A Good Clown is Worth Repeating ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
Polly Wollydoodle sat at her dressing table on an early summer evening, getting herself ready for a night on the town. After covering her face with white powder, she drew her lips on in a wide arc and applied glittery blue eye shadow halfway up her forehead to her eyebrows. Then she opened her box of noses and selected a glittery red one appropriate for evening wear.
The dress she had chosen had large blue polka dots on a white background. After she had stepped into the dress and did it up, the puffy collar covered her neck and made it almost appear as if she had no neck at all. The cuffs on the ends of the sleeves were also puffy, nearly hiding her hands but affording her the use of them nonetheless. The voluminous padding built into the dress made falling down and sitting on hard surfaces much more comfortable than otherwise.
When she finished dressing, she saw from the chicken clock on the wall that it was nearly seven o’clock and her heart began beating faster and her throat constricted with dryness. She said a little prayer to the patron saint of clowns as she stepped into her size thirty-eight clown pumps. She hoped her nerve wasn’t going to fail her.
She was going out on a date with no one less than Mr. Noah Zark. He was only the most eligible clown bachelor in Clown Town—the handsome, dashing, ambitious, accomplished, much-desired and much sought-after clown-about-town. When he called her on the hamburger telephone and asked her to go out with him, she believed at first that her brother Jocko Wollydoodle (kidder that he was) was playing a trick on her but, after speaking to him for a couple of minutes, she knew it was the real Noah Zark and he was asking her to go out with him. She could hardly believe her good fortune.
She checked her reticule and made sure she had all the items essential for a date: the squirt bottle filled with seltzer, the rubber chicken, the feather-duster floral bouquet, six multi-colored balls for juggling, the horn with the squeeze bulb and, most importantly, the custard pie. If the date went well, she would hit Noah Zark in the face with the custard pie when he took her home at the conclusion of the date. She felt weak in the knees at the thought of it.
When Polly went downstairs, Clemmie Dibble Wollydoodle, her poppa, and Boombah Wollydoodle, her brother, were sitting in front of the TV watching Calling All Clowns and didn’t pay any attention to her when she came into the room. Eata Banana Wollydoodle, her plain older sister, was sitting in a chair to the side of the sofa. She wasn’t looking at the TV but was looking instead at a spot on the wall with her hand covering her mouth. She had been crying and, instead of being happy for Polly that she was going out with Noah Zark, she was angry and jealous. She refused to look at Polly or compliment her on her appearance.
Wishing to be seen, Polly went and stood in front of the TV and did a little pirouette, followed by a curtsey with her forefinger under her chin.
“Hey!” Boombah said. “Get out of the way! I can’t see the TV.”
“How do I look?” she asked coquettishly, holding still as though posing for a picture.
“Now, just what do you think you’re doing?” Clemmie Dibble asked, irritated at having his favorite TV show interrupted.
“Oh, don’t you remember, dearest, our little girl clown is stepping out tonight?” Clarabelle Wollydoodle, Polly’s mother, said from the doorway to the kitchen. She had a rubber chicken draped over each shoulder and a piglet in one hand and a meat cleaver in the other. She was happy and excited that her Polly had been invited to step out with Noah Zark. It might be the beginning of big things for her.
“No, she’s not,” Clemmie Dibble said. “Not tonight.” He had a way of laying down the law.
“What?” Polly asked, panic-stricken.
Eata Banana looked up with interest, a little smile forming on her lips.
“I said you’re not going out tonight,” Clemmie Dibble said, “and that’s final.”
“Oh, dearest,” Clarabelle said. “Don’t be an old silly. It’s too late to cancel now. A young clown is coming to pick her up.”
“Well, why didn’t you say so?” Clemmie Dibble asked. “Is a clown poppa to know nothing about his clown children?”
“I told you, dearest,” Clarabelle said. “You must not have been listening.” She turned and went back into the kitchen, trying to calm the piglet down.
“He’s late,” Eata Banana said gleefully. “I don’t think he’s coming.”
“He’s probably just tied up in rush-hour traffic,” Polly said. “I’ll just sit down and wait.” She settled her padded rump in the middle of the sofa between Clemmie Dibble and Boombah and put her arm around Boombah.
