Recently I wrote a piece of flash fiction for a specialized anthology. The theme was “Clowns” and I decided to try something different. I rewrote a poem as prose and added in a clown–sort of. I misread the instructions and did not have the clown physically present during the story, and so it doesn’t qualify for inclusion in the anthology. I have decided to post it here.
The original poem that I adapted is here.
He was wrong and I was right.
That doesn’t make me feel any better about myself, but it is a fact, something to keep in mind.
The car was a Chrysler LeBaron, 2 door coupe, red in color. Five year loan, signed seventeen months ago. Delinquent on payments, three months, sent to legal, judge signed the writ of replevin, and the file came to me.
I worked for American Auto Recovery, which was owned by Bluebird Finance, which also owned a half dozen used car lots that changed names so often that the salesmen got paid with counter checks, to save on printing costs.
Welcome to the looking glass world of used car sales.
It was five in the morning and the sun was painting the sky over the desert in the colors of an infected wound.
I’d looked through the file in the cab. The debtor had been working in the warehouse of department store when he signed the loan. He’d quit that job, which was when he stopped making payments. He’d also changed his phone number, and the registered letters we’d sent hadn’t been signed for.
It’s funny, but most people on the run don’t run far. I’d located the car within a few miles of his last address.
The cab took me past the apartment building lot and I saw the flash of red in the early morning light. It was still there, so I paid the cab and got out.
The key codes were in the file, of course, that’s standing operating procedure when you advertise that you’ll finance anybody.
So I had the keys in my hand, walking slowly up to the car, not running, no sneaking around, just walking normally like I had every right to be there.
Took a good look at the back seat as I walked up. Full of junk, brightly colored clothes strewn around, a couple of suitcases, some toys, balls and costume hats, like some ogre ate a circus and puked it up into the car’s back seat. No human sized lumps, though, not quite enough junk that a person could be under all that crap. I made sure of that as I ambled up.
Then I was at the door and, yes, the key worked the door, and I slid inside and the key worked the ignition, too. Pulled out of the space, looking in all directions at once, but nobody else was anywhere around. Still asleep. Probably nobody saw me pull out of the lot.
Even though it had become a job and just as boring and routine as any other way of paying the bills, I always had one moment of adrenaline. From unlocking the car door to getting out of view of the pick up site—maybe two minutes of cold sweat, every time.
Then I was on the main drag and past the fear window, figuring my route back to the yard.
Being in a stranger’s car is a curious feeling. In some ways it’s more intimate than being in a stranger’s home. Homes are deliberate places.
Cars, though, they hold the traces of the things you do while you’re driving, which are almost always things that you don’t really think about. Being in a stranger’s car can feel like climbing in through a stranger’s bedroom window.
There were business cards scattered across the passenger seat. At a stop light I picked one up and looked at it.
ALEX THE HAPPY CLOWN, it said. Parties, Fundraisers, Company Picnics, Family Reunions. With a phone number and some clip art of a bunch of balloons.
A couple of weeks ago I had taken my daughter to a church carnival. Not my church, I didn’t have a church. But one of the other little girls in the neighborhood had invited my daughter, so I took her. A few dollars donation and a fun afternoon, the usual attractions. A few rides, anemic enough to amuse fourth graders without terrifying their parents, a pen full of goats wide-eyed in fearless wonder at being fed by giggling children, some ponies.
My daughter sat perfectly still to have a butterfly painted on her cheek and didn’t wash her face for a week, until the paint had flaked off to the point where you couldn’t tell what the design was supposed to be. She took home a balloon dinosaur and insisted on taking it to bed with her. I knew it wouldn’t last the night and it didn’t and when she saw it in rags in the morning she cried.
Alex the Happy Clown would get his stuff back, the crazy colored clothes and the suitcase of magic tricks. So long as he could find someone to give him a ride to the office and had some ID he could pick up any personal items left in the car.
They probably wouldn’t do him a lot of good without a car, though. Without a car he’d probably have to go back to working in a warehouse.
I parked the Chrysler in the lot behind the chain link and razor wire and went to the office. I handed over the file and the keys to the car, and then I handed over the rest of my keys. I didn’t think about it, I didn’t know I was going to do it until I saw my ring on his desk.
“I can’t do this any more,” I said.
My boss didn’t argue with me, didn’t try to keep me on. He just took the keys and told me to let the secretary at the finance company know I was quitting. He didn’t ask me why.
I had to wonder if he figured it out when he saw the last car I’d brought in.
I went back home to my daughter. I got another job right away, working at a convenience store on the graveyard shift. A man who wants to work can always find a job doing something.