words by genghis and rhoda
pictures by rhoda
"she's a reporter."
billy freed squinted at geraldine through his dark glasses. "from the local paper?" he lowered the tent flap and came into the tent.
"right now i'm freelancing," geraldine told him. "trying to sell to places like the all-world journal. but i was with the minsk times before."
billy made a show of scratching his head.
"minsk - where's that? somehere between peoria and cairo. illinois?"
"no, it's in -"
"ha ha, we know where it is, don't we joe? listen, there's no friendlier people than the belarussians anyhere, except maybe in mongolia, wouldn't you say?"
"i'd have to agree," said uncle joe. "but don't forget the people in uruguay, especialy way in the backlands."
"i see you gentlemen are true citizens of the world," geraldine noted politely.
"that's right. say, did you ever go too mimi's in minsk? i remember they had great pelmeni and chips. and the buraki was pretty good, too."
"oh yes, i used to go to mimi's all the time."
"what was the name of that accordion player there? the one with the cork leg?"
"mike, of course! so he's still there?"
"last i heard, he was carrying on."
"great. well, what exactly can we do for you?"
"she's doing a story on the clown," uncle joe told billy.
geraldine had the impression billy wasn't as surprised as he pretended to be, but smiled politely. "i'm attempting to do a story on the clown," she told him.
"and you've been filling her in?" billy asked uncle joe.
joe shrugged. "as best i can."
"did you tell her about the manuscript?"
"no, i forgot all about it. i thought you gave it to that detective in liberia."
"no, he mailed it back to me. i'm pretty sure i still have it somewhere."
"what is it?" geraldine asked. "some kind of confession?"
"no, it looks like stuff he just made up. a made up story, you know?
but this detective in monrovia, he thought it contained psychographic clues or some such."
"you mean it's a novel?"
"it's a made up story."
"well, can i look at it?"
"you can have it, if i can find it."
geraldine had planned to drive the rental car back to heidi's place in the north woods, but decided to turn it in and take the bus instead, so that she could read the clown's manuscript on the way.
the man at the ticket window at the bus station scratched his head when she told him her destination.
"we don't have a bus that goes that far." he looked at geraldine suspiciously.
"not too many folks want to go that far north."
"well, then, just give me a ticket for as far north as you go."
"and then what?"
"well, " geraldine answered patiently. "i will either get a rental car or call someone to pick me up. how much is the ticket, please?"
"i'm pretty sure there ain't no rental car place up there. couldn't swear to it, but i don't think there is. why not just rent a car here, the place is just next door."
"i know, i just came from there."
"pretty sure there's no rental car up there."
"then i'll have to call for a ride, won't i?"
"get there pretty late."
"my friend won't mind if i wake her up."
"must be nice to have a friend like that."
"yes, it is."
"if i woke my wife up to pick me up in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere, she'd like to blow my head off with a shotgun."
geraldine took her wallet out of her handbag. as she did, the clown's yellow manuscript popped a little way out of the bag.
"you know, cell phones don't always work so good up there."
"i've never had any problems. how much is the ticket, please?"
"three hundred and forty-one dollars and twenty-nine cents including tax."
"paying cash, huh? are you a criminal?"
"hey, you're not very friendly, are you? with the one word answers."
"i'm sorry. i've had a long day, i'm a little tired."
"hey, the circus is in town, you know. if you need to relax and unwind, you could do worse than go see the circus."
"i've just come from there."
"pretty good, huh?'
"yes, it was. an excellent balance of authenticity and professionalism, i thought."
the ticket seller's eye fell on the clown's manuscript sticking out of geraldine's bag.
"what's that you got there? that looks like some pretty old paper."
"yes, i suppose it might be." geraldine stuck the manuscript down more securely into the bag.
"i haven't seen paper that old since i don't know when.
the mill burned down a long time ago that made that paper." the man handed geraldine her ticket.
"thank you. when is the bus due?"
"about an hour. it ain't always on time, though. don't get all in an uproar if it ain't on time."
"it's never early though. that's one thing you got to say for it, it's never early."
geraldine got a can of diet mountain dew and a bag of fritos out of the machines. she settled down in the corner of the bus station to read the manuscript of the clown's made up story.
the story was on lined yellow paper, mostly in various colored pens (or pencils?) but with some typing. some of the pages had writing or typing on both sides. a few sentences and paragraphs had been blacked out or typed over with x's.
death of a clown.
happy the clown was dying. in the rain by the side of the road lit a cigarette. joe wayne in a mist of stars was in charge of the circus, because bakunin was away with the chimp chasing folding dust.
wayne pulled his chair a little closer to the door of the trailer. the clown was lying on a golden cot that almost filled the space in front of the door, so there wasn't much room to get in or out or see the rockets.
the rain was washing the night air clean as a plate in mrs miller's boarding house.
"julie," mumbled the clown. "julie."
wayne flicked ashes out the door.
"julie - is julie there?"
"i don't know who julie is, happy. there's nobody named julie in the circus. and there's nobody here but me and you."
"that's just what i called her, it wasn't her real name. i don't think."
"oh. i see."
rockets across a single blue star in the waiting silence.
red sparks and orange ribbons.
"she was wonderful."
"but you didn't know her name."
"and she didn't know mine."
"just a girl you saw once?"
"i saw her all the time. they called her rockets and the star jumped up the rain across the highway. but they didn't know what they were talking about."
"give a dog a bad name and hang him," wayne agreed. "or give a bad hang a good girl and raindrops."
once upon a time there was a beautiful young princess
and then the wanderer came to a high hill
"relax, happy. look out the window. out the door. see the
stars. one of them is your star."
"they are all my stars."
"that's a good attitude."
a booming voice in the darkness in the mud. "wayne! wayne!"
wayne didn't answer. the voice kept calling, fading away and then coming closer. kropotkin, the chief roustabout, crossed the shaft of dim light from the trailer. wayne lit a new cigarette from his old one and snapped the old one out the door.
the clown fell sleep. his breathing was fading and misfiring across a gray and white rocket rainbow.
kropotkin watched wayne's glowing cigarette butt fall at his feet. he went over to the trailer.
raindrops bounced off his hat.
"where you been, wayne? the place is falling apart."
"i've been sitting here with happy. he's dying."
"it's real this time. he's had it."
xxxxxxxxx . at this point the manuscript was heavily x'd and blacked out. geraldine folded it to mark her spot and put it back in her bag. she took a sip of diet mountain dew and looked out the station window.
the bus was pulling in.