Good Floats by Shane Stricker
It was a part of the show at first. A miniature car rolled to a stop. A Shriner, not with red fez and black tassel, but painted up like a clown, a lopsided smile slipping from his face as he realized he was stuck. Wedged in. Knees at an angle from which he would never recover.
Kids still reached out their hands. Magic is capturing sugary treats tossed from cars covered in crepe paper and pretty colors. Those kids and their outstretched hands. Those kids were the magic. Those kids.
The sky was not blue and cloudless but held off against promised storms. Many people were thankful for that. Thankful all morning and saying it over and again. Their faces held smiles as they spoke.
Realization did not crest at once but washed over us in waves down either side of the parade route. The flotation did not happen at once, either. It too went up in waves. The children took off. One by one. Left the ground. The innocents. Those are who left us that day. Floated off into nothingness. If only it would rain, they might return. But not to me.
Effortlessly, they rose, meaning, they did not attempt to stay. They grasped no trees. No light poles. No power lines. No loved ones. The ungrasped remained planted; an underground network of roots connecting them to one another and the ground. Some of the tethered reacted quickly enough to reach and flail for those leaving.
“She might as well be covered in grease,” a man said about his daughter. I did not reach but I watched those who did come up empty. Those of us who remained along the parade route looked skyward. The clown, bloodied float and road, were forgotten. As sorry as it sounds, this was our truth.
We shared a moment as a town but a trumpeter would not stop with the fucking “Louie Louie.” The band was well disciplined. I’ll give them that. They overcame their initial shock. Regained their steps. He, the trumpeter, their leader. They marched through, around, and over accidents, piling higher and higher, greater and greater in number. Their lines straighter than ever. Their phalanx moved on to “Baby Elephant Walk.” The song conjured images of the circus and everyone knows clowns perform there. Beneath tents. Beside elephants. That’s the connection. Was I the only one who saw this connection?
I called out to the band but they would or could not understand. “Clowns perform at the circus.” I yelled these words over and again. My brain could paint my thoughts no more clearly. Paramedics and first responders, two without uniforms, in attendance with their families, surely having lost members to the air, held up beach towels and jackets left behind by the risen. They were small. They were children’s. They covered and hid the clown from our view.
The band did not yield, and they went into a medley of circus songs performed as dirges. As if they’d planned this moment from the beginning of their careers. I thought, wrong as it might be to accuse a high schooler of orchestrating this, that we might ought to check into the trumpeter. Search through his uniform for objects sharp enough to cut wires, tiny wires, belonging to tiny cars. Tiny wires that kept our children grounded to the earth.
The band reached the end of the parade route but did not stop marching. Did not stop playing. I found myself running toward the band’s music. To the band’s music. The noonday sky blacked out by clouds and shadows of those who had drifted off. I slammed the trumpeter with a right to the temple at the exact moment I placed their song. “Send In the Clowns.” That motherfucker. He dropped like a sack of shit. But I was not finished even though they ceased, unable to carry onward without their leader. I took up his horn and broke the bell off against the brick laid street. I kept smashing it against the ground. I kept a valve as memento. When I polish it, I think about stopping the music that day. I remember myself as one who did something.
Shane Stricker holds an MFA from West Virginia University and is starting coursework toward a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Tennessee. He was a 2016 fellow at the Writing by Writers Workshop at Tomales Bay. His work appears in The Anthology of Appalachian Writers, Midwestern Gothic, Moon City Review, and other magazines and journals.