Calliope

It was an unfamiliar path. Every night for months, ever since Emma’s death, I’d taken the same walk through the park, but this time, I went another way.
 
Everything was quiet. There were no birds singing. Even my footsteps were muffled on the soft ground. I felt the warmth of the light before I realized what it was and stopped and looked up at the sky. Massive clouds reflected an orange and gold sunset. The afterglow covered the trees and ground, and me. It was just as I began walking again that I heard the calliope in the distance, its discordant cast of notes woven into the air.
 
I followed the sound, wondering where it could be. The park had no carousel. As I went forward, the music seemed to recede away from me. When I stopped walking it would become louder. Coming up over a rise I saw a wagon in the field below, its gilded frame catching the last rays of the sun. Sitting inside it was a man in a clown suit and makeup, the white face bent in concentration toward the keys.
 
I had no desire to approach him. I’d found the source of the music. I turned back the way I had come.
 
That was when the music stopped. The silence hung in the air like a tangible thing. I knew without looking that the clown was watching me.
 
Instinct told me to keep going but I had to turn around. I saw the quick gesture, the beckoning hand, and against all inclination found myself walking down the hill toward him. The music began again.
 
As I drew closer I saw that he wore a dark blue pork pie hat over tufted orange hair and a wide yellow and white ruff around his neck. He looked like a life-sized doll in a seaside concession. His pants were a large and baggy red plaid, and his shirt was yellow and red stripes with metallic pompom balls down the front. A long, oversized suit jacket covered the lot, with wide lapels in vivid, sequined green. Two vertical rectangles, one orange and one blue, were painted on each eyelid. His feet tapped out the rhythm of the music as he played.
 
An octagonal opening had been cut into the wagon to display the clown and the calliope, its beveled edges carved in gold filigree. The rest of the wagon was a soft white that seemed to glitter beneath the surface. The pipes were glass and copper and let out soft sighs of air. The keys, however, I saw, were old and worn. The clown’s hands were painted white, the fingers long and graceful, like those of a concert pianist.
 
Every so often he would turn his face toward me and smile. The wide red lips outlined in black would stretch the width of his face, and his eyes held my gaze for just the instant. Why had he beckoned me there? Why had I approached the wagon? I wanted to leave. Why didn’t I?
 
When had we listened to such music, Emma and I? I didn’t need to ask. I’d never stopped living the hours we’d shared near the sea when the sun burned above and the sound of the calliope was our background. There had been a traveling player that day, a clown much like this one. But memory distorts. I know that. The clown said nothing. There was only that abrupt, soon-gone smile.
 
“You’re a kind of jester yourself, Harry.”
 
I spun around. The voice was Emma’s. The golden light was gone and there was only the dusk.
 
“Where are you?”
 
“Here? See?”
 
I turned quickly to the left where the voice had been but saw nothing.
 
“No games this time, Emma. I only want to see you.”
 
“There must always be a game, Harry. Else where’s the fun?”
 
I heard a laugh and glanced around. The clown was staring at the keys, his hands motionless above them.
 
“Do you remember,” I said, seeking her voice again, “the ocean was a deep blue-green and I won a doll for you at the shooting gallery? We went to the end of the pier and saw dolphins racing under the water. Remember?”
 
“How could I not? Harry! Help my friend. Quick, behind you!”
 
I looked back and the clown was holding on to the side of the calliope, tears running down his face, leaving tracks in the white makeup. I saw the necklace he wore. It had been Emma’s, a gift from her lover. I thought I was the only one, and when she told me about him, in despair I had torn it off her and tried to shake some sense into her, that was all.
 
I started toward the clown but he held up a hand and smiled. He held a small stick and tapped it against the calliope. I saw his lips move and heard Emma’s high, light voice.
 
“Just a test, Harry,” I heard her say. “I had to know.”
 
“Know what? Stop this! It isn’t what I want. Show yourself, Emma!”
 
Her voice came then, the sound so soft I almost missed the words.
 
“Dearest Harry! It is fine, my love. Everything is fine. Forgive the game. We always played them, remember?”
 
“I want you with me.”
 
“I know you do. But it can’t be. You must realize that. Not anymore. Let me go. I belong with him. I thought you understood that!”
 
“No!” I felt the abyss so close that I stepped back, almost losing my balance.
 
The moon came up, flooding the darkening field with its silver light. The wagon disappeared. I waited a long time, but she was gone.
 
