The Carnival, the Clothing and the Clown

20 08 2009

I told Frank Ascanio that I needed a story idea. He obligingly offered me “A bunch of monogrammed clothing, a pier, an elephant and some fireworks”. This little story is dedicated to St. Francis, with affection. 

Sarah Lee Peterson was a woman who disliked suprises. She disliked a great many things, in fact, but surprises brought her a particularly poignant sense of displeasure. 

It is not a great many women who can make it through 72 years on planet earth with no suprise greater than a harsh winter which kills all one’s bulbs. Sarah Lee was not an ordinary woman. 

Top of her list of dislikes, past surprises, were sand, elephants and crowds. You can imagine the exquisite torture, then, of Sarah Lee as she sat on a bench on the pier, watching the fireworks and wishing that her Dastardly Nephew had not forced her to attend the Annual Carnival. 

A loud trumpeting filled the air. Sarah Lee cringed and pulled her maroon knit sweater tightly around her throat. Someone had though bringing an elephant to the carnival would be the perfect touch. Sara Lee thought the idea was idiotic and muttered to herself about it in impotent frustration. She could see her Dastardly Nephew, the town sheriff, purchasing a funnel cake and goggling at the fireworks. 

“I’ll show him!” She thought, “I’ll go back to the car and wait there until he’s done stuffing himself.”

She pushed herself up and toddled off down the pier. Somewhere in the rush of teenagers kissing, filthy elephant noises and spilled ice cream cones she lost her way. Somehow, instead of being in the lighted parking lot on the clean surety of concrete, she was walking ankle deep in sand, parallel to the pier and slightly beneath it. 

Then, suddenly, she wasn’t walking on sand anymore. She paused and wiggled her feet around a little. Nope. Not sand. She bent over with the stiffness of old age and patted the ground near her feet. It felt like… No, it couldn’t be. She grabbed and pulled. It was! It was a man’s polo sweater, monogrammed with the initials J.S. 

She stuffed the polo into her capacious handbag. Not for any real reason but more from long habit. Everything went into that purse. (She didn’t know it but her Dastardly Nephew, who’s real name was John, called her purse “The Black Hole”)

She kept walking along next to the pier, her feet scrunching along in the sand. Her goal was still the parking lot but the fireworks confused her. Were they over the water or on land? Which was was she going? She squinted but couldn’t quite tell. 

Then it happened. Instead of the proper sandy scrunch her feet found a softly yielding substance. This time when she retrieved it she made it out to be a woman’s blouse, monogrammed K.L.

Shaking her head at the vague suspicions of inappropriate behavior that swam to the surface of her mind, Sarah Lee kept walking. The vague suspicions were doomed to sudden solidification as Sarah Lee found three pairs of pants, two more polo’s, two skirts and four t-shirts (men’s and women’s) all monogrammed with different initials. 

Sarah Lee, who hated surprises and who was herself a woman of rigid morals, knew that something was terribly wrong with the world. People simply did NOT lose clothes on public beaches in small towns on the very night of the Annual Carnival unless something sneaky was afoot. 

She did an abrupt about-face and returned toward the lights and braying elephant, keeping the pier now on her left. In not too long she had found the Carnival entrance. A few people, who knew that she was the Aunt of the sheriff were disturbed by her flustered appearance and her purse overflowing with clothing. They maneuvered her through the crowd until she was face to badge with her nephew. 

She unloaded her purse and her story, piling the contents of the former at his feet and flinging the facts of the latter up toward his blueberry-stained teeth.  Sarah Lee may have thought of her nephew as Dastardly, but he was a figure of the Law and the Law should be able to do something about people wandering around without their clothes on public beaches on Carnival night. 

Her story and her purse ran out at the same time. She breathed heavily through her nose. Passersby were struck by the spectacle and paused to try and figure out what was going on. 

Sarah Lee’s Dastardly Nephew was struck dumb. Literally. He could see that his Aunt wanted an explanation. Her entire face was scrunched toward her nose in a most alarming way. He began to wish he’s ignored his better instincts and left her at home. These thoughts chased each other around several times in his mind before he pulled himself together. 

“Auntie,” he began hesitantly, “I’m sure there’s been some mistake.”

“Nephew,” the very words dripped old-lady venom, “I am sure there has not. Somewhere on this beach there are several persons of apparently adult age, wandering around in their all-togethers. This is most irregular and I want you to DO something about it!”

A tiny cough, as if made by an especially apologetic gray squirrel, sounded behind Sarah Lee. She turned quickly, glaring. A young man, dressed as a clown and sporting quite the largest clown nosed ever conceived by man, looked at her with basset hound eyes. He coughed again.

“Well? What is it? Are you ill?” Her voice was shrill.

His hound eyes grew larger. “Uh… no ma’am. But I think I can tell you where the clothes came from…”

“Speak up then! Speak up!”

“Uh. Yes ma’am. You see, I’m only a clown part time, ma’am.” He swallowed convulsively. “The rest of the time I work for Handy Hal’s Monogram Emporium. Those clothes you have there… those are mine.”

“Yours?” This time it was the sheriff who spoke.

“Well, not mine, sir. But they’re the clothes I was working on today if you catch my meaning.”

“How the devil did they end up all over the beach?” Sarah Lee was breathing a little slower now that the threat of public nudity was gone, but her face was as scrunched as ever.

“I had a fight with my girl, ma’am. She’s got some crazy idea that I’ve been smooching the elephant trainer. Anyway so she got real mad and threw all those clothes off the pier. I would’ve fetched ’em but I was on duty and I’m not allowed to wander off.”

Sarah Lee’s face rescrunched in a new pattern and she looked around. “Where’s this girl of yours?”

The clown pointed, his face pulled downward in despair. “That’s her what’s sellin’ funnel cakes.”

“YOUNG WOMAN!” Sarah Lee’s voice was strong and it soared right over the crowd to metaphorically smack the funnel cake girl upside the head. A mop of curly brown hair jerked upward, topped by a funnel cake-shaped hat. “COME HERE!”

The girl came. 

Sarah Lee fixed her with one beady eye. “You. Are. An. Idiot.”

“Hey now!” The clown’s protest was stopped by the sheriff’s lifted hand. John was enjoying himself as he hadn’t enjoyed himself in years. 

The girl hung her head but her teeth were gritted obstinately. “I saw him with her,” she muttered at Sarah Lee. 

The old woman shook her head. “I’ve seen the elephant trainer. There is no way that this young man has been kissing her instead of you. No-one could be so stupid.” She waved away a half-hearted protest from the girl. “You should apologize and help him press these clothes. They are somewhat the worse for sand and my purse. Now both of you go away.”

The girl and the boy knelt and gathered up the clothes, their eyes offering and accepting silent apologies to one another. 

John and the group of observers burst into spontaneous applause for Sarah Lee. She waved it away and picked up her purse. John, the Dastardly Nephew, was willing to swear that he’d seen a twinkle in her eye before she stood up again and beckoned to him. 

“Take me home. And NEVER, EVER, offer to bring me to one of these things again.”

The Dastardly Nephew humbly clutched his hat and did as he was bid. His Aunt, he reasoned, was a woman it was best to obey.




One response

20 08 2009
Jennifer James

Haha. Love it. Especially the bit about all-togethers, and smooching.

you’re great.

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