At the graveyard, the handful of mourners called the funeral clown family, but he was simply dressed as the deceased. With one of the dead man’s jackets draped over his shoulders, he danced around the lowering casket, snapping to doot-doot-doodle-oodle-oot-doot. He honked the red ball attached to the end of his painted nose. He fluffed the rainbow wig sprouting from his head like the tip of a lollipop. Through heartache, he heard giggles.
The priest, the straight man, made the sign of the cross as the casket clicked into place below. He opened the good book, and the funeral clown mimed him licking his finger as he flipped through the gilded pages.
An aunt snorted.
A brother slapped his leg.
Fun was had.
“He was a generous man,” the priest said.
“Not that generous,” the funeral clown said, turning his pockets inside out.
Grinning, a son nudged his sister.
“He was a good man,” the priest said.
“Not that good,” the funeral clown said, pointing downward. “If you know what I mean.”
The widow, her eyes red and puffy, gripped her side, laughing. She stood, grabbed a fistful of dirt, and dropped it down the freshly dug hole. The priest broke into a hymn about love and tragedy, and the funeral clown swung a stick in front of him like a conductor guiding a cartoon orchestra. When the song ended, the mourners applauded. One whistled. For an encore, the funeral clown performed a pratfall while shaking a gloved fist at the heavens.
“Go with God,” the priest said.
The funeral clown waved goodbye and laid the dead man’s jacket on the grass like he was tucking in each blade. Leaving, he read names and dates written on tombstones. He resurrected the dead by imitating who he imagined they might have been. Next to his sedan, the widow stopped him. They hugged, and he whispered a knock-knock joke into her ear like her husband had done when he was alive.
The funeral clown drove away, and the widow began to sob, but there was something new in her sorrow, something healing.
That night, the funeral clown attended a party. All the clowns in town would be in attendance. The other clowns, however, hated clowning off the clock. Their reasoning: On the job, they were mocked, laughed at, never taken seriously. They wanted to be stage actors, men of drama. They wanted to make an impact. To them, clowning was just a gig that paid the bills in sillies. They wanted to be seen as more, so before heading to the apartment where the party was being held, the funeral clown washed off his makeup and changed.
Dressed in chinos and a blazer, the funeral clown resembled a banker. He knocked on the birthday clown’s door. The birthday clown answered wearing a cardigan and khakis, and the funeral clown greeted him with a bottle of wine. The birthday clown, a tall man with the face of a basset hound, took the bottle and held it at the neck, analyzing the label, the quality. The funeral clown stepped inside where the circus clown and the commercial clown sat around a card table studying a colorful, plastic board.
The funeral clown took his seat at the table, and the birthday clown, the host, explained the rules of the game. His non-clowning voice sounded like a straitjacket. As he spoke, the other clowns organized their pieces into neat stacks. The funeral clown arranged his into the face of the widow.
“Hurry up, it’s your turn,” said the commercial clown, a squatty man who spun a cardboard sign advertising mattresses for a living.
The funeral clown looked up to see everyone spaces ahead of him. He rolled the die. Smirking, he moved himself backward, landing right before the end.
“Funny,” said the circus clown, lean from acrobatics and running from lions.
“Sorry,” the funeral clown said, crossing his arms and pointing in different directions, “I get my left and right mixed up.”
The funeral clown rotated in his chair, but the other clowns were already on to the next roll.
The commercial clown drew up a proposal.
The circus clown offered a counterproposal.
“How do we play again?” the funeral clown asked.
A deal was struck.
Commodities were exchanged.
Returning from the bathroom, the birthday clown shrieked. Panicked, he scrambled across the room to a bookshelf where a goldfish floated upside down in a bowl. He scooped out the dead fish in a pool of water and cradled it in his cupped hands.
“Calm down,” the circus clown said. “It’s just a goldfish.”
“I read somewhere,” the commercial clown said, “that a goldfish’s memory only spans, like, three seconds. I doubt it felt anything.”
Nevertheless, the funeral clown had a job to do.
He puffed up his cheeks. He folded his arms into fins. He shook his tail. He swam around the room, bouncing off windows and breathing through armpit gills. Death to life and back again.
He flopped, gasping.
Through giggles, he heard heartache.