by Luca Ferrarini
The photograph used for the cover is publicly available thanks to: Sasha Stone [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
What happens to a clown when he goes back home late at night? Have you ever wondered?
I usually have enough time to remove my makeup in the dressing room, after work. But today has been one of those days in which I give all of myself. The tiredness has overwhelmed me and I have preferred getting into the car right away.
No, no one is waiting for. With my face illuminated only by the suffused light of the lamp, my only companion is this mask reflected in the mirror, and that still hides me underneath: the red nose, the eyebrows extraordinarily arched, and the black outlining the eyes graven into an expression of everlasting astonishment.
I always put a lot of care in removing the peculiarities of that expression. Laugh, you clown. That’s what they say. It would be more appropriate to warn me: give, you clown. Because this is what it all boils down to. Especially in my case. For each smile I see surfacing on my audience’s face, a grain of pain falls on me, every time a bit heavier than before. Because, you know, certain equilibria are not easily altered: happiness and sadness, at most, flow from one point to another, without blending into each other more than what is necessary. These are the rules. I offer them a moment of peacefulness and they, in return, give me a bit of their suffering.
The cotton slowly moves down among smudges of red and black. Each night I fight the desire of leaving the mask there, for not being once again all alone in this room. If only it could be equally easy to wash away the sadness stolen from each of those miserable white dressing gowns; or the knowledge that any smile offered to them is, in its nature, ephemeral.
Together with the last bit of makeup, the magic vanishes and only I remain, facing the mirror. Tomorrow I will walk those corridors again, entering the same rooms, not knowing if those who I found there today will still be there, waiting for me. And if they won’t, there will be others and I will have to dissimulate a flow of emotions behind my only shield of colors and shapes. Because they too deserve their moment of light shining through the many hours spent in the darkness.
There is still only one thing to do. A ritual as necessary as apparently childish. I’ll sit on the couch, my eyes closed, and I’ll think back to all the patients who have hugged me today. I’ll live it all through my memories again, so that the peacefulness of those moments may fulfill me and help me balancing the many different facets of life.
Who knows, maybe one day I’ll have someone to come home to, in the evening. Someone who may help me mitigating the inexorable wearing-out rooted in the daily and violent overwhelming of complementary emotions. A clown just for myself.
Now let me put my dress and hat back in the closet. You are mature persons, you’ll understand. Even a clown, when the evening falls, needs to rest just like anybody else.
She had waited ‘till they had started to fall down, before getting ready to go out. At the beginning, they had been nothing but light and indiscreet suggestions settled upon the living room window panes. Then, as the wind had increased, their arrogance and boldness had grown to become a call, an irresistible promise.
She had dressed up with the few things she had found around. Caring about her appearance would have been pointless that evening. Just the time for a last thought to the emptiness of that room, before becoming part of the storm.
She did not have a place in mind to reach, but a goal sketched in her mind. Loosing herself. All she needed and wanted was to get lost between the narrow alleys of her city. The unceasing rain would have been her guardian, hiding her from the gaze of the passer’s. The drops, chasing each other through her face, would have dissimulate the salty that, falling down abundantly from her tired eyes, was blending into them.
She would cry for as long as there was rain to wash away the tears. It was necessary. The pain accumulated over the last months had saturated all the space inside her.
The alleys follow one another in a vortex of sudden changes in direction. Those who had been caught unguarded by the storm were already safe inside their houses, or suspended in the suffused light of some squalid place, their eyes fixed in an indefinable point.
The apparent randomness with which she was turning along her way was instead the unconscious expression of a strong will. She was going where everything had begun, on the small promontory that had been their shelter throughout the warm summer nights, when even the sky had seemed painted just for them.
She had never believed in remorses. Life is too complex to be controlled. One can never tell what would have been if. Only our arrogance can fool us in believing otherwise. Thus, why torturing ourselves? Only one thing matters: a life worth living it. The details are only inevitable shades.
But now, alone on that hill, the irreparable past was striking her deepest certainties violently. He would never come back. Life had left her without even the biting benefit of hope.
