Chico’s Last Laugh

Chico the Clown once said that he wanted to die at home, in the city he loved, in front of an audience. This was the plan.

His glass box was twelve by nine feet long and wide, with a beige carpet laid across the floor and a sofa bed for him to sleep on. Nothing fancy. It was assembled on his porch, which gave him a view of the city and pedestrians a view of him.

The first morning of his last show was unusually cold, even for December. An icy wind bore its teeth into the trees, shaking their brown leaves to the pavement in gusts. Grey clouds hung low and heavy.

A steadily growing crowd of two hundred or so had gathered to catch a glimpse of the icon. Everybody there expected the unexpected, as you did with Chico.

There was no grand introduction. At nine o’clock the front door opened and the clown appeared. He was helped out of a wheelchair and carried to his bed by a nurse who cradled him like a child. Cancer had devoured his muscles, leaving just the skin and bones behind. His twiggy arms held onto her neck, while his legs dangled helplessly near the floor. The only Chico-esque trait he had left was the blue jumpsuit and purple hair.

The nurse tucked him into bed and removed his wig for just a moment, to replace it with a woolen beanie, exposing Chico’s bumpy, pale skull. His face was not painted the usual red, white and blue; he wore no make-up. Dark rings circled his eyes. The hard lines in his cheeks and forehead were like knife wounds, and his teeth had turned brown from chewing a natural remedy that was meant to help with pain. A second nurse came out, male this time, dwarfing the artist as he checked Chico’s vitals. Tubes and needles were inserted into his arms and wired back to machines inside the house. Once everything was ready and noted, the nurses kissed him on the cheek and said a quiet goodbye, closing the glass door on their way out. Chico waved his emaciated hand, smiled and laid his head down on a flat, white pillow.

***

There was no security outside his house; it wasn’t necessary. Once news spread of his condition, people were just happy to watch him suffer inside his glass box. Press teams, religious groups, animal rights organizations and community outfits had joined the crowd, some carrying signs that outlined his sins against society.

A rapid-fire explosion of camera flashes lit up the Victorian home’s porch as Chico woke up from his nap at noon, looking groggy and weak, his eyes burning red, his lips swollen from sores that wouldn’t heal. He rang a bell and his nurses were back to administer a painkiller and help him sit up. When he was comfortable again, the clown reached beneath the covers and pulled out a flask and a pack of Camels.

In a brief moment of old charisma, Chico flipped the cigarette into his mouth, holding it between his teeth, and then clicked his fingers to produce a flame. He lit it, took a big drag and raised his drink to the crowd, who began booing. The clown laughed and laughed and laughed and threw his head back, until his laughter broke into coughing fits. The nurses came back out and took his cigarette and drink away, while he vomited blood and bile on himself. When the fit subsided, he lay down again, looking deflated and ready for another nap. The crowd laughed while the two nurses changed his covers.

***

Chico’s art was not pleasant.

He once dissolved the body of a bottlenose dolphin (which had been caught in a commercial fishing vessel’s net) by submerging the mammal’s corpse in Coca-Cola, in a glass box not dissimilar to the one he lay in during his final act; there was nothing left to see after two weeks.

The clown’s most outrageous, cruel and controversial piece united left and right wing groups, who both agreed that he was maniac who needed to be institutionalized. The clown bought a newborn lion cub, female, from a canned hunting lodge outside Johannesburg, South Africa, and bottle-fed her for forty days. She was beautiful and animated. He named her ‘Cupshake.’

On day forty-one, he took the Cupshake into a barn, electrocuted her with a prod, smashed her skull with a baseball bat, cut her throat with a sickle and then gutted and cooked her on an open fire with red wine sauce; the meat was sent to various businessmen as Christmas gifts. He called the project, ‘Live Stock’.

He hated violence, but used it to hold a mirror up to society. It was heavy stuff for a guy who started his career at a small circus, getting hit in the face with pies and making balloon animals for bored children.

He was also frustrating to his audience. Every time one of his art ‘pieces’ was unveiled, he would disappear for six months, which by then was long enough for whoever he’d pissed off to have forgotten about it or moved on to another viral obsession.

***

The glass box routine went on for two days. Chico would wake up, taunt the crowd, tire himself and then go back to sleep. It was the story of his life.

But on day three he did not wake up at noon. His vital signs weren’t strong and what bodily strength he had left was nearly spent. As word of his immanent death spread, so the crowd grew. By two o’clock he still hadn’t woken up and there were up to a thousand people standing outside now. The tension was also simultaneously growing; everybody knew that Chico would try to have the last laugh.

Later that afternoon, a van pulled up to the house and men wearing masks stormed inside with automatic weapons. They brought the nurses out onto the porch and made them get down on the knees, facing the crowd. The leader, wearing a robe, fired shots into the air told everyone to freeze. People screamed and did as they were told.

This is going to be really simple, the leader said. We want the same thing you all do: to send Chico to hell, where he belongs. He’s playing us right now with this act and we’re ending the game.

Using the butt of his rifle, the leader smashed the box’s door, raining shards of glass across the bed, and then slung Chico over his shoulder. The clown’s fragile, limp body quivered, but there was no fear in his eyes; he understood that death was coming for him one way or another.

Now make a path for us, the masked people ordered the crowd, so we can take him away. Tentatively, the crowd started clearing, making room for Chico’s captors to get away. The nurses howled and bellowed for mercy, and both were swiftly given black eyes and broken noses.

The car was running the whole time.

All the baddies needed was to get to through crowd, who seemed quite happy to see this drama end in a kidnapping, followed by an uncontested murder. They’d all turned up to see him die, anyways.

 

-By Clayton Truscott

 

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