“Gee, you look pretty,” Boombah said. He reached up and touched the end of her glittery red nose with the tip of his finger.
“Aren’t you sweet!” Polly said. “I’m glad somebody in this family has something approving to say.” She kissed Boombah on his white cheek, leaving the imprint of her lips.
She wanted to appear cool and collected, but she was terrified that Eata Banana was right and Noah Zark wasn’t coming after all. Her heart was beating way too fast and she was having a little trouble breathing. She looked at the TV, not really seeing it, and time dragged on. Finally, at half-past seven, when she had begun to abandon all hope, the doorbell rang.
“I’ll get it,” Boombah said. He bounded off the sofa with accustomed exuberance and went to the door and flung it open.
All of them, Eata Banana included, turned and looked at Noah Zark standing in the doorway. He held his hat in his hand against his chest. He looked so handsome standing there, dressed in the latest clown fashion. He smiled shyly and said to Boombah, “Is this the Wollydoodle residence?”
“Come in,” Boombah said, looking Noah Zark up and down.
Polly stood up and gave Noah Zark a nervous little smile and curtseyed, her forefinger under her chin.
“Good evening, Miss Polly,” Noah Zark said in his resonant voice.
“Who do we have here?” Clemmie Dibble asked, a note of jeering skepticism in his voice.
“Poppa, I’d like for you to meet Noah Zark,” Polly said. “I’m stepping out with him this evening.”
Clemmie Dibble gave Noah Zark an appraising look and held out his hand. Noah Zark shook it forcefully and, instead of letting go of Clemmie Dibble’s hand at the end of the handshake, he held onto it and pulled him to his feet. Before Clemmie Dibble knew what was happening, he and Noah Zark were standing nose to nose.
“Just what do you think you’re doing there?” Clemmie Dibble asked gruffly. “I’m not a yo-yo!”
“It’s a very great honor to meet you, sir,” Noah Zark said. “I have heard so much about the great Clemmie Dibble Wollydoodle.”
“You have?” Clemmie Dibble asked, instantly charmed.
“Your reputation as the greatest of clowns precedes you, sir.”
“Well, I don’t know about that.”
“This is my little brother, Boombah Wollydoodle,” Polly said.
“How do you do?” Noah Zark said, shaking Boombah’s hand.
“Hello,” Boombah said.
“And this is my older sister, Eata Banana Wollydoodle,” Polly said.
Eata Banana stood up and sniffled and offered Noah Zark a pitiful smile. He took her hand and bent over it and kissed it.
“It’s an honor to meet you, Miss Eata Banana,” Noah Zark said.
“Hello,” Eata Banana said in her pained voice.
Clarabelle, having put the piglet back into his little cage, came in from the kitchen.
“Oh, and this is my mother,” Polly said.
“Well, well, well,” Noah Zark said. “I would have said she was your sister. How do you do, madam?”
“Very well, thank you, Noah Zark,” Clarabelle said. She blushed as Noah Zark took her hand and kissed it.
“Well, we’d better be off,” Noah Zark said, turning to Polly and rubbing his hands together. “We have a reservation for eight o’clock at Clown Rendezvous. That’s all the way over in Crazy Town.”
“Can I come along?” Boombah asked.
“You’d better take a wrap, dear,” Clarabelle said.
“Oh, mother, I’ll be fine,” Polly said.
“Be good to our little clown,” Clarabelle said to Noah Zark.
“Mother, please!” Polly said.
“And be home at a respectable hour!” Clemmie Dibble said with a laugh, as though he didn’t mean it at all.
“Good evening to you all,” Noah Zark said. “It was such a very great pleasure to meet all of you.”
After they left, Clemmie Dibble turned to Clarabelle and said, “That young clown seems like a very sensible and decent chap. I think I like him.”
“And he’s so handsome,” Clarabelle said, “in his junk-yard tuxedo with the enormous baggy pants with the suspenders and his smashed top-hat and his wide red tie.”
Eata Banana began bawling uncontrollably. Clemmie Dibble and Clarabelle and Boombah turned and looked at her in surprise. When she realized everyone was looking at her, she ran upstairs to her boudoir and slammed the door.
