Do You Take This Clown?
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~
(This short story is a re-post. It has been published in the Australian literary journal, Skive.)
Mercy Buckets felt pains in her midsection. She knew there was something inside her that needed to come out. She checked herself into Clown General Hospital, believing she was dying. After a clown doctor did a perfunctory examination, he knew right away what was wrong with her. She was about to have a clown baby and, being the silly goose she was, didn’t even know it.
Almost at once she went into clown labor. When she was being wheeled into the clown delivery room, she didn’t know what was happening and became distraught.
“Somebody help me!” she screamed, her round red nose quivering with emotion. “They’ve taken my clothes! They’re holding me prisoner and they’re going to do awful things to me! Somebody call the clown authorities before it’s too late!”
Nobody called the authorities, of course, or anybody else. A clown nurse clonked her on the head with a frying pan and after that she was quite manageable. She wasn’t able to help in the birth of her child, being unconscious as she was, but Dr. Stitches managed just fine, with the help of several clown nurses, and delivered her of a perfect baby boy.
When she woke up, she was in a bed in a little room all to herself where everything was so white and shiny she thought for a moment she might be in heaven. She heard sounds from behind the closed door but they seemed remote and far away and comforting in a way. She felt funny as if all her bodily parts had been stretched and then allowed to snap back into place. She still didn’t know what had happened to her.
In a little while a smiling clown nurse came into her room to check on her. “Are we feeling better now?” she asked. She had an upturned nose that resembled a sweet potato and a huge head with great waves of flame-red hair.
“Who are you?” Mercy Buckets asked.
“I’m Nurse Precious,” she said. “I’m here to take care of you.”
“But where am I?”
“You are on the third floor of Clown General Hospital.”
“Have I been in an accident or something?”
Nurse Precious laughed. “We do have a wry sense of humor, don’t we?”
“I want to go home.”
“Of course we do, but we’re not ready yet. If you and your baby get along well, you should be able to leave by Tuesday.”
“Me and my what?”
Nurse Precious looked at Mercy and wrinkled her brow. “You don’t remember why you came to hospital?”
“I don’t remember anything.”
Nurse Precious looked at Mercy’s medical chart. “Oh, I see,” she said. “They had to put you out, over, and under during the birth. You haven’t even seen your baby yet.”
“If you don’t tell me what you’re talking about right now,” Mercy said, “I’m going to walk out of here and take a jitney home, even though I am wearing a bed sheet with nothing on underneath.”
As if on cue, the door opened with a suck of air and Nurse Nimbus came into the room with what looked like a bundle of dirty laundry in her arms. “Here we are!” she said cheerily. She laid the bundle on the bed beside Mercy Buckets and pulled back a flap to reveal the face of a small animal.
“Ugh!” Mercy said. “That is the ugliest thing I ever saw.”
“You be sure and think of a good name for him now,” Nurse Precious said.
The two nurses linked arms and twirled around in a little jig as if that were part of the ritual that Mercy was unable to understand.
“But what is this thing?” Mercy asked. “It doesn’t even look like a clown. It looks like an ape. It’s all covered with hair.”
“Why, it’s your baby, dear,” Nurse Nimbus said. “What else would it be?”
“Are you telling me that thing came out of my body?”
“Well, the stork didn’t deliver it, if that’s what you mean,” Nurse Precious said, laughing at her own cleverness.
“Take it away!”
“Oh, you have to feed it, dear! The little fellow is hungry.”
“And just what do you have in mind that I feed it?”
Nurse Precious and Nurse Nimbus exchanged a significant look and then Nurse Nimbus discreetly exited while Nurse Precious showed Mercy what was to be done.
Later in the day, after the baby had been fed and taken away again, Mercy was dozing when Dr. Stitches dropped by her little room to see how she was doing. He was wearing a long white doctor’s gown and a rubber chicken on each shoulder like epaulettes. On his old head was a powdered wig like George Washington, only pink.
“Well, well, well,” he said. “That was quite a harrowing scene we had in the delivery room this morning, wasn’t it?”
“Who the hell are you?” Mercy asked, irritated at being awakened.
“I’m only the old fellow who saved your life and the life of your baby,” he said.
“I want to go home. My clown mother and clown father must be worried about me.”
“All in due time, my dear.”
“And when I leave, I’m not taking that thing with me.”
“What thing are we talking about, dear?”
“The little animal that they say came out of my body.”
“I take it you are referring to your son?”
“I go. It stays.”
Dr. Stitches made a note on his clipboard and looked at Mercy over the tops of his Ben Franklin glasses. “You wish to give the baby up for adoption?” he asked.
“I don’t care what you do with it. We’re not even the same species.”
“Hmm,” he said. “Mother exhibits marked ambivalence toward baby,” he said aloud as he wrote.
“My clown mother and clown father are going to die when they find out about this. They don’t know I was ever even with a man. Hell, I don’t even know it myself!”
“So, you have no knowledge or recollection of the act that brought your baby into being?”
“I don’t know anything except that I want to go home and forget that any of this ever happened.”
“You’ve had a shock,” Dr. Stitches said, patting her on the shoulder. “You just rest now and don’t worry about a thing.”
He left and in a few moments Nurse Precious came in and gave Mercy another clonk on the head to calm her down.
When she awoke she was confused. She had been dreaming that a giant chicken was holding her down, trying to put its beak into her mouth. She sputtered and picked some imaginary feathers from between her teeth. She realized then that someone was standing beside her bed and that someone was her own clown mother, Clarabelle Patootie, and her clown father, Petey Patootie. They had both been clown headliners in the biggest show in clowndom but were now retired from the show business.
“My dear!” her mother said, realizing at once that Mercy was awake. “Your clown father and I have been frantic with clown worry.”
