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A Disappearing Act
Harold groaned into his handkerchief as he got ready for work. He buttoned up his red and white pinstriped shirt, and clipped his suspenders onto his oversized balloon pants, which happened to fit him perfectly. He tucked a flask into his waistband and let out a loud, hacking cough as he grabbed his top hat and cape. Harold slouched in front of the mirror, glaring at his ridiculous outfit. He thought back to his younger days when this was only a part-time job. He was a handsome, talented kid who just needed a little cash to spend on the weekends. He figured entertaining at birthday parties here and there would satisfy his financial needs at the time. And yet, here he was thirty years later and fifty pounds heavier, still scowling at himself in the mirror. He sat down to tie his shoes, wondering if he should bring his wallet with him. He held his breath as he stood up, his head spinning and his eyes blurring. He couldn’t remember if he had eaten last night. In fact, he couldn’t remember much from last night at all. He grabbed his keys and stumbled out the door, hacking into his handkerchief.
His stage name was Wild Willy Woo, The Magical Dancing Clown. He had a round, bubbly body with two short stubs for arms, and meaty legs. He wore no makeup – he didn’t need to. His face was soft and round with pink, doughy cheeks and a wide nose like a cotton ball. His eyes looked like small, black darts poked into his face. And his lips were like any clown’s lips – big, red, and terrifying, the only difference being that his were natural.
He performed the same routine up and down the east coast, making a name for himself among small children and middle-aged, stay-at-home mothers. He began his show with his “giant hula-hoop” dance, jumping and twirling to old circus music. He could do just about anything with a hula-hoop. He spun it around his ankles, slowly working it up to his neck. He balanced it on top of his head as he danced in circles around the stage. He stood on it, ran through it, rolled with it, and bounced on it. And when he had nothing left to do, he bowed with it.
Then he moved onto the magical portion of his routine. He turned colorful balloons into doves, found rabbits inside of top hats, and pulled ribbons out of his ears. Depending on his audience, he sometimes made loud animal noises with his mouth – this usually didn’t settle well with young children.
Finally, he moved onto his closing act, the reason his name was so legendary. Wild Willy Woo was the only clown on the east coast – and very possibly in the entire nation – who could make himself disappear. He stood in the center of the stage with a cape around his neck and a top hat on his head, and he counted down from three. As he counted he twirled so that his cape fanned out around him and his top hat fell to the floor. Three, two, one. And he was gone. His cape lay flat on the ground, his top hat resting beside it. Nobody ever found out how he did it. Of course, they all had their ridiculous theories, many involving Harold’s weight and the durability of the floor beneath him. But Harold paid no mind to them. He knew exactly what he was doing, and he laughed at the explanations made by housewives, toddlers, and even a few scientists.
Harold pulled into the driveway of 315 Springday Street. He could hear the shrill cries of five-year-old girls and boys as they mercilessly beat piñatas and threw cake at each other’s faces. He had always preferred working for an older crowd; but like all demanding jobs, clowning came with its consequences. He pulled the flask out of his waistband and took a long swig before he stepped out of his car. He coughed into his handkerchief; and a wheezing sound squeaked from his lungs as he caught his breath. He grabbed a boom box and a giant hula-hoop out of the trunk of his car. He sneered at his reflection in the car window, wondering if he would ever get a real job. He rang the doorbell.
A tall, blond woman in an apron opened the door. She was wearing a tight blue dress that revealed some very successful plastic surgery. She sipped from her martini glass as she spoke, “Why, hello! Thank God you’re here. The kids are just so excited. Sammy has been talking about you all week. He is just so thrilled you’re coming to his party! Please, come in. There are snacks in the kitchen.”
The woman’s words were stained with the sharp scent of alcohol, and came tumbling out of her mouth faster than Harold could understand. She waved one hand at him, motioning him into the house, and sipped her drink with the other. Harold let out another wheezing cough as he walked through the door. His head began to spin as he inhaled the nauseating, fresh scent of artificial air-cleaner that drenched the entire house. He looked around at the expensive portraits and untouched furniture that seemed to be permanently trapped in their methodical locations.
“Willy Woo,” he introduced himself, extending a hand towards the woman. She stared tentatively at it, and met it with her own bony, limp hand.
“Very nice to meet you, Mr. Woo. I’m Brenda, so silly of me not to introduce myself! Like I said, there are snacks in the kitchen. The children are all outside.”
Harold trudged back towards the kitchen with his boom box and hula-hoop. He grabbed a handful of deviled eggs, and ate them quietly as he stared out the window at the clumps of kids in the backyard. He watched as they chased and tackled each other, and stomped and screamed at their vulnerable, helpless mothers. He wondered why anybody would have kids. He wondered why he tolerated them.
