Tomsk actually got more glue inside the hollows of his own nose than on the clown's plastic red conk, as he tried to stick it on.
Tomsk was a clown of long standing. Barroli wondered how anybody could make such a fist of nosing himself up, let alone a full-fledged circus performer such as Tomsk. But, then, of course, Tomsk was getting old, wasn't he? And Barroli hoped to take over from Tomsk as chief clown, a position which meant that he, Barroli, would no longer have to clown about so clownishly clownish. In fact, Tomsk, as chief clown, was eligible to wear a wickedly white staring face and pointy hat - but such an inscrutable image was one that Tomsk unaccountably avoided as far as possible bearing in mind the plonker of a bright red conk he was trying to stick on.
Barroli wouldn't be seen dead in such garish colours when he took over Tomsk's mantle - just a subtle smudge of black rouge (if rouge could be black) on each dusted cheek - plus a plain pierrot's hat or, at best, a harlequin's. Whatever the case, Barroli had his hatching to do, plans to unfold, varicose blueprints to pore over...
Barroli shook his head to clear it of thoughts. Clowns couldn't afford thoughts: too demeaning by half to the thoughts as well as to the clown who thought them. He watched Tomsk finish gumming up his his nose with loud snorts of impatience.
When a clown reached senility, such senility had double the force of ordinary people's or, seen from the diametrically opposite direction, half of it. Tomsk was so senile, nobody noticed: it simply merged with his clowning: an optimum senility, albeit a severe one. But there came a time when each facet ceased to offset the other - at which point slapstick turned into something far more dangerous than simply breaking a few bones when horseplay got out of hand in the circus ring.
Barroli feared that Tomsk was reaching beyond the Golden Mean of a clown's senility. He saw it in Tomsk's eyes, those pinpricks of life which the encircling audience, on curves of exponential delight, were too far away to see properly. Tomsk's eyes already looked as if they were nipples upon the sagging breasts of his facial muscles. But now the whites were blackening whilst the pupils became more an emptiness than a colour. The subtle mascara of Tomsk's seniority merely accentuated such physical quirks rather than alleviating them.
Barroli ceased scrutinising Tomsk so as to look into the mirror at the round blotched canvas of another face: his own.
He, too, had darkened his eye-liner to suit his own advancing years. Yet, unlike Tomsk, the bulbous nose was something that became increasingly unbearable to wear. It did nothing for his self respect. Soon, he would be too old to take over from Tomsk...
There was a rap on the dressing-room door which indicated the imminent call to duty. From the distance, both clowns could hear the ensemble drawing to the brassy finale of the elephant's cake-walk - amid the officious shouts of the ring-master. Tadman was a blighter. He had no finer feelings for clownship. He merely endured their buffoonery, for the sake of the unbearable littl'uns in the front row of the audience.
Tadman thought circuses were all about animal acts and trapeze tricks. Clowns, to him, were not even light relief. As Tomsk once said, in one of his more lucid moments, a clown's rightful purpose was really for dark relief - but, surely, one couldn't expect anyone like ring-master Tadman to appreciate the arcane arts of mockery and mummery.
The rap repeated itself. Same rap, different knuckles...
Although city-minded from cot to crabby middle-age, ring-master Tadman often felt like a disfigured peg in a regular hole. If it weren't for his weak ankles, he'd've hiked from the city centre circus to the countryside, whatever the distance ... through the winding urban back-doubles and bewildering T-junctions and double-deadended ratruns.
He suspected to be taken advantage of - looked up in the telephone directory - tracked to his inner city den - hounded till kingdom come. But someone out there might have transport that they're willing to lend him or, at least, helpful advice as to how Tadman could leave this godawful precinct. A ring-master could not be too careful. Enemies watched from in as well as out the circle...
He could now easily imagine someone thumbing through the directory’s paper-thin pages - F.D. Tadman - F.R.P Tadman Jr. - F.Z. Tadman - which one to plump for, this person with eyes squeezed shut and wielding a pen that waved about above the print like a guided missile having second thoughts. But a circus caravan with a P.O. Box Number was all Tadman had to go on himself for where he lived.
It is important that he did not attract any undesirables. Not even the clowns knew his whereabouts when not in the circus ring. Or especially the clowns. Tadman's optimum choice for someone to help him would be a nice lady with no obvious habits - one who owned a city flat as well as a country cottage and, oh yes, a set of wheels (preferably with a cog-easy motor attached).
The city was a real maze. It never ended. It never began. Office blocks concealed blind bends. Traffic choke-ups barricaded the streets - with jam and blood overflowing even the sidewalks. There had once been a wide river running through the middle of the city. Either the city council had built so many bridges, nobody knew whether the river was there any more - or it was always just around the next hair bend, where the pelican lights flashed the word "CAKE!" instead of "WALK!"? Few citizens actually cared ... as they witnessed yet another accident victim peel itself off the road surface.
Eventually, the clown's dressing-room was empty of any vestige of life, save perhaps the disorder of discarded bandages that Tomsk and Barroli had used as masking-tape - this pile budging imperceptibly in mimic of something that aspired to exist, given a stronger draught to stir it.