She would continue to live alone. The pieces of her existence lost among those surrounding ruins.
She raised her eyes and challenged the clouds. She screamed with all the strength her lungs still had to offer. She screamed until she felt empty of everything she had become over the years. Then, she fell on her knees, digging her hands into the cold and wet mud, her head down, the long hair capturing the rain. She remained there for a long time.
Finally, the storm was pushed aside by the wind. She stood up and, under the moonlight, she seemed smiling. Slowly, she started walking back home.
The first time someone told me about it I could not believe it: a place, they told me, where you can embrace your limits, where your hopes can rise again from the dust.
I went during a spring night. The air was cool and the sky was teeming with stars that, if you care enough to give them the attention they deserve, you can’t avoid wondering where they are all hanging from.
While walking and staring at the sky I kept thinking: invisible to us, on a planet orbiting around one of those stars, a living being is observing our sun, wondering if on one of its planets, hidden to its eyes, someone is at least considering the possibility that he exists. I thought of myself as the reflection of another life and I felt the intimate pleasure of knowing that someone else is recognizing himself in you.
These and other unconventional considerations were my good company while I was walking through fields of freshly cut grass. When I finally arrived at the entrance of the cave, the thought of leaving such a starry sky behind hurt me. I collected my strength and abandoned the dimness of the night for the darkness of the underground.
But just as I had been told, no more than ten steps further down the cave I glimpsed a dim light. I followed it, not without fears. When I finally went through the openings and entered that vast space, a strong dizziness took me by surprise. My eyes needed a few minutes to adapt to the unexpected light. Then, I saw it.
In front of me, an endless watery surface to which my eyes could not give boundaries. Only with my mind I could picture other walls made of solid rocks containing the lake beyond the limits of my sight. It was a majestic lake of limpid water. The bottom descended steeply and smoothly. From the advantageous position I was holding, about ten meters above the surface, I could see the creatures that were populating those waters.
They must have been thousands, maybe millions, all captured in their own reality. Human-like beings living on the surface of the lake. No, not quite so, they were living in its surface. Just like you and me are living in space and not on it. They were floating on waves that they were generating in order to move, busy as they were in their daily activities, in every aspect similar to ours.
Fascinated by that scene, I started a slow and difficult descend towards the shore. Some of those creatures were coming incredibly close to the edge separating water and rocks. Nonetheless, they did not seem to have an understanding of how near they were to the limits of their own world. You cannot imagine the desire I felt of grabbing one of them by its hand and pull it up, to show her her own reality from above. But fear of consequences stopped me: could that creature survive such an experience? Could we survive if we were forced to see beyond our comfortable truths? Thus, I hold on to the hope that maybe even them, in their dreams, manage to get free momentarily and perceive the vastness that surrounds them. That much was enough for me. I continued to look at them … and listen to them.
That’s right, if you are careful it is possible to hear what they say, and even what they think. Their words, just like ours, generate vibrations on the water surface which propagate to the hearing organs of nearby creatures; the same vibrations pass in to the air and reach us. For reasons I ignore, their thoughts only move perpendicularly to the water edge. That’s why we can feel them while they, flattened into their reality, cannot. Just like I cannot dig into your mind, or you in mine.
I focused my attention on one of those creatures, the one closest to where I was standing. She was alone inside what I could only guess was its house. You do understand, I am sure, that from my perspective there were no obstacles preventing me to see inside anything: their houses, their bodies. Their skin was all around them of course, but just within the surface, just like the circumference encloses the circle. And exactly like you, standing on top of the sheet, can see the area inside the figure, I too could see inside every living being and object.
I could hear the creature praying, calling on to some superior being who could comfort her. I felt a deep sadness considering that I was the only one listening to her words; that I was for her that superior being. I tried to reply, but our voices belong to a far too complex dimension. At the most, they may perceive it as noise.
I was amazed seeing how many creatures could live within a space they could not even sense. They could not see me, nor the immense cave in which the lake was. Their perceptions were not tuned to appreciate all that. Nonetheless, I have no doubts that among them there were few convinced of having a complete understanding of their conditions, of having already discovered everything they could ever unveil.
