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The Painted Smile
The vibrant red and yellow fabric of the big top towered over me, enveloping the three rings below. Each ring held a different spectacle, and it was hard to decide which of the spectacles was the most entertaining. No…entertaining wasn’t the word for it, the word was some word that meant dazzling, thrilling, and exhilarating all simultaneously.
In the left ring there was a man deftly juggling chainsaws that growled angrily like chained beasts as they flew through the air with what seemed to be unnatural lightness. They floated up, and down, the juggler tossing them with bizarre ease, and astounding agility.
In the right ring there were ten men tumbling and flipping over each other in an amazing display of acrobatics. Their bright outfits becoming a constantly changing rainbow as they moved about in a dizzying pattern that was strangely beautiful, and hypnotic.
The final ring surrounded my favorite spectacle of all, the clowns. They performed in the center ring with such energy that they distracted most everyone from the other two amazing performances in the circus tent. They moved across the dry, dusty ground with each of them wearing a different painted face. Perhaps that is the part about clowns that thrilled me the most. Every painted face was colorful and unique. Not a single painted face was the like any other, sort of like snowflakes, each painted design was a wonder to see. As for my girlfriend though, who was too busy laughing to notice that I had not laughed once during the clown performance, but had instead been staring oddly at the clowns below with a gleam in my eyes, a gleam something like the gleam of wonder that enters a man’s eyes as he stares at the night sky, looking up to the billions of twinkling lights above, wondering if the stars could ever be counted by a human.
That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the clowns, or at least that’s not to say that I wouldn’t have enjoyed watching the clowns on any other occasion, but on this particular occasion there was something odd about the clowns. There was one particular clown that the called Jojo Jingle, and although his painted smile was bigger than the smile of any other clown there, he did not once smile through the entire silent skit.
By the time that the skit had ended, Jojo Jingle had popped out of a two door, yellow punch buggy along with eleven other clowns, been chased by an elephant, been his in the face by pies, repeatedly, toppled a human pyramid of clowns, given flowers to a female clown, only to reveal that all of the flowers shot water, and for the grand finale he had been shot out of a cannon. Yet despite all of his antics Jojo would not smile, and often his comically big shoes dragged as he walked, kicking up dust.
To me Jojo’s depression seemed extremely obvious to me, but apparently I was the only one, because as Jojo flew out of that cannon the entire audience gave a standing ovation, cheering louder for Jojo than I had ever heard before.
As the show ended, Amanda, my girlfriend leaned in to kiss me, but as she recalled that I still had a thin beard she pulled back. “When are you going to shave that beard off?”
I smiled back at her, knowing that she had meant it, but would not break up with me over it, “as soon as clowns fly.”
She laughed, and replied. “Well then, if you didn’t notice, Jojo was flying at the end, so I guess you better shave it as soon as you get home.”
I guided her down the stairs, towards the entrance of the tent, all the while talking with her, but having something altogether different on my mind.
“So did you have a fun time?” I asked.
“Yes, I did. Thank you for bringing me to the circus for my birthday.”
For about four minutes we were fighting the crowd that had flowed out of the tent, and were all pushing to get home, and put their children to bed, even though the kids were on a cotton candy induced sugar high, and would therefore inevitably be up the entire night.
We navigated around a particularly fat man when I spotted something that depressed me considerably. Jojo was walking alone, head hanging low, large shoes dragging as he walked towards a small trailer with a golden star hung on the door, and the name “Jojo” printed on the door.
I knew at that moment that I had to help Jojo. If clowns weren’t happy, then how would they make children happy? I thought that children needed something to make them happy, they needed to feel that they were loved by someone, someone who wanted to make them laugh, especially the children who don’t really have parents. I’m not just talking just about the orphans, I’m talking about the children whose parents spend every night either separated, and paying more attention to divorce papers than their own children, and the parents who are always too busy to pay attention to their children.
I tried to tell Amanda what I was going to do, but the sound of the mob that surrounded us Amanda heard nothing, so I had to pull her close to get her attention.
“I have to go for a little bit, I’ll be back, and I’ll meet you by the car.”
Amanda held on tightly to me, looking up at me with her big blue eyes. “Don’t go, you said that we were going to have fun for my twenty-first birthday, and as far as I’m concerned the fun doesn’t end at ten o’clock.”
I looked back at her, and kissed her, my scratchy beard annoying her. “I’ll be back very quickly, and besides if you let me go now we can make up for it on my twenty-first birthday, it’s only a month away.”
Reluctantly Amanda freed my arm, and hurriedly I walked off to catch up with Jojo. It didn’t take long, I had seen him go into his trailer, and as I knocked he must have been sitting nearby, because he immediately opened the door, wiping a tear off of his cheek, smudging some of the white face paint.
“Who are you?” he asked in a tear choked voice.
“I was one of the spectators tonight,” I replied coolly, “I couldn’t help, but notice that you are depressed and that no one else seemed to notice.”
