I’m in the middle of my tuna melt when Wendy tells me she’s got a woman on the line with a clown stuck in her window well. Great.
“Can I call her after my break?” I say with a mouth full of moist tuna.
To which Wendy says, “I’m really sorry but she sounds like hysterics.”
Wendy’s big for her age, her age being about 55—or 20 years my senior—and big being residual body mass from her college rugby days.
I put the rest of my lunch in foil.
“You still have a little on your” Wendy says while rubbing at my chin with a Kleenex. Wendy’s husband passed away suddenly last Christmas time, but she’s abbreviated the five stages of grief, more or less.
“Thanks,” I say with a feeling of loneliness.
We have a script we’re supposed to follow here beginning with: “Thank you for calling Clown Removal and Rehabilitation, this is Dennis speaking.”
The voice on the end says: “My head aches like heck, dear.”
“I would be more than happy to assist you with this issue,” I say while sticking to my prompt sheet.
This woman, Susan or Linda—it’s been a while since the first call—claims the sound of my voice has intense therapeutic and relaxation benefits for her. She’s been calling since the spring when Rob pulled a dead clown from one of those big glue traps—which, as is company policy, we do not endorse nor recommend.
This weekly exchange has become a cute little routine for us. Placating Susan/Linda also beats doing the Observational Data Reports or working on the email server—two things Mr. Larsen—director of operations for the southwest region—once said I have a high aptitude for.
“Can you read the FAQs again?” Susan/Linda says. These are her favorite.
“I’d be happy to.”
I start somewhere in the middle: “The majority of clown bites result in minor swelling and redness around the bite area and typically subside within 48 hours.”
“Perfect,” she says, “don’t stop.” So I read to her for the next approx. 30 minutes and she listens, silently but for a few moans and sighs and unintelligible rustles. Midway through the Clown Myths, Rumors and Urban Legends section Rob walks in still donning his SC-R&R Gas Pack.
Rob’s got these “Rob’s 10 Rules of Life While Living Life at Work” with Rule #1 being ‘Always speak your mind especially in a professional setting.’
He starts going on about how this jackwagon—his words—confused him for a clown and shot him with a hunting bow. This is classic Rob.
I shoo my hand at him while pointing to the phone in my ear, but he seems to misinterpret this as a directive to talk louder and faster, which is not helping Susan/Linda’s headache. Then he shows me his left quad, which definitely has an arrow lodged in it.
“Jesus,” I say.
“It’s pretty much numb by now, but listen, you got to yank it out for me,” Rob pleads and props his leg up on my keyboard, “I’m going to look away. Don’t tell me when you’re going to do it.”
On the phone Susan/Linda asks if I’m still there. I tell her to give me a minute.
“I’m losing blood fast here.”
“Okay, alright.” I set the phone down and grab the end of the arrow.
“Wait,” Rob says, “Are your hands clean?”
But I’ve seemed to have already pulled it out.
We both kind of stare at the arrow in my hand for a while.
Finally Rob says, “This. Cannot be talked about,” and hops off my desk. “They’d axe me for sure. First thing I need to do is destroy this.” He snaps the arrow in two. “Now I shall have a snack.” He starts digging through my candy/cookie drawer.
I’ve all but forgotten about Susan/Linda and find the phone on the floor, the line dead. I consider pressing redial but ultimately slam the phone in the cradle, with a bit more force than I intended.
Rob kind of stares at me. “Did Wide Back eat all the Chewy Chips Ahoy?”
Wide Back is Wendy.
At 4:58pm I clock out, buckle the buckle on my helmet and head out the door hoping to avoid Wendy, who unfortunately is already waiting by air conditioning unit where I lock my bike.
“Hi there,” she says. I’m just close enough to where I can’t turn around and pretend I don’t see her.
“Wendy,” I say and act like I’m in some sort of hurry.
She tells me it’s Thirsty Thursday, though I’ve told her upteenmillion times I don’t drink since my DUI.
“I got fifty dollars in singles.” This is the voice of quiet desperation.
I try to avoid eye contact.
“We could go to Great Alaskan Bush Company.”
