Broken Clowns and Time

Donald Shephard

Resting comfortably in the lee of a haystack one blustery, spring day I asked Fred how Ken had come to be a clown. My esteemed uncle surprised me by saying it was because of Ken's twin, Peter Bonewood.

"But I have never seen nor heard of a Peter Bonewood," I said.

"Well you will now," and he proceeded to tell me the sad story.

The urchin with dirty, reddened knees protruding below short pants scratched his head and studied the twins lined up against the solid brick wall of the school.

"That one's Peter," he said, without much conviction. He had selected correctly purely by chance. Adults, having less time to ponder such things, had a harder time telling the twins apart. Children, running around with them all day soon sensed the differences. Their mother, Mrs. Pamela Bonewood, had once been interrupted while feeding them and had inadvertently suckled Peter twice. Ken eventually got his point across.

Already, at eight, Peter was fatter, slower to speak, slower to move, and quicker to anger. He was the first to tire of the spotlight. It was Ken who took the lead and Peter who followed. Ken was the half-back in soccer, Peter the goalie.

They were not the kind of inseparable twins who wear matching clothes and exchange thoughts without words, but they were very close brothers. Those years of pre-adolescence were more or less idyllic. The war was over, their father had settled down, as much as any soldier ever settles down, to a regular job polishing lenses for a microscope manufacturer. He was proud of his boys saying that it took a real man to father twins.

They had no other siblings, their mother did not really want to be married. She had a deep foreboding of doom about the twins and cringed whenever one or the other was hurt. She felt that the pangs of motherhood were doubly applied to the bearer of twins. There were, as she explained, always twice as many chances of mishaps where twins were concerned.

Nobody argued with her, Mrs. Bonewood was right.

In their teenage years the twins developed an intense bond which saw them through the awkward times. Ken would start the homework and Peter would join in later only to leave his brother to finish while he, Peter, sat brooding. They did not compete with each other but Ken gradually forged ahead academically so that they were separated. Ken went on to high school while Peter spent some time in a trade school.

"What's wrong with Peter?" His father asked Ken.

"Nothing's wrong! You pick on him too much." It was not what he meant to say, sometimes he got caught up in Peter's anger even when his sympathy was with his father. There was something very wrong. The game they played, which they called "The Bro' Game", had turned bizarre in the last few months.

"You know the Bro' Game, dad?" Ken began, carefully rebuilding fences.

"Well, somewhat, are you still playing it?" said Mr. Bonewood anxious to help with the difficult business of communicating with a teenager.

"Yes, it has changed over the years, but we still talk in our beds before we go to sleep. It has become kind of crazy lately."

"In what way?"

"We started out making jokes, puns mostly, and plays on words. They were generally insulting, I suppose. Giving teachers nicknames and that sort of thing. I would say something, Peter would change it slightly, and I would change that and so on."

"Yes I remember some scathing remarks about Mr. Inkster, Pinkster, Stinkster," mused the father.

"Lately, Peter's remarks have not made sense," said Ken. "There is not a lot of sense in Inkster, Pinkster, Stinkster, you know."

"No, but last night, for instance, we were talking about the various mispronunciations and misspellings of grandfather MacGillyguddy's name when Peter interrupted me with 'What about Johnny Appleseed?' There was no possible connection."

In fact Ken had been troubled by this sudden jumping-off-the-rails-of-a-train-of-thought that Peter did for some time. It had been going on for at least a year before he told his father. There was more. Peter was much angrier now than he had been before and his mood swings did not seem justified by circumstances. He even got upset with his brother. There was not a rift. The bond was still there, at least as far as Ken was concerned. He found himself defending his brother more frequently as they grew older.

"Had a nice chat with Peter, I mean Ken, tonight," murmured Bonewood, as he lowered himself wearily into his cold nuptial bed.

"What about?" asked his wife, wary of any possible attempt at intimacy.

"Peter, mostly. Ken thinks that there is something wrong with him." "I don't know, they are quite different now. Whatever happened to my sweet little babies. Why do boys have to become so angry as young men?"

"Ken is alright," mused the father and straight away he knew that he had lost any hope of so much as a cuddle that night.

"You always did prefer him over Peter, didn't you?" she said, turning her back and hooking the blankets with her shoulder as she went away from him.

At Christmas break Ken was full of himself. Peter was beside him but not with him. They were close and yet not together. Something big and very ugly was growing between them. Their language was different now, their mood was rarely the same. Ken felt the first strain of losing his brother.

