The Last Laugh

By Cristina Hartmann

This was Andy Brocato’s favorite part: drawing the smile. Most of the work had been done already. The whiteface was in place, masking the pallor and wrinkles he had collected over the years. The upturned triangles around the eyes gave a spark of levity to the dull eyes underneath. The wig full of riotous colors covered the thinning gray hair.  But the smile was where the magic happened. It lifted up just a bit  higher at one corner, giving him the impish grin of a child about to open a present. It exuded the carefreeness and optimism of someone unmarked by life’s woes.

Once he secured his suspenders and buttoned up his vest, Felix da Clown stood where Andy had been. 

The name Felix had been his wife’s brainchild. Rosa told him that Felix sounded awfully like feliz, which meant happy in her native Spanish. “You are feliz come to life,” she would often croon as they lay in bed. The sound of the word on Rosa’s expert tongue made him long for her touch. Her low, silky voice was almost tangible, a warm but knowing caress. That was when she was happy, when she was in one of her moods, her voice was rough and low, a weapon that always found its mark. But let’s not think about that.

The sight of such radiance in the reflection made Andy smile, a smaller one superimposed by the larger. “It’s going to be a good day, Felix. I can feel it,” the man underneath the clown said. The two continued to grin at each other, as one wished Rosa was standing beside them as she once had.

One of the greatest mysteries of his life was why Rosa had come up to him that night. She had sashayed up to him and smiled. “Want to dance, big guy? You look like you could handle yourself,” she said, her voice somehow cutting through the pounding music. He let her lead him onto the dance floor, mesmerized by the sway of her hips. She moved with an undulating grace as she rolled her hips in perfect harmony. His talents in tumbling didn’t translate onto the dance floor. He hopped frantically from one foot to another, his arms flailing. She laughed, one of those unguarded and buoyant laughs. He went home in a daze, her phone number clutched in his hand.

What made a woman like Rosa so beguiling wasn’t something as prosaic as looks. Not to say that she was ugly, but her features and figure were undeniably unremarkable if you looked closely. Almost nobody ever looked that close because when you looked at her from afar, you couldn’t help but stare at her sinuous movements in awe. That was yet another illusion. It was her eyes, not her body, that exerted the gravitational  pull.  Her eyes knew things. When she laid eyes on you, you knew that she had you. She would know how to lay her hand on you without it feeling overt or invasive. She would compliment you on a small detail that you cherished but everyone else overlooked. She was simply the kind of woman who knew things.   

One thing that she knew was who Andy was. “When I saw you, I knew you were a happy soul,” she murmured once as they strolled down the boardwalk. “I know miserable souls. I know bitter souls. I know angry souls. You’re none of that. I’m fed up with that. I need some felicidades in my life.”

He went on a scavenger hunt for all of his clowning props. He found the balloon stuck into a drawer overflowing with broken rubber bands and frayed string from practice skits gone wrong. His floppy shoes were under a mountain of orphaned shoes. He had to wash his squirter flower, as a mysterious stain had appeared on two of the petals. As he was getting his clowning paraphernalia in order, he wondered how his apartment got into such a state. If Rosa were here, he thought but ended it right there. No use in thinking of sad things.  

Some clowns were stand-up comedians painted up and in a wig. Others were actors who donned anything from a Dora the Explorer suit to baby diapers, the clown just one character among many. A few even stylized themselves an artiste of the highest order, the second coming of Marcel Marceau. He didn’t think much of those. They all thought they were too good for a little gag like slipping on a banana peel, but not him. He was just a working clown who wanted to make some kids laugh. 

Once he finished loading the car, he couldn’t help the thrill of anticipation that made his hands shake. This was the first assignment that he had gotten in weeks. The agency had called and said some act had fallen through at the fair and would he pretty please fill in? “Jenny, you’re a queen!” he trumpeted. A chuckle came from the phone and the gravelly voice of a lifelong smoker said: “For you, Andy. I know those things are your favorites.”

