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Fear of Clowns
Stuart glanced at his watch far more times than it could take to tell the time as he walked towards the exit. Nothing made him more anxious than making himself walk somewhere at a controlled pace when every muscle in his body wanted to run. There was nothing he found more boring than any kind of spectator event, and no spectator event he found more boring than the circus.
Of course, it hadn’t been Stuart’s idea to go to the circus; he hadn’t even ever agreed to go, but here he was all the same. Here with screaming babies, whining kids, embarrassed teenagers and other bored adults. Stuart had definitely had enough, and he figured his nephew would be fine with his brother. There was nothing Stuart hated more than being with relatives, and no relatives he hated more than nephews and nieces. As far as he was concerned, nephews and nieces were in the twilight zone of affection; they were close enough to require visits and greeting cards, but not close enough so that Stuart could ever really know them.
As Stuart neared the exit, he caught a glance of Melinda, his sister and mother of the restless pile of boy currently being captivated by clowns. If there was anything more painful than wasting his time at a circus, it was dealing with his sister’s whining. She was another person Stuart had always felt uncomfortable around. In fact, there weren’t many people he felt comfortable around at all. Maybe that’s why he hated the circus so much, because he just felt awkward around the entire crowd. Stuart couldn’t think of anything much worse than sitting in a room filled with people he would never talk to
Regardless, Stuart turned and walked back into the circus before Melinda could see him attempting an escape. He was almost nauseated by the stench of butter and cotton candy syrup boiling under the sun-baked tent. All around him, kids were cramming boxed popcorn in so fast that sticky butter dripped out of their agape mouths. Under Stuart’s shoes were a mixture of flattened popcorn, caramelized soda and crushed peanut shells. He was hard pressed to think of a place filthier than the circus.
When he reached the gate that led back to his seat, he stopped. If everyone else here was a stranger, Stuart couldn’t think of a good reason not to sit with one of them . It had to be better than sitting with his nephew. At least he wouldn’t feel pressured to talk, or even laugh at the idiots on stage with him. So he kept walking until he was halfway around the entire ring, opposite of where his own gate was. He walked through, his ears immediately bombarded with the fiendish screams of the spectators, followed by the slapping sounds of them bringing their fat meaty hands together, over and over again. He looked around for an empty seat, and saw a few kids about his nephew’s age sitting in a section by themselves. As he neared them, Stuart could hear their inane chatter cut to a stop. Sitting down next to them, Stuart didn’t even look at the kids; he just looked forward and pretended to watch the elephants. Almost directly opposite him, he could see a small figure sitting with his jerk of a father. After a brief lapse, the kids started up their rambling again. Despite himself, Stuart felt himself getting progressively more and more annoyed.
The kids just stared at him.
“I said shut up!” Stuart continued. “This circus isn’t telling you to talk now. It’s telling you to keep your little mouths shut and watch the filthy animals on stage.” Just puzzled looks from the kids. “When the circus tells you to watch, you watch. When it tells you to clap, which it’s gonna do any second now, you clap. Understand? Just because they don’t have guys holding up ‘applause’ signs doesn’t mean that the clowns aren’t telling you what to do.”
One or two of the kids just nodded. They gazed up at him, waiting for him to continue his rant. Stuart opened his mouth to talk again, but was drowned out by the roaring laughter of his fellow circus goers. The kids around him weren’t laughing, just waiting. “See that, right there? Did it matter if the clowns were funny or not just then? No, it only mattered that they told you it was funny and that they told you to laugh. See what I mean? See what I’m saying?!”
After a pause, one of the kids a few seats away wearing a baseball cap spoke up.
“Clowns scare me.”
“Good! They should, they should scare you! What could be scarier than men with emotionless masks of makeup controlling your every action? Can you think of anything?” Stuart pointed to a kid who quickly shook his head. “Can you?” Stuart pointed to another kid who copied the first. “I didn’t think so. But the circus can be fun.” Stuart felt himself hovering over some epiphany. “The circus can be fun. We can beat the clowns. Wanna beat the clowns?” Stuart took the kids’ lack of response as an agreement. “Okay, here’s what we do. Just…just do what I do.” Stuart looked back at the stage, where a lone clown was slowly peddling on a stationary unicycle. From the crowd came an awed hush, then silence. Stuart got up from his seat, and with all the strength in his arms, clapped as loudly and obnoxiously as he could. “Clap kids, clap! Clap for the clown!” The kids hesitantly clapped a few times. “See? We’re beating the clowns!” Stuart clapped and clapped until his hands went raw and red, ignoring the annoyed looks of the nearby spectators. The clown’s concentration broken, he toppled over and fell off the unicycle onto the ground. But Stuart kept clapping until he a felt a big, strong hand clamp over both of his and squeeze. He looked up and saw a big, strong man.
“Why don’t you leave my son and his friends alone while you still got your hands?” the big guy said. In a daze, Stuart nodded and left the inner circus, heading back out to the exit. After plowing through hordes of people, he finally found Melinda and her family.
“Stuart, where were you?” It was one of the whiniest versions of her voice yet,
Stuart didn’t answer, because if only for one day, he had conquered his oppressors.