Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
This week’s story posted a few hours early because I’ve managed to pick up, at almost exactly the same time, an 8 to 5 day job and a nasty little cold. So I should go to bed early tonight, for both professional and medical reasons.
This week’s words were defenestrated, arc, myopic, aquamarine, and gibbet. The story that came out of those five words is long and it’s wackiness. Enjoy.
As before, for next week I’ll take the first five words I receive, one per customer.
* * * *
by Bilal Dardai
It wasn’t a present adjective, but an adjective from earlier, an adjective that had just now pecked its way out of its shell and was flopping, desperately, covered in mucus, on the electrical coils of Bailey Royal’s imagination. The adjective was an intruder, unaware of its ill-chosen moment. It was not the adjective Bailey wished to hear peeping, excitedly, as he stared at the corpse of his cousin Orson.
The adjective had been conceived nearly three hours earlier, at the office, when Clive, his twitchy, transplanted Mancunian Creative Director, had stopped by Bailey’s desk holding a four-color photograph of a tremendous café latte.
“Do you see this?” Clive had asked Bailey.
“It’s coffee,” Bailey had replied.
“It’s frothy coffee,” Clive had said. “I give this to Jane and she comes back with this copy. Creamy, delicious, frothy. And now Jane is honeymooning Jesus-knows-where so I can’t bloody well call her, can I, to tell her what shit it is, this copy.”
“It’s frothy. Jesus Christ almighty, what a word that is. The images it conjured, I promise you, it filled my mouth with spiders. I need a different one. I won’t look at this again until that word is gone.”
“Better than frothy?”
“That means don’t speak it either! Ever again. Ever. Ever. Mark my words, Royal, I will rain a horrible end on the next poor bastard who sneaks that word within a half-meter of my desk. I will build myself a gibbet and then I will hang them from that gibbet with a slab of wood round their necks warning all future copywriters of such folly.”
“What’s a gibbet?” Bailey had asked.
“Get to work,” Clive had replied, and stomped back to his office, muttering. Bailey had messaged a brief warning to Samuel, who was working on some sort of body wash campaign, and then set to repairs on the offending language.
And now the adjective had come, at last, after an hour of crossed-out ideas and thumbprints all over his thesaurus, after five minutes on the phone, after a half hour in a taxi and another half hour waiting in the morgue. Now the adjective was dropping all seven veils before his eyes, in alluring fonts and hues, dancing curves and angles in front of the corpse of his cousin Orson. Bailey removed his glasses, hoping for the respite of myopia, but despite his desires the body before him and the overlaid adjective were as clear as day.
Foamy. Bailey hated the adjective as he had never known hate before. He sought to bury it, forever, to deny Clive his satisfaction, to exile the word beyond the borders of human lexicon.
“Is that him?” the detective asked.
Bailey tried to croak out the word yes. Shock had dulled his wits, coated them in ether, and he found he could watch his own observations evolving. Was that him. It was. It was his cousin. It was Orson. It was a corpse. It was the corpse. It was the corpse of his cousin. It was the corpse of his cousin Orson.
“GOD-DAMMIT!” Bailey cried out, and the detective signaled the coroner to draw the sheet over the body once more.
Neither Bailey nor the detective had ever doubted that the identification would be positive. The corpse of his cousin Orson had sustained a horrendous amount of damage, from the bullets, from the glass, from the fall, from the landing, but even soaked through with bloodstains Bailey knew exactly what Orson’s clown suit had looked like.
It had been Orson who had come up with the company name. Of the two of them, Orson had always been the more creative.
“Royal Clown Company?” Orson had snorted.
“What? What’s the matter?” Bailey had asked.
“It’s our last name.”
“It’s a cola.”
“That’s Royal Crown.”
“You think the Chinese will know the difference?”
“First of all, that’s racist. Second of all…”
“How is that racist?”
“Second of all…”
“Chinese people have trouble with L and R. This is a known cultural whatchamacallit.”
“Second of all, what makes you think we’ll have a lot of Chinese customers?”
