From ‘The Last Balcony’ book —
BUILD A CHARACTER
Who is Robert Elesco?
Build a character, you say? Well, his name was Robert Elesco, and he lived at 7 Treehouse Gardens, Middlepool, Warks. He took to wearing costumes that would have fitted someone much larger than himself – outlandish shoes, flip-flopping, clumsily forward-heavy. Black rosettes as mock-buttons down the middle of his white baggy suit – black rouge on his cheeks. And a red plump nose contrasting with the otherwise sepulchral tokens of ill-health.
If he had been found naked in the river, he could be identified by the strawberry birthmark in the middle of his back. And a sunken hole in the middle of his chest that had been there since he was a boy. Religion? If he had one, it was a religion that in itself could make us all laugh or, at least, become a complete and utter belief that he could make us all laugh and go to bed happy. That seems to me to be the best religion of all, bearing in mind that most religions seem to become self-contradictory or sorrowful given the default lines of human nature.
Perhaps ‘philosophy’ would have been a better word to describe this aspect of Elesco’s character. Philosophy seems naturally to embody possibilities by strength of logic, while religion to cultivate impossibilities by strength of often misplaced faith. His philosophy, then, was one that put his own sorrow and gloom to the use of diminishing, by pitiful mime or mimicry, the sorrow and gloom of others. A paradox that made philosophical absurdity, if not philosophy itself, a goal worth pursuing.
Relationships, you ask? I suspect his sorrow and gloom prevented Elesco from entering into any meaningful relationships. Women somehow knew that his innermost core of being was the gloom and sorrow that he claimed to fabricate simply to use it as a comic device to remove gloom and sorrow completely from the world – his own gloom and sorrow necessarily being left to last when the job of removing all gloom and sorrow was on the brink of being completed … completed, presumably, when his own gloom and sorrow was the last gloom and sorrow left in the world and thus safely able to be removed as a final act.
One rare comely woman with whom he did have a brief passing fling pointed out that his was not so much a Philosophy as a Religion. He laughed. And, so, somehow, that was the end of that.
However, recently, there was a second relationship. A tiny lady, so very tiny that she, in less politically-correct days, would have been considered a freak, came to watch him perform. And they took to meeting in the pub after the show. The show was in the same pub, and so they did not have far to go. Whether she was ever to see his hidden defining features of identification remains a moot point.
In the recent past, his ambition was to earn an actual living as a clown with a big one-man theatrical show, rather than mixing tricks with a whole circus of clowns which had been his original ambition. He had always tried to be an independent soul. His current ambition, as second best, had gone full circle towards joining a circus. But the credit crunch meant there were now no circuses. It seemed his professional ambitions were ever destined to be a series of never-ending second-bests. The state of never-ending was never a second-best in itself, however, and it seems strange to need to remind you of this.
His other hopes, etc, you ask? Yes, like most people, he always did have hopes, etc. The trouble with most lives is that the ‘etc.’ bit always peters out and either you forget voluntarily or involuntarily that you once had an ‘etc.’ or death autonomously puts a full stop to it. The tiny lady was the only person at his funeral. Too far at the wrong end of a telescope to tell whether she looked sad or happy.
Elesco re-entered the orchard at precisely the moment he remembered first doing so, eager to duplicate his ancient childhood in a town called Middlepool where he still lived in the future. His clown-costume made him sweat in the heat of a present summer that was as ‘forever’ as past summers were ‘forever’ – a fact which actually made it questionable to pluralise the word at all.
The sunlight was made up of multiple shafts from God’s golden eyes, shafts of sight leaning through the pippin-plump branches only to soak into the ground beyond any sight whatsoever – except perhaps the sight of insects and worms and earth-snakes. Elesco laughed. If this were God’s eyesight, then how so many shafts? Even God only had two eyes. He remembered having exactly the same philosophical fantasies when a child, a child who would surely have become shamefaced if he had then dreamt that his elder self was to earn a living from being a clown. A boy in sandy-coloured shorts scrumping for apples could only guess he’d be a train driver or something like that. But a professional buffoon? Surely not. But away with such worries as the boy spun cartwheels across the grass, breaking each shaft with joyful abandon, chortling like a human-throated mower.
Today, the Elder Elesco sought the tiny fairy he once spotted in the orchard and first fell in love with when he was that boy many years in the past. But how many fairies were there to go round? Do you count each moment of time in which a fairy once appeared? Millions of versions of the same fairy in duration as a smooth concertina of images … just like watching a film? In the old days before cinemas had complete separate showings of films, there were what was called ‘continuous performances’ whereby you didn’t think twice about watching a film from the middle to the beginning back to the middle again, and repeating the process if you had particularly enjoyed it. Elesco equally didn’t think twice about watching the fairy time and time again as she was cast upon each trunk by the shafts of golden eyesight … a silhouette-chase through elapsed time.
He never grew bored by re-discovery. Until one day she didn’t turn up.
‘She’s run away to the circus,’ he told the silence.
The silence rudely never replied.
