By Heather Sager
Leave It To Billy
Billy, son of a klepto mom, is watching Leave It to Beaver reruns on Netflix. He is twelve. He watches the reruns on unending loop in his tiny house, located near the Burlington Northern tracks. Mom, as it happens, is out—reflexive urges send her to church, even on a summer Saturday, to sell bake sale cookies on the lawn. Or she’s roaming—she meets the elderly, brings them meals.
Billy sits on the tattered couch with his Husky dog, the wide-eyed Leo. As if beckoned by their quiet jubilation, Billy’s fierce little sister, Jamie, bangs into the house. Her hair and face look freshly ruffled; she’s been playing by the tracks.
She sees the Beav flickering onscreen. She says, to her brother or the television, “This show is good.” Billy nods, knowing this, of course. By summer’s end he plans to watch all 234 episodes twice.
Want a Clown? Need a Clown? Call Mad Mike, the crisp white card read, decorated as it was with a clown’s grinning head in the center, concentric maroon circles spiraling around.
It began with the shoes. Big, red, floppy and flat-bottomed. When they paraded, the good clowns wore those shoes, while their silhouettes reached towering heights adorned by their magnificent sprays of equally ruby hair; they possessed crow-eyes and wild hands. It was only a simple matter of common sense. He had found a shoe store that catered to clowns, the enthusiastic shop manager ordered costumes and shoes on credit. There was a certainty bubbling within him, when he decided to be a clown.
Empty spaces for nonexistent clowns would soon be filled with real, cheery faces, people who enjoyed pranks as well as a football game or other wholesome things; normal people.
They had no official gathering place for practice—they wandered from yard to yard holding court, in full regalia. Once Rhonda flopped down in her lawn chair, her hillside ranch house resplendent behind her, she was transformed. The uptight teacher—her constant worrying about academic fairness, the longevity of the written word (fearing the impact of emails, she believed this new technology would cause the death of the letter)—became a fun-loving, curse-word breathing clown. In fact, Rhonda wasn’t actually her real name, they learned at the third meeting. It was a pseudonym she adopted for clowning. Not because being in the club ashamed her, but because the name freed her up to plumb the depths of her imagination. To make herself laugh, to make others, children. At home she had a grim scientist husband who always traveled and a difficult daughter in her late teens.
Mike, infatuated with Rhonda, suggested they begin holding all meetings in her yard—to the teenager’s dismay.
One August day, Rhonda died. The coroner was still determining cause of death, which was unexpected and fulminant, natural as a heart attack, occurring in the kitchen at daybreak when she was up watching the larks. The clowns appeared on the front lawn in suit and tie, drab colors. Rhonda’s daughter met them, boldly and with a proud demeanor despite her sadness. She never approved of the clowns haunting her lawn, but she wanted them at the ceremonial luncheon, following the funeral, regardless. She beseeched them to appear in paint and full gear—just what her mother would have wanted.
Mike tried to refuse, but the lot consented. The cracks in the daughter’s breaking voice made him crack and melt inside like a pile of soggy crackers. Finally Mike said yes, lump in throat. They agreed to go. It was summer then, and terrible, and the crows of autumn would soon shadow every corner.
Heather Sager is an author of fiction and poetry whose works have appeared in BlazeVOX, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, and elsewhere. She lives in northern Illinois.