“What makes you think we won’t?” Orson had countered. “Now who’s being racist?”
“This was a bad idea,” Bailey had said.
“It’s a great idea,” Orson had replied. “It’s an idea that if it takes off it gets me out of my mom’s basement and it gets you out of that cubicle. It’s a great idea, it’s a terrible name.”
“Then what, Orson, do you suggest?”
“Not Royal Clown. Also, not Clown Royal. Because that’s scotch.”
“Crown Royal is whiskey.”
“Ne’er do well.”
“I got it!” Orson had cried, clapping his hands together. “Get this. Royal Clown…”
“You just said that was…”
“What’s another name for a royal clown? Huh? A court jester.”
“Court Jester Clown Company?”
“Drop ‘Court.’ Just Jester. Jester Clown Company.”
“It isn’t!” Orson had said, indignant. “A jester is not the same thing as a clown.”
“I’m not having this argument with you again,” Bailey had moaned.
“We’ve never had this argument.”
“I’m not arguing with you about what is and is not clown.”
“Jester Clown Company. It’s catchy.”
“How about Jester Entertainment? Jester Party Entertainment. That’s fine. Jester Party Entertainment.”
“Oh you think so, Bailey? Hold on.” He had put his fist up against his ear. “Ring, ring. Ring, ring. Pick up, doofus.”
Bailey had sighed and held his own fist against his ear.
“Hello,” Bailey had said. “Hello, Jester Party Entertainment.”
“Hi dere. Dis is Orson. Me and da boys need some Party Entertainment.”
“Well, I’d be happy to help you, sir, when do you need…?”
“We wanna blonde.”
“A blonde or a redhead, you got one. With big bazongas. Not too big, ya know, not like beach balls or nothin.”
“I’m sorry. Um. We don’t have…”
“Don’t have? Don’t have? Don’t have what? No blondes? Jesus, I call a Party Entertainment place you don’t got no blondes?”
“We’re not, um, we’re not strippers, sir.”
“Dey don’t have ta strip. Dey can show up already naked.”
“What kinda operation you got going here, hah? I call looking for Party Entertainment and you give me all dis fucking runaround.”
“Ya damn right you’re clowns!”
“No, I mean, we send out clowns. We’re a Clown Company.”
“DEN WHY DIDN’T YA SAY SO IN THE FUCKIN FIRST PLACE?!” Orson had yelled into his hand, before slamming it against his thigh. The gob of spit he’d emitted had traveled a graceful arc over Bailey’s left shoulder and made modern art of the wallpaper. Orson had then given Bailey a knowing glance, and Bailey had had to agree. Jester Clown Company it was.
Yellow beanie with a green propeller. Green suspenders and orange overalls. White face with thin blue diamonds around the eyes. Oversized red bowtie. Red pageboy wig. Floppy red shoes, bulbous red nose, red, red, red, red, red.
Bailey signed the paperwork now with the vast stupor of a stagnant ocean. The detective sat down next to him on the bench, began to explain to him the series of events that had led to Orson’s demise, but Bailey was barely listening, trapped as he was in the reruns of the prologue. Today’s job had been the fifth party for Jester Clown Company, the first three being for children of Bailey’s co-workers and the fourth being for the daughter of a single mother who Orson had gone out with once or twice a few months back. Today had been the first wholly uncultivated client, somebody who had managed to find them via whatever random keywords they’d thrown into the search engine.
He’d called them back on his lunch break, sitting on the edge of the building’s decorative fountain, a yogurt cup in one hand and his tiny, secondhand, aquamarine laptop on his knees.
“Who do we have?” Orson had asked, after Bailey had finished typing in the particulars.
“Another birthday party,” Bailey had replied. “Giuseppe Cacciatore.”
“Seriously? That’s his name? Poor little guy.”
“He’s not little. He’s sixty.”
“Well, he’s turning sixty. That’s where you come in.”
“I’m doing a party for an old Italian guy?”
“That’s what they asked for.”