The mirror was unpeopled, too, yet, if the mirror could hear, it would've heard the distant laughter and the rhythmic clumping of the drums, as its erstwhile pair of companion reflections made fools of the other lesser clowns with custard-pies and trick doors ... assuming Tadman didn’t intervene.
Men who dress up as women were called Magic Playboys. Tadman tried it once, but no-one offered him a seat on crowded buses or opened doors or laid their coats upon a puddle - so he gave up the habit.
The buses never left the city. Tadman had never found one bold enough to advertise a route beyond the sprawling outskirts. The puffers shunted in and shunted out of the main line station, their headboards suspiciously blank. Tadman got on one such puffer once. He knew it was not going far, since there were no bog-easies on board for a leak. He cut short his trip at the first halt which turned out to be merely round the corner from the circus Big Top - which was convenient, he supposed, but that was hardly the point. Lucky to rediscover his shake-down from that unusual angle of approach, simply armed with a P.O. Box Number as he was.
Tomsk saw Tadman through a mishmash of his own eyes and mind, made double by overlapping. He discerned Tadman's whip snaking through the air, as if the ring-master thought the clowns were no better than animals from the menagerie - or worse. Tomsk's vision was never good but now it was a blurred dream sequence where everything was monstrous, nothing normal. He picked up a yellow slobby thing and launched it towards what he thought was Barroli's rear-end, daring not to throw one at Tadman, too. Nowhere in circus history had a ring-master become involved in clownish antics ... well, never Tadman, in any event. Not unless he'd done it once in disguise.
A little boy in the audience couldn't help laughing. He was meant to laugh, he realised, whilst his eyes cried not with tears of laughter, but with a finer brew of self. He watched the clown with the red nose and pointy hat staggering in a series of straight lines - which made the little boy feel ill at ease in view of the perfect circle in which the performance took place.
Tadman once rented out a room in his caravan to a Magic Playboy. The latter said he wouldn't bother Tadman with the hissing movement of silk frocks. He'd spend most of his time in the nude and would only dress in regalia when Tadman was out.
"But what'll happen when you go out?" Tadman asked.
"I'll dress in the storm porch."
It seemed strange using a caravan’s porch as a vestry, but who was Tadman to question? But that The-Lion-The-Witch-And-The-Wardrobe act every morning did snag Tadman's nerves.
Tadman gave Tomsk the slightest flick with the business end of his whip - more in fun than spite. Barroli made faces at another section of the audience, the members of which made faces back - whilst the little boy watched Tomsk's face become unmade.
Indeed, Tomsk's face erupted upon a basinful of jelly slime as if a head of phlegm had been building up for years behind the red nose - and had at last strained the skull's seams to bursting point with a custardly slug-stew that incubated various curded cultures of green, black and shades of green and black between.
The little boy covered his eyes with his hands, knowing in his heart that the slapstick had not only got out of hand, but out of head, too. The little boy didn't wantanyone to see his tears. A monstrous shape crawled on its stomach along the ring's radius towards the little boy’s position in the audience.
The city was a queer place. The streets were all one, really. No escape. Tadman had seen paintings of the countryside in art galleries. He yearned for its green touch. It must exist - somewhere.
And, of course, not to be forgotten was something everybody had forgotten. But never mind, since Tadman just had to answer the door bell. It wasanother of those Magic Playboys who said he had left his motor running in the next cul-de-sac. Was it convenient for him to look round the room quickly, so he could decide whether to take it. Tadman sensed the Magic Playboy spoke in code.
"I don't let it out any more."
"That's strange. I saw it advertised. This caravan is P.O. Box No. 174, isn't it?"
Tadman told him that it was decidedly not P.O. Box No. 174 and, even if it were, he'd not tell the likes of a Magic Playboy or, if he did tell him, Tadman would disguise it into a bigger better caravan quite out of a Magic Playboy's rental range. Tadman quickly drew the large culottes across the door and returned alone to his inner pad. Tears unaccountably sprung to his loose lashes. He should have asked the Magic Playboy how much mileage his motor had got left and whether it could have taken them both, as well as the caravan, beyond the outskirts of the city.
Tadman's bewildermazed back-run of a mind suddenly knew that his own thoughts were disguised even from himself.
Barroli naturally expected Tomsk to return to the dressing-room, but Tomsk never did. So Barroli gummed himself up in a regalia of black bandages - the resultant mummified mummer waiting patiently for its own humanity to be healed. But, then, the mirror abruptly cracked as near down the middle of the shiny surface as it was geometrically possible to do - and became the only trick door that worked tricks for real.
Tadman lived forever - or, at least, someone with squeeze-eyes masquerading as Tadman did. Ringleader, as well as Ringmaster, he organised drag-racing trips along the city's Ring Roads. Nobody could heal his humanity, sad to say.
Nobody knew what happened to the little boy in the circus audience or whether he managed to escape the Maze Zone.
(published ‘Strix’ 1997)