A performer at the peak of her career taking a little time out to look back on her life.
Buttercup sat in front of the mirror applying her makeup. Precision was vital. She had to get the tone just right. A good base foundation, bold eyebrows, liberal mascara, and crimson red lips. There was a fine line to be had between pathos and comedy. She heard the brass band outside stop playing; this was her cue to go on. She adjusted her wig, checked the shine on her red nose, and then she was on her way.
She burst through the door and onto the stage holding in front of her a vast triangle which she struck with a long crowbar. She was clearly late (the band had been waiting expectantly for her) and clearly out of tune (even the tone deaf in the audience could hear that). She stared down at the triangle in disgust and tossed it into the wings. There was an almighty crash that was completely out of proportion to the size of the triangle and that brought a hearty laugh from the crowd, as it always did, and a small round of applause. She turned and bowed.
Her performance at this part of the proceedings was designed to provide a distraction while the scene shifters arranged the stage for the first acrobatic act. Using her crowbar as a conductor's baton, Buttercup ushered the band to its feet. She counted to three, waving her crowbar-baton as she did so, and the band started to play the Colonel Bogey March. Now she struck the pose of a policewoman directing traffic as the first row of the band marched out, playing as they went.
She made a great show of looking at her watch, and started to wave the crowbar-baton more quickly. The band sped up the march and walked more quickly. The choreography was perfection. As the last but one band member left the stage, she followed him, now brandishing the crowbar-baton as if it were a dagger and she was a crazed serial killer. When the band member turned suddenly, she quickly tossed the crowbar-baton into the wings. Another out of proportion crash. Another hearty laugh from the audience.
As the brass band had been filing out row-by-row until only the percussionist remained, the band's chairs and music stands had been taken away by the scene shifters and replaced with several small trampolines and two ramps. Buttercup bowed to the audience and headed off towards the exit. She was stopped by a loud cough from the back of the stage. The percussionist was still there with his big bass drum. Buttercup mimed that the percussionist should also leave the stage. In reply, the percussionist mimed that he could not manage the big bass drum on his own. She mimed more urgently that he should leave. He mimed more urgently that he needed her help.
Buttercup sighed, let her shoulders slump, looked down, and appeared to spot the array of trampolines for the first time. She looked up at the percussionist. He shook his head violently. She looked over the audience. A small child called out: "Go on, do it!"
Using large, exaggerated steps, she ran up one of the ramps and bounded from one trampoline to the next, and then to the next, finally landing neatly at the percussionists side. The percussionist looked relieved. The audience applauded.
Buttercup looked back down at the trampolines and then back up at the audience. She waited for a little encouragement, and bounded back again. Some more applause.
The percussionist mimed even more urgently that he needed help and gesticulated that she should come back. Her third tumble through the trampolines was less successful: she appeared to go too high off the last trampoline and had to stagger forward on the landing, tripped over one of the ramps, and fell through the big bass drum, and ended up with her head in the drummer's lap.
The crowd guffawed. She stood up, bowed, turned to go, and nearly slipped on an ironically placed banana skin. She stood on the tips of her toes, leaning backwards with her stomach pushed out forwards, her little body bow-shaped, rotating her arms wildly as if she were at the edge of a cliff trying not fall. She held this pose for an impossibly long time while the crowd held its collective breath. She gradually slowed the rotation of her arms, straightened her back, lowered her heels to the ground, and elaborately wiped imaginary sweat off her brow. The crowd sighed with relief.
She bowed again and did a neat little Arabian side-somersault over the offending banana skin, landed neatly on the other side and fell through a carefully concealed trap door, and safely onto the crash mat hidden below.
The crowd went wild.
As she lay there out of sight, and out of breath, she let her mind wander back to less happy days. As a child, she had been short for her age, and a little on the chubby side. It didn't help that her proficiency as a scientist and a mathematician were spotted early and she was bumped up a year; her lack of height was even more apparent when she was among her older classmates. So she went through high school over-performing academically, but forever being referred to as one of the babies. Or as one of the meaner girls dubbed her, one of the jelly babies. And that was just the start of the ribbing.
Although a gifted scientist, her natural clumsiness made her hazardous. She was forever spilling chemicals, dropping vital parts of delicate experiments, or turning quickly and knocking over somebody else's. She adored dancing, but was forever stepping on toes. She loved sport, and tried so hard not to crash through the beam during gym, break a hockey stick, or puncture a netball. But most of all, she dearly wanted to fit in, but was too often told: "No fracking way!"
The big top was somewhere that she could make her dyspraxia a virtue. She found that her awkwardness was prized, not ridiculed. Anyone can deliver a custard pie to an unsuspecting victim and get a small titter, but it takes a special gift to trip over and self-deliver said pie with a convincing naturalness and make it look fresh every time. And her work with the polystyrene wrecking ball was nothing short of virtuosic; if there was a clowning university, her work would be used as an exemplar. The joy her performances gave the girls and boys of an audience was something of which she was justly proud. Every day that she could dress up as a clown was a day that she could sweetly savour.
But there is a melancholy side to clowns. If you look closely, the tears may be false (painted on with a makeup brush) but so are the smiles: both wiped away in an instant. They may make you laugh, but inside they do cry.
The sadness for Buttercup lay with her parents, and their lack of acceptance of her chosen trade. To them, she was a great disappointment. Clowning around in the circus tent was no life for a daughter of theirs. Imagine the laughs when their friends heard about her supposed career. Such shame she'd brought upon the family! (Their words, not mine.)
No! They had had such hopes for their only daughter. She could have done anything, been anyone. They were ambitious for her. More than anything, they wanted her to be a high-flyer, like them: after all, her father was Hercules, the Human Cannon Ball; and her mother was Absinthe, the spectacular Green Fairy and show-stopping star of the flying trapeze.
Inspired by the following Decamot items: brass band, serial killer, absinthe, at the edge of a cliff, buttercup, fracking, mathematician, wrecking ball, circus tent, jelly babies