“Now, what do you suppose is the matter with her?” Clemmie Dibble asked, sitting down again.
“I think I know,” Clarabelle said, “but I don’t think you would understand.”
“I know what’s the matter with her,” Boombah said. “She’s a girl!”
In Noah Zark’s clown car, Polly sat as close to him as she could get. She was sitting so close, in fact, that he could hardly move his arms to steer. When he turned his eyes away from the road and looked at her, she gave him a simpering smile and her eyes were moist. He could smell her perfume, which was something called Clown Parisienne and was very expensive.
“I hope you’re hungry, Miss Polly,” Noah Zark said, not being able for the moment to think of anything else to say.
“Oh, I could eat an elephant.” In truth, she had been too nervous to eat all day and now had a raging appetite.
“I wouldn’t advise it,” Noah Zark said and laughed. Polly didn’t understand what he meant, but she laughed appreciatively anyway to show that her wit was as sharp as his.
She watched the unreeling scenery for a couple of minutes and then she turned to Noah Zark and said, “Gee, it must be wonderful to have your own clown car and be able to drive all over Clown Town, or beyond, whenever you feel like it.”
“It’ll do for now, I suppose,” Noah Zark said dispiritedly. “I’d rather go around in a chauffeur-driven limousine like your poppa, though.”
Polly felt oddly flattered that Noah Zark recognized her poppa’s significance in the scheme of things. “Maybe some day you will,” she said.
“Oh, yes, Clemmie Dibble Wollydoodle is a very important clown. Every clown in Clown Town knows that.”
“Yes, I suppose that’s true,” Polly said, wishing to change the subject. She had been with Noah Zark for ten minutes and he hadn’t said a thing about how pretty she looked.
“Why, he practically runs the Jerkus Circus. He can make or break a clown. One favorable word from him and a young clown’s career is made.”
“Uh-huh,” Polly said.
“As a rodeo clown,” Noah Zark said, “I’m on the road most of the year and I don’t even have a home I can call my own. I want to settle down. My goal is to get a berth with an established concern like the Jerkus Circus and move up through the clown ranks.”
At the words “settle down,” Polly believed that Noah Zark had marriage in mind and was laying the groundwork to propose to her. She couldn’t expect him to propose on their first date together—that would be rushing things too much—but maybe by their second or third date.
“Everybody looks up to rodeo clowns,” she said. “You are the hero of many.”
“That may be true,” Noah Zark said, “but there’s more to life than the admiration of one’s fellow clowns.”
“My brother Jocko wants to be a rodeo clown,” she said, feeling a little thrill as her leg brushed against Noah Zark’s leg.
“Why does he not follow in your poppa’s footsteps?”
“Jocko and poppa never got along,” Polly said. “Jocko is very head-strong. He doesn’t like to be ordered about, and poppa can be a bit overbearing at times.”
“Well, I hope Jocko knows the life of a rodeo clown is a lonely life. I hope he knows what he’s getting himself into.”
“I’m sure it has its rewards,” Polly said. “It must be exciting to travel and be in a different town every night. I’ve never even spent a single night away from home.”
“Believe me, after a while all towns look alike, and you wish desperately to be back in Clown Town where you feel you belong. The romance of the road is vastly overstated.”
“Well, the Jerkus Circus moves around a lot, too,” she said.
“That’s true,” Noah Zark said, “but they stay in one place a lot longer than the rodeo does.”
Soon they were in Crazy Town and Noah Zark turned off the road onto the parking lot at Clown Rendezvous and a uniformed clown valet appeared to park the car. After the valet had driven off, Polly took Noah Zark’s arm and they went inside.
She was impressed that the maitre‘d recognized Noah Zark as soon as he saw him. He made a checkmark next to Noah Zark’s name in his big book and then, bowing and scraping, he personally escorted Noah Zark and Polly to their table. As they walked through the crowded nightclub, Polly felt clowns looking at the two of them—at Noah Zark because of who he was and at her because she was with Noah Zark.
