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.