Bewildering Stories

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Clown Dust

Kenneth Simpson

I just stole a flying, flaming car from an older version of myself. He’s confused and so am I. My body jolts and I’m jetting away. The city surroundings blur and I check my rearview mirror. Driving without using your mirrors is dangerous.

I was surrounded by my ex-girlfriend in many forms. Rosi’s bodies moved as if broken but that made them seem even more dangerous. The hands reached out to hold me; their eyes told me they didn’t want to. That’s when the car fell from the center of the sky and plopped off the concrete harmlessly. All her eyes became one when they met mine then multiplied as they shifted toward the car. I ran toward its brown flames and saw an older me. I was frightened by the sight and unaware of how I knew it was me. Fear did not compel me to force open the door and leave myself to die, but what did, I haven’t had the time to figure out. There’s never enough time.

In my rearview mirror I see clearly. She has become one work-attire Rosi. She moves to touch older me and her skin blinks out of existence. Bone touches the skin of a receding hair line and my older self drops instantly. She’s in the back seat and I find out a skull can show sorrow. No she’s not. What by all rights should be there may be absent.

I’m scorching eastward through the sky, but the blur in my peripheral vision fades. My surroundings solidify. I’ve left the city to return to the country. To my sides are reaped fields of alfalfa next to grazing grounds for horses — they’re mirroring each other. Trapped in between unlike my youth, when I was all but a horse. Brown flame-like hair whipped in the wind, never once needing to spread its presence. Everything was there as everything must be now. Those things disappear and from the flames is melded a two-toned grey El Camino. The road is empty and, for a moment, I’m shown the skin of a tire rubbing away against the asphalt. In the side mirrors my hair has greyed and thinned. I rush my eyes from the sight and to the rearview mirror. I find teenage me there. His work-issued uniform and hat are shed and form a pile with another’s. Rosi. Their hair becomes entangled and they continue. They’re trapped in not knowing how much destruction pleasure can create.

The body of the car can’t take the speed. I thought it had slowed down. Everything blurs and pieces of the car fly to the bed of the truck. The metal surrounds the entrenched lovers until it forms a cocoon lifted, falling, and transforming into millions of metallic caterpillars that splatter against the asphalt. One burrows. That stretch of road behind swells pregnant with what I know could be a beautiful butterfly. I want to cry for my creation but I don’t have any control. I have to keep moving. There’s never enough time for a man to live another’s youth.

There’s a back seat now and the car is a frail plastic white. I slam on the brakes when an end to the road appears. I’m nowhere near the end. Things seem closer than they appear? I have an uncontrollable urge to look in my rearview mirror despite having seen the end. I give in to it and see a blowup clown sitting in the backrest. It’s small, pale, and smiling. Grinning strangely. There’s a phone built into its mouth. How could that work? It winks at me and I turn around. It has my eyes.

The end of the road is even farther away than I thought, but I’m in the right car. It’s a white compact with good gas mileage. A normal enough car except that it appears to be made out of bone. I’m moving westward now, but I don’t ever remember turning around. Maybe I’ve been heading west all along. The car seems to be getting smaller and smaller.

I drive. The car gets smaller, the distance longer, and the blowup clown larger. The clown was so white that I thought it had never seen the sun, but now it’s browning and growing. The rubber stresses at the seams and its eyes show confusion and pain. Why is it growing so fast? It doesn’t want this. I can see it in my eyes.

The rearview mirror reveals no more and I look forward to see that the end isn’t close. I turn my head around and look over the seat. On the floorboard is a bone-white Rosi and she is blowing on the clown’s air tube. Lungs that weren’t there before inflate and deflate. She looks up at me and somehow from that darkness I discern she’s sorry, that this is something people have to do to get things like lungs. I don’t try to grab her when she moves to jump out of one of the back doors because I know she wants to run and be as far away as possible. On impact many of her bones break and she struggles and fails to get back up. I keep driving, knowing things seem closer than they appear.

The blowup clown has reached a point that I fear for its life. My eyes are sad and reserved. It understands all the pain was for this conclusion. I can’t accept that. There has to be something I can do. Call for help. I reach for its phone, but I feel the car collide into something. Hit the brakes. Look forward. I don’t see what I hit. The end isn’t an end but a place, a department store. I turn back to check on my clown and there’s no longer a back seat. The blowup clown is right next to me and its light rubber head sags against the pressure of the car’s shrinking interior. I grab my clown and get us out of the car. I watch it shrink to an amusing size and look toward my clown just to witness its head falling further down.