Harold hacked again into his handkerchief. He took one last swig from his flask, swishing it around his mouth to wash out the egg. He counted to three under his breath as he stood in front of the screen door, preparing his smile and praying the day would go by quickly. As he stepped out onto the patio, he raised his eyebrows to his hairline, widened his eyes, and forced a grin almost as goofy as his costume.
“Howdy, Kids! It’s time for Wild Willy Woo’s Wonderful Birthday Show!” He boomed, stretching his arms out as he began to spin his giant hula-hoop.
Within five seconds, he surrounded by a mob of sticky, shrieking five-year-olds. They snapped his suspenders and stomped on his oversized bowling shoes. They reached and jumped for his top hat, and pulled on his cape. Their mothers stood in the corner by the bar, sipping their cocktails and giggling at their sweet, playful children.
Harold coughed into his sleeve, “Well, well, well! Did I hear there’s a birthday boy around here somewhere?”
A bulky, red-headed kid began to scream. He jumped up and down, shoving his way towards Herald and pushing the other kids out of his way. He had a pointy, plastic sword in his hand; and Harold’s heart dropped for a moment as he braced himself.
“Me! Me! Me! It’s my birthday!” he yelped, waving his sword frantically about his head.
“What’s your name, Birthday Boy?”
“Sam! I’m Sam! And you’re Willy Woo! And you can call me King Mighty!” He growled as he introduced himself, attempting to ram his plastic sword into the ground.
Harold chuckled. His laugh turned into a gag, and he heaved into his handkerchief. The kids stared at him with perplexed faces.
“Okay, King Mighty,” Harold began, “Let’s start the show! How about you sit front and center?”
King Mighty screeched and plopped himself down in front of the patio. Everyone else followed, yelling and giggling as they fought over where to sit. Harold set his boom box on the patio, and prepared himself for his Hula-Hoop Dance. He turned his back to his audience and bent over so his pants split down the middle, distracting the kids as he lifted his flask to his mouth. The kids snickered and snorted at his red boxers. He turned around, squinting his face into a dramatically confused expression, and began to dance.
He held his breath as he twirled and bounced around the patio, trying hard not to cough. He threw the hoop in the air, spun it around his left leg, and flipped it around his body. The kids laughed at his jiggling belly and floppy feet. Their mothers refilled their glasses and nodded their heads to the redundant circus music. King Mighty clapped and yelled in the front row. When the act was over, Harold bowed, coughing as he bent down so the kids wouldn’t notice. As he stood up he felt his blood rush to his forehead, and his eyes blurred for a moment. He smiled at his audience, and announced his second act.
The magic was Harold’s favorite part. At least, it was the only part of his act that he didn’t despise. He almost enjoyed the children’s shocked faces as he pulled ribbons out of his nose. They yelped and cheered as he magically found a live bunny inside his top hat. They shrieked with fear as he made elephant and lion sounds with his mouth. Even their mothers stood wide-eyed as a dove flew out of a pink balloon.
When the magic was almost over, Harold took a deep breath, coughing more as he let it out. His head began to ache as he looked up at the sun. His goofy grin was starting to sting his cheeks, and his shirt was wet and sticking to his back. His audience didn’t seem to notice, or care. They continued jumping and cheering, excited for what they knew was coming next. They chanted his name as he tied his cape tighter around his sweaty neck, “Willy! Willy! Willy!”
Harold thought it was funny how they worshiped him for such a simple stunt. He liked it that way. He liked knowing what everyone else didn’t know. He liked turning something obvious into a mystery. He wished he wasn’t wearing such a demeaning costume.
Harold placed his hat gently on his glossy head and grabbed his cape tightly with his left hand. The children’s chanting softened as he began to wave his cape. He took another deep breath, and started his countdown.
“Three,” he bellowed down to his audience. He tried to gulp in a breath before his next number, but was stopped short. His vision fogged and his head began to spin faster than his hula-hoop had only a few minutes earlier. Harold stood still, spreading out his arms to balance himself as the world twisted and turned around him. Of course, this had happened to him before, but never at this magnitude. He tried to take a few breaths in order to clear his head, but his throat was swollen and throbbing. He started to wheeze and heave in attempt to fill his lungs with air; but this only made the spinning worse. Harold’s body went numb. The only thing he could feel was his heart thumping in his feet. His face darkened, and his body began to sway with his cape. He kneeled to the ground as his pink cheeks became a dark purple, and his face went blank. His goofy smile had been relaxed, his eyebrows shrunk to their original places, and his eyes grew wider than they had ever been.
The children chuckled obliviously, assuming it was all part of the act. The mothers stood drunk by the bar, babbling and gossiping and swallowing their shots. King Mighty shouted and waved his sword around. And Harold collapsed to the floor beneath his cape, thankful it was all finally ending.