A fair! He hadn’t been to one ever since Ramon was a kid. This gig would surely be better than the last one. Everything had been going well when he had been making a heart balloon for the birthday girl, a quiet little thing who had looked up at him full of awe. As he twisted the balloon into its final position, two nine-year-old boys snuck up behind him and snatched his wig. He clutched his head to shield himself from prying eyes. The boys roared in laughter as the parents looked on. After a moment of shock, he managed to say “Now, now. Give that back. You’ve had your fun,” but the boys dashed off. He had to give chase, stumbling after the nimble little boys in his floppy shoes. When he returned with the wig firmly back in place, the girl’s awed expression had been supplanted by terrified confusion. He was no longer Felix da Clown, now only a silly middle-aged fool wearing motley. A parent slipped him an extra $20, saying, “When you chased these kids … damn, that was hilarious.” He sat in his car afterwards for fifteen minutes, wondering if he should retire. But let’s keep a positive attitude.

But a fair … Well, that was different. He had gone to dozens of them with Ramon, who had squealed at the sight of a Ferris wheel and cotton candy machines. The look of unmitigated happiness on the boy’s face was simple, pure, and true. Andy couldn’t help but reflect that look. They dashed about, hurling hacky sacks at pins, playing skeet-ball, having contests to see how much cotton candy they could eat. Throughout it all, Rosa shook her head in amused reproach that wasn’t really meant to mollify anyone.

The first time he had met Rosa’s son–the only good thing to come out of that mistake of a marriage, she had told him–the doe-eyed boy had looked up at him with bewildered fear. When he had knelt by him, he reached behind the boy’s ear. “Looky there!” he said as he pulled out an oversized coin. “You’re a regular piggy bank!” Ramon had gasped in wonder. “How did you do that?” the boy squeaked. “You’re a wizard!” Rosa watched them with hope lighting up her eyes.

These had been good days.

His hand covered his heart, which felt too large for his chest. Its every thump reverberated throughout his body. “Settle down,” he told himself. “Don’t get too excited,” he chuckled.

What he didn’t think about was the doctor who stood in front of him without looking up from his clipboard. “Mr. Brocato, these tests show elevated LDL and triglyceride levels, which indicate a higher risk for heart disease. I strongly suggest that you engage in a regimen of healthy foods and exercise.” When Andy said, “But, Doctor, I’m a clown! I’m taking my daily dose of laughter every day!” The doctor sighed. “Right, you’re a clown. Well, there isn’t any definitive research in this area. We don’t know if laughter is simply correlative or causative of good health and well-being. Eat well and exercise, that’s what you should do, Mr. Brocato.” He drove home from his appointment, thinking about the absurdity of a skinny clown. Then he picked up a Big Mac and ate it in the car. 

 When he parked his car and gathered his things, a child and his mother passed by with the boy staring at him open-mouthed. He bent forward and squeezed his red nose. The booming HONK! that followed made the boy jump in surprise and then giggle. The mother smiled at him and he returned it. She didn’t notice the true smile as it was dwarfed by the larger, painted one.

He hopped and skipped to the building Jenny told him to report to. Fifteen minutes after the scheduled time, a thin man walked in holding a clipboard. “You the clown?” he asked.

“Felix daaaaaaaa Clown reporting for duty, sir!” He saluted and began to do the march around the room while humming a military cadence.

The manager chuckled. “Cute. You’re already performing?”

“A clown’s always on duty, sir!”

The man shook his head. “Sure, whatever you say, Bozo.”

“It’s Felix, sir!” 

“Right. Sorry ‘bout that. Listen, thanks for filling in on such short notice. I can’t believe the dance troupe cancelled four hours before their performance. Assholes.”

Felix twisted a balloon into a sword, which he raised high in the air. “I’ll vanquish ‘em for you, Cap’n! You can count on Private Felix!” He brandished the sword while humming a bugle call. 

The manger mumbled “Crazy-ass clown” under his breath. Felix didn’t hear it as he parried the air. When the manager cleared his throat, Felix stood at attention. “Alright … you’re on in thirty. Just do your thing for thirty minutes. I’ll be by afterwards to give you the check.”

After the manager left, he hopped over to the DJ booth to give him the playlist. When he asked for the Hokey-Pokey and the Chicken Dance, the DJ looked at him with red-rimmed eyes and said, “These are so stupid. You sure you don’t want some rap? I got this guy who’s gonna be big and bring the real gangsta back. Rap’s too soft nowadays.” To that, he snapped, “This is for children, okay? Play the Hokey-Pokey and the Chicken Dance.” He walked away feeling stricken. “Get a grip, Felix,” he whispered to himself. “You’re a happy clown.”

