Wednesday, September 2, 2009


“You were afraid of a doll?” Liz asks, incredulity writ large on her face. “Pat’s afraid of clowns, and you’re afraid of a doll?”

“Well, it was a big doll,” Jack says, defensively. A big scary doll, he thinks, A big scary doll that moved even when it wasn’t being made to go by his sister. A doll that snuck up on him in the middle of the night…

On the dance floor, in front of him, the DJ is playing “Slow Dancing” at an appropriate volume. Couples are swaying to the music, and it looks inviting. Jack can almost feel Liz’ shoulder under his hand, smell her skin under his nose. Jack thinks he’ll ask her to dance, but then she says, again, “A doll!” and snickers.

Maybe he’ll ask Pat.

“What kind of a doll?” Pat asks.

Jack sighs. He might as well give up the idea of dancing, he thinks. At least he doesn’t have to shout now to be heard over the music.

“A walking doll,” he says. Pat and Liz nod. They both know what he means. Josh doesn’t. “It’s about yay tall,” Jack explains, holding his hand out about two feet from the floor. “My sister would stand behind it and move its arms and it would walk.”

“I had one,” Liz says. “There wasn’t anything scary about it .”

“Just because you’re scared of nothing,” Pat says.

“Sometimes it would move even if my sister wasn’t making it go,” Jack says, that shiver going down his spine. “I thought it was my sister, just messing around,” Jack says, to their “yeah, right” expressions, “but she snores.”

“Wait a minute,” Josh says, suddenly paying attention. “The doll snores?”

“My sister snores.” Jack says, realizing he has not made the situation clearer. “I was in her room, supposed to be sleeping and that doll moved, I swear. That thing was evil.”

His grandmother had been visiting, and when his grandmother visited, she stayed in his room. He didn’t know why. No one asked him for permission and it wasn’t like he had a vote, so he’d have to take his camping mat and sleeping bag into his sister’s room and sleep on her floor. There he was, five years old, trying to get comfortable on the sleeping mat in the sleeping bag, surrounded by frilly girl stuff, trying to block out all the noise his sister was making with her snoring, and there was the doll – on the foot of his sister’s bed. A blink and there wasn’t the doll – on the foot of his sister’s bed. There was the doll looming over him with it’s ice blue eyes and its…

Jack blinks. They’re staring at him again. He wonders if he made another seizure-like jump.

“You were sleeping with your sister?” Liz asks.

“My grandmother was visiting,” he says, defensively.

Josh makes a tent of his fingers and puts on a Sigmund Freud voice: “Evil dolls, and snoring sisters and now grandmothers! Your mental situation is getting worse.”

“Ah, smeg off.” Jack says. “That thing was evil,” he insists. “It followed me around until I got out my secret weapon.” He waits a beat. “My Winnie the Pooh night light.”

Gratifyingly, they laugh. He smiles, relaxes. Good old Jack. Just messing with them.

“Well you know what evil is backwards, don’t you?” Pat asks.

Jack shakes his head.

“Live,” she says, in an evil, Vincent Price voice.

Liz makes a Bwa haa haa sound, and what was left of Jack’s fear vanishes in laughter, as the four of them break into laughter.

The music volume goes up. “It’s Raining Men” comes on, and Pat grabs Liz to go dance, joining most of the other girls in the bar. Josh says something, but Jack can’t hear what. The room is filled with the rowdy laughter of girls dancing and of men watching – it’s all good again.

Josh taps Jack on the shoulder. “Winnie the Pooh night light?” he screams into Jack’s ear. “where do you come up with this stuff?”

Jack shrugs, grateful that it’s too loud to talk. He remembers rooting through his bedroom closet in the dark, trying not to wake his sleeping grandmother. He remembers finding the light and bringing it back into his sister’s room, where the doll, traitor that it was, was sitting pristinely on the bed, exactly where his sister had put it the night before. As he struggled to get the night light plugged in, the doll had turned her evil, live face to him, and her lips had parted to show dainty sharp teeth – and then the light was plugged in. Pooh and his honey pot sent a warm golden glow into the room, protecting Jack from the dark, and the doll was forced back into being what it didn’t want to be – an inanimate object. Jack fell asleep, confident that Winnie the Pooh would protect him, and didn’t even respond when his sister woke up to complain about the light and to say that he was too old for it.

The song is over. It’s stopped raining men, and the girls are making their way back to the table, laughing and exhilarated. A song Jack likes is just starting. He doesn’t know what it’s called, but it’s got his toes tapping and he’s ready to go. “When I get her in my sights – boom boom, out go the lights!” Josh has gone down to the bar for more beer and Jack now stands, ready to lead either of the girls, or both of them back onto the dance floor. He’s not fussy. He’s at that happy state of almost drunkenness where his inhibitions are lowered but he’s not sloppy or belligerent, and all thoughts of corridors and spooky dolls are gone from his head. Then Liz wrecks it. She looks around the table and says:

“Where’s Alice?”

The word echo in Jack’s ear, and he gets a glimpse of fun house corridor again. Pat is looking at Liz, wondering what she’s talking about. Jack sinks back into his seat as Josh, coming up to them with a hard fought pitcher of beer, asks:

“What was that?” Josh asks, pouring out the beer.

“Where’s Alice?’ Liz asks again, her voice growing uncertain.

They look at each other, questioning. None of them know an Alice, not even Liz knows an Alice.

“Who’s Alice?” Pat asks.

“I don’t know,” Liz says. “It just popped out of my mouth. Where is Alice?.” she gives a shaky laugh. “Who is Alice?”

Others around them hear her question and a chant goes up: “Who the heck is Alice?” and “Alice! Alice! Alice!” Soon it’s drowning out the song the DJ is playing, the song that Jack likes. The record comes flying off into the crowd, and the DJ says: “Annnd SMOKIE! For Twenty Four Years…” He holds his mic out to the crowd on the dance floor, and they holler back, as one: “I’ve been living next door to Alice!”

The crowd surges back onto the dance floor, then Pat drinks down her beer and pulls Josh up to go dance, and Liz and Jack come too, and soon they’re all swooping around in a circle shouting out words to the song:

I don’t know where she’s leaving

or where she’s gonna go

I guess she’s got her reasons

But I just don’t want to know

Cause for twenty four years

I’ve been living next door to Alice

And then the punch line:

Who the heck is Alice?

When they get back to their table, another group has taken it over, and it doesn’t look like they’ll give it up without a fight. The girls figure they’ve been at the club long enough anyways, so they gather their belongings and head out the door. They stumble out onto the street, dancing and singing, passing the people still waiting in line to get in, then Pat pulls up short.

There are clowns in the lineup.

Josh throws his arm around Pat’s shoulder, urges her along.

“I don’t want to go home by myself, ” Pat blurts out.

“Come home with me, ” Josh says. “I’ll protect you from the clowns.”

Pat walks with him a few steps, then checks back on the clowns. They haven’t noticed her. They aren’t following her. They’re still lined up to get into The Bar None.

Pat recovers from her fear, and giggles. She shrugs out of Josh’s clutches. “Yeah. Well who will protect me from you?”

She looks around. Jack puts his hand up, volunteering, but Liz says: “Come to my place. It’s closer than yours anyways.”

“We’ll walk you,” Jack says, but Liz shakes her head.

“Go home,” she says, “You’re drunk.”

Josh and Jack are left in the middle of the street, watching them go.

“That sucks,” Jack says.

“What do you expect?” Josh answers. “You’re never going to get anywhere with Liz. You’ve been trying since high school.”

“Yeah, and how long have you been trying with Pat?” Jack asks.

“Same amount of time,” Josh admits.

Jack and Josh head off in separate directions. Josh to walk to his place, Jack to catch the bus.

Jack wonders if his Winnie the Pooh night light is in the box of junk his mom made him take when she sold the house and moved to Florida.


Pat and Liz enter Liz’ apartment building. Liz hasn’t lived there long, and Pat has never been there. It’s a nicer place than Pat’s, a modern building with key card access to get into the lobby. Beside the entrance door is a panel with numbers and a speaker grille, but no directory.

“What’s your apartment number?” Pat asks.

“1213,” Liz says. “but you need to know my security code to call me.”

“What is it?” Pat asks. Liz swipes a key card to let them into the lobby.

“I don’t know,” Liz says. “I’ve only used it once, for the pizza guy, and I had to look it up.”

They go to the elevators, and Liz again uses her key card to access her floor.

“How do I get out, if you’re not with me?” Pat asks.

“You don’t need the key card to go down to the lobby. You just need it to stop at a floor.” Liz tells her.

Inside, Liz’ apartment is well furnished with furniture that could have come out of a hotel room. Pat almost expects there to be a coffee pot next to the television set, and a card propped up on the armoire, that says “This room was cleaned by ________. Enjoy your stay!” Liz hasn’t exactly personalized it with her own decoration scheme, but her stuff – clothes and candles, stuffed animals, and books, fills all the nooks and crannies of the room, making it hers.

Liz yawns hugely, and takes blankets and pillows out of the hall closet for Pat.

“I’m bushed,” she says. “You need anything else before I go to bed?”

“I’d like to know about you and Jack and the tequila,” Pat says.

Liz just shakes her head. “No you wouldn’t.” She starts taking the cushions off the couch to make up the bed. “Nothing happened. There was this moment, you know, where it seemed like it would, when Jack was looking good,” she makes a face. “And then he kissed me.” Liz pulls out the sofa bed…

“He doesn’t kiss well?” Pat asks, helping to put the sheets on the mattress.

“I didn’t find out,” Liz says. “I’ve known him since grade eight. I couldn’t kiss him. It would be like kissing a cousin, or even a brother.”

“Ewww!” they both say, and laugh.

“I could kiss Josh, though,” Liz says, after a moment, then: “I’m glad they can’t hear us.”

“Josh and not Jack? What’s wrong with Jack?” Pat asks. The bed is made. She’s putting the pillows into pillowcases, and yawning herself.

“Well for one thing, he’s scared of a doll!”

Pat shrugs. “Everyone has things that scared them when they were kids.”

“Not me,” Liz says.

“You didn’t have closet dragons or under the bed wolves?”

Liz shakes her head. She brings Pat a towel and a t-shirt to sleep in.

“You didn’t have toilet snakes or vindow vipers? No bathtub drains that sucked you into an alternate dimension?”

Liz shakes her head, again, laughs. “You’re making those up,” she says. “I was afraid of nothing.”

She leaves Pat to go to bed, and goes into the bedroom, leaving the door open between them. Before she goes to sleep, she asks, “Do you think Jack was just goofing around? Do you think he really likes me?”

Pat feels like she’s back in grade seven at a slumber party. “Jack has always liked you,” she says. She tries to get comfortable on the sofa bed. She wonders why she didn’t just go home – then remembers the clowns. She’ll wait to face them in the daytime.

Before she’s even close to being asleep, Liz is, and from the sounds she’s making, deep in the throes of a nightmare.

“No,” Liz is saying. “No…”

Pat pulls the pillow over her head and tries to block out the noise. She tosses and turns. Gets up and deliberately makes noise on her way to the bathroom. Nothing interrupts Liz’ nightmare. Pat walks into the room, looms over her. “Liz, wake up. You’re having a nightmare,” she says.

Liz surfaces out of her cotton batting world of sleep, the nothing world where there is no up or down or in or out, just space, just an abyss of nothingness. Wispy colorless space, neither dark nor light, that expands out for ever, leaving her in a state where there is no bottom to rest her feet, no top to aspire to – just nothing, where she is alone, all alone, and there is no one to knows that she exists.

Pat calls again, and Liz hears. The nothingness vanishes, leaving Liz grounded and tired, unaware of her fears, and more than a little annoyed.

“I’m trying to sleep here!” she says.

Pat goes back to the couch, thinking, “Afraid of nothing. Hah! Nothing doesn’t give you nightmares.” She checks her watch – almost 3:00 am, and settles down, but as soon as her head hits the pillow, Liz’ cries begin again.

After many minutes, and the realization that she’s never going to get any sleep. Pat decides to go home. Fuzzy-headed with sleepiness, she gets her things together – her purse, her keys with the key chain with her name on them, her jacket and shoes. She leaves the apartment, softly shutting the door behind her. She thinks she hears Liz’ voice again, saying “No,” and “Take Pat.” “Take Pat what,” Pat wonders. “Take Pat a present. Take Pat out for dinner?”

Down the deserted hallway Pat goes, then alone into the elevator. The lobby, too is deserted. Pat slips outside and hears the door click behind her. It is only then that she notices the clowns.

Clowns are coming down the street towards her, and she feels a moment of panic. But there have been clowns around her all night, she tells herself. Still she pulls on the door to the lobby – which won’t budge. She’d need Liz’ key card to get in. She looks at the keypad panel beside the door. She can’t phone Liz. She doesn’t know her security code. She feels her heart thumping in her chest, forces herself to take slow, even breaths

The clowns are passing, not even glancing her way She recognizes the girl clown with the ripped pants, and the green and red wig. “I thought I would flunk the audition,” the girl is saying to the clown she walks with. “Did you see me? In there late and all messed up?”

“You aced the audition,” the other clown says. “I wish I’d done as well.”

Pat breathes easier. They’re only people dressed up as clowns. It’s only a few blocks walk to her apartment. She can manage. She clutches her keys in her fist like a set of brass knuckles and sets off down the dark and rainy street. Nothing happens. There are no more clowns out. There are no more people out at all. She jumps at movement, but it’s only a raccoon, slipping through a fence, and she breathes easy. No one in their right mind would be walking alone at this time in the morning – which gives her a momentary worry about people not in their right minds, but it passes. There aren’t even any cars passing by. It’s actually kind of peaceful. The rain has washed away the city smells of cooking grease and car exhaust and … clowns… pops into Pat’s head, and she giggles, thinking of Josh promising to protect her from their peppermint breath. Still, when her apartment comes into view, she breaks into a run, like a horse bolting for the barn after a hard ride.

Just as she gets close to the door, she trips on a crack in the sidewalk. She puts out her hands to stop her fall, and her keys fall from her fingers and into the grate of a storm sewer.

“Oh, no,” Pat says. She pulls on the grate, but it won’t budge, of course it won’t budge. It’s a heavy metal cast iron grate. The sound of footsteps comes close and Pat looks over to see huge clown feet. She jumps, then smiles, another clown from the clown convention, or whatever it was, she thinks. Someone who will help her.

“I dropped my keys,” Pat says, not looking up at the clown. “I can’t get the grate up. Can you see if you can do it?”

The clown kneels. Pat notices the baggy, colorful pants, and the clown’s fat sausage fingers in white gloves as they reach to grab the grate.

“That’s a really good costume,” Pat says. “How’d you do in the audition?”

But something is wrong with those fat sausage fingers. They seem – plastic. They don’t seem real. They don’t seem like they can bend. And they’re not doing anything at all to lift the grate.

The clown doesn’t reply to Pat’s question. She looks up into his face, and it’s not a face at all, but a mask of red nose and grinning mouth, a fun house thing that makes her want to scream – and then he touches her, and there is no Pat at all. Just a shimmer of color, suspended above the grate, above the street, until the rain washes it away.


No comments:

Post a Comment