portion of the artwork for Kathy Fish's story

The Children Called Him Yuck-Yuck
Kathy Fish

He lived with a woman who sold balloons at the zoo. She’d come home nights smelling of animal musk, giraffe saliva, people sweat, and cotton candy. She was always tired. Keeping oneself planted to the earth while holding onto three-dozen helium balloons was no small task. And she was a small woman. She barely reached to his shoulders when they danced, had to glide along on the tops of his feet like a child.

Business was not exactly booming.

You should dress as a clown, he said.

Nooo. They would expect me to be funny then.

It was true she wasn’t funny. She had a calm, somewhat grave temperament. A formal manner with adults and children alike. She told him once, I see no reason to treat children differently. They prefer you to treat them with respect. They don’t mind you spelling things out, like, Sorry, kid, there are no Pikachu balloons and there never will be. A kid can deal with that. It’s the parents who are pussies.

In an attempt to strengthen her balloon-holding hand, she purchased a Captains of Crush hand-gripper from Amazon, and squeezed it in the evenings as they watched Cops. She was uninterested in rising into the heavens.

I could dress as a clown and accompany you, he said. Be your sidekick. Their relationship was broken. He’d decided they needed to spend more time together. Also, he was unemployed.

She agreed and he became the best clown in all the land, or at least the zoo. Soon he was making more money than she, from the tips people threw into the floppy hat he placed before him as he rode a unicycle, honking a horn, telling corny clown jokes.

The children called him Yuck-Yuck.

Her balloons began to wither and fade. Despair settled on her tiny shoulders like so much elephant dander. At night, his wig and rubber nose cast aside, he sat at the kitchen table counting the day’s haul as she pattered around fixing sandwiches, making tea.

She plunked down his cup. Some of the hot tea sloshed onto the dollar bills he’d carefully smoothed and stacked.

I should quit, he said.

No way. You’re super-amazing at clowning. It’s like you were born to it.

He’d read somewhere that 75 percent of all compliments were sarcastic.

I love you, he said. I love you more than clowning. I love you more than all of this money. He tossed the bills into the air like confetti.

It was all an act, though. He really loved clowning and he really loved money and she was beginning to get on his nerves.

She sat cross-legged on the floor, scooping up the cash, and putting it in her mouth, chewing, swallowing. Gagging a little.

There’s nothing filthier than money, he said. You’re swelling up.

She stuffed dollar bill after dollar bill into her face, which was now the size of a basketball. She stopped momentarily to smile at him. Really smile at him. Maybe she would die. She stuffed another handful into her mouth. He made no attempt to stop her.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 45 | Spring 2015