Chauncey Peeps ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
From the time she was a small child, Juniper Trent wanted to be a mother. She was a lonely child and so treated her roomful of dolls like living children or like the younger brothers and sisters she was never to have. She gave them all names, scolded them when scolding was needed—dressed, bathed, fed them—and treated them with the kindest loving care of which she was capable. In short, she taught herself how to be a mother, and, by the time she was in her early twenties, believed she was ready to embark on real—rather than pretend—motherhood.
She married the first boy who asked her, one Frederick Peeps, and, in a little over a year, she had her own real-live baby. He was a fine animal specimen in every way but not exactly what she or her husband expected. He was covered in dark hair, had a snout and a long tail, a large mouth and perfectly formed teeth. He resembled a baby ape more than a human child and, in fact, an ape is what he was. The doctor explained in his dry manner that these things sometimes happened, a little trick of nature, but there was no reason to believe that the monkey baby wouldn’t live a full and happy life.
She named him Chauncey and, after she recovered from the shock of his being so different from what she expected, she was delighted with him, as pleased and as proud as a mother could be. Her husband was a little pouty at first, wondering just who this woman was who could produce such a child, but took only a few days to get used to the idea of having a son unlike any other and came to love him as much as a father could, taking singular pride in his first steps, his first words and in his first bicycle ride.
Mrs. Peeps took Chauncey with her wherever she went. She soon became used to people staring and whispering, of wanting to get a closer look. Just about everybody who saw him wanted to touch him, to take his picture, or to have him grip their thumb with his furry little hand. They cooed in his face and made faces at him and, in so doing, made complete fools of themselves. Soon Mr. and Mrs. Peeps were receiving invitations to parties and dinners on the condition that they bring their unusual little Chauncey with them. They were invited to join the country club, the lodge and several church congregations, none of which held any appeal for them. They weren’t in any way “group” people or the joining kind.
Chauncey developed rapidly, physically and emotionally. He could read the newspaper at age three, recite Tennyson at age four, and, before he was five, perform the soliloquy from Hamlet. The summer before he started to school, he was juggling and doing acrobatics, singing, dancing and performing pantomime skits. His mother believed he was a natural-born performer.
When it came time for Chauncey to go to school, Mr. and Mrs. Peeps took a long, hard look at the situation. They had both attended public school as children and they knew what a cruel place it can be for someone who is different. They couldn’t stand to think of Chauncey being bullied, taunted, mistreated and made unhappy. They would rake together the money and send him to a special school for oddly turned, one-of-a-kind or freakish children.
He became a student at the Sore Bone Academy when he was six years old. For his entrance examination, he recited The Gettysburg Address (with much feeling) and did impressions of movie stars, including Marie Dressler and Zasu Pitts. The examining board, of course, was delighted, and accepted him on the spot without the usual expect-to-hear-from-us period. (They were privately thinking about the notoriety that such a talented and unusual child might bring to their school.)
At the Sore Bone, for the first time in Chauncey’s life, he had the chance to consort with other children who were as unique as he was. His classmates included an albino boy, Siamese twin girls, a boy with webbed hands and feet, a girl with a “twin” sticking out of her side, another girl with telekinetic powers who could make objects fly around the room, a boy with an exoskeleton and a tail, a girl who was covered all over with silky white hair, a boy whose head was attached backwards to his body, a girl with four working arms but no legs, a boy with the bodily proportions of a beach ball, and on and on. After one came to know them, they were more than just “freaks.” They were all bright and friendly in their own way and all fortunate to be shut away from the cruel world at the Sore Bone. Chauncey fit right in and became a student leader.
He excelled in all his studies and was encouraged to become the clown that he knew he was always meant to be. As he grew older, he began living his life as a clown instead of just as a monkey boy. He developed his “Mr. Peeps” persona that would serve him well in the years to come.
He had a complete clown wardrobe that his mother ran up for him on her sewing machine in her little attic room at home. And what a wardrobe it was, complete with junkyard tuxedos, top hats, the traditional red-and-white striped one-piece suits with ruffled colors, oversized suits containing compartments inside for the traditional rubber chicken and other clown paraphernalia, hobo pants with patches in the knees and seat, a long frock coat that dragged five feet behind him as he walked, and female clown dresses with voluminous padding for boobs and hips for when he performed in drag.
