Don’t Send in the Clown

“Are you Charlie’s daddy?”

“Yeah, I am.”

“What do you do?”

“I build houses.”

“My daddy’s a doctor.”

“He must make a lot of money.”

“Yeah,” said the seven year old who quickly ran back to join his friends in the ball pit. Jack sat alone watching his son and his schoolmates playing, all the while thinking about how he was going to pay for twenty-seven happy meals.

A year ago this wouldn’t have been a problem. A year ago Jack had been happily married and lived in a small house with his wife Katie and their son Charlie. Charlie and Katie still live there. That was a year ago.
Now Jack sat alone in the playground of a McDonald’s breathing in exhaust fumes from the adjacent highway. His son Charlie and the twenty-six other children were scattered throughout the playground, shooting the occasional glance towards the door which they presumed lunch was coming through. At Charlie’s school they have this rule that decides who you are allowed to invite to your birthday party. The school insists that if you are going to invite people to your birthday party, you have to invite all the girls, all the boys, or everyone. This rule exists so that no ones feelings are hurt. Jack thinks Katie knew about this rule. That hurt his feelings.

Katie knew that Jack didn’t make a lot of money. She knew that after child support, he barely had enough to take Charlie to McDonald’s, let alone twenty-seven of his classmates. Jack thought about this and what he would do if he ever got his hands on the man that destroyed his marriage.

“Your total is $124.76”

“Huh?”

“For the party? Your total is $124.76, how do you want to pay for it?” said the young female employee, whose hand seemed permanently attached to her hip.

“Oh right, let me get my card”

Jack lifted one of his ass cheeks and struggled to free his wallet from his dirty pants. His wallet was bloated, not from the cash it contained, rather the amount of receipts stuffed inside of it. Jack pulled out a credit card and handed it to the girl.

“I think you can only use this at Sears.” said the girl.

“Oh yeah that’s right. Here take this one.” said Jack as he put his Sears card back in his wallet and handed the girl a Discover card that looked as if it were as likely to turn into sand as it were to pay for his bill. The girl shot Jack a look that suggested the futility of swiping such a card.

“Yep that’s the good one”

The girl sighed as she walked back into the restaurant.

“Your Charlie sure is a cute kid” said the extremely fat, spectacled man now sitting at Jack’s table.

“Oh, thank you”

“Dave Morris” said the man as he extended his catcher’s mitt of a hand across the table.

“Jack Rickles, nice to meet you” said Jack as his hand was swallowed by Dave’s. “So your kid’s in Ms.Delissio’s class too?”

“Yep that’s my little Samuel right over there.” Dave pointed to a boy in a Chicago Bears jacket, struggling to throw his leg up onto a 3-foot platform the rest of the children were standing on. Samuel was the same height as the rest of the children, but was at least 60 pounds heavier. “My Sammy loves it here, we had his party here back in June. As you can see me and him come here quite a bit!” exclaimed Dave as he violently shook his stomach with both hands. He bellowed an enormous laugh that seemed to echo inside his huge frame, suggesting hollowness where dignity once resided.

“Ha, yeah they do have good burgers.”

“Excellent, just excellent. So where is the missus?”

“We’re separated.”

“I’m sorry, I had no idea.”

“It’s nothing don’t worry about it.”

“No, I know how tough that can be. But look on the bright side, it could be worse. My wife’s dead!” exclaimed Dave as he erupted with sad laughter. His scrunched and contorted face seemed to be holding back a reservoir of tears. Dave’s loneliness was appalling. Jack took a look back over at Samuel, still struggling to get up onto the platform. The other children had begun showering him in handfuls of playground gravel.

“Hey Charlie” yelled Jack across the playground. A boy with a black bowl cut cocked his head around like a dog. The boy dropped a handful of gravel and ran over to the picnic table.

“Hey daddy”

“Hey buddy, how’s the party going?”

“It’s ok. Billy’s having his at Discovery Zone”

“Maybe we’ll have yours there next year”

“Yeah, maybe”

“Why don’t you go a little easier on Sammy?” pleaded Jack. Sammy had exhausted his efforts to get onto the platform and was now lying on the ground as the others began to bury him in gravel.

“Sammy’s a loser dad”

“Hey Charlie!” interrupted Dave who was nervously destroying the napkin in his hands.

“Hi Mr. Morris”

“Take it easy on Sammy alright buddy?” whispered Jack as he brought his face closer to his son.