The cloying scent of cotton candy wafted by, reminding him of the last fair he and Ramon had gone to. It had been like this one, a rink-dink affair with a few livestock shows and hardly any arcade games. Ramon had been on the cusp of adolescence, his credulity and jubilance slowly giving way to sullenness and skepticism. When Andy had slipped on a banana peel, he landed with an oof! and exclaimed, “Whoopsy!” Even though his back was spasming, the sight of Ramon in ecstasies of hilarity made him join in. The merriment made him forget about Ramon’s increasingly mercurial nature. One day, he would be an ordinary boy, playing video games and jumping on the trampoline. The next, he would be kicking over planters and smashing plates. “His father was like this … Oh God,” Rosa had murmured. Andy had told her that it was just growing pains.

The following year, Ramon had refused to go. “None of the cool kids are going,” he said. “I can’t show up smelling like cow poop!” Andy said it was just a phase. Then Ramon started to come home with bruises spotting his body. The vice principal told them that Ramon had been starting fights. “But they keep calling me names!” Ramon had protested. To which Andy replied, “Stick and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you. You just have to play nice with them, Ramon. They’ll get used to you. All new kids get some flak.” Ramon just stalked into his room and slammed the door. 

Things had been going so well. He had gotten a promotion, so he had up and moved everyone into a neat little ‘burb. Things would be perfect, except for the sullen looks from Ramon at the dinner table before he disappeared into his room. So that was when Andy went to clown college on the weekends. “Ramon just needs some funny in his life as he adjusts to this new place,” he told Rosa, who turned her knowing eyes to him. “I don’t know, Andy. They’re calling him wetback and border bandit … He has so much of his father’s pride in him.” Andy wrapped her soft body into his arms. “All kids get razzed a bit. They’ll ease off soon enough.”

Whether or not they eased off, he never found out because Ramon kept sneaking out to his father’s place in the city’s shadiest neighborhood. Rosa always stomped over to her ex-husband’s house and pulled her son away, muttering about how he needed to stay away from his no-good, criminal father. “Your father has destroyed his life with his anger and misery,” she told him. “We have a chance, mijo. We can be happy.”

No matter how many routines he did, how many balloon animals he made, how many whoopee cushions he sat on, Ramon remained impervious to it all. “I’m not five anymore, Andy,” Ramon muttered. “It doesn’t matter. It’s all stupid.” He had nearly wept at these words, but a clown doesn’t weep … not for real, anyhow.

The year after, Ramon got sent to juvie for flinching one of his classmates’s swanky new car. “Why should he get such a sweet ride for doing nothing except be born here instead of over there?” the boy muttered. When he got out,  things just got worse. He got into a gang full of kids he had met back in juvie and got better at grand theft auto. He graduated to breaking and entering. He was now serving a twenty-five-year sentence on account of the three-strike law and refused to see him or Rosa. 

The manager popped through the door, “You’re up in five, Bozo!”

“It’s Felix,” he called out but the manager had disappeared areas.

He peeked out at the crowd. It was sparse showing: a dozen children with twenty-odd parents congregating in the back. The children were all either prostrate on the chairs, presumably asleep, or tapping away at a phone or a handheld game. Except for one. A small boy with large dark eyes stood alone in the corner, simply staring into space. One parent shouted, “Hey, where’s the dancing troupe? I see a sign for a clown … That’s not what we came for.”

“Go!” the manager shouted.

He inhaled and smiled as he ran out, his big shoes slapping. “Hello everyone! It’s Felix daaaaaaaaa Clown, here to save the day!” he shouted as he cartwheeled into a wall face-first. After he bounced back, he spun around and said, “Oh no! Something got stuck in my nose!” It was his classic routine–one of his best.

A girl roused from her sleep and frowned at him. A boy glanced up from his phone and then resumed his tapping. A parent looked concerned and moved forward with her hands outstretched.

“Oh, it’s itchy!” He swatted at his nose, making the woman stop and stare at him. After rubbing and pulling at his nose, he asked “Do you see something in there?”

Nobody answered, which didn’t surprise him since nobody was really supposed to. He turned his attention to a wispy-haired girl sitting up front who was peering up at him open-mouthed, both of her front teeth gone. “Hey little girl, what’s your name?” he crooned.

“Sandy,” she whispered.

