Funny Silhouette

That's when I saw a clown playing the trumpet,
after mama told Phillip he didn't pay attention. Phillip cursed
like Uncle Charlie, pounding his fist on the already cracked dashboard,
scaring everyone including himself. Mama winced, startled by the
noise that sound made. She held in her anger so I wouldn't cry.

He was a sad clown, painted on the face like most clowns are, but
the make-up didn't mask an opposite expression. The painted tears
might as well have been real. You could hear it in the sound that
trumpet made. It was crying like I did sometimes because mama and
Phillip yelled or when Abner died and we buried him in shoebox behind
the unplanted garden in our backyard. But not like when I pinched
my toe in the door jam of the treehouse when I was nine, or when
I got my tonsils out when I was five.

That sound floated through an out-of-place park that night, ignoring
the slight rain and even coaxing the attention of some curious squirrels.
I had never heard music quite like that really, sounding so solemn
and escaping anything obvious. Phillip pulled right off the street
and slid in skillfully between a van and a Buick. I knew it was
a Buick, because that's what Grandma Pete drove and I liked the
word. Buick.

No one said anything, and we sat there listening to that sad clown
like it was Mozart's last symphony. Our trio was the only audience
that night, but he was playing for millions. We were hypnotized,
and Phillip's car bumper kissed the Buick because he had forgotten
to put it in park. That made mama laugh, and then I cried, but just
a little.

That sad clown just kept playing, and when the rain stopped, his
trumpet shone more from the moon than from the street lamps. But
he must not have felt the rain quit, because he just kept playing
some sad lonely song that just wouldn't end. That was surely fine
as far as we were concerned, but I started to worry about that sad
clown just a little.

Mama and Phillip stopped fighting long enough that night to let
love sneak back in, but just a little. It made me happy, and I thanked
the sad clown for it in my nighttime prayer. But the fighting started
again the next morning, and continued that night after work, and
it didn't fall asleep until they did. The next day the same, and
the next and the next and the next.

That's when I made mama start buying me records with trumpet players.
They had names like Dizzy and Miles and Bix. But my favorite was
Satchmo. I liked that name and his voice made me laugh. But nobody
played like that sad clown. Well, maybe they did sometimes, but
just a little.

We drove by that park again one night, and there was that sad clown
again. It was raining just a little bit again, and of course mama
and Phillip were arguing about something again. We pulled into that
exact same spot, but this time between different cars. I don't know
what they were called.

But this time we weren't the only ones listening. The car behind
us had a sad clown audience too, and they were all smiling just
like we were. Some birds had decided to sing along too. I don't
know what kind, because they were hidden in the trees, and I don't
know much about birds. That night the sad clown sounded just a little
bit like Miles when he put that shiny thing at the end of his trumpet.
It sounded so sad that I wanted to go and give him some candy that
we had from that parade. That day, mama and Phillip only fought
for a little while. Phillip had gotten a raise at work, and so mama
had new flowers. I had candy from those firemen, and I didn't even
get mad when the pudgy kid stepped on my foot. Candy does that to
people. But it didn't do that to the sad clown because Phillip wouldn't
let me leave the car. "He might be crazy," Phillip said.
He'd fit right in with us, I thought. I wanted to give him candy.

That sad clown played so good that night that mama and Phillip
started telling all of their friends and the people at work about
him. Those smiling people in the other car must have done the same
thing, because when we went back the next week, lots of people in
lots of cars were sitting around looking disappointed. There was
no sad clown playing the trumpet. People were also sitting on all
the park benches, so I knew there was no sad clown playing the trumpet,
because he had nowhere to sit. Mama said, "Phillip, I told
you we shouldn't have said anything!" Phillip cursed and hit
the cracked dashboard again, which I didn't think was too bright,
since it was his car.

So we kept going back to that park, to see that sad clown every
week, but he was never there. We finally stopped looking when Phillip
got a DUI. Now Grandma Pete calls Phillip "Dewey" and
won't let him near that Buick. Grandma Pete's funny. Now Phillip
rides a bike a lot, not a cool one like a Harley, but one with pedals,
and a basket for bread and milk. The neighborhood kids point and
laugh. I think he goes and sits in the car, just so he can curse
and hit the dashboard. "I'll drive you around town for things
and such," I told Phillip.

"You're eleven," he said.

"Sure am," I said.

Sometimes mama and Phillip fight worse than other times, but I
can never figure out what affects it. All I know is that when it
happens, I just wish it would end. When it gets really bad, I go
to my room and listen to music. Right now my favorite trumpet player
is Dizzy. He sounds happy a lot, and I like that name Dizzy. Phillip
doesn't like him and says he sounds drunk. "You'd think you'd
like him then," said Grandma Pete. Grandma Pete's funny. Dewey.
Mama doesn't like any of those trumpet players too much really,
except for that sad clown. That's why I was so happy when he showed
up again.

Mama had bought me a new record by a man named Wynton. He was very
good, and I think that mama even liked him, but just a little. She
said, "I wonder what happened to that sad clown?" I imagined
him walking through the sad streets, not playing his trumpet, wishing
someone would give him some candy. He was walking down positively
4th street, past the pretzel man, and then under those little trees
that dropped things on the sidewalk that stick to my shoes. He had
that trumpet tucked under his ruffled, worn suit covered clown arm,
and it shone more from the street lamps than from the moon.

Just out of nowhere, a little bit of thunder clapped, and it made
my attention turn to my corner room window. It was raining just
a little bit, and the quick wind shook that maple tree Grandma Pete
put the birdhouse in. That sad clown's at the park tonight, I thought
surely. I grabbed some candy I had hidden from my cousin Willy.
He would look in my shoes, and under Donald Duck's hat, but he wouldn't
look inside my time machine.

Phillip was sleeping in the stained chair, and mama was telling
Grandma Pete about rhubarb on the telephone. "That sad clown's
at the park tonight!" I chirped, more excited than usually.
That woke up Phillip, and he looked at me like Grandma Pete looks
at him usually. Mama laughed and told Grandma Pete what I said.
"She says you'd better go give him some of that candy."

"I know," I said.

Phillip was angry that mama made him go with us to find that sad
clown. He doesn't like to sit across from mama driving. "You
need to switch lanes right now!" Phillip always says. Mamma
only switches lanes when she feels like it. That makes Phillip curse
sometimes, and mama smiles. "This is such a waste of time,
he won't be there," Phillip said, but he wanted to see him
just like we did. That sad clown likes the rain, I thought. It makes
him play his trumpet sadder.

We pulled around the corner, by that deli with those sandwiches
named Reuben, just in time to hear some thunder clap, and sure enough,
same park bench, same sad clown, same trumpet, same smiles. That
night, the rain was just a little bit more relevant, but that sad
clown didn't mind. That water dripped off him and into puddles,
helping reflect just a little bit of moonlight onto his sad trumpet.
I checked for the unhidden candy in my pocket, counting it with
my fingers just for assurance. Two Tootsie Rolls, two jaw breakers,
and one roll of Sweet Tarts just two pieces short. That should make
any sad clown not so sad, I thought. Right then and there, just
at that moment, I decided to name that sad clown Sleepy. Not very
original, I know, but it fit, just like that clown nose fit his
face and that trumpet sound fit my ears.

No one said anything, until a sounding siren screeched, rudely
interrupting our transfixed thoughts, and Phillip cursed in his
head, but decided not to let us know about it. "I want to give
Sleepy his candy," I said. I waited for them to ask me who
Sleepy was, but I guess they already knew that name fit too. "Okay,"
said Phillip, and I spun around just to see if his face said the
same. He started to speak again, but I was already out the door
and on my way.

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