Octavio the Clown’s Last Act
by Rion Amilcar Scott
Octavio wore his frown sloppily, like a stain on an old faded shirt, as he looked out onto the world, watching the rain fall.
It had been doing that all month, and the weather people said there was no end in sight. So much of the world was flooded. Now the sky looked like a dark gray explosion. On the streets, more than an inch of water ran over the ground.
People in the lower lands had already taken their things and traveled to the higher elevations. His daughter moved in the night before, leaving the submerged Southside behind, and her children and her children’s children were out there somewhere. Octavio’s heart was heavy. He turned from the window, his joints stiff and aching. Leaning on his old silver cane, he limped to the sofa to sit down.
“Francine,” he called.
His daughter, her hair a luminous silver and her skin a smooth, but tough, deep shade of brown, walked into the room.
“Could you get an old man a glass of water?” Octavio asked.
“Daddy, you’re hardly an old man,” she replied, disappearing around the corner into the kitchen.
“Walt and the kids are still out there, aren’t they?”
She nodded. “They can handle themselves, Dad. ‘The kids’ are grown men, and they have their own kids and wives with them too.”
“God, why didn’t they just come straight here? They always want to be tough. How many days has it been raining? So much water in some places. I feel like Noah.”
“Daddy, stop being dramatic. You’re sounding like an apocalypser. It’s just some rain. Not the end of civilization. Walt and the kids will be here soon, don’t worry about them. They’ll be here.”
There was a pressure in his stomach, feeling like someone pulling tight a heavy knot. Even that was a big event at his age. His body had to work harder to recover from such things. He sighed deeply and sat back.
“When you were a baby, a 120-year old man was mostly unheard of.” She handed him a glass. “One with a 100-year-old daughter was bad science fiction.”
The man’s daughter stood over him, biting her lip to mask her impatience. He sipped slowly, ponderously, grasping the glass with two shaky hands. She walked over to the window and gazed out unto the saturated streets.
“Yeah, I never expected to live this long,” he said. “Sometimes it’s like I’m going to live forever.”
“Modern medicine is something, isn’t it, Dad?”
“You know, Francine, you say I’m not old, but everything else is. The rain, the floods... it’s the same thing year after year. Weather’s gone wild. Every year getting wilder. World’s overcrowded. Famine. Gas shortage. War. It sure does get old, Fran. This pain in my back. Thinking about your mother. Thinking about the fellas. I see your uncle Kentland’s face at least twice a day. It gets old, Fran.”
“At least you have your health.”
Octavio laughed bitterly, but his laugh trailed off when he looked up and saw that Francine’s face didn’t change. It showed only impatience and boredom. She had always been a serious child, never inherited his sense of humor. He was a comedian with the serious wife, the serious daughter. And at some point, when he was a young man — around sixty-five or so — his humor had grown old and then passed away. Even sarcasm became rare.
She took his glass just as the last drops dribbled into his mouth, barely even waiting for the cup to part with his lips. She disappeared into the kitchen and then returned to the window.
He waved his hand in front of the Remote Entertainment System and Frank Sinatra’s voice filled the house. Strangers in the niiiight, exchanging glances...
Francine looked over at her father and shook her head slowly. “This is a little bit depressing Dad, especially since we can’t get in touch with Walt and them in all this mess.”
“Doesn’t he have the richest voice?” Octavio replied. “Scooby-dooooobie doo, doo doo doooo...”
“You got the lyrics wrong again, Daddy,” Francine said, frowning and turning toward the window. Several minutes passed. Octavio played the song again.
“You know, a reporter called here the other day,” Octavio said.
“Is that so, Daddy?”
“Yeah, wanted some kind of witty comment. I thought they had forgotten about me. We talked for a while. He didn’t use anything I said. Told him I knew what it felt like to be dead, gone and forgotten. That’s what it’s like past 110, Fran. You got a few years to see.”