When they were seated at their table, Noah Zark ordered a bottle of champagne and before it came he took Polly by the hand and pulled her out onto the dance floor. She wasn’t accustomed to dancing, but she soon saw that Noah Zark’s skill and polish made up for her not knowing what she was doing. He held her close in a slow number and then twirled her around the dance floor when the orchestra played The New Tiger Rag, a very fast number. He literally tossed her away and then pulled her back, bent her over backwards until the top of her head touched the floor, lifted her up into the air and slid her along the floor between his legs, spun her left and spun her right until she was dizzy and believed she might be sick. When the number ended, they went back to their table amid a smattering of applause.
“My, you’re such a good dancer!” Polly said with a laugh. She felt as if she had just been inside a cocktail shaker, but she also felt happy and, well, important. She was sweating and panting a little, but she noticed that Noah Zark was perfectly composed.
“Oh, it’s nothing,” Noah Zark said. “A clown in my position has to learn many things.”
He poured her a glass of champagne and handed it to her and then poured one for himself and drank it down and poured another. She took a tiny sip of the champagne and smacked her lips.
“You like?” Noah Zark asked.
“I like,” she said.
She drank down her champagne the way Noah Zark had done and he poured her another glassful. After the waiter came and took their order for dinner, Polly excused herself and stood up and made her way on wobbly legs to the powder room.
Inside the powder room, she sat down in front of one of the big mirrors encircled with light bulbs and opened her reticule and took out her comb and fixed her hair that had become disarranged during her wild dance with Noah Zark. Then as she was touching up her makeup, two more clowns came into the powder room. They made their way to the other end of the row of mirrors. One of them sat down in front of the mirror and the other stood behind her, looking at her face in the mirror. They were engrossed in conversation and didn’t seem to notice Polly sitting there.
“And did you notice that dress?” the sitting clown asked. Her name was Arma Geddon. She was short and fat and had flaming-orange hair. Her lips were painted on in a cupid’s bow and her eyebrows inverted V’s.
“How could I miss it?” the other clown said. “She looks like she raided her grandmother’s closet!” This clown’s name was Bozinda. She was tall and skinny; she wore a skirt that was slit up the side and ended in the middle of her calf, showing horizontally striped stockings.
“And that nose!” Arma Geddon exclaimed. “Nobody wears those glittery things anymore. They went out with the horse and buggy.”
Polly had her hand to her nose when the remark about glittery noses registered in her brain. She pulled her hand away as though she had touched a hot stove. She realized the two clowns were talking about her. She stood up and was making her way for the door as unobtrusively as she could when the two clowns noticed her and stopped talking.
“Oh, miss!” Bozinda said, just as Polly had her hand on the door to push it open.
Polly turned toward Bozinda and gave her an innocent look. “Me?” she asked, touching her breastbone.
“Yes, you, dearie! Might we have a word with you?”
“I suppose so,” Polly said.
“We saw you dancing with Noah Zark,” Bozinda said.
“How much do you know about him, dear?”
“I know he’s a very fine, accomplished gentleman,”
“Hah!” Arma Geddon exclaimed. “You are a sweet innocent!”
“You’re probably thinking right now that he’s the man of your dreams,” Bozinda said, laughing up her sleeve. “Most of the girl clowns in Clown Town and Crazy Town and the surrounding environs have thought the same thing at one time or another.”
“You need to be made aware of what a scamp he is,” Arma Geddon said, pulling at her false eyelash.
“Let’s face it, darling,” Bozinda said. “You just aren’t his type at all, but you probably can’t see that because you don’t know what type is his type the way we do.”
“Just what is it you’re trying to tell me?” Polly asked, beginning to understand all too clearly.
“Well, since you aren’t his type,” Bozinda said, “I’d say he wants something you have that he doesn’t have. He wants you to do something for him that would further his career.”
“He has a way of always getting what he wants from girl clowns,” Arma Geddon said in her know-it-all way.
“Yes, and after he gets what he wants from you,” Bozinda said, “he’ll cast you aside like a pair of old boots.” With that, she looked down at her own army-issue boots and shook her foot as though trying to dispel a cramp.