Two years later Mrs. Bonewood sat for the umpteenth time in a waiting room of yet another psychiatric ward, this one at a university research facility, but they all felt and smelled the same to her. Perhaps she should be the one to see the psychiatrist, it was her favorite, Peter, who had the broken mind, schizophrenia they called it, not her husband's pet, Ken. She knew Bonewood saw other women, that was fine with her as long as he kept it quiet and did not mess with her body too, she liked the arrangement.

She had been over and over this stuff so many times. Why Peter? Why not Ken? Why either of them at all? They were both in with the doctors now being tested like guinea pigs to look for any chemical differences in their metabolisms. She had become tired of persuading Peter that all would be well when she was sure that his mind would never recover, that, in fact, the seeds of dementia were sown in her womb by Bonewood himself. Certainly, it was nobody else. She had slept with him only and was not about to try anyone else.

Bonewood sat next to his wife looking at the mothers of other twins searching for a sign of warmth from each of them in turn. He had become proficient at finding others in need of attention from outside their marriages. Sad, he thought, that so many of us are trapped by children, religion, or even inertia and cannot escape from cold-fish relationships. All the waiting room parents were there in support of one twin who was schizoid and the other who was not. No luck today, all the women were too uptight to notice that he was available to talk.

After several other young people came out, Peter appeared. Bonewood watched him amble over to his mother. He was fat, scowling, unkempt and generally unattractive. "What are they doing in there, dear?" asked his mother.

"Stabbing and bleeding, asking questions about newts and giraffes. They are not keeping us here for three weeks."

"Will Ken be out soon?" asked his father.

"They were going to take out all his blood and put mine in him, but I would not let them. He has to stay there till he is good. We have to wait for him. I'm going home." By "home" he meant the institution that lately housed him.

Bonewood gritted his teeth, and blew air down his nose as he straightened his arms beside his body, and clenched his fists. What a clown, he thought. Yet it was Ken who had taken up clowning. It was Ken who was working out his frustrations, his anger, his total bewilderment at being the one with the whole mind while his brother got all the attention because of his broken brain.

"Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, twins and twinesses, may I present to you Bro' Ken the clown." A fine introduction from a diminutive emcee complete with a red bow tie.

Ken bounced into the room, tripped expertly over his extra large shoes, tumbled in front of the eight year old twins and reared back with thumbs tucked inside his pants top. Feeling the bulb that was secreted there, he pushed it and saw from behind his heavily made-up face, his bright red nose fly off and land in the lap of the little birthday girl. His artificial nose lay flashing brightly in her lap, and Ken looked into her face hoping for a smile before continuing his performance as a clown who was prone to lose body parts and colorful bits of clothing.

There before him was a retarded girl clutching delightedly at the blinking nose that had fallen off this funny man. Next to her was her brother, with his black jacket and red bow tie, happy that she was taking this show so well. Ken blanched beneath his white mask, his mind reeled, it was half a minute before he could collect his thoughts and resume his routine.

"So that is how Ken became the clown, Bro'Ken," said Fred as the weather cleared. I wanted to ask more about insanity. There was so much to find out about it, but Fred, rising from behind the haystack and pressing his body forward in order to balance against the wind, walked off toward the village.

"There is a continuum, Donald, between sanity and all out looniness. In between there are stops at individuality, eccentricity, daffiness, and oddity. With Ken and Peter the difference is obvious. With the rest of us the line blurs and our position on the scale changes from time to time. Some people jump over the line and never come back. Others, like Peter, slide down the slippery slope never to return. The rest of us wander in that direction occasionally, shake our heads and wander back." With that Fred became quiet until we reached the copse of his cottage. I did not disturb his thoughts.

This continuum theory of Fred's was a common explanation of his for a variety of subjects. Truth and fabrication were not so much opposites as points on a continuum, according to my dear, old uncle. Certainly beauty and ugliness were another example. Good and evil were definitely that way too. He once told me that it would be impossible to distinguish between a straight line, one inch long, and a one inch arc of a circle, if the circle was the diameter of the earth. In the same way a square might be a patch of the globe. Who could tell?

Time, he had told me may be a straight line as we are accustomed to think about it, or, it may be an arc of a section of a sphere. In that case, I have already told you the story of Thom's father.

Back to ... Fred Plinge Stories | Home page