The Performance by Patrick Vincent Welsh
Dressed in full clown costume, Samuel rode the tiny bicycle, maneuvering more out of strength than grace. He had built his muscles on a car assembly line for a decade before the plant’s closing reduced him to entertaining children’s parties.
When his act was finished, Samuel washed away his makeup in the family’s bathroom. He looked beneath the sink, behind the cleaning products, and when he found a sheet of Xanax, he took three milligrams.
He nearly fell asleep as he drove on the highway towards his home. He got off two exits early to drive past the abandoned assembly plant. He kept his eyes to the smokestack as he drove around to the empty dirt road behind the plant. His truck kicked up dust and he navigated the road out of memory while he leaned out of the window to give the smokestack the middle finger.
It was then, with his body halfway out of the car that he collided with another vehicle. When Samuel awoke, he stepped from his truck seemingly uninjured. He approached the other car and saw an elderly woman with shattered glass on her lap, a large black smudge on her forehead, and blood coming from her nose and one of her ears. She was conscious, but it was clear that she was dying.
Samuel dragged her out onto the dust road and looked her over.
“Jesus Christ lady, what the hell were you doing back here anyway?”
She went to speak but a bubble of blood popped from her mouth.
Samuel cried and started to pass out from the Xanax, but then shook himself awake and said, “I’m going to go get help. I’ll run up to the highway.”
He turned away, but he heard her whisper, “No.”
“Are you a clown?” she asked, looking at his outfit. “I used to love clowns when I was a girl.”
Samuel knelt and wiped the blood from her chin.
“Lady, I’ve got to get help.”
“No,” she said. “Perform,” she said, her teeth covered in blood.
“I want to see your act,” she said. “Please? I used to love clowns,” she said as her eyes closed and a low whistling gasp came from her nose.
“I’m sorry, lady. I’m so sorry. I didn’t see you. I thought this road was…”
“Perform,” she said, her eyes reopening. “Please?”
Samuel, crying intensely, looked through his pocket for his red nose. He attached it and smiled the best he could. He opened his trunk, which was dented and needed some prying, and retrieved his little bicycle. He circled the old woman as her eyes fluttered, as her breath slowed, as she smiled, as she put her hands softly together to clap.
Patrick Vincent Welsh is currently writing a collection entitled Hard Times Galore, of which “The Performance” is a part. Other selections from the collection have recently been published in Euphony, The Journal of the University of Chicago, Busk Journal, The Rusty Nail, The Literary Underground, and Juked.