The school years passed happily and then it was time for graduation. Of all the clown students in his class, Chauncey (alias “Mr. Peeps”) was at the top of his clown class. As he accepted his diploma in his deep-purple cap and gown festooned with rubber chickens, his mother and father sat in the audience and beamed their happy smiles.
With school behind him, Chauncey had some important decisions to make. Was he going to be a clown all his life, or was he going to set his clownhood aside and pursue some more serious profession, such as lawyering or doctoring? He knew that many doctors and lawyers are also clowns, but he didn’t think he had it in him to combine the two professions. It had to be one or the other.
Just when he was beginning to enjoy his summer vacation, a bad thing happened. His father was run over by a pie wagon in Philadelphia. It was one of those events that just happens for which no planning is possible. After the funeral, Chauncey promised his mother that he would never leave her, no matter what. He would abandon all thoughts of pursuing a profession to stay at home with her. They had plenty of money and he was tired of the world anyway.
“We will defer all important matters for the time being,” his mother said. “I want to take a little vacation and get away from it all.”
They planned on going to a spa in the mountains to take the curative waters when, on the day before they were to catch their train, Chauncey received a telephone call from the Valeria Brothers Combined Shows. They knew his work, were great admirers, and were prepared to offer him a lucrative clown contract. He and his mother put off their trip for the time being, and he traveled alone two days later to meet with Valeria Brothers to discuss the job.
They gave him more money than he ever imagined and for his very first job! He knew that if he signed with them he was going to have to travel around from place to place, wherever the circus was performing, and he wasn’t altogether happy with that prospect. When he expressed a reluctance to leave his mother behind, they told him he could bring her along if she didn’t object to the nomadic life. The circus might even employ her in some capacity if she was interested.
When he told his mother the news, she was happy for a fresh start in life. What had seemed like the end of things was really the beginning of a new kind of life for her and her monkey boy.
Chauncey’s first experience at performing with the Valeria Brothers Combined Shows was a swing through the Southern states. And he was an instant success! As word of him spread, the Valeria Brothers saw their box-office receipts increase wherever they went. His mother became a sort of wardrobe mistress for Chauncey and for some of the other performers. She repaired their costumes when needed and saw that they were cleaned and pressed and ready for the next performance.
It was in the circus that Chauncey found true love. He was instantly drawn to a midget fat-lady clown who went by the name of Ima Pigg. She was about the same age as Chauncey and very naïve, having been sheltered by her wealthy family. When her father died and her mother remarried, she had stepped out into the world on her own and joined the circus and never looked back. Chauncey was her first romantic attachment and she was his.
In a few months, Ima Pigg became Ima Peeps. The wedding was performed before a capacity audience in the middle of the regular show. The Valeria Brothers realized they could have sold three times as many tickets if only they had had the space for that many people. They considered making marriage ceremonies part of the regular show.
Within a year, Ima Peeps gave birth to her own little monkey boy and named him Chauncey Junior. He was a tiny duplicate of his father. Chauncey and Ima were very happy, as was Chauncey’s mother, the wardrobe mistress.
But the work of performing in the circus came first. The Valeria Brothers were constantly pushing Chauncey to try new routines. They didn’t want him to get stale. They had him juggling swords and live hand grenades and hanging from his teeth from a trapeze thirty feet in the air. It wasn’t enough for him just to be a clown anymore. The audience expected more from him. He had to do things that had never been done before.
One night to a packed house, when Chauncey and several of his clown colleagues were performing a stunt with rings of fire, the fire got out of control and began to spread very fast. All the lights had been turned off, making the situation more frightening for the audience when they began to see the fire coming toward them. They began screaming and running for the exits, trampling whoever got in their way. Eight people died and many others were injured without the flames ever getting to them.
Of the performers, Chauncey and three other clowns were killed. Those who were present stated later that Chauncey was a hero. He was able to get several people out of the way of the flames at the expense of his own life.
His mother left the circus and went home. She was heartbroken, of course, but not alone. Ima Peeps went with her and her grandson, Chauncey Junior. When she looked at him, she saw her monkey boy and she knew he wasn’t really dead. When she took him out into the world with her, she witnessed the stares and whispers. She was there for his first words, his first steps and his first time alone on a bicycle. Everything that had happened before was happening again.
Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp