There was a genuine smile on his lips as Kelly painted the ragged scar of lipstick across his mouth. No tears lurked behind the mask of white pan-stick that made his face a canvas. Beneath the unruly mop of ginger nylon ‘hair’ and ragged Tam O’Shanter, behind the illuminated bow tie, he was happy. All he had ever wanted to do was to make people smile; to hear them laugh at his antics – what more could he possibly want..?
He remembered the mocking tones of his teacher when he accidentally spilled his schoolbooks at the master’s feet, “Oh, you think you’re very funny, don’t you Mr Emmett? But don’t worry, because I will have the last laugh. I have a job, you may think it clever to make fun of me, but I… I have a job. You? What do you think you are going to do with your life, eh? Do you think you are going to put food on the table by being a clown? A funny man, eh Kelly? Well, when you’ve picked up your books, you can write out one hundred times, ‘I may think that I am funny, but I am not. I am an idiot.’ We’ll see how amusing you find life then…”
Kelly had tried to explain then, and again many more times, that he wasn’t trying to be clever. Of only one thing in this world was he certain – he would never be ‘clever’, and he most certainly did not want to make a fool of his teacher. Such a shame: he really liked Mr Newby. He was just accident prone. He couldn’t help it. He couldn’t stop the other kids from laughing at him. He liked them to laugh, but not like that. Their laughter was not of the joyous kind. It was sneering, taunting, cruel. He did not seek that laughter. But it wasn’t long before Kelly learned that the laughter of his peers was less cruel if he looked for it; that he felt included in it if he deliberately caused it.
Of course, it didn’t help that his family were poor, that his clothes came from a long line of hand-me-downs, and all from his three elder sisters – re-tailored by his mother in a way that did not always adequately disguise feminine origins. His footwear was even worse. He had to wear his father’s cast-offs. They were many sizes too big, the toes stuffed with paper, the loose soles having been glued and re-glued back in place a hundred times or more.
Mr Newby was a good man; he saw so much promise in young Emmett. He recognised his difficulties and he did all he could to help. He felt physical pain when he witnessed how this quiet and sensitive soul was beaten and jibed into the role of class clown. How the soft intelligence he saw behind his vulnerable eyes was slowly corrupted into something disruptive, almost malevolent. Even as he watched him succumb to the mob, Newby tried to intercede – to encourage and to punish: the carrot and the stick – a public humiliation, a hundred lines for a misdemeanour perhaps and then, much more quietly delivered, some apples to take home for a successfully completed task. He had desperately wanted to guide Kelly to a better future, but he had failed him, and he carried that failure in his heart until his dying breath…
The sun prickled the surface of the pond on the green as Kelly made his way to school. He alone, it would seem, was content with his life. He smiled happily, kicking stones even as his sole flapped loosely on his over-sized shoe. His bag was heavy, but it made a satisfying ‘thump’ against his back with every step. Mr Newby greeted him at the gate, and he smiled.
‘You’re early Kelly. Good to see you looking so happy.’
‘Thank you, Mr Newby. I just have to go to the washroom and I’ll be straight back to class…’
And he was as good as his word. Fifteen minutes later, as the chattering hub-bub of his classmates settled for the day’s lessons, Kelly Emmett, the smile now firmly painted onto his face, strode into the classroom, confident, for once, in his actions and in his ability to perform them. The sunlight that filtered in slatted beams through the dusty window blinds glinted starkly on the long knives he held aloft in his hands. ‘Right,’ he said. ‘Let’s see who’s laughing now…’
Oh, I really fretted about posting this. I found the first paragraph in my workaday notes, I liked it and I decided to give it its head. It took me on a little journey I did not expect. I have sat on it for a few weeks now, because I really didn’t know whether it could fit in here. I toyed with lengthening it, explaining a little more, but I think the sparseness actually works. I could be wrong. I thought of filling it with jokes, but I decided that it had to be posted as it was, or not at all. So I scheduled it as the only way I know of committing myself. It is very different, very dark for me, but it is only a story…