“Well, Daddy, that certainly is horribly depressing. It’s hard to imagine that you were ever a comedian.”
“It’s hard to even remember that myself. I remember when they eliminated cancer and then they eliminated most of the major diseases in the years after that, I used to have this routine. I said ‘Cancer’s all gone, disease is thing of the past. They even got rid of dementia. So I ain’t got no excuses. Man, we’re gonna live forever like “Fame” or something. Fifty more years of: Octavio, it’s Thursday, put out the trash!’ That got big laughs. Your mother didn’t like that though. It’s ironic, she was one of the last people to die of can—”
“Dad, could you stop? You’re not exactly a joy to be around, you know. God. Walt and them are still out there. You would have thought they would fix the levees, but it’s the same thing. Same thing.”
“No one cares about that sort of thing, Fran. They can end disease, but they can’t end floods. I got out of the Southside as soon as I could, but now the water’s even encroaching on the Northside. Soon no amount of money will save you.
“Levees don’t matter when it rains for more than a month straight with no let-up. I guess they figure, ‘Why fix the Levees when everybody gonna be dead soon?’ I can see that reasoning. What you think causes weather like this? When I started out I used to have this routine...”
Francine sighed, cutting off her father’s words. “Could you for once live in the present. Those days are done Daddy. This is your life now.”
The song came to an end and he played it again. “Scooby-dooobie doo doo doo doo.”
“You know honey, I been developing some material,” Octavio said. “I want to go out on an ‘Old Men of Comedy Tour.’ You know Pryor went out when he had MS pretty bad.”
“Sounds like a bad idea, Daddy.”
“It’s like biblical days out here now. People living to 250 and great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren and great-great-great grandchildren. Makes it hard to date. You need an ID card just to tell who you’re sleeping with.”
“Daddy, you can’t just steal jokes from people. Especially since the guy that first told it is still performing.” Francine massaged her brow. “You’re just not funny anymore, Daddy.”
...exchanging glances...doooby dooby doo...
For a half-hour she paced while the song played. Octavio warbled along to Frank Sinatra. There was still no sign of the woman’s husband or her children or her grandchildren or even her great-grandchildren. Francine slipped into a jacket, picked up an umbrella and walked past her father.
“I got to go out and see if I can find them,” she told him.
“Fran, it’s flooding,” he replied. “That water is sweeping away cars and hou— ”
“My family is out there, I have to go.”
“Fran, the world’s ending. You know that right?”
“What would you do if I was out there, huh?”
“I’d learn how to swim.”
He watched his only daughter disappear into the storm, water pooling at her ankles. If he were a young man and Francine was out there, even surging rapids wouldn’t stop him from searching for her. She started her car and drove out into what looked like a lake.
He used to be a clown, you know. Octavio the Rappin’ Clown, later Octavio the Clown and after that just Octavio. It was his first job in show business, taken just after Francine was born. After that, he acted as a hype-man in a rap group. Made solo records. Performed stand-up to sold-out crowds. And then he disappeared.
At one time he mattered to the world and then only to a small group and every year that group grew smaller. Such humiliating things he did for the love of those he would never see or speak to. To feel that love again. How could he ignore Fran? Overcompensating with his grandchildren and great-grands did nothing to make him forget what sort of sorry father he had been.
There’s always a trade-off for success, his mentors told him. They were all dead. Dead. So many had drowned since the skies opened up. The entire earth would soon be a watery grave for all save for the whales and dolphins and every other creature of the sea.
His plan earlier that day was to sit back and tell fanciful stories to his grandkids and his great-grandkids and his great-great grandkids and his great-great-great grandkids.
He looked out the window. The water was closer. Muddy brown water lapped at his door and crept beneath it. Even living on a hill no longer mattered.
Octavio sat on his couch and lifted his arms. The music became louder, clearer and more beautiful. Octavio sighed. Octavio laughed.
Copyright © 2009 by Rion Amilcar Scott