“He’s not Don Cacciatore, is he?”
“There’s a Don Cacciatore?”
“What do I look like, A&E? I don’t know if there really is a Don Cacciatore, I’m asking if he’s, you know, if he’s, a little, you know, offer-you-can’t-refuse.”
“What’s the matter with you. What is the matter with you.”
“Like the thought didn’t cross your mind.”
“It didn’t cross my mind. It set foot in my mind and the security systems shot it down with lasers before it could cross anywhere.”
“You should look into getting some.”
“Sixty, huh? I’ll have to change the act up a little.”
“Let me know how much you’re changing. We can charge extra for that.”
“Bailey Royal, you shark. Look at you, barely a month in the business and you’re gouging senior citizens.”
“Senior citizen is sixty-five. And I wouldn’t be gouging him, I’d be gouging his son.”
“Aha. The capo.”
“You make even an offhand remark about Martin Scorsese in there, Orson, I swear to God.”
“Relax, Bailey. I won’t say a thing. I don’t speak, remember? I’m not that sorta clown.”
They had sat chewing their lunches, listening to the professional corporate water of the fountain, always percolating, always on the clock.
“Cacciatore,” Orson had said, grinning. “Isn’t that a type of…?”
“Yes, it is,” Bailey had replied.
“That’s funny,” Orson had said.
“No it’s not,” Bailey had replied.
“Balloon animals,” said the detective.
“I’m sorry?” Bailey said.
“From the statement we got, it was the balloon animals that started the whole thing.”
“I don’t understand,” Bailey said, but immediately that declaration was a lie, and the detective’s narrative faded behind the scenario now piecing itself together, running parallel and slightly off-kilter, like a double exposure on the film. He saw the room on the fifteenth floor, all sunlight and capitalism. He saw a generic old man in a classic suit, sitting in a place of honor, flanked by other well-dressed men. He saw his cousin, working through one of his better routines, unfazed by the grim coolness of an audience that had long ago forced out their capacity to enjoy such antics. A bad room. Bailey had sent Orson into a bad room. Orson had handled bad rooms before but clearly this one had been the worst.
Orson was finishing his juggle. Orson was accepting their polite applause and the beatific smile of Giuseppe Cacciatore. Orson began to blow up the first of his long pastel balloons. He would start with snake, an easy joke that achieved easy laughter. He would move to dog, to horse, to elephant. He’d manage monkey. The thing that he insisted was hippo. Finally, he’d begin to build the towering dragon, a fearsome beast of many balloons, many delicate twists.
And something had popped.
And the bodyguards of the old, important Italian man had proved themselves worth every dollar that had gone into their training, instinctively drawing and emptying the entirety of their clips into Orson in a span of seconds, slamming him back through the shattering glass, the possibility of error perhaps only beginning to dawn on them as the defenestrated corpse of his cousin Orson was still a story or two from the idling FedEx truck below.
“Bottom line,” the detective said, “it was an accident. There’s some charges to file here, no question, but.”
Bailey refused to ask. The question was free-climbing his throat but he pulled it down with tendrils of coppery bile. Bailey refused to ask the detective if Giuseppe Cacciatore was anything more than a legitimate businessman with hair-trigger bodyguards. The detective slipped a business card into Bailey’s hand with a compassionate tone to his faraway voice, and Bailey could feel Orson’s elbow in his ribs, telling him that he should hand the detective a card of their own.
“Sorry for your loss,” the detective said, squeezing Bailey’s shoulder. Fifteen minutes later, Bailey replied.
There had been his aunt to explain to, and his siblings. The funeral director had been surprisingly versed in potential requests for a clown’s funeral, even one that had had to, by necessity, remain closed-casket. Before the wake, Bailey had bought a pack of Kools and made a point to stand outside, holding lit ones in his mouth, one after the other, face turned up towards the overcast skies. He would not be bothered. He would not be questioned.
Bailey turned his head. There was a small man with a white mustache standing next to him. Bailey knew so few of his aunt’s friends.