“Sandy, can you help me out?” After she nodded solemnly, he bent down by her and said, “Can you look up my nose? It’s awfully itchy.”

She squinted at him and shook her head. “There’s no holes to look up. Your nose is a ball.”

He smiled. She had played her role so perfectly, it almost seemed choreographed. “Pull it off, then.”

She reached out tentatively, but lost all of her hesitation once her fingers touched the felt. With alarming speed and force, she tore it off, which stung his nose. He almost didn’t have time to perform the trick, but he made it. A big bouquet of flowers popped out and the girl was now holding yellow daisies.

She burst into big, walloping sobs. “Mommy! Mommy!” She cried and the same woman who had reached out for him rushed over. “Mommy, it’s yelllooooooooooow.”

Some kids were just like that, crying at this and that. He had his line ready—“Don’t worry! I’m not Republican or Democrat … I only vote for the Green Party!” This line always snapped a frightened child out of it for some unfathomable reason—but the mother spoke first. “She’s terrified of yellow! Nothing in our house is yellow. Thanks a lot for ruining our day.”

“But all girls love flowers!” he replied in his goofiest voice.

“Please don’t use gender stereotypes,” the woman snapped before she ushered the sniffling Sandy away.

His smile faltered, but nobody saw. Frozen in place, he stared out at the children, most of whom were distracted by either their neighbor or phones. You’re still a clown, so get going! he thought. He started to move to the flat skins of his balloons in his pocket as he said, “Golly gee! At least my nose doesn’t itch anymore!” He made a balloon dog for a boy, a sword for a girl, a heart for a boy. (See? Felix da Clown could break the gender barrier.) He squirted a few with his lapel flower. His body moved autonomously as he spread merriment. He had performed these routines so often for Ramon and Rosa that his muscles knew what to do better than his mind.  

Some kids smiled and laughed, too few. Two or three giggled here and there. A parent or two chuckled. That solemn boy’s eyes simply followed his movement intently, his mouth tight as if he was struggling not to laugh.

When the thirty minutes were up, he did the same silly ambulatory dance he did every time as he exited. Scattered applause followed him as he disappeared. Once in the darkness of the backstage, his shoulders slumped and his knees weakened.

Leaning against the wall, he closed his eyes. The aches and pains in his joints began to make themselves known to him. He was only fifty-one—fifty was the new thirty, everyone said—but he felt far, far older now. The years pressed down on him, grinding on his bones and soul. 

The manager peeked in. “Tough crowd, uh? Happens to the best of us. Cheer up, bub. I’ll be back with the check soon.”

He straightened up and tried to smile. It didn’t really matter, as the man had disappeared again.

His chest was aching now, too. Breathing through the throbs, his mind drifted to Rosa. Whenever he’d been sick, she would sing him to sleep in Spanish. It had been his favorite thing about getting the flu: drifting off into unconsciousness with the melodious language he didn’t understand. He could almost hear her now.

The last time he had heard her voice, it wasn’t the smooth and lilting intonation of her singing voice. It was rough and ragged. “Oh, Andy. I … I’m bad for you and Ramon. How I wish we had met you earlier, maybe … maybe things would’ve been different. But you should be happy.” He had assured her that he was happy, but her eyes had known. 

That was the last time he had seen her.

Well, that wasn’t strictly true. That was the last time he had seen her alive. It was the last time he’d seen her eyes open and seeing. The last time he saw the love in her eyes, even if it was shrouded by sadness.

When he came home from work to a quiet and still house, he thought Rosa had snapped out of her malaise and was out with friends. The thought brought a smile to his face. “She just needed some happy in her life,” he said aloud. He had begun to wonder if the sorrow drawn on Rosa’s face at the final sentencing had been in indelible marker … and that maybe his clowning around wasn’t helping. That was before he opened the bedroom door and saw Rosa lying still and peaceful next to a bottle of sleeping pills. There was a smile on her still, pallid face.

Whether it was an accident or she had done it on purpose, he would never know.

After that, he went into clowning full-time. There was no point in his lucrative sales job since he no longer had any use for the money. Between his gigs and temp jobs, he paid the bills. That was enough for him now.

He stepped out back to gulp in some fresh air. “Bad memories ain’t going to do you any good, Felix,” he said aloud. “Just keep on smiling aright?” But he couldn’t.