The only way to plumb any circus’s pecking-order of performers was to join the circus himself. He needed to build a character rather than immediately become one. A character built up over several years has more provenance than one slipped into overnight. For example, he once became a thrusting man-about- the-world simply to woo the affections of a rare comely woman. The role didn’t suit him at all as he hadn’t bothered to build the character bit by bit. He should have run a business over many man-years, worn the right clothes time and time again, practised self-confidence in the mirror like a method actor of several years’ experience, persevered in being someone he wasn’t until he even believed it himself. The rare comely woman soon saw through him, because he had done none of these things and had acted ad hoc or on the hoof as if he knew – underneath it all – that he was the shy, gauche individual he really was. With this lesson learnt, he truly did try to build a character as a clown. He even employed professional clowns to fill in all the gaps for him, had stories published by fiction writers in the guise of his own real biography as the greatest clown the world had ever known, hired audiences to watch and applaud as he gradually improved the venues where he worked, bribed historians to prepare ready- made primary-sources that contextualised his legendary career … until he reached, by both truth and fiction, the pinnacle of all circuses wherein he believed (by ‘researching’ the various fictions he had caused to be concocted in the first place about his loves and life) that his long-lost fairy performed ‘after hours’ for select gatherings who paid through the nose to see her in this clandestine way. Freaks like fairies, you see, weren’t officially allowed to appear in circuses any more.
But Elesco fell at the last hurdle. The circus – like the rare comely woman before it – saw straight through him. There was one loophole he had forgotten to cover. And this loophole was that he was a fiction that he had simply come to believe as being real and the fiction-writers he had employed falsely to substantiate him were fictitious themselves! Like a religion whose continuous performance of a forever faith was interrupted by a never-ending death. In this case the interruption was the story ending.
But it hadn’t quite yet.
‘She’s not gone to the circus,’ suddenly said the silence, making ‘never’ as pointless as ‘forever’.
‘But where is she?’ he asked, as he made one last attempt to survive beyond the story’s end. The silence then seemed to start slithering rather than speaking.
He looked at each golden shaft of sunlight fade as summer turned to autumn almost overnight as it were. And with the Fall’s final fading shaft, the last fairy-shape was soaked up from off an apple-tree trunk like ink into blotting-paper darker than the ink it soaked up, even as he first spotted the fairy-shape as being there at all.
The slithering of silence now told Elesco by manner rather than words that it was only hindsight or history whereby it had said anything at all. And he wondered if that once popular Snake Woman feature of ancient Freak Shows was even at this moment sinuously moving towards the mindlessly apple- crunching clown, moving along and around her own telescopic branch of reptilian plumpness for the final kiss of silent death.
Demolish a Character
I was indeed one of those fiction writers who built Robert Elesco’s character from scratch. Perhaps the only writer who did this, struggling through the small hours by the light of a guttering candle and with the raison d’être that I was indeed preparing written homework for a conclave of crossbrows who would punish me if I didn’t do it by the time of their next tutorial. And I must have built Elesco’s character quite strongly as a literary protagonist of the first water. His final circumstances will be described in this very ‘coda’ of mine so as to complete the character I have so meticulously built, if not on paper, certainly in my own mind. And perhaps a completion is the ultimate demolishment of any building one doth build by virtue of its inevitable decay in the fullness of time. Topping out.
I said earlier that I had built the character of Robert Elesco ‘from scratch’. That was no accidental slip of my spluttering pen-nib. My main occupation, you see, is carbon-dater of words; my main tool in this admirably skilful pursuit is a spike that I use to scratch each printed word on the page, digging slowly, ever so slowly, beneath the ink or whatever fluid used as ink towards its primary source of meaning and form. However, ‘digging’ is probably too extreme a word, as is ‘scratch’, and you would think, as a writer as well as a carbon-dater of words, I would have picked the best words at outset to describe my occupation. Allusion, even if heavy-handed, can often be more effective than precise denotement. And, as I proceeded deeper and deeper, beneath the words, I revealed subtleties that I could never express on the surface where you sit reading this. Suffice it to say, I scratched and dug quite artfully to uncover nuances of watermark and blotted stain – and this process later revealed a textual world that was more real than anyone could possibly imagine – anyone, that is, who does not work as ‘a carbon-dater of words’. Incidentally, that expression is in itself a loose surface term for the occupation.
The first artful scratch can make a sudden revelation. Often, one only needs a few cursory proddings of the spike into the meat of a single letter’s leg. But this was not to be a short job in the case of Robert Elesco. What I eventually did uncover was a dead body in a near derelict orchard, a body that employees of Middlepool’s Authorities found under the crab-apple mulch. They did not need specialist ‘spikes’, like me, but could do it simply with blunt spades. They knew it was Robert Elesco – not by his clown costume that had decayed into the mulch making more mulch – but by the strawberry watermark that had outlasted the integrity of the skin on his back and by the hole in the chest that had somehow outlasted the chest itself. Inside the still extant stomach they found a tiny winged creature that they put down to a freakish Fortean thing.
He must have become real to own those putrescent remains. You have the writer to thank for that. The writer and eventually you the future reader. The crossbrows will also be pleased … I trust.
PS: The remains were eventually re-buried in consecrated ground.