Jojo looked up at me with tear stained, brown eyes, and gestured for me to come inside, before he shut the door behind me. He waited until he had seated himself in a comfortable blue chair before explaining his reason for sadness. “My little brother has had AIDS ever since he was born; he got it from our mother. Fortunately I was lucky enough to not get it, because I was born before our mother got AIDS. We were going to tell him, but he developed this phobia of death, and so my parents have waited and waited until he grows out of his phobia, but he still hasn’t as far as my knowledge goes. You see I ran away to join the circus when I was fourteen, and I haven’t seen him in the last ten years, so I can’t return home now, no matter how much I love my brother. To make matters worse the doctors predicted that he wouldn’t live through his twenty-first birthday, so for all I know he could be dead by now, and I don’t even know where the funeral was held!”
As Jojo concluded his sad story he burst into a fresh wave of tears, holding his head in his hands miserably, and the paint on his face dripping through his fingers.
I reached down to comfort Jojo, but as I did a thought struck me. It couldn’t possibly be. I thought to myself, but by that point I needed to know. Hesitantly I lifted Jojo’s chin, and as I did I looked past the smeared paint, and I recognized him, he was my brother.
“John!” I shouted aloud.
Slowly my brother lifted his eyes towards me, blinking away the tears, and slowly concentrating on my face, as though to imagine me without a beard, then with sudden clarity he recognized me.
“Chris, I never thought I would see you again!” he exclaimed leaping up and hugging me.
I returned the embrace, so happy to finally see my brother again, but as I realized the implications I felt woozy, and I began using John as support.
“Sit down, please,” John beckoned me to sit in the large blue chair.
Once John was seated on a stool, we began to talk again, this time brother to brother.
“I’m so sorry Chris. I imagine that there would be a better way to break the news to you.”
I couldn’t help, but agree, “yes, I imagine there would have been a better way to break the news. I’m glad you did though, Amanda, and I are going to get married in two months. I imagine that she’ll want to cancel now, seeing as marrying a corpse isn’t particularly fun.”
John stared down at the floor for a few moments, before he shifted his gaze back to mine, and replied. “Do you remember when we were young, and you and I used to force our parents to take us to the circus, and we would always come first when they were setting up, just trying to figure out how they were doing their stunts, and we wouldn’t leave until we saw a janitor come on stage.”
I smiled at the happy memory, and this time it was my turn to cry, I had wasted so much time since John had run off. “I remember.”
“Do you still like the circus as much as you used to?”
I stared at him for a moment, before he spoke again, this time excitedly, as though I actually had responded.
“Just wait here for a little bit, I’ll go find Amanda.”
I waited for what felt like hours, but must have been minutes, then the door burst open, interrupting my brooding thoughts.
John and Amanda stood in the doorway, John beckoning me. “Come on, you’re going to like this.
I followed them, with no idea of what had been going on. They led me to the big top, and as I entered I saw why they were leading me. The lights were back on, and all of the jugglers, animal, acrobats, and clowns had entered back into the tent, but this time I was on ground level.
From up close I could smell the elephants, and frankly they smelled like manure, but I still loved them. In fact I actually got to ride one, for the briefest moment I was on top of the world, and although the top of the world stank I could look down, and see everyone below.
The juggler with the chainsaws had returned, and as he tossed each chainsaw I seemed to be able to see them in slow motion this time. I saw the careful pattern that he wove with his chainsaws in the air, and every time one of them came down, smoothly into his hand I saw his muscles pulse and bulge, before launching the chainsaw back up into the air.
The rainbow colored acrobats had also returned, doing acrobatic stunts that were indeed dazzling to watch. At first it was interesting to watch as the tumbled through the air in a multicolored spectacle, but when Amanda let it slip that she had been a high school cheerleader the performance became downright hilarious. They immediately absorbed Amanda into their ranks, flipping her through the air comically, making her scream. As I laughed loudly Amanda invited me to try it, and caught up in the lively mood I foolishly agreed.
This time it was Amanda’s turn to laugh as I fell repeatedly. After I walked out of the ring with a fake limp, in order to protect my dignity I sat down next to Veronica, and was taken completely of guards by what Amanda said next. “I want to marry you.”
I turned towards her, my shock evident, but she just kept talking.
“John explained everything to me, and you’re right, I don’t want to marry a corpse, but I do want to marry you, which is why I want to marry you now, and not wait. I don’t care how much longer you live, I love you.”
I was taken aback, but still I accepted, I am no fool, and I loved her just as much as she loved me.
Finally, as the grand finale came up John invited me to take his place in the man cannon. As I stepped inside, and felt the cold metal door snap shut beside me I could only look through the hole, looking into the light, and as I did I couldn’t but think, we live in darkness and uncertainty. This is what death is, blasting off towards the light. At that very moment I heard the blast, felt the blast, and I was launched out towards the light, landing safely in the net, where I felt more comfortable than I had ever felt before, and as I rolled back down the net I looked at my brother, back in a new coat of his own unique face paint, and even from the long distance that I was from him I could tell that he was smiling.