My father was a cold man.
As far as I was concerned, he wouldn’t be missed. I wouldn’t even have gone to the funeral if it weren’t for Mom. I had to hope my presence would be enough comfort, as I certainly couldn’t find any kind words to say about him. We prepared ourselves for the service in near silence. Mom was adjusting my tie for the third time when she spoke.
“Daniel, I just want to prepare you,” she hesitated, “The Society are coming to the funeral. It’s a little unusual, but they have these traditions they follow. Your Dad wanted them to be there, so we should respect his wishes.”
“Of course, Mom. It’s nice of them to show up.” I had never met my father’s friends before, but he had been meeting up with them once a month for as long as I could remember.
Beneath the grief, I sensed a hint of nervousness in her voice.
The Clown Society was the one bit of frivolity that my father allowed in his life, although it seemed to bring him no joy. As far as I could tell, the colorful clowns on television bore no resemblance to my stern, humorless father. The tension in our household always increased in the days leading up to the meetings. They met on the thirteenth of each month and my father would arrange his schedule to spend the entire day preparing.
My most vivid memories of him are watching him linger in front of the mirror, adjusting his face paint to perfection and going through the elaborate routine of getting into costume. As I got older, I made excuses to be out of the house on the thirteenth. If I stayed home, I was more likely than not to get in his way and be made to regret it.
Any good memories from my childhood took place in the last half of the month, when he was finally able to relax.
The funeral was deserted. I knew my father wasn’t a popular man, but I had expected his drinking buddies and colleagues to show up. Even Mom’s family was absent. When I wondered aloud why no one had shown, she shook her head and said, “This is the way it has to be. Just immediate family and The Society. They’ll be grateful you’re here.”
The Clown Society arrived late. Mom had tried to warn me, but I hadn’t expected them to show up in full costume. Their colorful outfits were a shocking contrast to the drab funeral home. They paraded in with forced laughter, tumbling between the pews. I stood up quickly, planning to stop them, but Mom grabbed my hand and pulled me back down. “Please,” she whispered, “let them perform.”
There were twelve of them. They lined up on either side of the coffin. After a moment of silence, one stepped forward into a pantomime act. I was disgusted to realize he was imitating my father. He pulled a chair forward and slumped into it, sticking out his gut to mime a beer belly. He pretended to burp, fart, and drink, managing to perfectly capture my father’s motions. Tears streamed down Mom’s cheeks, but she managed to force a smile, and even clapped at the performance.
Each clown took a turn at mimicking my father in a variety of ways, bringing out only his worst qualities. Mom continued to cry and I held her hand tightly.
The last clown stepped forward. His eyes bulged as he gripped his chest and fell to the floor. The other clowns gathered around him, tripping over each other as they tried to revive him, acting out my father’s death. My face was hot with rage. As much as I disliked my father, this was disgusting and disrespectful. I rose again to stop them but the look on Mom’s face held me back.
Underneath her tears, I saw that her eyes were full of fear.
On the twelfth of the month a parcel arrived on my doorstep.
It had been a long time since I’d seen my father’s clown kit and I wasn’t happy to see it now. I had never understood his involvement with the clowns and I had developed a distaste for the group, especially after the funeral. Still, an unexpected desire tugged at me and I couldn’t resist taking it out of the box.
The smell of his face paint was painfully nostalgic, triggering a clear image of him preparing in front of the mirror. I could see him vividly in his filthy t-shirt, chain-smoking, grouchy. Pieces of memory fit together differently now than they ever had before. I had been too afraid of him to see clearly. There was a sheen of sweat on his brow. A tension underlying his every movement. A frantic perfectionism to get things right. He was a mean, irritable man.
And he was afraid of something.
The suit was silky and smelled of cologne, sweat, and fear. I pulled the costume out to have a better look at it. It was exactly my size. My father had always looked so large to me. It was a surprise to realize how much I had grown.
I called my mother. She sounded like she had been crying.
“Mom? Did you send Dad’s things over today?” I could hear laughter in the background. “Is there someone there?”
She spoke quickly, her usually melodic voice harsh, “Daniel, please…are you going to the meeting?”
“What, you mean the clown meeting? No, of course not. Is that why you sent Dad’s things?”
An unfamiliar voice hissed in my ear, “It’s time to appease the Masked Jester.” The phone went dead. I called back but it just rang and rang.
My father’s costume fits like a glove. The makeup is harder. I should develop my own style, but no matter how many times I wash it off and start over, I look just like my father.
Betty Rocksteady is an eclectic Canadian woman with a passion for horror. She has been previously published online at Halloween Forevermore. Check out her macabre pen and ink art at www.facebook.com/bettyrocksteadyart or www.redbubble.com/people/bettyrocksteady. She can also be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.