Punching Clown
by David Peak

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I

The man in the doctor mask places a single finger on my forehead, pushes hard, an I-need-an-elevator-right-now push, rocking me onto the balls of my feet. I am like one of those punching clowns, those inflatable things that just keeps standing up straight, keeps on taking the punches, rolling around a bit before somehow straightening. My heart is inflatable and filled to bursting with humiliation. My nose is swollen and red and irritated.


II

I try not to think about that time I ran that red light. I try not to think about the warbled and washed video footage they made me watch, of me behind the wheel of that car, running that red light and running into that little girl crossing the street—she was using the crosswalk, a red balloon in her hand. I remember, of course, as a matter of course. I remember how the balloon blipped up into the sky like it couldn’t get away fast enough.


III

The man in the doctor mask removes that thing over the mask’s mouth and smiles, shows me his teeth. I can see them there, through the mouth hole. I nod a bit, not out of affirmation, but because, instead, I’m still swiveling from the last stinging sock I took on the nose. I hate this man in the doctor mask. It is okay to hate some things. Some things leave you with no choice but to hate them. His teeth remind me of the toughness of things, of animals, of how everything alive is only fighting off hunger.


IV

At this time of day, high noon, and on this kind of day, a lunar eclipse, the town square is almost entirely empty. Only I am there, in the town square. And the man in the doctor mask. The sky is like silver smoke trapped between two panes of curved glass: opaque and swirling. Any minute now and the wind will carry the stuttered clang of church bells. Any minute now and the square will fill with familiar faces. They will form a crowd, crowd in on one another, and wait. It will be the beginning.


V

I hear the caw of a crow, am barely able to turn and see that the wrought-iron fence lining the small hill near the cemetery is swarming with a murder of those terrible black birds. This does not bode well. The man in the doctor mask stands before me. Above me. A reminder. I do not hear the last noise. My words do not make the sounds I so desperately wish I could make them make. My last thoughts are of the red balloon, are with the red balloon, floating upward and into those surely heavenly heavens.