“My name is Giuseppe Cacciatore.”
Of course it was.
“Hello,” Bailey said.
“I have come to…”
Bailey offered him a cigarette. Giuseppe Cacciatore refused.
“Can I ask?” Bailey said.
“I looked you up.”
“I did. After. You’re a very powerful man, Mr. Cacciatore.”
“I suppose I am.”
“You’re a very powerful and respected man, especially in certain circles.”
“I mean Wall Street, sir.”
“If you thought I meant something else then you’re mistaken.”
“No. I understand.”
“You’re a powerful man with powerful enemies, so naturally you have hired muscle. That’s the life you lead. So. What the hell is your son doing hiring clowns for your birthday party?”
“I…like clowns. I have always liked clowns. My Anthony, he knew that.”
“That a fact.”
“Why should I not like clowns? Because I’m powerful? Hm? Because I am Italian?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Where I grew up there were often clowns. Street performers. The commedia. You know the commedia, yes?”
“Sure I do. It’s something he talked about. All the time.”
“He. Orson. My cousin.”
“Have you spoken to my aunt?”
“I have given her my regrets.”
“How’d she take it?”
“She was. It was not. It does not matter. I have given the director money. To pay for these arrangements.”
“That’s nice of you.”
“It is only the right thing.”
“Then maybe you’re done here.”
“No. I needed to see you.”
“Oh? Why’s that?”
“I would like to help you keep your business.”
“My business. My business. What business. There’s no business. We had one employee.”
“And I am sorry.”
“Sure. I know. I know.”
“I would offer to replace him.”
“No. I apologize. That is the incorrect word. I of course cannot replace your cousin. But I would offer you a new clown.”
“Yeah? Is that right? One of your holdings, is that it? You own the upstate clown college or something? You want to send me your valedictorian?”
Giuseppe Cacciatore’s eyes widened, suddenly. His right hand flew up, as if pulled by unseen strings, while his left grabbed for it desperately. His face contorted with effort. His heels left the ground. For a moment, Bailey truly thought that some divine puppeteer was calling Giuseppe Cacciatore back to the area above the stage. Then, as suddenly as it had begun, it ended. Giuseppe Cacciatore scratched at his nose. A silver dollar fell out of it.
“You?” Bailey asked.
“Be my clown. You.”
“Why not me?”
“You’re Giuseppe Cacciatore.”
“I’m supposed to have rich and powerful you working as my clown.”
“Don’t you have rich and powerful things to do?”
“My business is managed by my Anthony now. I remain as figurehead. I am otherwise very bored. And I would make amends to your family.”
“Be my clown.”
“Yes. What is the name of your business again?”
“Jester,” Bailey said. “Jester Clown Company. I know that’s redundant, but…”
“It is not,” Giuseppe Cacciatore replied. “Jester and clown are different.”
Bailey looked away, at his feet, at the door to the funeral home. He could imagine the enthusiasm that Orson would be feeling right now at such a prospect, and had be been alive it might even have been infectious. As it was, all Bailey could feel were the possibilities for unnecessary crisis, all the ways this would almost end badly and all the ways the almosts could become definites. He couldn’t muster Orson’s energy for adventure; what Bailey felt instead was an impending sense of mediocre comedy.
But right now, all he had was ridiculous tragedy. Surely, even mediocre comedy was better than that.
“Let me think about it,” Bailey said.
“That is fair,” Giuseppe Cacciatore replied.
They shook hands and parted ways. Bailey watched him cross the parking lot, watched the chauffeur exit the shiny black sedan and open the back door for him. Bailey shifted his weight, balancing on his shoulders both Why and Why Not. He looked back at the doorway, through the doors, down the hallway, around the corner, over the casket, into his cousin’s eyes.
The last words Bailey had spoken to Orson before Giuseppe Cacciatore’s sixtieth birthday party had been facetious, unmemorable.
“I am not having this argument with you,” Bailey whispered to him now.
Silently, Orson agreed.