I stayed just a bit longer observing them. What more than anything else seduced my curiosity were those clouds made of light and steam that seemed to originate from deep inside the center of each creature, emerging vertically above the water.
You should see them with your own eyes in order to fully appreciate their beauty. From each of those souls, several clouds were sprouting, each with a different color and volume. Some of the creatures, those who seemed the most calm and smiling, had white clouds, tinged with pink strokes giving them more consistency. Others were blessed with smaller red clouds that moved frenetically above their heads, mirroring the restless life their owners seemed to be enjoying. Others still could only give birth to heavy and gray clouds, within which I could see a never-ending storm lashing those poor souls. These creatures seemed to be constantly at war with themselves, forever frustrated by their conditions. Finally, some of them where bound to black clouds with dark blue edges: they were mostly alone, with no one to talk to.
The clouds, especially the white and pink ones, were never fully isolated: members of the same family would bind their clouds up in the air, indissolubly. Something similar occurred each time that two creatures bound to live their lives together met for the first time. What a tenderness in thefirst embrace of those shy clouds, busy with the discovery of each other, moving smoothly in the attempt of finding the perfect way to merge together into a whole. I believe those creature could sense the presence of their ethereal connections, even though they could not see them.
I wonder so many times about what happens to them when they die. Maybe the passage from life to the death is nothing but a change in dimensions. Maybe when they depart from the flat existence in the lake, they continue to live as clouds, finally capable of seeing and loving everything that surrounds them. Maybe, once they emerge from water, they could even see me and understand they had been praying in vain.
Or maybe it is me underestimating myself, underestimating all of us. Because, you know, just before leaving that charmed place, I leaned forward a bit, just what I needed to see my own reflection in the water. It was only a split second, but it was enough to see my own image getting alive and started moving towards the other creatures, towards its own existence. A distorted version of me, made in my own image and likeness.
What if even us were nothing but reflections?
He found himself in front of the enormous wrought-ironed gate without recalling how he had ended up there. He had woken up early, but insomnia had become a trustful companion for quite some time by then, so he couldn’t simply blame it such a surreal situation.. He had looked outside the windowpane and the blanket of fog had simply [_called _]him. Among the different air currents that were slowly overlapping in the mist, something had whispered his name, inviting him to follow.
Thus, he had dressed up and started off his way. The lamp street lights could hardly penetrate the consistency of that morning breeze. What was he about to do next? Hanging on the gate, a sign was warning him that the opening hours would start in less than five minutes. He would have waited, despite understanding the irrationality of such decision. Truth be told, he did not have friends nor family inside there.
When finally the guardian on shift opened the place, he stepped on the cobblestone lane and started walking, letting that deep silence slipping on his skin, smelling his scent. He was walking among poor tumuli and majestic graves. Is it truly possible that even among death one is to find hierarchies? Or such decorated tombs were only a comfort for those who, still alive, think too often of what will be of them after their hearts will stop beating? All those pictures, all those eyes, mostly happy and full of hope, looking at a future they knew nothing about.
He decided that his irrational wandering would not be meaningless. He noticed a lonely stone, half way on a side path. Once he got closer he noticed that the flowers left there by who knows who were withering. Most likely, someone would pass by later on to renew that promise.
That person would get the watering can, walk up to the fountain and fill up the vase, after having carefully replaced the dying flowers with others, not still alive, but more beautiful. He thought it over: how important such mechanical actions are in such a place. A ritual much needed for those who are still alive. When facing a tomb no one is prepared: one goes because he feels the need, but never plans what to say or do. What could one make up while facing death? We tell ourselves we came to pay our respects and it must be true, partly. But even before arriving to the place we know that there, waiting for us, there will be nothing but a cold stone, and that the silence within that stone is more real and solid than the bones holding us together. We are unprepared, and this is why we need flowers and water from the fountain. We cling to objects and symbols of life to avoid being sucked into that silence.
