Bob Bell had trouble breathing. It was the basement. The damp. The mold. The days down there with the cash registers and barber chairs. Bob wore his dead father’s clothes. His father was Bozo the Clown. The clothes, a baggy, blue one-piece with white ruffled collar and pom-pom buttons, oversized shoes, and bright red shock-wig, were comfortable. That’s why he wore them. He didn’t paint his face except when work demanded it.
He had notices thumbtacked and taped in public places.
Son of “The World’s Most Famous Clown”
No Event Too Small!
The phone would ring. A child’s party. A church festival. A convenience store Opening. Fifty dollars he asked, in advance. To look like his dad. To sound like his dad. That laugh. The row of buckets for the Grand Prize Game.
The cash registers and barber chairs, along with the former speakeasy that housed them, were once the property of Chicago mobster Salvador “Moony Sam” Giancana. Giancana needed tickets to a live broadcast of Bozo’s Circus. These were hard to come by. The cash registers and barber chairs, confiscated from business owners who refused to pay protection money, were a personal gift to Bob’s dad, whose thank-you note included two front-row seats.
Some of the pieces were valuable. There are people willing to pay top dollar for an antique cash register, especially one with some history behind it. And several of the barber chairs, the ones with bullet holes and faded blood stains, now belonged to Francis Ford Coppola, who featured them prominently in his Godfather movies.
Bob’s wife Joanna suddenly appeared on the bottom step.
“Why you still down here? You have job! You be late!” It was difficult for Bob to understand what Joanna was saying. There was her accent. She was Greek. And there was the hankie she held tightly over her nose and mouth. The basement smell made her nauseous. This was fine with Bob. He liked his privacy. He didn’t like his wife especially. He sometimes wished he’d never sent away for her.
“Joanna, sweetheart, exactly how long will Callidora be staying with us?”
“My mother is welcome here as long as she wants!” Joanna stomped her foot for emphasis. She was a large woman. The rotting plank cracked and gave way. She fell forward, hitting the crown of her head, hard, against the cement floor.
Bob glanced at her. She seemed unconscious. Only her feet twitched. There was blood. Not much at first. Then it pooled. Bob looked away.
“It was only supposed to be for a visit.” Bob stared at the NO SALE button on a 1915 National. He pressed the key. The drawer sprung open with a satisfying ding. Bob smiled. He looked at his wife, hoping for some modicum of approval, but Joanna remained, twitching, face down on the basement floor.
Bob picked up an oilcan and squirted WD40, working the drawer in and out until its movement was quiet and smooth. He pressed the $1 key. It stuck. He used a screwdriver to pry it loose. The top broke off and flew across the room, landing beside the now completely motionless body.
“It’s been a year!” Bob coughed like his chest would explode.
“Τι φωνάζει!” Callidora was at the top of the stairs. “Τι κάνατε με τη Joanna μου?” Callidora spoke only Greek. “Δολοφόνος!” Bob didn’t understand a word of it.
Bob applied his makeup in the mirror above the washtubs. Joanna was wrong. He had plenty of time. He stretched out awhile on the cot where he’d slept since Callidora’s arrival.
The bike was an old balloon-tire Schwinn with the front wheel severely out of round. It had a bell that Bob worked constantly with his blue-gloved thumb. It had a handlebar basket, perfect for the Grand Prize Game buckets neatly stacked one inside the other. The effect was impressive. People stopped whatever they were doing to applaud as Bob rode by.
The party was a modest one. A dozen first-graders in a decorated garage. Bob made sure that Cynthia, the birthday girl, completed the Grand Prize Game with a ping-pong ball landing safely in every bucket.
Bob hoped he’d be invited to stay for hotdogs and cake. It didn’t happen. Cynthia’s dad asked him to leave. It was the smell. He smelled like basement.
Dan Nielsen plays solo ping pong, which is like Tai Chi, but fun. His flash manuscript Flavored Water was a semi-finalist in the Rose Metal Press 2017 SHORT SHORT CHAPBOOK CONTEST. Recent work in: Bird’s Thumb, Minor Literature[s], Cheap Pop, Random Sample, Abstract Magazine, and The Collapsar. Dan has a website: Preponderous you can follow him on Twitter @DanNielsenFIVES, and he with Georgia Bellas form the art band Sugar Whiskey