“Sorry,” I say as I saddle my Huffy, “Mom gets antsy if I don’t come home right away.” And I peddle off as fast as I can.
‘Antsy’ for my mom is her pretending for the last two months that dad is dead. Doctor said it’s early onset Dementia. Doctor also said to hide all weapon-like objects, so ixnay the steak knives, scissors, etc.
Tonight I walk into the kitchen and mom is having one of her episodes, this time about the plastic sporks.
“Money’s tight,” I tell her as we sit down to eat, “and people will pay good money for cutlery.”
“I wish your father would have left us something worth selling. Instead of just a body.”
Dad is seated to the right of mom at the table. He looks over at me and says, “Whatever makes her happy,” then sporks a piece of porkchop into his mouth.
“Denny.” My mom looks at me. “I never got to tell you, but I think you taking this job to stop these clowns was a good thing of you.”
In this moment I almost think she’s snapped out of it—that this women is much more my mom and much less the thing eating her brain.
“God knows your damn father couldn’t stop them.”
I read somewhere that we are hurt most by the ones we love. I don’t want this to be the lasting memory of my mom: that she thought dad was killed by a gang of clowns.
In bed I block out my mom and Wendy and think about Susan/Linda. I only have a voice to go off of and my imagination isn’t great, so I end up with a hazy mental image of my ex-girlfriend from community college, a redhead who was a tattoo artist and renaissance fairs enthusiast. I imagine reading Susan/Linda/my ex-girlfriend something with slightly more literary merit than the Clown R&R webpages and blog. Maybe Beowolf and/or Lolita. I’ve never read either but figure they must be more romantic than “10 Fail Safe Tips for De-Clowning Your Car, Boat or RV.” In an ideal world they’d actual pay me extra for writing those click-bait lists instead of folding them under the umbrella of ‘corporate property produced during employee’s term of employment.’ I would use this money to take Susan/Linda out for surf n turf followed by a nightcap at her place.
I get close to climaxing there in my bed when Rob’s stupid arrow pops into my head. I can hear him yelling out in pain. And Susan/Linda inside the phone saying hello? Are you there? That puts the kibosh on that. I let a Sleepy Time tablet dissolve on my tongue and I’m out in a few minutes.
I spend majority Friday playing Angry Oxcart Driver hoping Susan/Linda will call. I make it all the way to the Cambodia map where you have to carry .5 metric tons of shafted and milled rice grain on several poorly maintained bridges and unpaved paths around Angkor Wat. You have to do this under the allotted time or else the barter, Phanith, will refuse to pay the previously negotiated price. If you fail the mission you return to your village without enough rice to feed your malnourished family. I only get three carts, because it’s the beta version, and one of my children dies of starvation. I clock out at five without a call from Susan/Linda.
It’s against company policy to bring a work laptop home so without Angry Oxcart Driver I decide there’s no better time than this weekend to test out an idea I have: convincing mom that dad is a ghost. I hope it will trigger some repressed memories i.e., their wedding day, my birth, or that one vacation to the Keys.
Dad says it’s worth a shot, and we start with him walking in front of mom while she watches Antique Roadshow.
“Wait,” I say next to her on the couch, “did you see that?”
“The vase?” she says, “Your piece of shit uncle broke a vase like that when we were kids.”
Dad sits down next to me and asks if I have any other bright ideas.
Then mom turns off the TV and says, “Denny. I want to go to the cemetery.”
So we go to the cemetery, which is about a quarter mile on the bike path cutting through our backyard. There’s like this hill half way there and when we get to the top we find a clown squatting in the middle of the path. It’s young, maybe a few months old, and holding its one arm awkwardly.
“He’s hurt,” I say.
Before you can bat an eye mom kicks the baby clown square in the jaw.
“You son of a bitch” she yells. The clown goes down right away, out cold.
Dad and I just look at each other, completely shocked.
But that’s not the end.
Mom continues to kick the knocked-out/possibly dead clown yelling: “Give. Me. Back. My. Husband.”
