When A Clown Loves Blue Cotton Candy
By Z Zoccolante
He was becoming a failure, a stroke at time, like painting a house the red color of his bulbous nose. He wouldn’t be one of those clowns that made people laugh. He would be taken seriously, but he wasn’t scary at all. On the bus this morning, an old lady, with a horrid plaid dress and a walking cane, laughed so hard her dentures fell into her oversized purse.
He’d been discreetly showing her his fangs, inauspiciously, hoping she would keel over with fright. Instead she’d chuckled, which turned into a belly laugh and the skin around her chin became wobbly as though it might fall off. When her teeth slipped loose, he’d turned away, watching the sidewalk roll by through the window.
Yesterday, he’d purchased vampire fangs from his dentist. They were porcelain white, the points dull at the tips. He slid them around his gums, after applying a thin film of blue glue. Although his dentist had assured him it was perfectly safe, he had an astute fear that the blueness would poison him throughout the day, seeping into his bloodstream like an IV drip,
The sidewalks scrolled past. If he squinted his eyes, the world became a wonderful blur-streaks of light and color, faces not quite taking shape. It reminded him of the carnival rides his father took him on when he was a kid, when the world spun around him but everything made sense. On the rides home, in his father’s green clunky truck, he’d hold his tower of blue cotton candy, picking off bits of cloud matter and melting them against his hot tongue. This is what heaven must taste like, he’d thought.
The bus stopped in front of a Halloween store exhaling a cloud of exhaust in an elongated sigh. A girl, with black fishnets, decorated the interior of the window, arms dangling in the air, her hand holding a staple gun. It made sense now, why the old woman had laughed. She’d thought he was a poorly constructed Halloween costume, timed too early for the season.
The colored wig scratched his scalp. Global warming would be the death of him. Along his upper lip, make-up congealed into discolored beads that spread like water against the back of his palm. A fractured rainbow. He’d step inside the store, where it was cool, where he could shop, where he would be welcomed.
The door chimed his entrance and the girl looked down from the ladder, throwing him a plastic smile. “If you need help just ask.” It was a required pleasantry.
Behind him the staple gun hammered against the wall reminding him of the sound spike in movies when a character screams and everyone jumps in their seats. The room held its breath, sealed them off in a tight bubble of her and him and racks of clothes. He traced his fingers over the costumes, taking his time under the air conditioning vent that purred like the belly of cat. It was unfortunate that the costumes he fingered were women’s.
“Are you looking for something for your girlfriend,” the girl asked as though she didn’t believe he had one. She was right.
His hand jerked away from the shoulder of a barmaid outfit. “Actually, the vents right there.” He pointed, taken aback. He hadn’t meant to be honest.
She smirked and held the silence. The air conditioning purred. “Perhaps some tea,” she said, relaxing her grip on the staple gun, “for your rough day.”
“I’m hot.” He waved his hand in a declining gesture.
“Iced then.” And before he could disagree he was sitting on a red velvet chair. The teapot between them was the color of clouds, with two small cups to match. When had she put them there? Why did the room suddenly have a pulse? The pot floated, like a boat, in a trough of ice cubes, the sides wet with condensation. A tear streaked down the blue porcelain. His eyelids felt worn, little gnomes dropping the shades.
“Milo,” she called, and his eyes snapped open. When had he told her his name? “What do you want,” she asked. The question had movement, a pulse. It was alive, feeling less like a string of words and more like her fingers pushing past his wig into the confines of his brain, jostling memories, plucking at threads. Warm sunlight fell into his head, creating an audible buzz as if a beehive had suddenly grown around his forehead like a crown.
“Milo,” she said, and his eyes flicked open. His head was swimming with the sound of bees underwater, gelatinous and echoed, like pulling taffy while a thousand voices hummed. Her eyes were green with flecks of dark speckled through; black holes the size of pepper flakes. He licked his lips and told her everything.
He told her how his mother left them for the circus when he was five, chasing dreams of acrobatic stardom. His father worked twelve-hour shifts at the factory, and Milo was left alone. Some of his words stuttered which made it difficult for him to make friends. When he finally grew out of it, he was used to keeping silent and losing himself in the crowd. Everyone sides with the person who has the most power and that was Del Lanie, whose fists were worth avoiding, and whose voice never repeated syllables.
Every year his dad took a day off of work to take him to the carnival. He too wondered if his father was hoping to glimpse his mother. Perhaps they could convince her to come home. It was a two-hour drive each way but Milo found himself mesmerized by the road scrolling beneath the tires. The soft music on the radio fell into a harmony with the metal clunks, as though they were orchestrated and unraveled specially for each trip.
The first time he slipped into the house of horrors, he didn’t realize he was alone. He thought his father was right behind him, but his father had stopped to chat outside. It was only when the clown jumped out with a reckless, shrieking scream, and he fell backwards on his hands, that he knew he was alone. In the house he saw things he’d never seen: the hall of mirrors, bloody appendages strewn about, headless men walking the corridors, skeletons that slinked off in the distance. But it was the clown that followed him through the maze, as the low-pitched cackle rung in his ears.
Never had he felt so scared and so alive. It was the first time he forgot everything: his mother, his father, his loneliness. It was the first time he felt free.
“Milo,” she said and his eyes blinked. The sound lifted as the bees exited his head. On the table, his cup of tea was empty but he couldn’t remember a drop. He’d told her everything while his lips had been moving and he couldn’t stop the words.
The girl peered into him with a tilt of her head as her hair dangled past her bare shoulder. Her eyes grew watery, like floating stars. “Is this what you truly want?”
“Yes,” he answered, with the clarity of what he’d always known. “I want to give them that gift.”
She held his gaze and leaned forward across the table, wrapping his face in her hands. “Close your eyes,” she said, as the warmth surrounded him and he fell, down.
The words reverberated through his skull. People must feel their hearts beat . . . Down, down, he fell without the sensation of motion . . . Near death to feel alive. A stillness. A darkness. People must feel their hearts beat near death to feel alive . . .
His limbs collided with the floor, the subtle wrenching from a dream. From a distant space, laughter echoed on a yoyo, with a push and an equal tug. There was the music of tricycles and color as the laughter morphed, looming closer as it took on the cackle of a hyena. As the room came into slow focus he felt the sound slip down the back of his throat. It traveled into his chest cavity as his breath became a snarl, a menacing embrace.
Around him the dark walls of the maze came to life as the blood-covered handprints glowed under the black lights. A pair of sneakers rounded the turn, a little boy with dark hair covered in flecks of white dust. As the boy saw him crouched against the wall his mouth opened. He knew the little boy was screaming but the laughter drowned the sound. It was his laughter, deep and dark, pooling from middle of his chest. The boy scurried past, tripping into the wall. His face held fear, white as snow.
Milo realized where she’d dropped him, why she’d asked if this was what he truly wanted. This was his home now: the costume, the face. He could smell the boy’s heartbeat as it thundered through his veins. Milo was the one wielding power. He was the one responsible for the chase. He would spend his life chasing each one through the maze, inflicting terror on their hearts. Because of him they would feel most alive. He would give them that gift.
It was his dream come true. Freedom. He smiled as licked his lips. They tasted like blue cotton candy, like heaven.
Z Zoccolante is an author, actress, and fairytale dreamer. She loves to laugh and is deeply fascinated by a good fairytale villain. Her debut memoir will help those with eating disorders attain happiness and freedom. Originally from Hawai’i, she now lives in LA. Join her mind’s weekly adventures at zzoccolante.com or Twitter @ZZoccolante.
Image: flickr / Peter Marheine