The small, muffled noise from around the corner drew his attention. When he approached, he saw one of the parents, a petite woman whose delicate features were leached of all of their color. Her cheeks were wet and eyes swollen.

“You all right, lady?” he asked.

She jerked upright, her eyes frantic as she searched for the voice’s source. When she found him, she sighed and waved her bony hand in dismissal. “I’m fine. Don’t mind me … Sorry for bothering you.”

“Ain’t no bother. What could a pretty lady like you be sad about?”

A tear ran down her cheek. “A lot, actually. I have to go back for Alex … I told Marcie that I was just popping into the bathroom and I can’t leave him too long. Not after…”

He watched her wipe her eyes, the residue of her grief still on clear display. Such a pretty woman should never have to go out like this, all marked up by sadness, he thought as he said, “No, no, lady. Wait a minute!”

She turned to him. “Yes?” A note of irritation underlaid her word.

“Let me cheer you up!” He started to flap his arms in his trademark chicken dance..

As he started his tumbling, she wrung her hands. “Mr … Ah, Felix, right? Please…”

He looked up as he continued his hijinks. “Yes, lady?”

Her body lost all traces of irritation and now she simply looked. The way she stared unnerved him, but he continued his dance.

“Do you always do this?” she asked.

“Clowning? Sure, I do! That’s my job!”

“No … Trying to cheer up people.”

He paused as he twisted a balloon into the shape of a dog. “Well, what else is a clown for? It’s a clown’s responsibility to cheer up people!”

“But … what if I don’t need cheering up? What if … I just need someone to talk to? Someone who understands? I’m just so tired of having to be cheerful.” Her eyes were clear and direct as they looked deep into his. 

In her eyes, he saw something that he hadn’t seen in years. Knowledge. This woman who had only known him for a few minutes somehow knew something he didn’t. 

He didn’t realize he had uttered his wife’s name until the woman’s  eyes lost the look and she asked, “Rosa? Who’s Rosa?”

His heart began to ache, a deep throb that permeated his body. “I’m sorry. Rosa’s … Rosa’s … my wife. She … died. She had eyes like yours and … ” he couldn’t bear to finish. 

After one of his performances for Ramon, Rosa had stood by him as he washed the paint off. “Andy … mi amor, you can’t do this. You have to understand his anger and sadness before you can cheer him up. You can’t know true happiness without knowing true sadness … one is impossible without the other. You just can’t let either one consume you.” He had kissed her and told her to think happy thoughts.

The woman peered at him, her gaze penetrating the layers of paint, the lurid colors, and the costume. “What’s your name … your real name?” she whispered.

A surge of terror struck him. One of the cardinal rules of clowning was never to break character. When you donned a clown costume, you were a clown, not a man. But the woman’s eyes knew, just like Rosa’s once had. 

“Andy … Andy Brocato.”

“Luciana Borges. It’s … nice to meet you.” She took a seat on a nearby log and patted a spot next to her for him to sit down.

As he eased himself down onto the log, he slipped his wig off. The breeze stirred his thin, graying hair. He wished that he could take everything off—the floppy shoes, the mask, the motley—but this would have to do. He let his back slump and a balloon that he had been holding drifted away.

She turned to him and said, “You’re sad, aren’t you, Andy?”

The answer surprised him. “Yes. I miss my wife and son very, very much. I tried to fix ‘em, make ‘em laugh but … couldn’t.”

She looked back to the grass and sighed. “My husband—well, ex-husband now, I suppose—left me and Alex for another woman. Love of his life, he said … except he was the love of my life. I know he’s awful for what he did, but you can’t turn off love like you can a light switch.”

“The man’s a bigger fool than me and I’m wearing motley.”

She chuckled. “You might just be right. I knew he could be dumb about some things, but I didn’t know how deep it went. But … Alex … it was like a light switch going off. He was so happy once, but now…”

A rustle came from nearby as a small child, that somber little boy, passed by. “Alex!” She leapt to her feet, all traces of old sorrow gone. The look of pure, unadulterated joy on her face made him smile. 

The boy almost smiled at the sight of his mother, the corners of his mouth twitching. But he didn’t. It was the same look he had while he had been performing: struggle against joy.

After hugging and smooching him, she turned back to him and said to the boy, “Look who I found!”

He had already slipped his wig back on, so he was Felix again. As he got to his feet, he felt lighter and … happier. Now he felt closer to Felix than he had in years. He hopped and skipped over to the boy without forcing it.