I walked back through the park, passing under lampposts scattered here and there until I drew near a park bench. I rested my hand on it and stayed very still. I wasn’t ready to leave. Finally I lifted my hand and removed the pork pie hat and orange wig. Piece by piece I removed the clothing I had on, except for the long, oversized jacket with wide lapels in vivid, sequined green, and my jeans and T-shirt. Everything fit into my carryall. I used baby wipes to take off the face paint. But I kept the necklace in my hand, watching how the single diamond in the center would catch the ambient light around me.
 
There had to be a way to call back the dead.
 
I would do better, next time.
 
 

© Regina Clarke 2016

Calliope

It was an unfamiliar path. Every night for months, ever since Emma’s death, I’d taken the same walk through the park, but this time, I went another way.
 
Everything was quiet. There were no birds singing. Even my footsteps were muffled on the soft ground. I felt the warmth of the light before I realized what it was and stopped and looked up at the sky. Massive clouds reflected an orange and gold sunset. The afterglow covered the trees and ground, and me. It was just as I began walking again that I heard the calliope in the distance, its discordant cast of notes woven into the air.
 
I followed the sound, wondering where it could be. The park had no carousel. As I went forward, the music seemed to recede away from me. When I stopped walking it would become louder. Coming up over a rise I saw a wagon in the field below, its gilded frame catching the last rays of the sun. Sitting inside it was a man in a clown suit and makeup, the white face bent in concentration toward the keys.
 
I had no desire to approach him. I’d found the source of the music. I turned back the way I had come.
 
That was when the music stopped. The silence hung in the air like a tangible thing. I knew without looking that the clown was watching me.
 
Instinct told me to keep going but I had to turn around. I saw the quick gesture, the beckoning hand, and against all inclination found myself walking down the hill toward him. The music began again.
 
As I drew closer I saw that he wore a dark blue pork pie hat over tufted orange hair and a wide yellow and white ruff around his neck. He looked like a life-sized doll in a seaside concession. His pants were a large and baggy red plaid, and his shirt was yellow and red stripes with metallic pompom balls down the front. A long, oversized suit jacket covered the lot, with wide lapels in vivid, sequined green. Two vertical rectangles, one orange and one blue, were painted on each eyelid. His feet tapped out the rhythm of the music as he played.
 
An octagonal opening had been cut into the wagon to display the clown and the calliope, its beveled edges carved in gold filigree. The rest of the wagon was a soft white that seemed to glitter beneath the surface. The pipes were glass and copper and let out soft sighs of air. The keys, however, I saw, were old and worn. The clown’s hands were painted white, the fingers long and graceful, like those of a concert pianist.
 
Every so often he would turn his face toward me and smile. The wide red lips outlined in black would stretch the width of his face, and his eyes held my gaze for just the instant. Why had he beckoned me there? Why had I approached the wagon? I wanted to leave. Why didn’t I?
 
When had we listened to such music, Emma and I? I didn’t need to ask. I’d never stopped living the hours we’d shared near the sea when the sun burned above and the sound of the calliope was our background. There had been a traveling player that day, a clown much like this one. But memory distorts. I know that. The clown said nothing. There was only that abrupt, soon-gone smile.
 
“You’re a kind of jester yourself, Harry.”
 
I spun around. The voice was Emma’s. The golden light was gone and there was only the dusk.
 
“Where are you?”
 
“Here? See?”
 
I turned quickly to the left where the voice had been but saw nothing.
 
“No games this time, Emma. I only want to see you.”
 
“There must always be a game, Harry. Else where’s the fun?”
 
I heard a laugh and glanced around. The clown was staring at the keys, his hands motionless above them.
 
“Do you remember,” I said, seeking her voice again, “the ocean was a deep blue-green and I won a doll for you at the shooting gallery? We went to the end of the pier and saw dolphins racing under the water. Remember?”
 
“How could I not? Harry! Help my friend. Quick, behind you!”
 
I looked back and the clown was holding on to the side of the calliope, tears running down his face, leaving tracks in the white makeup. I saw the necklace he wore. It had been Emma’s, a gift from her lover. I thought I was the only one, and when she told me about him, in despair I had torn it off her and tried to shake some sense into her, that was all.
 
I started toward the clown but he held up a hand and smiled. He held a small stick and tapped it against the calliope. I saw his lips move and heard Emma’s high, light voice.
 
“Just a test, Harry,” I heard her say. “I had to know.”
 
“Know what? Stop this! It isn’t what I want. Show yourself, Emma!”
 
Her voice came then, the sound so soft I almost missed the words.
 
“Dearest Harry! It is fine, my love. Everything is fine. Forgive the game. We always played them, remember?”
 
“I want you with me.”
 
