By JR Fenn
Clown sightings had gotten out of hand, the school board determined at the most contentious meeting in recent history. The clowns had started in the woods, a bob of orange hair slipping away into the brush, a puff-suited figure on a farm horizon. Everyone thought it was a joke, something to do with the upcoming elections. Some people thought it meant something—a comment on media-saturation or the voting public’s sense of being stuck at a clown show; others contended it was meant to seem to mean something in order to reveal the absurdity of assigning meaning through the attribution of intentionality in the first place. I mean, they’re clowns, people said. You can’t take them seriously.
Then came reports from streets at the edge of town, convenience store aisles, the gazebo in the middle of the town square, where a small child gazed up into the raccoon eyes of a clown whose white face broke apart as he smiled to show his yellow teeth. Clowns climbed into cars people left unlocked in their driveways and wandered through back doors propped open for air, greasy fingerprints smeared on refrigerator handles. People found their beds disturbed, a curly red hair shed in a clean sea of sheets. Bathroom toiletries became disarranged, a powder-puff replaced in the cold cream jar. The clowns never took anything, never hurt anyone. They drifted through the ritual spaces of suburban twilight, standing outside bedroom windows as parents did story time and tucked their small charges tight under the covers. They sat on backyard swings in the dark, still as wax statues, gone by morning as if they had never been there at all.
The meeting progressed through its standard agenda and then opened to other business, which devolved into a variety of opinions about clowns shouted from every corner. When the board regained control, some members of the audience had climbed onto desks and one beefy father balanced on the windowsill, fist pumping as he underlined the importance of protecting our children. The president of the board spoke in a reassuring tone, her face marvelously controlled as phrases that appeared to her to be utter nonsense flowed from her lips—promises to find a resolution to the so-called clown conspiracy and mount a long-term clown response strategy that cannot fail given our community’s wholehearted commitment to what is clearly an issue of utmost importance. No one could remember who proposed the idea, but once aired it caught on like wildfire, and as soon as the motion was made and seconded, a swift vote brought it to a close, as everyone present could see the merit in the resolution as well as its obvious expediency given upcoming school events.
Circulated by email and posted on the announcements board, Central Schools Resolution No. 2153 read: Due to local, state, and national concerns with clowns and clown stories, clown costumes will NOT be allowed in school this year.
With the arrival of the day appointed for costume-wearing, however, the proclamation had some unanticipated effects. There were your usual witches and goblins and ghosts and the occasional art supply or frozen dessert maneuvering around blindly on stubby child legs. But roving in bands on the track, in the parking lot, on the sidewalks that led to the school, in the school basement, auditorium, gym, and through honeycombs of classrooms—were tons and tons clowns. The district’s consolidation into one campus meant they came in all sizes: two-foot clowns lugging backpacks half their weight by straps that threatened to break and six-foot clowns with wigs so tall their hair leaned like the crenelated hill of a Soft Serve about to slip off its cone. Their faces painted in reds and blues, purples and grays, stripes and dots and seven-hued rainbows, their clown suits tasselled and glittered and checked, their clown shoes several sizes too big galumphing through linoleum hallways, merry whorls of clowns slipped into their seats and back out again, disguised by their finery and their guerrilla tactics of switching places with one another so all attempts at roll call failed and the school day dissolved into pointless announcements about the passage of resolution whatever whatever and appropriate costuming and natural consequences for those who ignored the agreed-upon edict. But no one could agree on how to punish the clowns—a clown-filled detention defied imagination (and missed the point, as some hastened to add)—and that night the gaudies slipped out of their clown suits into normal boy-and-girl-getups, their cheeks tinged with hints of pink and green, their hair matted close with the sweat of the show, their faces still smiling with the remnants of painted grins as they slept. They dreamed of their compadres roaming quiet streets, all the house-windows darkened, the flicker of streetlights illuminating the electric frizz of hair as waddling backs moved off into the night, a silent shuffle on to the next town, a Midwest ripe for the taking.