Life fits onto a twelve foot by twelve foot square. The square is made of the trunks of twenty-four trees latched together, one hundred feet of knotted rope created from palm fronds, and a paste I invented using animal feces and clay excavated with tools crafted from tree bark and coconut shells.
Water surrounded me, but it would kill me. Salt water is a killer when you’re adrift in the ocean. What little fresh water I caught and stored from the rainstorms was sloshing around the bottom of a green water cooler that had washed ashore from the wreckage of my plane.
Three months and now I was adrift. Tired of the tiny island, I thought I’d take my chances on the Pacific. A week of fish and sweat and more fish. A squall had ripped what little cover I had on my raft to protect me from the sun.
Three days of salt and sun exposure. That’s when I saw the clown.
He leaned over me and waved with a big white glove. The white paint on his face was unblemished, reds and yellows expressing how happy he was to be on my raft.
“Who are you?” I croaked.
He assaulted my ears with the sound of his horn. He squeezed it a few more times if only to annoy me. It sounded like the Canadian geese who flew over my house when I was a kid.
I’m hallucinating. I’ll close my eyes and be rid of him.
The clown is still there when I wake up. Bozo is standing at attention on the front of my raft like a circus albatross. Who am I kidding? I don’t know which side is the front of my raft. I don’t even know if having an albatross is a good thing or a bad thing.
“Are you a good omen or a bad omen?” I shield my eyes from the heat of the sun, but my clown doesn’t move. Damn clowns. They always freak me out.
I caught a bass on one of the lines dangling from the raft. I sit cross-legged at the edge of the boat and pull up the fishing line.
“Ten inches?” I chuckle, and take out the pocket knife I found. “It ain’t pretty and it ain’t cooked, but I can promise you won’t starve.”
I tore the fish in half lengthwise and offered one to the clown. Still he didn’t move, leaving me to partake of my fish on my own.
“Bozo,” I began recalling every clown I could remember. “Clarabell… oh! Benny Hill and Red Skelton! You might not know those classics.”
I grimaced, taking another slimy bite of fish.
“Pennywise. Damn I hope you’re not a Pennywise.”
The sun was dipping below the waves when I gave up trying to get his attention. My imagination was fabricating all manner of sordid scenarios about who this silent clown could be. I fell asleep with my eyes open, staring at him staring at the fathomless void of black water.
I couldn’t have been far from land. The Tahitian islands were under me when the plane’s left engine sputtered and spat. Flames bathed the wing and choking black smoke filled the cabin. No matter how hard I fought to land the plane the nose tipped forward catching water at such a speed that it was indistinguishable from concrete.
Tail over cockpit the plane tumbled, tearing the fuselage apart like splintering wood. The last thing I recalled was my face against the windshield, and waking up on the beach.
Was there a clown there? On the beach?
There was no telling how long I had been unconscious. But I knew there had been someone else. For the last three months I thought I was crazy, but I swear I saw a clown through my stupor. But there were no footprints to be found when I awoke.
The squawking of the horn startled me awake. Bozo’s hands were clasping my face. He kissed me, and walked to the end of the boat. Tied to his ankle was a rope.
I scrambled across the raft to catch him, but I was too late. He jumped into the cool black water. Over the roar of the waves I could hear the rhythmic strokes of him swimming.
“Get back on the boat!” I screamed at him. He wasn’t good company but he was company nonetheless.
Frantic for his life I pulled on the rope. It was taut like it was caught on something. I pulled again, and felt the slack give. As I reeled in the rope, tying it about my arm I found the knot at the end of it, and lights of a ship a hundred yards away.
Jubilant, I jumped and I screamed over the sound of the engines. The ship was passing me in the night. All of my struggles to survive would be for naught. I didn’t know how much longer I could live on the ocean.
My eyes burned when the spotlight turned on me. I have no idea how the spotlight found me, but when it did the horn blast was loud enough to shake my innards. I fell to my knees and cried. Thank God they found me! Thank you God!
The world was numb. I fought as hard to lay awake as I did to sleep. The ship’s doctor had bags of fluid emptying themselves, rehydrating my dry veins. It was two days before I was lucid enough to taste the blood on my split lips.
“Open your mouth,” the doctor’s accent was French, possibly. I obeyed. “You’re lucky we found you. Another day and we would never had met.”
“How,” I struggled to speak. My throat still felt like a dusty pipe. “How did you see me?”
He looked over his black-rimmed spectacles, “Equipment malfunction.” When he saw I wasn’t satisfied he added, “One of our spotlights turned on and fell to the side. Our navigator saw you, thinking you were debris.”
“There was a clown. Did you see him?”
The doctor smirked, running his thumb down the sides of his mouth. Then he chuckled.
“That must be who they talk about. His name’s Sylvester.”
“Can I meet him? I think he saved my life.”
The doctor stood, and patted me on the shoulder sympathetically.
“Sylvester’s been dead since his USO troop sank to the bottom of this ocean in 1942. I’m afraid he’s like an impish mermaid now, saving sailors and pilots like yourself who are on the brink of death. If you’re going to thank him, speak to the water.”