“Hey Joe, what’s this pie doing in your tulips?”
My father propped his cigar neatly on the side of the thick, clear glass ashtray that brooded through all weather on our patio table, and walked over to where Uncle Calvin was standing. My uncle was staring in surprise at the overturned pie tin and the whipped cream that streaked the leaves and flowers around it, but my father only glanced quickly and then rolled his eyes and turned away.
“It must be from those clowns next door.”
He wasn’t being facetious. The Shaw’s really were clowns. They’d been performing in different circuses for years, and when their children, Buddy and Darla, were born, they’d just incorporated them into the act. Then one day they’d hit the lottery and had done what anyone sensible would do: retire to a big, luxurious house in an upscale neighborhood, where they’d swim in their private pool all day and only leave the property to go on vacation somewhere with an even bigger pool and maybe the ocean.
The only thing was, clowning was in the Shaw’s’ blood. Mr. and Mrs. Shaw had met at the circus…because both of their families were performers. If you went through either one’s family tree, you’d never find the end of clowns. They even liked to say that at least one of their ancestors had been court jester to Queen Elizabeth I. With a long history like that, it’s not easy to give it all up overnight, no matter how nice your pool or vacation plans are, I guess. We started hearing them laughing and shouting over the stone wall that separates our property from theirs. Sometimes we found objects (balls, pies, funny hats) that must have been thrown too far and landed in our yard.
Then one day, when my sister Jill and I were in the garden, we saw a pigtailed girl go flying through the air, laughing hysterically. Without a moment’s thought, Jill had scrambled to the top of the stone wall, and absently held out her hand for me to reach onto and pull myself up. When I got to the top, I could see what had her transfixed: the flying girl had landed and was running to a small, very bouncy-looking trampoline. She got onto it and started jumping. Higher and higher she went, the frilly blue satin collar of her yellow clown suit bouncing into her face, and when she got really high, she started doing tricks, flips and splits in the air. Then, suddenly she leapt and launched herself towards a pile of what looked to be pillows about ten feet away. We saw her fly just as we’d seen her before, and it was no less amazing now that we knew why. Instead, in that moment, something was born in Jill and me: we would be clowns.
It’s been several years since then. Our training with the Shaw’s has been covert. At first, they didn’t want to teach us anything, maybe because they knew what kind of neighborhood this was. But then Jill hinted she knew about a lion they were keeping in one of the bedrooms. She could see it from her own bedroom window at night, and she claimed she had pictures.
Jill and I have talent, that’s what the Shaw’s say. Of course, we’ll never be like Buddy and Darla, but they still see promise. In a few more years, we’re planning to run away to the circus. And maybe before we do, we’ll free the Shaw's’ lion and take him with us, too. He can’t be happy in a place like this.