Then a pair of joggers come by—this like Swedish Olympian couple. They stop and take in the situation: a family of three—that is, us—blocking the cemetery bike path, and the mom kicking an unconscious clown and shouting for it to resurrect her dead husband.
So that’s my weekend in a nutshell.
Monday morning rolls around and Rob has exercised one of his two allotted sick days, which means I’m doing field calls.
I’m barely on my second cup of coffee when Wendy sends me out to West End to retrieve a clown from a tree. “Apparently this Rottweiler chased it up an old Elm,” she says, and then adds a “Be careful hun.” I ignore this as I grab Rob’s C-R&R Gas Pack.
The company field van is this white Chevy cargo with no windows. The inside smells like Rob, which is to say greasy fries and spearmint—the smell of the C-R&R Gas, which, as our proprietary research indicates, clowns have an irresistible affinity for.
I drive really slow to kill time and when I arrive at the address, this dumpy two-step ranch with blue windows, there’s neither an old Elm nor a Rottweiler to be found. I try calling Wendy but she doesn’t answer; I figure she’s on another call or eating or both, so I leave the pack in the van and mosey to the front door.
This women in a long t-shirt with wet hair answers. On field calls we have a script that goes: “Happy day sir/ma’am, I’m here to safely eradicate this premise of clowns, could you please direct me to the infestation,” which I say word-for-word.
“Hey stranger,” the woman says, and I realize I’m face-to-face with the real Susan/Lisa.
“Wow,” I say, “It’s you.”
“Me.” She flips her hair gently and as she does, her shirt lifts up to reveal more of her legs.
She props open her screen door and invites me inside.
I follow her into the kitchen where she was drinking of the bottle of a beer. “You want one?” she asked while already popping the top. What would you do in this situation?
For the next twenty-five or so minutes we have sex on her living room futon. She doesn’t take off her t-shirt, which I’m okay with. She even provides a condom, and I make a point of stopping in the middle of it all to thank her for that. I also make a point of kissing her thighs a lot. I get a lot of saliva on them, and she tells me I don’t have to go any higher. I listen. When we’re finished she offers me a cigarette and excuses her self to go pee.
I feel like this must be love. I don’t know what else you could possibly call it. She was a beautiful woman and I admire her stack of magazines next to the futon while she’s away. The name on the addresses is neither Susan nor Linda, but Todman. One name.
“I could read one of these to you,” I say when she gets back. There could be nothing more romantic than me reading to her while she rests her head in my lap, even with wet hair, and we smoke her cigarette.
But then she says, “Oh I’m through with that. Now I have this compulsion to have sex all the time. It helps a lot.”
I’m still sitting on the futon while she stands, telling me this.
“And, like, if you hadn’t come, I would have called the pizza guy.”
I hold myself together long enough to make it to the van, but not inside the van. Because waiting for me outside the van is a group of clowns. Seven clowns. All fourteen eyes looking at me, and what do you know, I’ve left the gas pack in the van.
Gone from my mind is everything I’ve read on our website re: this scenario. I can think only of my dear mom kicking that one baby clown. And the color of her rage. Pink with misplaced hatred, a confusion. I go in fists clenched.
I pow one right in the kisser and my mind dislodges itself from my corporal body. It goes to the memory of me and mom and dad sharing pink cotton candy at the fair. The blue sky, our joy. Clear as day. My fists hit another clown and I’m back in our old mini van, the three of us singing the Bee Gees after my baseball game. I can hear my dad out of tune. I can feel my seat belt.
I plunk and plunk and plunk them all in their faces until it’s just me standing in the middle of the street with all these zonked-out clowns. And it’s over. I’m breathing heavy and I can taste blood on the inside of my bit lip. And there’s no image in my mind.
Kevin Sterne is a writer and journalist based in Chicago. He writes about beer and music for Substream Magazine. He’s also the editor of LeFawn Magazine. His work has appeared or will appear in Drunk Monkeys, Potluck Mag, Praxis Magazine, Down in the Dirt Magazine, and Word Eater, among many others. Kevin attended Joliet Junior College. Find him on the dark web at kevinsterne.com, on Twitter @kevinsterne or down a pseudoscience rabbit hole.