A young man says, “Hey, you old fool! Do you think you can cut my legs out from under me and get away with it?” I do feel old. Everything is blurry, but the young man is familiar like that first image in the mirror after waking up. He is me and I’ve ruined his legs. I run.

In the lens of my glasses I can see him flying after me. I’ve never worn glasses. I’ve never been so run down. He screams like a phantom, but I can’t decipher any of the words, only generalize them. So angry at the w... at me. It seems like yesterday. Things seem closer than they appear. I’ll never make it to the safety of the store.

And yet I do. I look back and as unclear as everything appears, I know he’s no longer flying after me. I’ve got to make a phone call to save my clown. The store is vast and so bright that everything takes on a shade of white. It’s divided into several, smaller departments. Compartments? There are elderly people everywhere. Many are waiting in line to be rowed in ships through a stream of malleable tile. They pass the wait by blocking the light with coins and gossiping about those who haven’t prepared for the day. All of them, when I pass by, stop what they’re doing and stare at me. No, though my vision is blurred, I can see that they’re staring at my clown. Their depressed shaking heads won’t stop me. I have to make a phone call.

There’s hardly anyone around in the electronics department and I decide there will be no better place to make my phone call. I’m owed it. No, that’s something else. I prop my clown up against a row of “compact disc players” and start examining his mouth with uneasy hands. Everything is so unclear. How could this work? Stop shaking. This isn’t going to hurt you. Why do you look at me as if I’m hurting you? Close my eyes. I’m only trying to save you. After careful examination, I’ve decided that the only way to make a phone call is to go into its mouth because the means of communication is so deeply entrenched in its throat. I pry open its mouth and feel its body sway back and forth. This is for your own good. Air rushes into my mouth and tries to blow back my probing tongue. My tongue will not be stopped until I find the buttons. Stop moving. There they are. Fewer than I thought, but I only need two. “Hello.” My voice echoes throughout its mouth. There’s no dial tone. “Where are you? How can you not be there? Answer me!”

The clown’s shifting reaches a swirling pitch and I have to shake it into submission. It’s for your own good. You don’t understand what’s good for you. I carefully place myself over its prone body and position my mouth to dial the number again.

“Hello. Why aren’t you working? Why don’t you work?!” I yell to no one and struggle to hold down the reviving blowup clown. This is for your own good. Answer me!”

There’s buzzing and then a ringing. Finally you’re working. I try to speak but can’t. “It’s coming,” I hear, followed by a click. The clown’s head falls lower and I can barely see a younger man than myself putting together a record player in his lap. I don’t need to clearly see him to detect the obvious horror in his eyes. I know my eyes.

“Screw you, bastard!” I say, throwing the limp clown over my shoulder. “Why don’t you get back to working yourself to death!”

I’m running to the front of the store to meet the coming ambulance. I tell myself it’s going to be all right, but I see the way its once browned skin has become compressed, wrinkled, and turned ivory by the store’s lights. Air labors and heaves against my back and for a moment I’m shown its eyes. They’ve given up, but I haven’t. The bright, white lights flash by quickly. I’ve regained my youthful speed, but I feel like it’s not me who is moving. I can’t breathe. I pass through the sliding doors and there’s a beep. Men in baggy, pastel uniforms are on me right away. They’re young and strong and I can offer up no physical resistance. I labor to tell them it didn’t beep on my way in and they tell me mockingly that it wouldn’t. They snatch my clown from me and it hangs over one of their muscled forearms like a skin set to go to market.

“Come with us, sir,” one of them says and they loop their arms with mere bone. That’s what I’ve become. “We’ll take you to where you belong.”

"I don’t belong here. Look, I have a car!" I cry and we all turn around just to watch an ambulance plow through my car like a mound of sand. The ambulance parks near the curb with no lights glaring through the white haze. There’s no driver. I’m being carried forward backwards. The bone dust of my car swirls underneath the ambulance until it is lost within the fluidly running parts.

Copyright © 2004 by Kenneth Simpson

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