“Take a piece of friendly advice,” Arma Geddon said, batting her eyelashes and turning away from the mirror and facing Polly. “Get what you can out of him—a night on the town, a few drinks, a good time, a few laughs. But when it comes right down to it, my dear, don’t fall for his suavity and his line of smooth talk. If you do, you’ll end up wishing you hadn’t.”
“I’m sure I do not know to what you are referring,” Polly said quietly. Believing the conversation had come to an end, she gave Bozinda and Arma Geddon a little curtsey and then left the powder room.
When she got back to her table, Noah Zark pulled the chair out for her. She sat down without looking at him and picked up her glass of champagne and drank it down and reached over for the bottle and poured herself another glass.
“Are you quite all right, Miss Polly?” Noah Zark asked. “You look a little peaked.”
“I was feeling a little sick,” Polly said, “but now I’m all right.”
“I so want to get to know you better,” Noah Zark said. He reached across the table for Polly’s hand but she pulled it away quickly before he could touch it.
The waiter brought their food and they began eating. Before they were finished with the soup course, the floor show began. First there was a girl clown singer who stood in front of the orchestra and belted out a couple of clown ballads and then there was a troupe of midget tumblers. They leapt and bounced and buffeted about the stage as if the laws of gravity didn’t apply to them. When the tumblers left the stage to enthusiastic applause, a couple of identical twin clowns came on who juggled bottles of milk; first one juggled the bottles and then the other, and then they juggled the bottles back and forth between them so fast they could hardly be seen. The audience gasped with delight and appreciation.
As soon as the floor show was over, Noah Zark asked Polly if she was finished eating and if she would care to dance again.
“Yes and no,” Polly said. “Yes, I’m finished eating and, no, I wouldn’t care to dance again.”
“Why, what’s the matter, Miss Polly?” Noah Zark asked. “You seem so different. Are you not feeling well?”
“I just think it’s time for all good girl clowns to be at home,” she said. She couldn’t bring herself to tell him that all the glamour and excitement had gone out of the evening for her.
“Do you mean you want to leave already?”
“Well, we’ve had dinner and we’ve seen the floor show. What else is there?”
“Are you not enjoying my company?”
“I would just like to leave, Noah Zark, if you don’t mind.”
Noah Zark called for the check in his customary showy manner. He threw a handful of clown money down on the table and then he helped Polly out of her chair.
When they were once again in Noah Zark’s clown car, he looked over at Polly, now sitting as far from him as the car seat would allow, and said, “Would you like to go someplace for a nightcap?”
“That means more liquor, doesn’t it?” Polly asked. “I think I’ve had enough champagne. If I drink any more than I’ve already had, I think I may be quite ill in the morning.”
“Maybe a drive in the country, then?” Noah Zark asked. “It’s a beautiful evening and still early.”
“Oh, all right,” Polly said, “as long as you don’t go too far out of Clown Town.”
“I know just the place,” he said.
He steered the clown car in the direction of the Mountain Road between Crazy Town and Clown Town. He knew of a secluded spot to stop and park that looked out over the city. He hoped to get Polly to thaw out because he had a favor he wanted to ask of her. He had never yet known a female clown that wouldn’t melt into his arms when he turned on the charm.
For her part, Polly opened her reticule and slipped her hand inside and felt around until she found the socket wrench that she carried with her at all times. She closed her hand around it, ready to pull it out. She would clonk Noah Zark on the head if she had to.
Noah Zark pulled the car off the Mountain Road at Lookout Point. Polly was relieved to see there were already several other clown cars with clown couples in them parked there. If Noah Zark tried to get too fresh, she could scream for help and someone would hear her. Maybe she wouldn’t even need to clonk him on the head.
Noah Zark parked the clown car and turned off the engine and put his arm up over the back of the seat. Polly shrank from his arm as if it was a rattlesnake.
“It’s a lovely evening,” Noah Zark said. “The moon and the stars and the city spread out before you in a lovely panorama of glittering lights.”
“How poetic!” Polly said, altogether unimpressed.
“I trust you’ve had a pleasant evening,” Noah Zark said. “I hope that stepping out with me this evening has been a worthwhile experience for you.”
“Well, I always wanted to go to Clown Rendezvous.”
