Puddles sat down against the wall and got out his ducky begging bowl. His head still pounded from the night before, but he sure wasn’t going to be able to drown his sorrows again until he got some more money, and these days this was all that was left to him as a means to that end.
Wearing his clown getup worked out well for him as long as he didn’t spend too many days in one location. The novelty factor wore off quickly and the coins dried up. He’d learned that a while back. He got the occasional hard look from guys he knew must be clowns themselves, but he really didn’t give a damn anymore. He put on his best sad face as the passers-by glanced at him and then fished out some coins. If guilt was what it took, so be it.
He was having a productive day, this being a new location, and he was becoming practiced at blocking out the pain while he worked. He focused outward, studying the people walking around, trying to imagine what their lives must be like.
Certainly not like his. They had roofs over their heads. Loved ones to go home to. Jobs, cars, lives. They didn’t know what it was like. If they were lucky they never would. He fished around in his pockets for something to eat, but came up empty-handed. He was no stranger to hunger. A car went by with a load of teenagers who jeered at him. He didn’t look up.
Soon he had enough for a little liquid refreshment and he upped stakes and hit the liquor store nearby. He put the cashier at ease with some light banter. That’s what clowns were supposed to do, make people laugh. Pocketing his paper bag of fortitude he moved to a new location he’d been wanting to try near a mall. There were always lots of people around. He parked himself and took a couple of covert hits and then got out his ducky bowl and settled in.
As the alcohol kicked in his thoughts turned to where he might bed down for the night. The park was good, but you had to be careful. He’d nearly been robbed a few times, and if he lost his clown gear he’d lose what was left of his mind. Waiting for a lull in the action, he got out his bottle again and took a couple of quick swigs.
Should have kept it clean while I was clowning, he thought to himself. Wouldn’t be here now. Like this, with nothing and nowhere to go. This was no life, but what was life anyway? Nothing but pain. A well-dressed couple walked by and he put on his face again. The man dropped a fiver into his ducky. Lucky day, he thought to himself bitterly.
Feeling a pair of eyes on him he looked around and saw a little girl approaching, all grins and giggles. Great, he thought to himself, a kid. Why do they always want to talk to me? Can’t they see i’m not a real clown anymore? Trying to ignore her, he looked the other way. Soon she came and stood right in front of him.
“Hi. What’s your name?” she asked.
Sighing, he looked up. “Puddles.”
“I like that,” she grinned. “Do you juggle?”
“Not any more, kid, I lost my balls,” he growled, hoping that should give her a clue.
“Can’t you get some new ones?” She asked innocently.
They just don’t get it, he thought to himself, shaking his head. She tugged at the bandana she wore on her head and regarded him with seriousness.
“You seem kinda sad. Are you one of those sad clowns?”
He bit his tongue. “Yeah, kid, they don’t get much sadder than me. Where’s your folks?”
“I’m here with my mom, but we got separated. She told me to wait for her outside the doors if that happened.” She pointed in the direction of the mall entrance. “I like clowns.”
“Yeah, everybody likes clowns. That’s why i’m here, you know?” he asked. Maybe sarcasm would work.
“I think it’s great you can make people feel good. I like to make people laugh too. I hope I can keep doing that for awhile.”
Man, I really don’t need this, he thought to himself. How can I make her go away without scaring her? He looked away, thinking if he didn’t engage with her anymore she might get bored.
“Have you always been a clown?”
She’s killing my take, he thought bitterly. “Yeah, i’ve always been a clown. That’s how you end up like this.”
“End up like what?” she frowned.
Fervently hoping her mother would come looking for her, he regarded her more closely. She seemed rather pale and a bit frail. “Oh, nothing. So what’s with the bandana? You don’t seem to have any hair.”
“I have cancer. I might not be around for much longer.”
She said it so matter-of-factly it rocked him to the core. Before he could catch himself a tear rolled down his cheek. Damn, he thought to himself. Did I just get sucker-punched, or what?
“You…” he couldn’t finish.
The little girl looked toward the mall entrance as a woman called out. “That’s my mom. I gotta go. It was nice meeting you Puddles. Thanks for everything.”
As she ran off he buried his face in his hands and the dam burst. He got up awhile later after something inside him that had been dormant for a long time came to life. He packed up his gear and went to the nearest paper rack and bought the afternoon edition. Walking down the street he turned to the help wanted section and began reading in earnest. He dropped his bottle in the next rubbish bin he came to.