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Oh glorious day! The sun is shining, the air is alive with the mown grass of early summer and the light dew of late spring, and Billy is 11 today! 

With the sun barely up but already shining bright with the pure glee of spring, Billy is out the door, head overflowing with images of his upcoming birthday party. Hair flying back in the breeze, Billy sprints down the quiet early-morning street, his unlaced Keds clunking loudly on the blacktop. He barely stops to drop to the ground when he reaches the vast expanse of the Hill.

With a shout of joyful abandon, he hurls himself down the grassy area, arms tucked tight, face damp with the early morning dew. He rolls faster and faster until at last he comes to rest against a mound of grass that marks the edge of the culvert and the unkempt weeds and bushes that fill the neighborhood children's favorite playground. Billy pushes his way through the grass with avid voracity, in his mind playing the role of space explorer on an uncharted planet.

Almost a half-hour into his explorations, Billy discovers that even a day as truly glorious as this one can get even better. He stumbles across it first, sneaker-clad toe sinking softly into its fleshy side, and almost trips over the prone figure before, arms flinging about madly, he rights himself and, right proud of his balance, looks down into the bright, happy face of that most glamorous and fantastical figure for every 11-year-old boy: an honest-to-goodness clown. And the clown looks back up at Billy, face white as snow, wide grin permanently etched in red, blue eyes open, red nose still firmly affixed and just begging to be honked or prodded.

Billy can't help but gasp, and the sound that escapes him is something resembling a chitter, as he clenches his hands to his cheeks in the childlike expression of joy that more suits a younger boy, perhaps even a 10-year-old, but Billy can't keep in the sheer exuberance the mysterious appearance of a clown could bring. Despite the fact that this clown is wearing jeans and a flannel shirt ­ not to mention the fact that the skin of his hands and neck seems uncomfortably white and fleshly thick and his open eyes are misty and peering over Billy's head, straight into the glistening sun, making it clear that this clown couldn't possibly be sleeping, especially with its arms and legs strewn in such an uncomfortable position ­ this is still quite clearly a clown, and, more than that, this is Billy's clown, found on his special day. He looks around desperately to make sure than no one is nearby to lay claim to his birthday clown. And no, he's all alone in the vibrant lushness of the wilds, and the clown is his!

The thoughts running through Billy's head make him dizzy with possibility, and he can't decide if he and the clown should play space explorer or head up for a roll down the Hill or play hide-and-seek or maybe, even, and this one is especially fitting, Circus! (Billy can be an exceptional lion or zebra should the situation call for it, and once he did a passable Strong Man.)

But then Billy realizes the damp earth is getting his grass-stained sneakers muddy, and his mother is quite possibly that very moment arising and seeking out her only son on his most special of all days. And the rank sickly sweet smell that mixes with a hint of alcohol rising from the clown's body disturbs him, even coming from such a cheerful face. Despite the most wondrous of gifts staring up at him with glossy eyes, Billy realizes he has to go home and make an appearance on his birthday. After all, he has a party to look forward to.

He realizes there's nothing else to do but to hide the clown, for if properly hidden in the wilds, the clown would be there later that day when Billy returns, filled with cake and thriving on sugar, possibly even with Kimmy or Bobby, and then they could really play Circus! But this clown isn't willing to assist in the process, and so it's up to Billy to grasp under his arms and pull with his legs and slowly shuffle the clown's weight through the weeds, and never mind the way Billy's fingers seem to seep into the clown's body through the flannel shirt, and never mind the sickly plopping sound the clown makes when pulled out of the mud, and never mind the dark stain that seems to ooze from the bottom buttons of the flannel shirt, because this is a clown, and clowns could even make that thick, bewildering stench amusing!

Thus dragged exasperatedly through the weeds, in exhaustion Billy plods back up the Hill and back up the street, and he gives a wave to Mrs. Hendricks who is watering her roses in her bathrobe and staring aghast, and he throws open the front door of his house with a wild shout of joy. He catches his mother unaware, and her exclamation of surprise turns to one of anguish at the thick mud and congealed grease that covers Billy's best jeans and his favorite t-shirt. There's something sticky clinging to the left side of Billy's face, and something white hangs from the pocket of his jeans, and all in all Billy resembles a walking corpse in his mother's eyes. She is beside herself in anger that Billy would ruin this special day by coating himself in muck and goodness-knows-what-else, all before she even has time to finish her first cup of coffee.

But Billy couldn't possibly dim the wattage of his grin as he allows himself to be herded into the bathtub to wash off the detritus of the morning's adventure, for he knows he has presents and cake and, joy of joys, a clown to return to later that day, and all are worth the price of a morning shower. And after toweling off, he draws the outline of the clown's made-up face in the mist on the mirror, and it sort of resembles Billy's father who died when Billy was two, and that makes Billy even happier, because he misses his father, sometimes.

[Forever after at

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