“I know you do. But it can’t be. You must realize that. Not anymore. Let me go. I belong with him. I thought you understood that!”
 
“No!” I felt the abyss so close that I stepped back, almost losing my balance.
 
The moon came up, flooding the darkening field with its silver light. The wagon disappeared. I waited a long time, but she was gone.
 
I walked back through the park, passing under lampposts scattered here and there until I drew near a park bench. I rested my hand on it and stayed very still. I wasn’t ready to leave. Finally I lifted my hand and removed the pork pie hat and orange wig. Piece by piece I removed the clothing I had on, except for the long, oversized jacket with wide lapels in vivid, sequined green, and my jeans and T-shirt. Everything fit into my carryall. I used baby wipes to take off the face paint. But I kept the necklace in my hand, watching how the single diamond in the center would catch the ambient light around me.
 
There had to be a way to call back the dead.
 
I would do better, next time.
 
 
© Regina Clarke 2016

POST RECITAL

Talk Icon

TALK

TN: Hey Regina, how's it going today?
 
RC: It's really fine. I'm delighted to be here.
 
BR: And thanks for joining us on The Strange Recital.
 
RC: Well that's my pleasure. You've got a great program.
 
TN: A typical question in an interview like this, might be “Is the story autobiographical?” But we can probably skip that question, right?
 
RC: Absolutely.
 
TN: Or, isn't all fiction autobiographical in some way, perhaps hidden? With that in mind, what's at the root of this story for you?
 
RC: Well the root, the calliope, has fascinated me since childhood. I think it does most people, from  amusement parks, from circuses and even just hearing it as an echo in the street. I remember that happening. So it just sort of haunted me. But the actual trigger for the story, although it has nothing to do with the story, was the fifth episode of the first season of Mission Impossible. And at the very end Greg Morris is dressed as a clown, in the back of a truck, as the team is speeding away to escape soldiers and he's playing a calliope, at dusk on this mountain road. I never forgot the image. So I'd have to say that's a direct catalyst.
 
BR: I want to talk about creepy clowns.
 
TN: Yeah okay, hang on. Let's get to that later. Regina, the fact that in Greek mythology - is it calliope, call-ee-o-pee? Calliope right? - which means beautiful-voiced, was the chief of the muses and presided over eloquence and epic poetry, what bearing does that have on the story?
 
RC: None really. For the story the calliope is just a musical instrument that evokes the kinds of images that have stuck with me for so long, and the tone of it is something ethereal and compelling. And it's just so strange. I can't let go of it.
 
BR: Can we talk about creepy clowns now?
 
TN: Wait, wait, wait. Regina, can you tell us about the fiction technique you used here to reveal the cause of Emma's death, without really stating it openly?
 
RC: Well, actually I never thought of it as a technique. It's just that he was so consumed with guilt and rage, and regret. So he keeps playing it, no pun intended, over and over in his mind.
 
BR: Well I think maybe your story is part of some subversive marketing plan by the rap group -  Insane Clown Posse. Or maybe it's advanced promotion for the Stephen King movie about a killer-clown, coming out later this year.
 
RC: No, it isn't.
 
TN: I'm sorry, my colleague Brent seems to be a little nervous today.
 
BR: Look, there have been creepy clowns showing up everywhere across the country, even in the UK, since last summer. What are they doing? Are they dangerous, are they reptilian aliens in disguise? Is your story part of some evil movement to take over America?
 
RC: I don't think.....
 
TN: Okay Bent. Enough about that. Come on. Regina, at the end of your story the narrator Harry says that there has to be a way to call back the dead. He's in denial about his guilt, yet he wants a chance to make amends. Am I right?
 
RC: Not amends so much. It's more.....He still thinks he's right, but he wants it both ways. He wants to be right and he wants to have his anger. And he wants her. But wait, I want to ask Brent – are you a victim of coulrophobia?
 
BR: I don't think so. What's that?
 
RC: It's fear of clowns.
 
BR: Er, no, no, I don't fear all clowns. Just the ones who seem to not really be the way clowns are supposed to be. The ones who behave like threatening madmen.
 
RC: Well, hold on now, maybe this will help. The clown can be seen as an archetype, related to the mythical figures of the holy fool and the trickster. They show us our own craziness, our shadow, like a mirror. Getting some actual truth about ourselves is a wake-up call. That's always a good thing. Right?
 
BR: Hmm. I'll have to think about that.
 
TN: Could we get back to the interview now? Regina, I'd like to mention the lovely atmospherics you placed in your story – the park, the wagon with gold filigree, the last rays of the setting sun.
 
