Todd is afraid of clowns. What's an older brother to do?
TODD AND THE CLOWN
The spring on the screen door twanged open and popped shut with a bang as Randy skidded into a kitchen drenched in warm autumn sunlight, his feet trailed by a spatter of yellowing leaves. His mother, peeling carrots at the sink, looked up and smiled at her husky 11-year-old son, who was obviously bursting with excitement.
“Mom, guess what? Sam’s dad said a circus is coming to town in two weeks! Sam is going to the show after school on October 15th at the county fairgrounds. Can I go too, Mom; can I go too?”
Randy’s hair was blown back into short blonde peaks and his cheeks were reddened both from excitement and the wild, three-block bike ride home.
“Yes, you can, Randy, if your chores are done. Ferrisberg doesn’t have a circus in town often; that’s a fact.” Then Mom’s face turned thoughtful. “But what about your brother, Todd? Isn’t he afraid of clowns? I’ll never forget how he screamed when Uncle Maurice dressed up like a clown on his first birthday party.”
Randy’s smile faded.
“But couldn’t he stay home?”
“Not that afternoon, because your father and I have to work until 5:30, and it’s your responsibility to watch Todd after school.”
“But he might not be scared of clowns any more or” – Randy thought furiously – “maybe I could convince him that they are okay.”
“Randy,” said Mom gently, “fears are funny things. They aren’t always reasonable. I remember when you were afraid of dark closets.”
Randy gulped. That wasn’t very long ago.
“But, Mom, I can protect Todd. I stopped Joey Phillips from creaming Todd just last week on the way home from school, and Joey is much worse than a clown – I mean,” Randy corrected himself, “clowns aren’t bad at all. You know that. They’re happy, fun.”
“Well, Randy,” said Mom, “I trust you, and so does Todd. Why don’t you talk to him about it? He’s out in the backyard.”
Randy found Todd pounding a nail into the top of a half-built doghouse. All Randy could see of Todd was a cap of shining brown hair and his thin body twisting, first to pound the nail and then checking the plans that lay on the ground beside him. Randy’s father thought Todd was responsible enough to use a hammer and nails, even though he was only 7.
“Todd,” Randy began, “did you hear about the circus?”
“Yeah,” said Todd, without looking up. “I don’t think I want to go, though.”
Randy couldn’t help letting out an exasperated sigh.
“Oh, Todd, you’ve got to. I mean, it will be great, all those big animals and acrobats and …”
“I think I’ll just stay home.”
That made Randy come right to the point.
“Todd, you can’t. I’m supposed to watch you that afternoon and … and … you know, clowns are just regular guys under all the makeup they wear. They aren’t going to hurt you. Besides, I’ll be there to protect you.”
Todd looked at Randy hesitantly.
“C’mon, Todd. Say ‘yes’ for me this once.”
With a faint smile, Todd said, “Well, okay.”
Then the pounding began again, and Randy raced back to tell Mom the good news. Randy felt small prickles of guilt knowing Todd didn’t really want to go but, after all, he would protect him. Todd would probably end up having the time of his life, Randy thought, reasoning his guilt away.
October 15th dawned sunny and clear, with hints of departed summer in the air. During breakfast, Mom glanced at Todd.
“Todd, you do want to go to the circus today, don’t you?”
Todd stared at a button he was twisting around and around on his shirt.
“All right,” sighed Mom, only partially convinced. “I wish I didn’t have to work. But you boys have fun.”
Randy drummed his fingers against the table. He felt excited all right; excited but a little worried about Todd. But then he thought, Todd will be fine.
How school dragged that day. Finally it was time for the circus to begin. Todd and Randy strolled past glistening steel cages filled with growling lions and tigers. Dusty elephants, chained by one foot, munched steadily on piles of straw. The air was thick with warm, sticky smells: animal dung, buttery popcorn and sweet cotton candy.
Someone was calling their names. Mike and Sam waved wildly from the bleachers.
“Over here; over here. Look, we’ve saved you front row seats.”
Randy grinned at his friends but said, “You’re nuts. What if the elephants stampede? We’re going up farther.”
Sam did a monkey imitation.
“You’ll be missing out. The view is great from here. Man, you can even see the animals’ fleas.”
And clowns’ faces, thought Randy.
Before the show began, Randy and Todd each drank a Coke and shared a bag of popcorn. Todd’s eyes lit up when Randy bought him a clear balloon with a red balloon inside it shaped like a mouse.
They watched jugglers, high-wire walkers and a man shot from a cannon. Todd giggled at the antics of little monkeys dancing in beaded dresses and Mexican sombreros. And there were clowns, hitting each other over the head with plastic bats and jumping into pools of confetti. Randy laughed, while Todd only sat woodenly in his seat.
They were caught in the crowd afterwards, looking for Sam and Mike, when without warning a tall clown wearing a psychedelic wig and hobo garb leaped in front of them. The clown stuck his grease-painted face and large red nose close to Todd’s and pulled the ends of his mouth apart with his fingers in a goofy smile.
He probably thinks he’s giving Todd a thrill, thought Randy miserably as Todd’s face turned ashen, his eyes bulged and his mouth dropped open.
“Terrific,” Randy muttered.
Suddenly Todd lurched back towards the bleachers and crouched in a corner, his back toward Randy, trembling. Randy knew he was throwing up. Suddenly, Mike and Sam appeared.
“What’s the matter with Todd?”
“Too much popcorn, I think,” Randy said, trying to sound nonchalant. “He’ll be okay.”
Thankfully, Sam and Mike pushed on through the crowd, while Randy went up behind his brother, laying his hand on Todd’s back.
“I’m sorry that happened to you, Todd.”
Todd didn’t move for a full five minutes and, during that time, most of the people left. When he finally turned towards Randy, his face was pale but calm. The brothers walked home in silence.
“Did you have fun at the circus?” Mom asked when she got home from work.
“Yeah,” said Todd.
“Great,” added Randy.
But who was he fooling? All the fun of the circus was spoiled by the look of fear on his little brother’s face.
Todd is a neat kid, thought Randy. I’ll have to make it up to him in some way.”
“Hey, Todd, want some help with that doghouse you’re building?”