ruining the hopes of a generation that leant towards peace, love and compassion. All they wanted to do was to get back to the Garden, to raise the vibrations of consciousness to a point where we were all pulling together for good, instead of divided by hatred.
The ghost of the boy stood before me.
“They thought I had run away. Gone back to the midwest. My folks thought I had deserted them. They blamed me, not mourned me. No one ever knew what had happened to me. I just wanted to be cool, man. I just wanted my life and look what I got. I didn’t deserve that.”
I looked closer at him. His floppy wavy hair fell over his eyes. He was wearing a company’s tee shirt, with a tree on the logo sewn to the breast pocket. His jeans were long and slightly flared, and his feet in canvas sneakers. His face was strong and gentle. I reached out my hand to him.
“I see you, my friend. I see you, Ronnie.”
Behind me was a large house. I knew there was more blood and suffering ahead of me. This was not a bad trip, just a necessary one. Rotten was still at my back with his sword. He would never leave my side, he might be Rotten but he was devoted to me, and after all, who is not a little rotten now and again?
And the knives fell on me. Strung up, throat slit, fading fast and all I felt was pity for the wielders. There is nothing stranger than compassion in the face of destruction, especially when Clownish behavior is not used to such curious emotions.
My throat cut, but still breathing, still living none of it mattered any longer. The fury of the attack left me and Rotten panting with exertion. I stood up and walked towards a light and Rotten, walking backwards came along with me.
Suddenly the two of us were entwined into a single apple tree standing in the center of a courtyard which itself sat in the center of a beautiful wild garden, his back to my back, him looking backwards, me looking forwards, our arms locked into branches. Our apples hung low and tempting. In front of me a mess of deconstructed human being, long hair hanging blonde and beautiful from fragments of scalp, the blood in a deep pool, the viscera hanging in blobs and globules, two brilliant hazel eyes sitting there swiveling in panic.
In waded the Thin Man from earlier. A narrator of sorts, perhaps a Tempter, whichever, whatever, he was there, in waders, goggles, a snorkel and wielding a clothes-pin for his nose, which he extravagantly put on, and then decided against.
“You can get free of there, but you have to put her back together again, kiddo.” In the distance the Giant roared. I stared down in dismay at the human jigsaw puzzle before me. “Trust me, once you do…oh man she is beautiful…” The Thin Man made a motion with his hands to mimic a shapely woman’s curves. “Stunning, in fact. Gorgeous. We are all just puzzles to be put back together again. Just start somewhere, start where you can, and it will all fall into place. Dig in there. Help a Sister out.”
The mess before me was wobbling and moving and swirling alarmingly. Rotten made soothing sounds, and from his trapped position behind me, said wearily:
“If you can do it…please do. You can help her, you know…You can help me…”
That was all he needed to say. I could help. I could relieve some suffering. I could relieve my own. I could either stand there trapped, and look at horror, or I could put it all together and make it beautiful once more. Still the step in between that was not pretty and the horror and terror almost paralyzed me. I took one step forward and shook myself free from the tree. Rotten once again, at my back, making sure nothing could surprise me, with his bottle of rum and his swords and his knives and his good soul, despite his rotten appearance. And I started where I could, picking up a single eye, and putting it in the the air, suspended on the left side. It slid its way to its proper place on the right. I plucked the left eye from the pool, the blood coming up to my knees and put it into place. Arm bone next, left, right. Phalanges one to five, and one to five again. An accidental toe bone where the little finger should be found its way to the right foot, and I carried on working, rib by rib, clavicle to humerus. Once all the bones were in place, with two eyes staring out at me in wonder, I got to filling the space with armfuls of organs and veins, throwing handfuls of blood which started to circulate joyously. Skin was hung on the whole beautiful work of engineering and biology, and when the final piece of scalp found its place, there indeed was beauty personified. Aphrodite herself. A Madonna with a flower in her hair. She walked towards me with a gift wrapped box, and hugging me closely, like a Sister, albeit the prettier one, she pushed her gift into my hands.
It was then that Rotten disappeared off the edge of a cliff. His arms were stretched wide and he flew off into the great beyond whooping and screaming with joy. Free.
As I pulled the pretty pink and blue ribbons from the gift box, I turned back to see the reconstituted Aphrodite walk towards a couple of hundred other souls, all waving to me. In the distance the Giant screamed.
I pushed the gift back into Aphrodite’s hands, and ran towards the Shadow Giant.
“Listen here, you pathetic man,” I hissed loudly. “You ain’t nothing. You think you are so big and powerful you think you hold the power over life and death, but your evil is nothing in the face of love. Love can put together anything, love can mend the broken. Love can fix what you broke. Love can free the trapped. Love can clean the most ingrained dirt. Love, man, love. You got it all wrong.”
The Shadow Giant roared. “I will…I will…I will…I will make you beg! It’s a fairground ride, man, it is mystery and you won’t get your share of the riches that we will get to share once we have made the world new. We just have to kill the monsters, man. Destroy capitalism. Make it right.”
I laughed. “Really? You can’t kill me, and if you do, I’ve a Sister who will put my bones back together. Love. You get little girls to do your evil deeds. Hey, has anyone ever told you how hokey you are? I mean, man, your patter is cheesy and you don’t even make sense. The only people who would ever fall for you are lost little girls and mentally ill men. I’m embarrassed for you, to be frank.”
The Giant started to shrink.
“I am not scared of you. In fact you are cringeworthy. I put it all back together again, you sad little man. You don’t even scare me.” I poked him with my blooded finger. “See. Nothing.” He shrank even further.
“And another thing, I had plans for today, and thanks to you, I had to work. I had stuff to do, and you know what, that ain’t cool man. You are a user. A game player. You don’t input anything to the people around you. You aren’t even any good as a bogey-man. Shit you are embarrassing.”
The jewel fell from his forehead and he fell to his knees. Rotten showed back up, trailing a three headed dog. “Go get ‘im, boy!” Rotten laughed almost hysterically as the hound with three heads, one of them smiling goofily, ran at the Shadow Man, and dragged him off tearing parts off him as he went, parts which regrew and put themselves back together again, forever to be kept by the Dog With Three Heads, far away from anywhere he could ever inspire harm again.
Rotten passed me Aphrodite’s gift. There was a note attached to the top of it in beautiful curlicued writing. “I don’t think you are going to understand this gift for a while, my darling.” Rotten smiled his shattered smile as we walked back through the Garden and the Dancing Children danced and sang and the sun rose yet again, this time entranced in a rose, while the river ran and peace rained down in rainbow droplets, and a mandolin played a lilting tune.
In the distance I could hear the Elephant trumpet once more and the doors opened back onto the road, where my friends waited patiently for us, holding wild strawberries and flowers which they threw at our feet and wove in our hair.
…and if you haven’t met my Clowns from earlier installments, here are the previous parts 1-7