He started walking towards the exit, taking a longer route consciously. Irony was fighting while being embraced by the paradox of who, among pictures of faces long passed away rediscovers the call of life. He was feeling tired and that was good. For many nights already he hadn’t slept comfortably. Now, though, Morpheus was about to please his request; he had found new key to sweeten his hours.
Once at home, he lied down on the couch. He closed his eyes while the mist outside was thinning away, rising over of roofs. He fell asleep thinking of flowers and watering cans.
He had been writing since he was just a boy. Since when it was still necessary to carefully place the sheets of paper between the rollers of the typewriter; since when a typo meant having to embellish the page with a uneven layer of white eraser; since when moving to a new line was accompanied by the tinkling of a bell.
Back in those days, writing had been something deeply corporeal, intimately physical. The pressure on the keys was transferred to the hammers and then impressed on the sheet. The word had its own weight, a concreteness that could not be ignored.
Obviously, none of this was clear back then. It is only too often that we do not realize how important certain habits are until technology devours them, leaving behind only memories to fill the emptiness.
Sitting now in the darkness, in his living room, he was looking at the world unfolding just outside the window. A surreal theater of puppets moved around by the threads of his imagination. How could all those people not realize that they were existing only for his own benefit, only for him to write about them? They were nothing but extensions of his desires, pieces of a broken mirror all reflecting distorted images of the same subject: his own will.
Just for one more time he would be sitting there, in the candlelight, with a sheet of paper and a pen. He would again be exercising his fingers’ muscles, the ligaments of his wrist: he would again tune his perceptive skills and let it happens.
He would delicately touch his subconscious, walk through the passage that separates the stagnant reality from the fertile lands of imagination. He would again walk those vast spaces, cover those distances that escape time and frenzy. He would again embrace his ancestral identity, freeing it from the constraints imposed by society and letting it lead him towards a truer description of the human soul.
He would finally comprehend his own characters, guessing their doubts, smelling their fears. He would take them by hand and lead them to salvation … or ruin them forever. There would not be heros nor convicted, since none of them is free and without freedom there can be no judgment.
He prepared everything carefully. Set all that was needed on the decorated ebony table. He sat down and the pen began to move fluently on the sheet. While the ink was getting soaked up by rough paper’s surface, his mind went off to chase words.
He closed his eyes, made it through that passage, and found out they were all there waiting for him.
I believe it has been a good day. I could not tell for sure, I was too busy hiding my thoughts so that no one would feel uncomfortable. I suspect that some of them did guess though: most likely, not the actual reasons, but my real feelings.
Sitting at the dining table, his arms properly leaning on it and stretched forward, he was recalling in his mind the most important events of the day. No one had come in the morning to help him. For the first he had been alone when he had woken up. Or almost.
He had found the black suit in the closet, hanging there where it had been waiting for many long years. He had woken up and got ready in time, in order to avoid any embarrassing situation once they would have arrived to take her.
I was ready. When they finally arrived, around 9.00, I was ready to follow them.
He had spent the whole night in her room, watching over her. What else could he have done if not what he had always been doing? Every day, every night for the last ten years he had taken care of her. In the end, she was his mother.
When they finally closed her in, I have not managed to cry. Maybe I should have, for them at least. But nothing. Not the slightest feeling of separation.
He had been following them with his own car up to the church, where he had found a small group of relatives waiting for them. Very few faces, barely recognizable.
The ceremony was beautiful. I have no doubt she loved it.
He had managed to keep a sorrowful appearance while the priest was reciting Mass. He could not tell for sure, but during a few passages he had felt tears burning down his face.
Who knows if anyone of them has even just imagined what was going on inside me?
The silence now enveloping the house must have entered that morning, when he and his mother had left. For years it must have been waiting in the garden, hidden behind a tree, just like he used to play as a child with his friends. When there still were friends to play with.
Surely, that silence had not forgotten the internal space, the rooms, the dark corners. And so, when they departed, it had returned, entering from the main door, lying down on everything.
Maybe some of them think it has been a choice. But this is not the case. You don’t choose to give up your life from one day to another. No. Life as you used to know it is taken away from you with very small bites. It is the insignificant waivers that, over time, shape the face of loneliness.
When his mother had got sick, he had moved back in with her. Many of those persons he was hanging out with back then had advised him against it, but he had no choice. His mother would have never accepted to leave that house. For the first months he had kept working daily and going out at least once or twice every other week.
Then her conditions had aggravated. The moments of lucidity had become more and more rare.
I quit going out in the evening. It was not possible to leave her alone. It would have been cruel. She was also saying that.
For at least a couple of years he had continued sleeping in his own room, but later on even that had no longer been possible. Not for her, but to preserve that little of mental sanity he still had. The screams of a sick person can be handled from another room, during day light. You can rationalize them. But at night things change. Gripped by sleepiness, your brain falls prey to thoughts that angrily scratch you inside.
The only way was to see her, see her while she was screaming her insane despair. Only in this way I could know that it was her screaming, and not me.
The health care system had been of little support. A specialized person (so many times with a different face over the years!) had been coming daily to check on her mother conditions. Short visits, no longer than an hour. Initially, he had been longing for those moments with fierce desire, in order to talk with someone. But later on, the evident uselessness of that palliative had forced him to just stay aside and let them do their job as quickly as they could.
Waiver after waiver, his mother sickness had won over his own instinct for a normal life. Isolation had become his only reality.
As years passed by, he had witnessed his mother growing more and more aggressive. During the most difficult crisis, at night, when to prevent her from harming herself he was blocking both her arms with his own hands on the bed, her face kept screaming against his, few centimeters apart, spitting out words he could have never imagined she would know.
She was afraid. She was seeing things around her and she was afraid. I also saw them, several times. They crawl through the shadows projected on the walls. And they whisper truths you are not willing to hear.
In a while it will be time to stand up from the chair. He would not eat tonight. The light filtering through the windows is creating shadows that move according to the outside source: the lights from a car passing by, the cold inconsistency of the neon street lamps. Moving shadows.
Silence. I pity it. He expands all over and crushes every primordial form of rebellion; it gets into you with the air you breath and suffocates your words. And yet, it exists only in a form of absence. And no matter what it may seem right now, I know he has not won the battle. I can already hear her upstairs. She is getting read for the night. It will be her prevaricating.
He pushed the chair backward and got up. In the end, she had promised it.
Climbing up the stairs, he could clearly discern the creaking of his feet over those steps consumed by time, from the regular ticking of those nails that, impatient upstairs, were moving on the bed frame. When she is in such a mood, better not keep her waiting.
The light was creeping out of the room from beneath the door. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. When he opened them again, the light was gone. I did not imagine it.
Then that sudden scream overwhelmed him. He screamed back at it, not out of fear. It was communication. The only one he would know from now on.
He got closer to the door, getting ready for the night. He would take care of her as he always did. When she had promised she would never leave him, he had promised to do just the same.
He opened the door enough to see the mirror on the opposite wall. In its reflection, the bed. Inside it, his destiny. She was waiting for him. Silence had finally lost. Only madness would dominate those spaces.
He walked in, leaving behind everything else. Just as he had done ten years earlier. The headlights of a car illuminated the house for a split second. They found their way up the stairs, down the hall, and crashed upon the mirror. In it, they saw an empty bed and a man sitting next to it. One hand was holding the sheets. The other one was caressing the pillow. His mouth was wide open in a never ending scream.
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What happens to a clown when he goes back home late at night? Have you ever wondered? I usually have enough time to remove my makeup in the dressing room, after work. But today has been one of those days in which I give all of myself. The tiredness has overwhelmed me and I have preferred getting into the car right away. No, no one is waiting for me. With my face illuminated only by the suffused light of the lamp, my only companion is this mask reflected in the mirror, and that still hides me underneath: the red nose, the eyebrows extraordinarily arched, and the black outlining the eyes graven into an expression of everlasting astonishment... In this book you will find six short stories to enjoy whenever you have time. We shall meet behind that mask, and we shall recognize ourselves as the makeup melts away ...