He was the highlight of the long walk home from school. They’d taunt him. Laugh at him.
Throw sticks and stones.
‘Did you piss yourself?’
‘Is your stonking red nose from picking it clean, yer clown.
He'd swear and shake the wire fence, and the children ran into the forest, screaming in mock fear.
Elliot never ran or threw rocks.
‘Are you unhappy?’
The clown tilted his head.
‘Don’t be upset with them. They’re scared of you.’
He pointed at the clown’s cracked and dirty nails. ‘You need a spade if you’re going to dig. What are yer like, them clothes are dead mucky.’
On Saturday, while his parents shopped, he raided his dad’s wardrobe and shed, and headed for Arundel Asylum. The grounds behind the fence were empty. He wrapped the trowel in the clothing and flung them high over the fence.
On the next school day, he pleaded with his mates. ‘He’s all right, that clown. He don’t mean no harm.’
‘It’s an asylum for bad people.’
‘He’s a nutter.’
The tall fence appeared out of the forest. Razor wire wound through the top loops high off the ground. The boys stopped, keeping within the dark forest, pointing and laughing. Elliot rushed to the fence, not understanding why two long feet grew from the dirt mound. The boys crowded the fence, trying to touch, to poke the knobbly toes with their sticks.
The legs wriggled, the feet kicked, once, twice, and disappeared into the dirt.
Little hands gripped the fence. Faces peered in wonderment, trying to look into the ground. Beneath their feet, a scratching noise sounded. Grass shivered. The earth moved, and a triangular metal trowel appeared, followed by the tousled headed clown.
The boys screamed and ran. Elliot hesitated, his hand reaching for the trowel. When he turned to run, a hand pushed free of the dirt, long fingers with cracked and dirty nails, latched onto his ankle and pulled him close.
The boys visit each year. They gather rocks just in case. They stand in the deep dark forest, not able to see beyond the brick fencing. They drop their rocks and head home upset they hadn't thrown rocks that last time they'd seen the grumpy clown.