The Spokesman-Review

The Night Belongs to the Clowns

This bonus short story is offered exclusively on Spokesman.com

Benji’s pock-marked green Geo Metro — the one with glittering rims on the front wheels and donuts on the back — announced their arrival, rocketing a storm cloud of brown into the air above the dirt fairground parking lot. Dust mixed with the aroma of deep fried Twinkies and cotton candy. Tiny, already queasy from the bumpy ride, turned her face toward her open window and breathed in the familiar fair smell.

Around them, South Hill families piled into cars with four good tires that slowly crunched across the gravel, back windows filling with the wide-eyed faces of children peering out at the greasy people painted like clowns. As they passed, Benji — a swollen cherry in his red hatchetman jersey, his face painted so white it looked like his goatee had been dipped in frost  — cranked up the stereo until the speakers crackled.

Everyone knew the fair changed at night. That, in the dark, it belonged to the clowns.

All around them, their face-painted brothers and sisters — juggalos and juggalettes — streamed into the fair gates, toting face-painted kids on animal backpack leashes. Young ‘los waddled in the lot, pants sagging inches off the ground. A young blonde juggalette, who had been boosted to the top of a green porta potty next to the front gate, called out “WOOT WOOT!” from her post, and flipped her tank top up to reveal breasts painted like clown faces.

The Metro lurched to a halt in what Tiny was almost sure was not an actual parking space. Her stomach gurgled at the sudden stop.

Benji and Tiny’s doors squealed in unison as they opened, and slammed again with a bang. The pair rested their butts on the hood, Benji lighting a cigarette, Tiny popping the top off a tall bottle of cheap cherry soda. The glittery back pockets of her jeans crunched against the rusting paint job.

As the Spokane sky put the final touches on its late summer lightshow of pinks and reds, Tiny looked out at the silhouetted Ferris wheel, took a swig and wiped the pink syrup from her lips. It felt like the perfect time to tell Benji that there was a tiny juggalo inside of her.

As she opened her mouth, Benji hopped down from the hood and reached through the driver’s side window, snatching a pot of white paint from the spent bags of Zip’s and old smokes littering his dashboard, and dipped a finger in. With his finger, he drew a long streak of white down the bridge of her nose.

“Better put on your mask, girl,” he said, “Every clown in town’ll be here tonight.”

***

After the last time the cops nearly tore the front door off their family trailer and hauled that “deadbeat son of a bitch” off to County, her mama told Tiny to never, ever trust a man.

It’s not like her mama had room to talk: Tiny remembered more nights laying in their dark tin can trailer, afraid to switch on the lights and tip off the old creep that lived next door that she was alone again while her mama slammed tequila at the Jackson Hole.

By the time she was 13, she’d found herself acting just like her daddy, chasing that warm uneasy thrill that came with getting away with tucking a cheap wine and cough syrup under her jacket at the grocery store. She ran with boys who’d drink the prizes with her in the back of their cars with her afterward and then kiss her rough. She’d take their wallets and slash their tires when the medicine made them fell asleep.

Lately, Tiny had found a new thrill: getting caught.

In the blur of red and blue lights and squealing sirens, her skin would prickle in anticipation for the moment when the cops would wrestle her to the ground. She’d fight a little when they did, but only so they’d hold her tighter.

As they pinned her down, it almost felt like they were hugging her.

***

Before the clowns would go in and buy bouquets of corn dogs and pose for olde timey portraits in their face paint, they’d pump their car stereos, ‘lettes jiggling their backsides in the headlights. Across the parking lot, streams of grape and lemon lime glimmered in the lights —Technicolor liquid streamers rifling into the night.

From the rusty Honda CRX across the aisle, Insane Clown Posse’s “Miracles” — their song — rumbled through the speakers. Benji hopped off the hood of his car, pulling Tiny by her waist toward him. His watery eyes had carved wet trails down through his mask of black and white.

“Baby, I saw that pee test in the garbage, figured it was our hookup after Tech N9ne,” the big man confessed.

“I didn’t know how to tell … how to trust you,” she gurgled, pitching her face into his giant shoulder, his swollen belly squishing between them.

“Don’t cry, girl,” he said, holding her out with straightened arms and pointing toward the growing crowd of juggalos streaming into the fair. “We got family to help us raise our little one. Don’t you ever forget that.”

Before she could respond, a girl with fleshy sides protruding over the top of her jean shorts, cackled in their direction. “Why you messin with that crybaby, honey, when you could have a real juggalette?”  She ran her hands down the sides of her mountainous body.

Tiny pulled a box cutter from her back pocket and lunged at her — a prizefighter at the bell. The fat girl squealed as she disappeared into the crowd, and Benji grabbed Tiny’s arm.

“Hey, hey — whoa, mama!” he said, smirking as he took the blade from her. “Listen, you can’t be acting like that no more.”

Benji fished a hand in the side pocket of his cargo shorts, and pushed a paper sack in her hand. “Here, I got you this. You gotta chill, baby.”

Sniffling, she reached into the brown paper and pulled out a bottle of Dimetapp grape cough syrup.

“It’s kid’s cough syrup,” he said, grinning wide.

“You know, better for the baby.”


Leah Sottile is a local journalist whose work has most recently been featured by Al Jazeera America and The Atlantic. Last year she wrote her first comic, which was included in the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund’s Liberty Annual. On her list of her greatest fears, she puts clowns in the top five.



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