“Miss Polly, I must confess I have a little favor to ask of you.”
“Just a little one?” she asked.
“Miss Polly, have you ever heard the expression, ‘It’s not what you know—it’s who you know’?”
“No, I don’t believe I’ve ever heard that expression.”
“I’ve called your poppa on the telephone several times and I’ve written him a couple of letters.”
“He won’t return my calls and doesn’t respond to my letters.”
“Oh, “Polly said, “I think I’m beginning to understand.”
“I was wondering if you might arrange it so that I might be placed in the way of your poppa in a situation where he wouldn’t be distracted by other matters.”
“You want his help in getting a berth with the Jerkus Circus?”
“One word from him is all it would take.”
“You want me to invite you to dinner at my house, where the talk would inevitably turn toward your career and what a great benefit your talents would be to the Jerkus Circus?”
“That would be splendid!”
“You don’t have to give me an answer now. Just think about what I’m saying and let me know if what I’m asking is going to be possible.” He reached inside his coat pocket and pulled out a card and handed it to her. “Here’s my agent’s business card. He’ll know how to get in touch with me. And please remember, this is urgent. The sooner you are able to arrange it, the better.”
She took the card and looked at it and slipped it inside her glove. “I think I’d like to go home now, Noah Zark, if you please,” she said.
When he pulled up in front of the house where she lived, he turned off the engine and put his arm up over the back of the seat the way he had done at Lookout Point. He thought again that she would melt into his arms and, if she did so, he would reward her with a big sloppy clown kiss, but again she failed to do as expected.
“Well, good night,” she said, putting her hand on the door handle. “Thank you for a very lovely evening. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.”
“Wait just a second,” he said. “I’ll walk with you up to your front door.”
“That’s not necessary. I’m a grown clown. I can find my way to my front door in the dark. I’ve done it many times before. I’m not as helpless as everybody seems to think me.”
“You’ll call my business agent, then?” he asked. “You won’t forget?”
“I don’t think I will be seeing you again,” Polly said.
“Why ever not?”
“Noah Zark,” she said, “have you ever heard the expression, ‘There’s none so blind as those who will not see’?”
“I don’t think I ever heard that expression. What does it mean?”
She got out of the clown car and stood beside it, but before she closed the door she pulled the business card he had given her out of her glove and tore it into tiny pieces and flicked the pieces at him across the front seat.
Two days later in the middle of the afternoon Polly was sitting at the table in the kitchen polishing the silver and listening to music on the radio, her mind pleasantly devoid of thought. Clarabelle was standing at the counter putting frosting on a cake. Clemmie Dibble was upstairs taking a clown nap, Boombah was at a Clown Scouts meeting, and Jocko was in the back yard practicing his juggling routine. Suddenly Eata Banana, who had been moping around the house all week, burst into the room. She was uncharacteristically happy and excited.
“Guess who just called me?” she said, hardly able to keep from jumping up and down.
“Who did?” Clarabelle asked, turning from her cake, her frosting-laden knife in the air.
“Noah Zark!” Eata Banana said. “Noah Zark called me on the telephone just now!” She was trembling and her eyes shone with excitement.
“What did he want?” Clarabelle asked.
“He asked me to go to a clown ball with him at the Clown Country Club on Saturday night!”
“Are you going?”
“Am I going? Well, of course, I’m going!” Eata Banana said. “I’d be crazy not to go! He’s a rodeo clown! He’s just the most exciting clown bachelor in all of Clown Town.”
“What are you going to wear?” Clarabelle asked.
“I don’t know,” Eata Banana said. “I think now that things are finally happening for me I’m going to need to buy a whole new wardrobe. Maybe he’ll ask me to marry him!”
Polly smiled and dabbed her rag into the silver polish and rubbed it on the silver serving tray that had belonged to her Grandmother Lulu. She realized that Clarabelle and Eata Banana were both looking at her, expecting her to say something. She said nothing, though, only singing along with Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries, which was just then playing on the radio. She knew very well that Eata Banana wasn’t Noah Zark’s type, either, but she said nothing to that effect. Eata Banana would just have to find out on her own, in her own way and in her own time.
Copyright © 2013 by Allen Kopp