Ninth Sim of Thirty Sims at Three Rivers
9. Big Blue “Like” Button
The world is full of clowns, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a happy place. On the weekend that the clown convention was in town, Malcolm Mignon was facing his own sadness. It was the anniversary of the night his wife left him, five years ago, with two babies under the age of three.
“Too soft,” she said. “It’s like living with a marshmallow. I need an edge.”
And she was gone.
His mom, Esmeralda, took them in, and a few years later, his newly divorced sister Mariana joined them with her two kids. Now they all lived together in the big red corner house, four kids, three adults, plus Malcolm’s younger sister, Gloriana, wild and ornery at sixteen.
Malcolm liked his kid sister, even if she was snarling most of the time. He could cut her some slack–it wasn’t easy finding the privacy a teen girl needed with siblings and nieces and nephews in every corner of the house.
Still, there was a lot to like about the arrangement, for Malcolm, at least. Mariana, for one thing, had always been his main champion, as he’d been hers, and being able to keep her smiling every day gave him a reason not to sink too low when the blues paid a visit.
It was hard not to like living in a house full of kids, even if that meant he had to wait until they were all at school or in bed at night to get the bathroom to himself.
Sometimes, even Gloriana would manage to shelve her attitude, and then watching her show her nieces what it meant to be an intelligent young woman made it all worthwhile.
On that anniversary weekend, Malcolm needed to get away for a while. He left the kids with his mom, and headed out to the Blue Velvet.
It couldn’t be a good omen to find one of the convention clowns shuffling his sorry feet out of the bar as he arrived.
Another off-duty clown frowned behind the bartender.
“Thought you dudes were supposed to bring happiness,” Malcolm muttered.
“Happiness is over-rated,” said the clown. “We’re trading in the pathos commodities.”
The afternoon slid into the evening, and, with the departure of the clown, the night began to look up.
Alec Dolan, taking a break from the campaign trail, was there with his buddy and chief political rival Huntington.
“I like this,” Malcolm said, “Guys’ night out. We don’t need the women for a good time, eh?”
Alec looked at him and muttered something noncommittal in French.
“I’m just saying,” Malcolm said.
The next morning, the kids were already up when Malcolm came downstairs.
This was the hardest time for him, when Beau and Sasha were cuter than potatoes and it looked on the outside like a happy family. It stabbed him to think that she was missing out on this, that she chose to miss out on this. Who would leave these two kiddos of their own accord?
He hated thinking it, but sometimes, he thought it would be easier if he was a widower. At least then, it would’ve been something that couldn’t have been prevented. Now, on mornings like this, he buttered his toast with “What ifs.”
In the other room, his mom was telling Gloriana and his niece Sarah some story with a moral. He could always tell when it was one of his mom’s Lesson Stories–they all began with “When a person wants…” and ended with “so that’s why.”
He liked her stories, though, even the ones he knew by heart. And he shouldn’t complain about having a storyteller for a mother, not since she’d been the inspiration for his own career as an assistant editor.
And Sasha! She came by all her gifts as a storyteller naturally. Now her stories never carried a hidden moral or a lesson. He liked that.
“Young pirate Bobson climbed up into the crow’s nest,” she continued, “and what should he see? Not one but five whales, each one bigger than the last! But that wasn’t all, the whole Spanish Armada was surfing in their wake!”
She kept him chuckling for a good long time, that daughter of his did.
Esmeralda always told him, “Son, not to worry. Do you know what makes a child grow happy and strong? It’s love. It’s not having both parents there. It’s being surrounded by love.”
When he stepped outside that Sunday morning, with the trees shining down their pink petals, and the air smelling like fresh rain on the pavement, Malcolm thought maybe his mom was right.
And if he could find someone else to make a little love with, then there’d be that much more love around his children’s home.
It took a clown to bring his hopes crashing back down headfirst into the sidewalk.
He liked her first joke just fine: “Sartre was sitting in a cafe when a waitress approached. ‘Can I get you something to drink, Monsieur Sartre?’ He replied, ‘Yes, I’d like a cup of coffee with sugar, but no cream.’ With a nod the waitress walked off to fill the order. A few minutes later, however, the waitress returned and said, ‘I’m sorry, Monsieur Sartre, we are all out of cream–how about with no milk?'”
When he chuckled, she dug in, and what followed was a barrage of the saddest stories he’d ever heard, and the one the broke him down was a report she’d read in the news that morning predicting the extinction of the monarch butterfly.
“They all leave,” she said. “One way or another, every thing of beauty will leave.”
He felt foolish, being moved by a clown’s sad stories. He’d read this was the convention’s challenge–see how many folks they could break down. It was sort of the opposite of a laugh-in. “The real challenge,” read the convention brochure, “for the sons and daughters of Pulcinello is to stir all of the emotions.”
He ran into Alec, who was scheduled to give a speech at the park later that morning.
Malcolm tried out the joke about Sartre.
“Ah! Out of cream! Yes! I get it. Wait. This is funny? And what other jokes did you hear?”
When Malcolm explained about the monarchs, Alec grew serious.
“This, I know,” he said. “I have spoken with the researchers. Yes! You did not know I was with the Greens, did you? I am the candidate!” Alec explained their plan to protect the green spaces throughout the Three Rivers region. “It is the milkweed. That is what these monarchs rely on. My friend Huntington, he does not care about the milkweed! But you trust us! Vote Green and you will see! We will put extinction on the extinction list! That, mon ami, is a prediction!”
Malcolm smiled. He liked Alec and Alec’s passion for the environment.
“Look there,” Alec said, pointing at a happy blue clown walking down the sidewalk. “Not all clowns are sad! That particular clown! I know her! That is Arianna Fuchs, the wife of my campaign finance manager, Janet Fuchs! Oh, yes! We Greens are very progressive!”
Malcolm had to laugh. He liked this blue clown, the wife of the progressive campaign manager!
He liked, also, a beautiful woman in a baseball hat and purple go-go boots who was eating al fresco in the park picnic area.
He tried to think of a joke she might like. Retelling the Sartre joke seemed a little sorry. A funny pick-up line seemed a little too hasty. Fortunately, he was saved from having to come up with anything when she approached him, asking if he could explain what all these mopey clowns were doing around town.
They walked for a bit and talked a lot, until they found Mariana.
“Your brother’s been telling me all about the joys of single-parenting together,” the woman in the baseball hat and purple go-go boots said. “It takes all sorts of shapes to make a family,” she continued. “That’s what I always said.”
Mariana asked if she’d like to join them for supper, but the woman in the baseball cap and purple go-go boots had other things to do. “A date to get ready for,” she said, coyly.
As they watched her walk off, Malcolm sighed. “I kinda liked her,” he said.
“Did you really?” said his sister. “She looked like she kinda liked you back.”
“Just kinda,” said Malcolm. The sun was nearly setting. “Hey. I nearly got through the weekend. Another year.”
“You’re a good man, big brother,” Mariana said. “Be here for me when my weekend comes around, will you?”
And they walked together, across the street and into the big red corner house, where Esmeralda was dishing up big plates of spaghetti for each member of the family.