The boy stared up at him with an expression that was close to awe, but not quite there. “Are you the clown?” he whispered.

Luciana nudged Alex. “This is Felix da Clown,”

The boy extended his hand for a handshake. It was Felix’s first instinct to sneak in a little buzzer into his hand for a little jump from Alex, but decided against it. His hand enveloped the little boy’s who simply looked into his eyes.

He decided to give Alex the best show he could. Maybe this thing would be his last go as a clown, but it would be a good one.

“Ready for some clowning around?” he asked Alex.

The boy shrugged.

He paused before he started his routine. With his shrug, Alex mirrored Ramon’s indifference all these years ago. Fear almost made him stop. To see yet another impenetrable, blank face … He didn’t even finish that thought. I have to try, he thought, just try. Perhaps this boy’s time of sadness could be turned into happiness, even if just for a moment. 

He went into his second-best routine. Alex stood there, his direct gaze constant and steady. As he squirted his flower, he wondered if he was losing his touch. Perhaps he had never had the touch in the first place.

Then he saw the banana. It was a stunt he hadn’t pulled in years, not ever since he sprained his back once when he tried it on Ramon, watching the boy turn away as pain coursed through him. The banana suddenly seemed like the perfect finale. 

“I’m go-a marching! A-boom, a-boom!” he shouted as he marched toward the banana peel. 

He slipped and fell backwards into the most perfectly comical sprawl he had ever done. “Golly, where did that come from?” he said as he got up only to slip once again. The second fall was even funnier, full of spectacular, hilarious futility.

Alex’s eyes widened in surprise and then a short burst of laugh came out of him. “You slipped on a banana peel and did it again,” he murmured in a rusty, quiet voice too adult for an eight-year-old.

He smiled up at Alex even though the boy couldn’t see it under the big, false smile. But it was there and it was real. Even though his back hurt and he was certain that he had sprained a finger somewhere along the way, he was the happiest man in the world. He had made this sad little boy laugh.

He hopped up onto his feet, dizziness overtaking him momentarily. Catching himself before he staggered, he inhaled and steadied himself.

“Hey kid,” he managed to say, his voice surprisingly normal. “It’s okay to be sad sometimes, but there are times to laugh and play, too. ‘Kay?”

The boy gave him a shy smile and nodded.

“Felix—Andy,” Luciana said, “please let me pay you. It was … a wonderful thing you did.” Her eyes knew how wonderful it really was.

His back was throbbing and his knees felt weak. “No, no. Like the lawyers say, pro bono!”

He hurled himself into a cartwheel, tumbling away from Luciana and Alex with a grin only he knew existed. Coming to a stop just out of their sight, he tottered as he tried to stand straight. His body had gone limp front he extortion. He couldn’t quite catch his breath. His heart pounded in his chest as he wheezed through the aches and pains of a man who had tried too hard for too long. As he walked back to his car with a bounce in his step that he didn’t need to think about, he wondered if the doctor had been right. Maybe he needed to pump some iron and lay off the french fries. Maybe a skinny and healthy clown wasn’t an oxymoron. 

Once back in his dingy little bathroom, Andy looked at the clown in the mirror. It beamed back at him, its joy flat and static. “Thanks, old friend,” Andy said, “but it’s time to close up shop.” He bent down to splash water onto his face, streaks of paint dripping down to the sink. Felix da Clown’s job was done and he could take a breather now.

His face pink from scrubbing the paint off, Andy smiled at the man in the mirror. The man in the mirror looked weathered and worn, but was smiling anyway. It wasn’t a flashy or toothy smile. just a small, sad one. The corners of his mouth twitched up with the wistfulness of one who knew both great sadness and great happiness. “I did it, Rosa … I got the boy to laugh,” he whispered to his dead wife. “I … I’m so sorry … I couldn’t do it for you or Ramon.” He closed his eyes, the lilting sound of Rosa’s singing fading away into nothingness. He strained to hear it once again, but heard nothing. He opened his eyes and said, “I’ll go see Ramon tomorrow. This time … this time … without the clown costume.”

He bent down, wincing with the pains and aches of a middle-aged man who had tumbled a few times too many and eased off his floppy shoes. With a sigh of relief, he hung up the shoes, where they would remain until the next time he needed them.

© Cristina Hartmann