RC: Ah thank you. I.....
 
BR: You know what? You are absolutely right.
 
RC: About what?
 
BR: I see it. I am frequently a clown. A clumsy fool. Or a fake behind a painted smile. Maybe sometimes I'm even one of those creepy clowns, you know, dark but with a red nose and goofy shoes. I guess I have a psychic split just like Harry, but I'm not a murderer, and I am in therapy.
 
RC: Well thank goodness.
 
TN: Yeah, what a relief.

TN: Hey Regina, how's it going today?
 
RC: It's really fine. I'm delighted to be here.
 
BR: And thanks for joining us on The Strange Recital.
 
RC: Well that's my pleasure. You've got a great program.
 
TN: A typical question in an interview like this, might be “Is the story autobiographical?” But we can probably skip that question, right?
 
RC: Absolutely.
 
TN: Or, isn't all fiction autobiographical in some way, perhaps hidden? With that in mind, what's at the root of this story for you?
 
RC: Well the root, the calliope, has fascinated me since childhood. I think it does most people, from  amusement parks, from circuses and even just hearing it as an echo in the street. I remember that happening. So it just sort of haunted me. But the actual trigger for the story, although it has nothing to do with the story, was the fifth episode of the first season of Mission Impossible. And at the very end Greg Morris is dressed as a clown, in the back of a truck, as the team is speeding away to escape soldiers and he's playing a calliope, at dusk on this mountain road. I never forgot the image. So I'd have to say that's a direct catalyst.
 
BR: I want to talk about creepy clowns.
 
TN: Yeah okay, hang on. Let's get to that later. Regina, the fact that in Greek mythology - is it calliope, call-ee-o-pee? Calliope right? - which means beautiful-voiced, was the chief of the muses and presided over eloquence and epic poetry, what bearing does that have on the story?
 
RC: None really. For the story the calliope is just a musical instrument that evokes the kinds of images that have stuck with me for so long, and the tone of it is something ethereal and compelling. And it's just so strange. I can't let go of it.
 
BR: Can we talk about creepy clowns now?
 
TN: Wait, wait, wait. Regina, can you tell us about the fiction technique you used here to reveal the cause of Emma's death, without really stating it openly?
 
RC: Well, actually I never thought of it as a technique. It's just that he was so consumed with guilt and rage, and regret. So he keeps playing it, no pun intended, over and over in his mind.
 
BR: Well I think maybe your story is part of some subversive marketing plan by the rap group -  Insane Clown Posse. Or maybe it's advanced promotion for the Stephen King movie about a killer-clown, coming out later this year.
 
RC: No, it isn't.
 
TN: I'm sorry, my colleague Brent seems to be a little nervous today.
 
BR: Look, there have been creepy clowns showing up everywhere across the country, even in the UK, since last summer. What are they doing? Are they dangerous, are they reptilian aliens in disguise? Is your story part of some evil movement to take over America?
 
RC: I don't think.....
 
TN: Okay Bent. Enough about that. Come on. Regina, at the end of your story the narrator Harry says that there has to be a way to call back the dead. He's in denial about his guilt, yet he wants a chance to make amends. Am I right?
 
RC: Not amends so much. It's more.....He still thinks he's right, but he wants it both ways. He wants to be right and he wants to have his anger. And he wants her. But wait, I want to ask Brent – are you a victim of coulrophobia?
 
BR: I don't think so. What's that?
 
RC: It's fear of clowns.
 
BR: Er, no, no, I don't fear all clowns. Just the ones who seem to not really be the way clowns are supposed to be. The ones who behave like threatening madmen.
 
RC: Well, hold on now, maybe this will help. The clown can be seen as an archetype, related to the mythical figures of the holy fool and the trickster. They show us our own craziness, our shadow, like a mirror. Getting some actual truth about ourselves is a wake-up call. That's always a good thing. Right?
 
BR: Hmm. I'll have to think about that.
 
TN: Could we get back to the interview now? Regina, I'd like to mention the lovely atmospherics you placed in your story – the park, the wagon with gold filigree, the last rays of the setting sun.
 
RC: Ah thank you. I.....
 
BR: You know what? You are absolutely right.
 
RC: About what?
 
BR: I see it. I am frequently a clown. A clumsy fool. Or a fake behind a painted smile. Maybe sometimes I'm even one of those creepy clowns, you know, dark but with a red nose and goofy shoes. I guess I have a psychic split just like Harry, but I'm not a murderer, and I am in therapy.
 
RC: Well thank goodness.
 
TN: Yeah, what a relief.

 

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