BY THOMAS A. FOWLER
This was the embodiment of my manifesto. Too long had I been second fiddle to Lou Emmett. The man had all but etched his name into a Clown Lifetime Achievement Award. It was my time to write my own path to a CLAA. I never understood Emmett’s execution of the clown car. I’d obsessed over the intricacy of the trick for years. Arriving in civilian clothes, I’d watch the bottom of the car, searching for a glimpse of a tunnel. I’d scan the sand of the main circus venue, looking for a squared entrance where the clowns could climb up from a basement crawl space into the car. Emmett, like a magician, never revealed his secret.
It no longer mattered. I had conjured my own. The record would be mine. The red concoction boiled in the laboratory vials. A shadowed figure loomed in a corner. One of The Scientist’s demands was that he never be seen. His departure meant the vial was completed. Now all that was left was to recruit my Clown Alley.
“You know the number won’t stick, Herb,” Alfred said.
In another corner of the laboratory were 30 clowns. Some there on their own, others there strictly because I had paid them.
“I’m beating the number, Alfred. One way or another,” I said.
“But if you cheat, the CSS won’t recognize the record,” he replied.
Alfred had been my good friend for many years. As the circus died its slow death in popularity, our friendship remained. Alfred had never reached for a CLAA, was content to have just lived the clown life.
“I don’t care if the Clown Standards Society deems it a false act, the record will be mine,” I pulled the vial from the burner.
I distributed the liquid into small, glass beakers. The red substance thickened, a white mist spewing from the top.
“Don’t you care how you get the record, though?” Alfred said.
“I don’t care how I get it, I care that I get it. Nothing more,” I replied. “When did you become the advocate of clown morality?”
I handed the beakers out, one by one. Some clowns grabbed it without hesitation; some inspected the substance with extreme scrutiny.
“Since I watched my friend become someone obsessed with a number he couldn’t possibly ascertain,” Albert said. “The man in front of me is still my friend, but a friend I cannot recognize.”
“Yet you took my money,” I said.
“Wait, you got paid?” a clown asked.
“Shut up, Billy. I’m talking to Alfred Grant, a mediocre clown with no vision for a bigger future,” I said. “Let us all toast, to a new record taking hold tonight.”
“I can’t do this,” Alfred pulled out his wallet.
He handed over everything he had. It was more than I had paid him. As he gave me the stack of cash, he pulled a third of it. He gave it to Billy.
“Doesn’t matter, the record is 27 clowns in a single car. There are 29 of us here,” I said. “Just like your life, it hasn’t mattered if you were here or not.”
Alfred opened the exit door. He stopped in the doorframe, the lights of the circus tent far in the distance. One of the massive floodlights spun in circles, alerting visitors of the upcoming event. The beam of light swung around, silhouetting Alfred’s aged shadow.
“When all is said and done, neither will you,” Alfred’s shadow faded into the night. He walked away, never again would we speak.
“Ladies and gentlemen, tonight you join me in making history. Thank The Scientist for this night,” I raised my beaker.
I did not drink. I would remain full-size. The rest of them would shrink. A slight reduction of their mass and it would give me just enough room to fit the two more clowns needed to break, and exceed, the record.
At the end of the night, the ringmaster announced the record. The 28 other clowns stood around the car, after all of them had emerged. I stood through the skylight of the compact car. My arms reached for the big top as the sparse crowd applauded.
The ringmaster shouted, “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, we are proud to announce that the CSS record for most clowns inside of a compact car has been broken tonight by our very own Herb Myles.”
At the edge of the ring stood an old man. Alfred had returned. His beaker still in hand, he walked slowly toward the center of the circus tent.
“Alfred, what are you doing?” I asked.
A smile stayed on my face. I wouldn’t let him hinder my life’s work. Alfred stopped in front of the compact car. Its headlights illuminated the wrinkles of his face. Alfred drank the contents of the beaker. The empty beaker crashed to the floor, glass shattering out from the impact point. His hand shook, raising a pointed finger at me. Alfred groaned as his body shrunk several inches.
The crowd, unknowing of what it meant, applauded. They perceived it another trick. I didn’t care. The record was mine.
“A fraud,” someone shouted. “A curse upon the CSS name.”
My head pivoted at the speed of a gunshot from Alfred to the crowd. In the stands were three verification members of the Clown Standards Society. There stood Jacob Ebner, senior judge for the CSS. His graveled voice was the one that shouted at me.
“The record is null and void, it remains 27. Held by the prestigious Lou Emmett,” Jacob shouted.
Boos commenced. The crowd sparked to life. They had found another reason to make noise, but a different call to action.
“The record is mine,” I shouted.
“Only in your mind,” Jacob replied.
“There it shall remain,” I raised my hands.
The applause didn’t matter, nor the taunts. What mattered was that the record was his, and there was noise. There was a response. There was life. I would be remembered for something.