“Ok. Whaddya get me?”

“Oh. I um…”

“Cuz Kyle got Optimus Prime and everybody plays Transformers at recess. You better have gotten me Megatraon. Steven got both of them” proclaimed Jack.

“Well Steven’s dad is an engineer, he makes lots of money”

“Well why aren’t you an engineer?”

“Because you have to go to school to be an engineer. I didn’t go to school to be an engineer.”

“What did you go to school for?”

“I didn’t go to school for anything.”

The look on the boy’s face told Jack that he did not understand, but sadly Jack thought someday he might.

“The boys are really ravaging Sammy out there” interjected Dave whose eyes were glued to the sight of his son being buried alive under the monkey bars.

“I know, Dave, I’m sorry. Charlie what did I tell you? Go out there and help Sammy out.”

“I wanna open my presents”

“He’s a tough kid Jack, but Jesus Christ”

“You can’t open your presents until the food comes, now go help Sammy”

“No, I want my presents!”

“Jesus Jack, they’re really treating him like an animal out there”

“I’m really sorry Dave, Charlie get out there and help Sammy!”

“No!”

“Your card was declined” said the young girl holding out the defeated piece of plastic.

“What? That’s impossible, please just run it through again” said Jack

“I ran it through 6 different times and called your bank. My manager says that if you don’t prove you have some way to pay for your bill you and all your guests have to leave”

“Daddy, I wanna open my presents now!”

“Not now Charlie!” scolded Jack as he desperately searched his wallet for some way to pay for the kid’s happy meals. He leafed through receipt after receipt, turning over each and every maxed out credit for some sort of answer to his problems, looking for some way to make everyone happy just this once.

“Sir, if you don’t show me proof you can pay, I’m going to have to get my manager.”

“I know, I know, please, just one minute I know it’s in here somewhere.”

On the other side of the playground, the children were gleefully unaware of the tornado picking up steam over by the picnic tables. They were all piling on top of Sammy who was now completely submerged in playground gravel except for his chubby head.

“Jesus Christ, Jack, they’re dog piling him! The going to kill him!” screamed Dave as he shot up from his seat. Tears were beginning to well up in his eyes.

“Charlie, for the last fucking time go out there and help Sammy!”

“No! Not until I get my Transformers!”

“Sir do you have the money or not?”

“I do just give me a minute!”

“Do you have no souls? Do you have no souls!” bellowed Dave as he started slamming his meaty paws on the fiberglass picnic table.

“Sir!”

“Dad!”

“Sammy!”

“Happy birthday!” exclaimed the clown who had just entered the playground area from inside, holding a tray of happy meals in each hand. “Now where’s our birthday boy at?”

Something clicked inside Jack. That voice. He had heard that clown’s nasally whine of voice before. Then he saw it. Under the giant red wig and acrylic paint lay the face of the man who stole his life from him one year ago. Jack got up from his seat and made his way over to the clown at a steady pace. Everything fell silent except for his thoughts and his own heartbeat.

With every step, he felt all of his hate channeling down into his right fist. He clenched it so tight, it felt like he was going to drive his fingertips straight through his palm. He was right in front of him now. He cocked back and with a punch fueled by a year’s worth of anxiety and hatred, sent both the clown and the better part of twenty-seven happy meals quickly to the ground. He dragged the clown up by his throat and forced him over a garbage can. Terror shot across the clown’s painted grin as he recognized his assailant. The clown closed his eyes and grit his teeth as Jack wheeled back for another blow.

******

The lights of emergency vehicles danced on the side of the McDonald’s. All the children pushed and shoved their way into position along the fence. On the other side of the fence, two paramedics hauled a gurney carrying a barely recognizable Ronald McDonald towards an ambulance idling in the parking lot. The clown’s makeup had mixed with blood and smeared all over his face and shirt. Blood flowed freely from the side of his mouth and eyebrow and his left eye was completely swollen shut. Following closely behind them was Jack, who was being escorted by two police officers towards their cruiser. Jack forced a tiny wave to his son with cuffed hands. Charlie waved back with his face right up against the fence.

“Man. Your dad’s the coolest” said Sammy, his eyes fixed on the cops putting Jack in the back of their car.

“Yeah. I know.”

Evan Mulgrave

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One Response to “Don’t Send in the Clown”

  1. Very cool story, I am always a fan of instant snappage like that in an emotional story. Well done.

    jhra@reddit

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