Christine saw the stencil, tucked into the corner of the decaying billboard that loomed over her on her walk to work. A pair of red lips, eyes and white gloved hands, essential components, presented in primary colours. The lack of art in her everyday life compelled her to seek it out, so she took random photographs on her phone, kept in a folder to amuse her during breaks at work.
There was a caption underneath.
MAY LOVES FORTUNE, WAIT NOT IN VAIN FOR YOUR CERTAIN ATTENTION.
She saved it and kept walking. Ten minutes late and she was summoning the will to affect she cared. The job paid rent and overheads, but left little else. Christine fed her soul from what was around her, but it was an appetite of overwhelming demand. When life was a series of numb grey and mauve washes, she sought sips of brighter feeling.
On her break, she sat in the corner of the room, deleting the last anonymous penis pictures that marked her attempt to find a relationship on the internet. Legions of disembodied genitals, offered instead of purpose and character. One or two had looked threatening. She opened her art folder on her phone, looking to cleanse her soul’s palate with something beautiful.
The writing remained but otherwise there was no trace of the image. Christine frowned and swiped through, wondering if the light had been bad until she saw the next picture. A willow tree, heavy with blossom and there was the clown, stood beneath it and his hand gestured towards the screen.
She shut her eyes to force the image from her mind.
‘Chris, you’re needed back on the shop floor.’
Ben stood there, peering over his glasses and his jowls wobbling with repressed irritation.
The rest of the shift passed in a chill fog of unease. Christine ignored her phone, detaching herself from the shifting unease through the routines of her day. She left off without speaking to anyone, reaching in her pocket to see if it had all been a trick of the light.
He had moved deeper into the folder.
Stood next to a graffiti mural, studying it with a deep interest. He wore a suit, muted and tasteful despite the choices of green and purple. He looked less like a clown each time she saw him.
Sat on the side of the road, watching the carnival parade with a gleeful grin on his face. Clowns terrified her, but he had become more substantial, more certain and less deranged. She slipped her phone away, wiping her eyes with a sudden, feverish panic.
Her flatmates were out, marked by a sink full of dishes, a shipwreck amidst a sea of grease-saturated water. The mundane disappointment of the real world proved to be a panacea to her gibbering imagination.
Her phone trilled and she answered it.
‘Hello.’ she said.
A soft, low male chuckle.
‘So, it’s you I have to thank, Christine.’
Her stomach roiled at the mention of her name. The sole of her shoe stuck against something embedded in the carpet.
‘I’m sorry, who is this?’
He cleared his throat.
‘This was not a deliberate release.’ he said.
A tinge of sadness washed through his words. Christine fought the impulse to apologise.
‘No, I think you’ve got the wrong number.’ she said.
He sighed with a melancholic acceptance.
‘It looks right from the inside here.’ he said.
The hairs went up on her arms and she shivered.
‘OK, I will go now.’ she said.
‘I’m sorry. Could you do me one last favour?’ he said.
She pulled the phone from her ear, looked at the screen. Her number.
‘If it’s a picture of your cock, then no.’
He chuckled and took a deep breath.
‘No, I want you to put me on speaker. Then I am done.’
‘How are you on my number? Why should I put you on speaker? You will not masturbate’ she said.
He met her breathless litany of questions with a sigh.
‘Please, to do such things without a partner is beneath me. Just a press of the button, then it’s done.’ he said.
She pressed the button. He sighed with pleasure, whispered something in another language, rich with endearment.
The call ended.
Christine went to bed, wrestled with insomnia until her eyes burned with fatigue. She dialled her own number, and it went straight to voicemail. Surrender was the best option, so she went with it.
The next morning was bright and full of song. Christine was awake before the alarm, pleased that she would be five minutes late rather than ten or fifteen.
He stood on the corner, in a suit of immaculate tailoring, vermillion and green material. He had washes of greasepaint across his eyes but nothing across his full lips. A battered hat sat next to his feet like a loyal pet, brimming with coins and notes. She stopped and smiled at him.
He mouthed three words from across the street.
She started to walk across the road but he raised his hand to stop her, tapping his wrist with his index finger and giving a mocking frown. Christine checked her phone, saw that she was already late but five minutes made no more difference than ten or fifteen.
Her heart raced at the sight of him. He grinned as she started to walk towards him.