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Excerpt from

Clown Love
by
Sean Craven

When Lilith first looked into his eyes, she screamed a little. Too softly for anyone to notice, but she screamed. It was at the Café Metro where she was having a double espresso and a clove cigarette before work. She liked the graphic look of the Metro' s courtyard: black wrought iron furniture on a red brick patio surrounded by green boxwood hedges. She was looking over the shrubbery at the traffic, holding the cup to her face so that steam fogged her glasses, when this big wad of color jumped into her field of vision. Red and yellow polka dots on a white coverall, a traffic-cone orange Afro topped by a little green hat, those shoes. Then he turned around.

Lilith could tell that he' d practiced it. Act like he was just passing through, then leap, spin in midair, hit the ground in a crouch while making eye contact. Lilith recoiled, then dropped her paper cup and cigarette as the hot espresso sloshed onto her hand. The cup fell, splashing her tights, and the cigarette went into her lap where she smacked at it frantically before leaping to her feet. “Shit!” she said. “Fuck!”

And there he was, kneeling in front of her. People were staring which Lilith did not like. He clasped his hands over his heart, cocked his head to one side and batted his eyes at her. “What the fuck is your problem?” Lilith said and started to back away.

The clown held up his hand, palm toward her, and she stopped. His yellow glove dived like a swallow going for a bug and snapped up again, holding a paper daisy. The clown smiled, the corners of the big red crescent around his mouth curling up, and he held the flower out to Lilith. Lilith turned away, but the clown touched her arm and pushed the flower toward her.

She slapped his hand, hard, knocking the flower to the ground, and marched off as fast as she could without breaking into a trot. Someone murmured, “Poor guy,” and it took an effort for Lilith to keep her mouth shut. Assholes!

***

Lilith' s stuff barely fit into her studio apartment. Couch and coffee table, computer workstation, kitchen, bed, and India print bedspreads draped over towers of milk crates which were full of books and CDs, magazines, files of images cut out of magazines, on and on and on.

Cicely placed the open book onto the plate of the scanner and scooted it into position. “You' re kidding,” she said and put the lid down.

Lilith shook her head. “I can' t take this shit. I mean, even if he wasn' t a clown, there' s some things you just don' t do.” She hit the return on the keyboard, and the scanner hummed.

“So you' re sure it was him?”

Lilith looked at the picture of the Black Dahlia murder on the screen in front of her, a beautiful girl lying in the weeds, trunk here, legs there, her torso bisected at the waist as neatly as if it had been put through a paper cutter. She started to work on it, isolating images of the two sections of the body. “Of course it was him. I' m supposed to be some kind of clown magnet?”

Cicely giggled. “So what did he do?” She sipped neatly at her bottle of hard lemonade. She was such a girly-girl that sometimes Lilith wanted to slap her.

“It' s not funny,” Lilith said. “A clown comes on to you in public, it' s funny. He shows up at your job, that makes him a stalker.” She set down the computer tablet and gulped at her bottle, then wiped her mouth with a paper towel. She felt the taut bulge of a painfully ripe zit just under her lower lip but she resisted the temptation to give it a squeeze. Her complexion, not good at the best of times, had lately gone totally to hell. “Okay, so I' m sitting there in my cubicle, laying out a catalog for some psycho new-age hippie freak vitamin company, and I hear this honk.”

“Honk?” Cicely shook her hair into a curtain in front of her face, then started to comb it back with her fingers, stroke after stroke after stroke, almost pulling at it. It was beautiful hair, long and brightly streaked with the colors of honey and wheat, and Lilith didn' t need to be reminded of it. When they were together, sometimes it made Lilith feel like they were an illustration from a kid' s fairy tale book. The princess and the goblin.

“Yeah, a honk. Like a bicycle horn. It was just on the other side of the divider in front of me. I sort of jump in my seat and look for what made the noise, and this fucking stick rises up over the top of the wall, and there' s another honk as a paper flower opens up at the end of it.” Lilith blanked out the image of the Dahlia and started copying the weeds over the space where the body had been, making a vacant lot that they could use as a background for the animation. “It was so creepy, and people were laughing like it was a joke. Then the flower starts moving back and forth, and a hand comes up over the wall, and then the top of a head. He was pretending to walk up a staircase.”


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