“It’s not what you think!” Mercy said, trying to sit up. “I swear I don’t know where that thing came from!”
“Now, now, now,” her mother said. “We’re not judging you. We’ve just had a long talk with Dr. Stitches. He told us the whole story.”
“I’d like to hear that story myself,” Mercy said.
“It’s going to take some time to sort this all out.”
“Have you seen that thing?”
“Yes, we saw him. Our grandson. He’s a fine little fellow.”
“Yes, but he’s some kind of a gorilla or something. I never saw anything like it before in my life!”
“You just rest now, dear. You’ve been through a terrible ordeal. We’ll talk it all out later.”
Petey Patootie never had much to say. He always let his clown wife do the talking. He patted Mercy on the hand and looked into her eyes. “You hang in there, old girl,” he said. “We’ll be here if you need us.”
She dozed off again and didn’t know when her clown mother and clown father left. The next time she opened her eyes, she saw a huge clown face looming over her. As she screamed and sat up in the bed, the clown face withdrew to a safe distance.
“Who the hell are you!” she said. “Why are you standing over me like a spook?”
“It’s Mr. Ticklefeather,” a voice said. “I was leaning close to see if you were asleep or only faking it.”
It took her a moment to see the clown from whence the voice came. “You act like a crazy person,” she said. “You scared me nearly half to death.”
“Well, I am sorry, I’m sure,” Mr. Ticklefeather said, putting his hand over his mouth.
“What are you doing here?”
“I came as soon as I heard.”
“You know. About the b-a-b-y.”
“Why would that concern you?”
“Well, I’m assuming I’m the f-a-t-h-e-r since we went out together that one time.”
“Stop that spelling! We went rowing on the lake. I’m pretty sure that doesn’t result in a baby of any species.”
“Don’t you remember when we kissed?”
“That doesn’t do it, either.”
“You finished a hot dog that I started and we drank out of the same cup.”
“Mr. Ticklefeather!” she said. “Don’t you know anything about the birds and the bees? You are not the father!”
“Who is, then?”
“That’s just it. I don’t know!”
“Oh, my!” Mr. Ticklefeather said.
“No, no, no! It’s not like that, Mr. Ticklefeather! I don’t know who the father is because there is no father!”
“What do you mean?”
“We’ll save that one for another time.”
Mr. Ticklefeather had only a moment to look perplexed because the door opened and Nurse Precious came into the room bearing the bundle of dirty laundry again.
“Time for the little chappie to feed again,” she said in her sing-song, setting the bundle beside Mercy on the bed as Nurse Nimbus had done earlier and pulling back the face flap.
“Oh, no!” Mercy said. “How many times a day does this happen?”
“It never ends,” Nurse Precious said.
“I want a bottle! Bring me a bottle with milk in it, or whatever it is they drink! I’m not doing that other thing again!”
“I’ll leave,” Mr. Ticklefeather said.
“No!” Mercy said. “I want you to see this odd little baby, even though you are not the father.”
“It’s better if you feed it the old-fashioned way,” Nurse Precious said.
“It won’t matter with this one because I’m not going to keep it anyway,” Mercy said.
Nurse Precious produced a bottle from the folds of her uniform and handed it to Mercy. As Mercy held the baby in the crook of her arm and held the nipple of the bottle to its baby snout, Mr. Ticklefeather leaned in to get a better look.
“He looks a little like me, doesn’t he?” he said.
“He doesn’t look a thing like you!” Mercy said. “You have nothing to do with him at all!”
“He looks like a Percy to me,” Mr. Ticklefeather said. “I’ve always liked the name Percy. How about if we name him Percy? Percy Ticklefeather. I like the way that sounds.”
“You can name him Boll Weevil, for all I care,” Mercy said.
“I know this is going to sound funny to you,” Mr. Ticklefeather said. “I know I’m not really his father, but I wish I was. Since he doesn’t have a father, or at least doesn’t have one that we know about, I’d like to take him and raise him as if I really were his father.”
“I don’t care what you do with him.”
“Since you are the mother and, to the world at least, I’m the presumed father, how would it be if we get married and bring the little fellow up properly, in a home with a mother and a father?”
Mercy looked at him with disbelief. “Why would I want to marry you?” she asked. “I don’t love you. I hardly even know you, even though we went rowing on the lake that one time.”
“We can get married and figure out together who the father really is and what really happened and when it happened. All will be revealed in time.”
“No,” Mercy said. “I suppose I should thank you for the offer, but I won’t ever marry you or anybody else. Not if having peculiar babies is the result.”
The baby drank the entire contents of the bottle, belched and went to sleep. By and by, Nurse Precious came back to collect the baby to take him back to the nursery.
“I’m going to take him,” Mr. Ticklefeather said to Nurse Precious. “Mercy Buckets wants nothing to do with him.”
“Are you his father?” Nurse Precious asked.
“In the absence of the truth,” Mr. Ticklefeather said, “let us say yes. I am the baby’s father.”
“Very well,” Nurse Precious said, slinging the baby onto her shoulder. “Come with me. You’ll have to sign some papers saying you assume full responsibility for his upbringing.”
Mr. Ticklefeather beamed with satisfaction and pride. He followed Nurse Precious and the baby out of the room without saying goodbye to Mercy Buckets.
Mercy got out of the bed and walked slowly to the window. She opened the blind and, looking out at the sky, saw the full yellow moon beaming down on the tired old world, exactly the way it had done on the night she and Mr. Ticklefeather went rowing on the lake. She felt tears welling up in her eyes. Agreeing to give up the baby to Mr. Ticklefeather, who wasn’t really the father, made her feel sad and lonely and a little bit sorry for herself.
Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp