Like most disasters that have occurred in my life, it all started with my sister. It was a crisp Friday afternoon and grey clouds had just begun to roll in. I had finally completed some tedious budgeting calculations for a regular client and was spinning in circles on my office chair when my phone rang. At the time I thought it was a miracle—I don’t get many calls at work—and so I almost fell out of my chair in my haste to answer the phone.
“Hello,” I said with uncontained glee.
“James. Jamie. It’s me,” sobbed Tiffany. My smile froze in place and a profuse feeling of dread smothered me.
“Sis. Is everything alright? Is it the kids? What’s happened?” I hastily replied. My fingers tightened on the phone and my knuckles began to go white as I waited an eternity for her answer. All I could hear were Tiffany’s muffled sobs and her ragged breathing.
“E-ver-y-thing is ruin-ruined!” Tiffany wailed.
“Ruined? What’s ruined? What are you talking about?” I said, frowning in confusion. “Ava’s birthday party. You know… I’ve been planning it for months.”
An overwhelming sense of relief came over me in that moment and my fingers automatically loosened their grip on the phone. And then it hit me. My eyebrows raised in disbelief.
Tiffany, a 34-year-old woman and my older sister, was sobbing over a five-year-old’s birthday party.
“Ava’s birthday party is ruined? What happened that is so disastrous?” I asked. “It’s the clown,” Tiffany said with a hiccup.
“Wait…did you say clown? What clown?” I said. “I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.” I shifted back into my chair and propped my feet up on the desk.
“The clown for Ava’s birthday party…he just cancelled,” Tiffany said with a sniff. It was silent on the other end of the phone for a few seconds. Tiffany took a deep breath and continued on as if she hadn’t been close to hysterics only moments before. “Apparently he came down with glandular fever last night after entertaining at a business function.” “Glandular fever…isn’t that the kissing disease?”
Tiffany let out a snort. “Yes, it appears that I hired a sleaze,” she said dryly. “Now I no longer have a clown for the party and I don’t know what to do.”
“Well…do you need a clown at Ava’s party? It’s not like Ava is going to remember her fifth birthday in 20 years, is it?” I said, while scrunching up old sticky notes and throwing them into the closest bin.
“Of course it matters, you fool! There have been party entertainers at every other five-year- old’s party in the neighbourhood and I will not let my daughter be the only one without a ‘special friend’ at her party.”
“Alright, alright! I was just asking,” I yelled exasperated. I glanced around the office and noticed my conversation with Tiffany had attracted the attention of several co-workers.
I lowered my voice. “What did you call me for anyway? What could I possibly do?” “Well, since you asked…I was thinking…you could fill in for the clown.”
I went silent. I waited for Tiffany to laugh and say something along the lines of ‘gotcha’ or ‘I can’t believe you fell for that’.
But, when Tiffany finally broke the silence, she said “Umm…so what do think? Will you do it?”
I was gobsmacked. Tiffany was serious. She actually wanted—and expected—me to dress-up as a clown for Ava’s birthday. I leapt out of my chair and began to pace back and forth.
“Are you barking mad? I’m a single, 29-year-old accountant!” I exclaimed. “I don’t know anything about how to be a clown and I certainly wouldn’t know how to keep a group of five- year-olds entertained. You’ve seen me play with Ava and Levi. I’m hopeless. A lost cause.”
“Come on Jamie,” she whined. “Do it for Ava. Think about how heartbroken and devastated she’ll be if she finds out the clown isn’t coming to her party. Do you really want to be responsible for breaking your own niece’s heart?”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Tiff. You can’t break a five-year-old’s heart. They’re too easily distracted and they fall in love with just about any toy they see or any person that gives them a sliver of attention.”
Tiffany huffed. “Fine. I’ll owe you. I’ll be indebted to you for a year,” she said, sounding rather disgruntled.
I stopped pacing and grinned slyly. “You’ll do anything I want for a whole year? Including getting me out of those awful dinners with mum and her latest boyfriend? And doing my birthday and Christmas shopping?”
“If I must,” Tiffany said sharply. “Do we have a deal or not?”
I paused for several seconds. “I’ll do it. So long as you hold up your end of the bargain.” “Of course I will, just make sure you’re not late. The party starts at 10am. I’ll see you then.” “Wait!” I called out. “I don’t have a costume or anything.”
“Looks like you’ll have to stop at a costume shop on your way home from work,” she replied with a laugh and promptly hung up.
I spent the rest of the afternoon buried in my work. I tried desperately to put off the inevitable trip to the costume shop but once it reached five o’clock and my time in the office was officially over I couldn’t delay it any longer. I turned off my computer, shoved any leftover files and papers haphazardly into the far corner of the desk and grabbed my coat. Before I knew it I was on Shannon Street and heading straight for Bizarre Balloons and Costumes.
The street was flooded with people and they brushed past me from all directions. I ignored them and focused solely on the bright blue sign with gold sparkly writing that marked my destination. I kept the sign in my line of sight until I was standing right underneath it, facing the vibrant window display of Bizarre Balloons and Costumes. I stood in the middle of the footpath staring at the door for quite some time with people moving all around me, like a rock in a fast flowing stream. I had a sudden impulse to walk away and call back Tiffany but thought better of it. With vivid images in my head of Tiffany screaming and causing hell on earth, I tentatively pushed open the door. The first thing that hit me was the smell. It was an overpowering combination of musk and foot odour. I gagged and tried to hold my breath. The shop was cluttered with costumes. There were racks placed in every free space and a miniscule counter in the middle of the shop. There was barely room to walk. I pushed aside a rather puffy princess dress that blocked my way and headed towards the counter.
“Hello?” I called, covering my mouth to filter the air.
A large middle-aged lady with a halo of brown curls and thick round glasses that made her eyes look googly popped her head above a nearby rack of costumes.
“Hello hun, sorry I didn’t hear you come in. My ears aren’t as good as they used to be. Snuck out to a few too many concerts when I was young. Anyway, I’m Lu. What can I do for you?” Lu chuckled and pushed several racks aside so that she could walk towards the counter. I couldn’t help but stare when I saw that she was wearing black biker boots, green and black striped stockings and a flowy black dress.
“So…what is it that you need, sugar?” Lu asked. She came to a stop and stared at me with her googly eyes. I shuffled anxiously from side to side.
“Do you have any clown costumes?” I blurted. “I’ve been asked to dress up as a clown for my niece’s birthday.”
“Sure do pumpkin, there’s a whole section right over there,” she said, pointing towards a rack pressed up against the wall.
I dragged my feet in the direction that Lu had pointed and found at least 20 different clown costumes of all different sizes. I tentatively flicked through the costumes. There were spotty pants with striped patches and striped pants with spotty patches. There were green wigs and rainbow wigs and more red noses then I’d seen in my life. I don’t know how long I stood there but Lu eventually came over and began piling the costumes into my arms.
“What are you doing?” I asked puzzled.
Lu grinned. “You need to start trying on the costumes. You didn’t think I’d just let you choose one costume and hope for the best did you? At Bizarre Balloons and Costumes we believe in finding the perfect outfit for each of our customers.”
I groaned. Lu gave me a playful pat on the bottom, chuckled, and all but dragged me in the direction of the change rooms. I tried on costume after costume. I showed each outfit to Lu, who stood outside the change room door throughout the entire endeavour and provided her expert opinion. From ‘you look much too good in that for it to be remotely funny’ to ‘the colour of the bow tie really clashes with your eyes’. I began to put on one of the last remaining costumes when Lu’s feet vanished from underneath the change room door. I breathed a sigh of relief and continued to get dressed at a more leisurely pace. I had only just added the wig and hat for finishing touches when footsteps could be heard fast approaching the change rooms. To save Lu the effort of knocking I swung open the door.
“So what do you think? Is this the one?” I asked jumping out and striking a pose.
A young woman screamed and dropped a pile of costumes at her feet. I jumped in fright and let out a high pitched squeak.
“Who the hell are you?” I asked in surprise. The woman looked like she was in her mid- twenties. She had dark brown skin, an afro of curly bright pink hair and curves in all the right places.
“I’m Deema. But the real question is, who the hell are you?”
“Jamie. I mean James. My friends call me Jamie,” I said while trying desperately not to stare. Deema grinned. “So do you make it a habit to scare all the customers, Jamie?”
I was saved from replying when Lu bustled around the corner.
“Good grief, what was all that screaming about? Is everyone alright?” Lu asked. Lu looked around at the situation and then her eyes zoomed in on me.
A smile spread across Lu’s face. “Oh you look marvellous!” she said while clapping her hands together in excitement. “It’s perfect. Don’t you think?” Lu said, addressing Deema. “Oh yes, but he does look rather…scary. Going to a horror party I assume?” Deema said with a mischievous gleam in her eye.
“Good gracious no!” Lu replied. “He’s dressing up as a clown for his niece’s birthday. He’s going to entertain the kids. Isn’t that sweet?”
I could feel my face turning beet red. Deema looked ready to burst.
I blushed deeper. “I think…I think I’ll go get changed now,” I mumbled.
I ran back to the change room, shut the door, and slouched against the wall. Deema howled with laughter.
I pulled up outside Tiffany’s house the next morning just after 10am. I planned to leave my apartment early so that I could have plenty of time to sit in the car—and work up the nerve to knock on the door—but the face paint took longer than expected. In fact, it took several botched attempts just too evenly cover my face and neck with white face paint. It took another couple of hundred attempts to draw a red circle on each cheek, blue diamonds over each eye and a big red mouth. As it was, everything was off-centre or different sizes. When I finally knocked on the door it swung open to reveal Tiffany. She was standing there with a smile plastered to her face. Tiffany became livid as soon as she saw who it was.
“Where in the world have you been? You’re late. The party started ages ago,” she growled.
I rubbed my sweaty palms on my checked clown pants. “Hello to you too, sis. It has only been 10 minutes. What’s the big deal?”
Tiffany glared. “The kids are getting restless.”
She started to walk away. “Are you coming or not?” Tiffany called from over her shoulder. We twisted and turned around several corners until we reached the glass doors leading outside.
“By the way,” Tiffany said. “I researched some clown names and I’ve told the kids your name is Dimple. Couldn’t have a clown called James now could we?”
“Dimple.” I said horrified. “You’re joking!”
She smirked. “Afraid not. Anyway, I’ve got some bubbles, balloons and hula hoops for you to entertain the kids. It shouldn’t be too bad.”
Tiffany led me across the timber decking and stopped once we reached a cluster of parents who sat eating canapes.
“Everyone, this is Dimple the clown. Dimple, this is everyone,” she said.
The parents looked at me with varying degrees of interest. I gave a quick wave and turned around, ready to head towards the monstrous children, but ran smack bang into someone. We collided and fell to the ground in a pile of arms and legs. A woman groaned. I struggled to stand up in my enormous yellow shoes. I reached down to help the woman up only to freeze upon seeing her face. It was Linda Close, my boss and an absolute ogre.
“I’m so sorry. Are you alright?” I asked panicked.
Linda stood and wiped dirt from her clothes. “I’m fine,” she said forcefully. “I just need to sit for a bit.”
I pulled out the closest chair and helped Linda into it. “Sorry. I didn’t expect anyone to be behind me,” I said.
Linda grumbled. “Don’t worry about me. Just go look after the kids.”
I stumbled away without having to be told twice, relieved that she had failed to recognise me.
I stood in front of the kids—with my nerves completely shot—and waited for someone to notice that ‘the clown’ had arrived. The kids were too focussed on picking their noses, sucking their thumbs and playing make-believe to pay any attention. After a lifetime of waiting a tiny blonde girl, with her finger lodged up her nose, glanced up. Her eyes bulged in her head and she let out a high pitched scream that quickly drew the attention of the other kids and the parents. I shuffled from foot to foot and took a deep breath while the kids sat on the grass gawking at me. It was deadly silent. I forced a smile.
“Hiiiii,” I said self-consciously. “How is everyone this morning? I’m Dingle the clown.” The kids blinked. My heart hammered in my chest.
“That’s not your name!” a boy with spikey black hair suddenly called out.
I scowled. “Yes, it is. I’m Ding—,” I said, halting at the last second. “Actually, you’re right. My name’s not Dingle, is it? Who can tell me what my name is?”
The kids began to call out names breaking the temporary silence. The names ‘Bob’, ‘Krusty’, ‘Rosie’, ‘Rainbow’ and ‘Clowny’ were thrown around.
Eventually Ava piped up from where she sat. “Your name is Dimple.” “That’s right birthday girl,” I replied. “I’m Dimple not Dingle.”
I wiped my sweaty palms on my pants, readjusted my itchy wig and tried to come up with something witty to say that was suitable for my underage audience. Ava placed her head in her hand and let out a yawn. I knew that yawning was likely to mark the beginning of the end so I yelled the first thing that came to mind.
“Who wants to have some fun?”
The kids put their arms up and yelled out. I hastily picked up the pile of hula hoops Tiffany had set out and handed them to the kids. Once everyone was standing with a hula hoop I let out a piercing whistle to get their attention.
“Alright, everyone looking this way for just a moment. I’m going to quickly show you how to use the hula hoop and then you can all give it a try.”
I plucked a hula hoop from the hands of the kid closest to me and held it above my head. “First you will pick the hula hoop up. Then you will put it over your head and try to move your hips in a circle so that the hula hoop moves.”
I pulled the hula hoop over my head and demonstrated, pathetically swinging the hula hoop once before it fell to the ground.
“Off you go,” I said with fake enthusiasm. “Have a try.”
The kids spent a grand total of five minutes with the hula hoops before they decided it was too difficult and began to grow bored. Ava walked over to me and tugged on the leg of my pants.
“Can you show us a special trick?” she whined. “I want to see you do something special with the hula hoops.”
Several of the kids nearby nodded their heads and clapped their hands in excitement. They looked at me with their big doe eyes and…I caved.
“Kids, gather around if you would like to see the magnificent Dimple doing some amazing tricks with a hula hoop,” I hollered. “Step back now. What I’m about to perform is very difficult.”
I grabbed a forgotten hula hoop from the grass and held it in my hand. The kids stood watching my every move. Their eyes were alight with wonder. I stretched my arm out and rested the hula hoop on my wrist. Then I began to move my wrist in circles until the hula hoop started to swing. Once the hula hoop had momentum I flicked it into the air and caught it back on my wrist. A couple of kids cheered. I grinned and released the hula hoop back into the air again. I spun the hula hoop faster and faster and threw it as high as I could. The hula hoop whirled through the air…and sailed right over the fence into the neighbour’s yard.
I hesitantly glanced down at the kids. They were stunned. “Ta-da!” I said with a chuckle.
The small blonde girl stamped her foot. “Why did you do that?” she cried out. “That was my favourite.”
I gulped. “Umm,” I said. “Wasn’t it amazing how high it flew through the air? I’ll get it for you later I promise, but first…who wants a balloon animal?”
I plunked myself down on the grass and ripped open a packet of balloons despite the sceptical glances I received from some of the parents and several kids. I pointed to a boy with sandy brown hair who sat closest to me.
“You,” I said, looking at the boy expectantly. “What would you like me to make?” The boy scrunched his face up while he tried to think.
“A sword?” he said, questioningly.
I smiled in relief. “One sword coming right up.”
I reached into the packet of balloons and began to pump up a red balloon. “Not red!” the boy shouted. “I want a blue sword.”
I let out a long sigh and muttered under my breath before replacing the red balloon with a blue one. Once the blue balloon was fully pumped I grabbed the end and tied it off. Then I began to twist the bottom of the balloon so that it somewhat resembled the hilt of a sword. I handed the balloon to the boy and it flopped in his hands. The boy’s face fell.
I forced cheer into my voice and stretched a grin over my face until my cheeks began to hurt. “Who is next?” I asked.
A chubby girl with red hair jumped up and down. She swung her arms in the air and shrieked. “You,” I said pointing to ‘Red’. “What would you like me to make?”
The girl ran forward. She pushed other kids aside and stood on several fingers in her haste to get to the front.
“I want a pink dinosauce,” she shouted into my ear. “Dinosauce?” I asked. “You mean dinosaur?”
Red’s head bounced on her neck as she nodded, distinctly reminding me of an old bobblehead toy I used to own.
I gulped. “One pink dinosaur coming right up.”
I pumped up a pink balloon, tied it off and then tried to use sheer mind control to get the balloon to take the shape of a dinosaur. As the time ticked by I gave up trying to work out how to make a dinosaur and just started to twist and bend the balloon. I twisted the balloon until it was transformed into…a balloon with lots of knots and twists. I tugged the balloon forcefully to make sure the twists would hold and my elbow connected with something hard. I turned around in confusion and was horrified to see Red on the ground, blood pouring from her nose. Red was eerily silent and lay motionless on the grass. I scrambled over to her.
“Oh my god! Are you alright? Can you sit up?” I said panicked.
Red chose that moment to let out a wail like a banshee and start bawling. I helped her up, took her hand and headed in the direction of the parents.
I turned back to the other kids. “Everything is alright, just play for a minute until I get back.” When Red and I were close enough to the parents that they could see her blood stained clothes and bleeding nose, several of the mothers let out horrified gasps.
“Bianca!” exclaimed an alarmed red haired woman who lunged to her feet. “What happened, baby?”
Bianca ripped her hand out of mine and sprinted straight into her mother’s arms. “The clown hit me mummy,” Bianca spluttered.
All eyes swung to me.
“It-it-it-it was an accident,” I stuttered. “I didn’t see her come up behind me while I was making her a dinosaur.”
Disapproval and disgust was evident on the face of every parent there. “I’m so sorry,” I said.
Bianca’s mum said nothing. She picked Bianca up and carried her into the house. I gazed at my blood covered hands.
“I’m just going to head inside,” I whispered before hurrying into the house.
I scrubbed my hands in the laundry sink until they were pink and then headed to the kitchen. The smell of melted chocolate engulfed me when I pushed open the kitchen door. I glanced around and found Tiffany sprinkling glitter over a giant purple butterfly cake. She startled at my entrance and swore. Her expression was thunderous.
“James!” Tiffany said with venom. “I never should have asked you to be the clown. I can’t believe you’ve managed to turn the party into an absolute disaster.”
I huffed. “I warned you. I told you that I didn’t know how to entertain kids and that I wasn’t suitable for the job. You forced me.”
“I’m not having this conversation with you now, James. The cake is finally ready. Do you think you can manage to get the kids to sit at the table outside?”
I walked out of the kitchen without replying. When I stepped through the door into the backyard I was not altogether surprised to see the kids running around. They were spread throughout the backyard, talking and playing games. I headed to the middle of the backyard, ignoring the parents, and let out an ear-piercing whistle. Several of the kids placed their hands over their ears.
“If you want any cake you need to be sitting at the table in 10 seconds,” I yelled in frustration.
The kids scurried around the backyard and were seated at the table in record time. All accept one. The kid with the spikey black hair. He stood a couple of metres away and pointed a camera at me.
“Oi! Kid!” I said. “If you want cake you need to be sitting at the table like everyone else.” The boy smiled innocently. “I’m just taking some photos.”
“Looks like you’ll be missing out on cake then,” I sneered.
The boy got a calculating look in his eye and opened his mouth wide. “Mum! Mum! The clown is being mean,” he yelled and took off.
I stood there stunned and astonished. I was still gaping at the boy when he slammed into Tiffany who had just stepped outside with the cake in her hands. Tiffany wobbled, regained her footing for a split second and then tripped. The cake soared through the air. Everything appeared to be moving in slow motion as I stood there fixated, then…BANG! It hit the bullseye, splattering all over my chest and face. I used the back of my hand to wipe the icing and cake from my eyes and then glanced around to see if Tiffany was injured. She sat in a heap on the timber decking and caught my gaze. Tiffany looked murderous.
“James!” she bellowed.
I smiled apologetically and held my hands up in surrender. Then I heard it. It started off quietly like the soft jingle of bells and then turned into a loud roar that echoed around the backyard. I’d finally done it. Everyone—except Tiffany—was laughing hysterically. At me… Dimple the clown. A voice suddenly rose above the din.
“James? James Taylor is that you?” said Linda.
By S.B. Goslin from Australia