The Clown

For those who have more than one smile and share every single one with the whole wide world

She had lost her smiles long ago. The belly-laugh, the boundless one, the bright one, the breathless one, the bubbly one, the chuckling one, the coquette one, the sexy one, the seductive one, the red one, the giggling one, the grinning one, the gargling one, the gracious one, the guffawing one, the howling one, the roaring one, the snorting one, even the cackling, sniggering, shy, and tearful ones—all of them had disappeared, ever since it happened.

As long as the young woman could remember, she had walked through life with her heart-shaped lips firmly glued together so nothing could accidentally fall out; she would rather keep the ugliness inside than expose it to the world. On the rare occasions that she spoke, she pressed the words out quickly and violently, avoiding the world to enter her mouth to stuff it with even more clutter. Behind her well-guarded façade, she had set up a strict routine. She had succeeded at disguising her wounds.

Under normal circumstances, she would have never accepted his invitation. However, because he just gave her the ticket and walked away with his crooked smile and ripped, washed-out jeans, there was not enough time for a No and All the Necessary Courteous Explanations.  Thus, his honest charm—and concern—convinced her to attend his show.

Every season, he did something different. In the fall, he worked at the local cemetery; she had seen him at her mother’s grave. During the winter, he sold roasted chestnuts in the pedestrian zone; she had never bought any from him but always loved their wintry smell. Every spring, the young man singlehandedly planted flowers along the trails in the park, around the water fountains and sculptures; she always admired his tasteful and colorful arrangements. And over the summer months, he joined the local circus. As Danny, The Clown. Now, for the first time, she would complete the cycle and attend his circus show.

It took her four hours to get ready. Eventually, breathlessly and drenched in sweat, she took off her skirt, heels, blouse, and earrings, substituting the chic outfit with a pair of jeans, a sweater, and tennis shoes. What had gotten into her? When she arrived at the circus, the smell of animals and popcorn crept into her nose—and irritated her. When she looked up at the many lights that decorated the large, red circus tent, she had to blink the tears away—so much light. As she entered the tent, a wave of noise penetrated her ears; a quick reflex led her to cover her ears with her hands. She then sat down, and the lights went off.

Immediately after the show, she vehemently marched out of the tent. But she wasn’t fast enough—he gently gripped her hand and pulled her behind the circus tent and onto the steps of his little trailer. After too many seconds, disguised as minutes, of intensively staring at the ground, she finally lifted her head and looked into his eyes; only then did she notice the clown make-up. He hadn’t taken the paint off his face yet: his lips were massively enlarged by a thick red stripe that raised the corners of his mouth to a bright, happy grin. The outer red line was closely traced with a thick layer of white that stretched up beyond his cheeks, reaching his ears. When, for a brief moment, his real lips were not smiling, his clown face continued to; as always, she realized that she had been applying the exact same technique for an eternity: she had painted a red smile onto her lips to fool the others, and herself. A wave of sadness inundated her insides and tore at the walls of her heart.  Simultaneously, her eyes filled with tears.

He put his arm around her and softly stroked her hair with his fingers. With the other hand, he gently wiped away her tears. Then she let him pull a few strands out of her tight bun. Suddenly, he leaned over and she felt their lips touch. They felt warm, the paint melted, and his tongue was wet. After the kiss, he looked at her and he smiled. His triple smile finally worked its magic—she couldn’t help but raise her trembling lips, making a face she usually defiantly resisted. For the first time in a long time, she smiled. It was a small, broken, helpless smile, but it was her first small, healing step into a new direction.

Somewhere deep inside, the young woman slowly abandoned the horrific events of her childhood. This man—with the crooked yet honest smile—was the first man to recognize the fragile façade and help her collect the shattered pieces of her heart. Together, they would make the cracks mend.

Sitting on the steps of the clown’s circus trailer, the man and the woman had lost themselves in each other’s smiles. With his smile, her wounds could finally heal, and afterwards, maybe she would expose her scars to the world. With that smile spread across her lips, she could start over. She would give him a chance. She would give herself a chance. She would give that smile a chance.