A woman has been dating a clown for some time now. But now, she no longer laughs. She is sitting next to him at a sad café, the kind painters put into paintings, all cobblestone and empty glasses. The woman can’t even look at the clown. All she sees is a hobo with a big red nose.

She thinks about her mother and the warnings her mother threaded though her childhood. How serious her mother seemed. One day the woman looked at her mother and noticed how red her nose was.

XXX

The waiter comes to the woman’s table. What else can I bring you, Madam? The woman asks what pairs well with heartache? The waiter goes off and returns with a donkey. Gray and alive and on a platter with olives and pears.

Am I supposed to eat this? The woman asks thinking back to the times she said this to her mother. She thinks of the times she said this to the clown, only instead of eat, she said love.

XXX

Later, she is sitting alone at the café. The clown is gone. His last words were that he never said he was a clown. That was just one of her expectations that he couldn’t live up to. He life before she decided to eat the donkey. Which she did. And she wasn’t even sorry.

XXX

The woman didn’t actually eat the donkey. What she actually did was this: she paid the bill and told the donkey to go home to her house and wait for her there. That the donkey would have to make her laugh and tell her jokes, but not the kind her mother told her about how men just want to have sex, not the kind the clown told her about how he would love her till he died. The donkey thought it over and agreed and went to the woman’s house, but not before he had a glass of wine.

XXX

Years go by. The donkey and the woman have quite the friendship. They are sitting tonight at the opera in one of those boxes like Lincoln had. The donkey has kept his promise and tells her all kinds of anecdotes and keeps her laughing with his witty repartee. Tonight he leans over and says something to the effect of not enjoying the opera because he doesn’t speak Italian. She gets it, the subtlety of his statement. Of course he doesn’t think that Italian would keep him from enjoying the costumes, the delightful soprano, her voice a bird warble, the shimmer of the chandeliers. The woman pats his donkey knee and says, oh, you are just too marvelous. She turns her attention back to the stage. Stares right in the eye of the tenor, almost as if she is waiting for him to pull out a pistol and shoot.

12 Comments

  1. Al Kratz

    Love this Francine! This one is a whoosh! I love the turns the donkey takes. He’s one of my favorite characters of yours! The flow here is awesome doing so much work all at once but always entertaining the reader. So well done!

  2. Jonathan Cardew

    Francine!

    Wonderful to have you in a workshop again! I have to say, I always roll my mental sleeves up when I’m about to read one of your brilliant micros because I know it will be an absolute feast.

    And I’m not disappointed here! Clowns and donkeys and operas! I love the braided structure of this draft and I really like the use of XXX as a section break, which does something a little different in separating these moments (a little more intentionally “jarring”).

    The language, as usual, is tight but bristling with that special energy that is the hallmark of your writing. The sparse and prosaic lines like, “A woman has been dating a clown for some time now” act as a foil to the sudden flashes of poetry like “gray and alive.” Then, there is your sharp sense of humor and timing like “The woman didn’t actually eat the donkey” and the pistol at the end! I love this historical allusion, actually–the dropping us out of the story and into another time/place adds a certain richness to the experience.

    All to say, this is wonderful work!

    HOW ABOUTS:

    Of course, this is a draft, and you will want to give it some time and space, but I want to provide you with some “reconstructive” feedback or “How abouts?”

    1. On my second read, I “got” that this story is perhaps “about” falling out of love or having unrealistic expectations (the clown is no longer funny, the donkey is “perhaps” losing their attractive erudition). Could you lean into this more? Like, the clown says a few lines, which the MC interprets as “poor” jokes?

    2. Recombobulate? I wonder what would happen if you shifted things around organization-wise. I really love the part where the waiter brings the donkey on a platter. That is a striking visual moment and perhaps could lead into a slightly different piece.

    3. Divide and conquer? How about unbraiding this, and having a part about the clown and a part about the donkey (1. How I met the Clown…2. How I met the Donkey).

    4. Donkeys and clowns seem suited to a circus. Could you go down this route? Like the MC is a dart-thrower or something, but doesn’t think she is a dart-thrower (like the clown doesn’t think he is a clown and the donkey is quite erudite but still a donkey). A Not-Circus, as it were?

    VENUES:
    The submissions process is a notoriously tricky thing and you just never know what will fit where and when, but here are a few journals that come to mind (if you continue to work on this and consider sending it out):

    – Okay Donkey — https://okaydonkeymag.com/
    – Jellyfish Review — https://jellyfishreview.wordpress.com/
    – Gone Lawn — https://gonelawn.net/journal/issue43/glj_current.php

    Thanks again for sharing your piece with us! Please feel free to post any questions in this thread or post an updated, redrafted version (if the fancy takes you at this stage).

    Cheers,
    Jonathan

  3. Robert Vaughan

    Hi Francine, love the whimsy and oddball energy of this, the lovely elements of surprise and twists and turns all add up to delightful parody. And yet, as JC points out, I also felt the under-currency of sadness and “falling out of love” or “disappointment in one’s choices?” You have a wonderful knack for nailing the absurd with just the perfect touch.

  4. Wilson Koewing

    Francine,

    This piece is wonderfully absurd and in possession of your trademark whip snap pacing.

    There’s quite a lot to like here. I agree with much of what Jonathan mentioned in his praise and thought his suggestions all made a lot of sense. Especially seeing what might happen with some reordering of sections.

    I also, like Jonathan, loved the donkey being delivered on a tray. Though it did make me think the donkey was incredibly small for the rest of the story, which didn’t change much for me, but is worth noting. And maybe it is supposed to be.

    When it comes to absurdism I’m always seeking a grounding element. In this case I thought that could maybe come through further considering the metaphorical meanings of the clown and donkey. The clown feels pretty much there, maybe even a bit on the nose. The donkey, on the other hand, felt a bit abstract. What is the donkey representing? If the clown is representing a love lost, a fool that lost the narrator’s love, then I was thinking the donkey could represent someone worthy of earning it (as weird as this all is to say) or if nothing else could at least have characteristics of what the narrator is looking for, but that doesn’t matter because it’s… a donkey? I don’t know if any of this makes sense. I feel like this is a combination of what I read into the donkey, but also what I was unsure of regarding the donkey. For whatever that’s worth.

    Whatever the case, the donkey is all-time.

    That’s about all I’ve got. Great draft. Looking forward to seeing where this one takes you.

    Wilson

  5. Len Kuntz

    Hi Francine,

    Gosh, I loved this so much. It’s an interesting mix of humor and pathos, quirk and directness. The donkey on a platter was a wonderful move. I loved that he drank wine and went to the opera. You painted everything so clearly, I saw it like a short film. And that ending was perfect. Brava.

  6. Jennifer Todhunter

    Oh boy, Francine, this is amazing, I love it. As I’ve come to appreciate with your work, you never bring me along in the direction I think I’m going and there’s something so refreshing about that. The words I think are coming are not the words to come. I guess, if I was going to encourage the spots to think about here, I would say, the last paragraph feels like a different story to me, too sum-uppy, and fast-forwardish and I just kind of wanted to revel in the current with the woman and the clown and the donkey. I’d also maybe consider rewording the paragraph that starts “The woman didn’t actually eat the donkey” because it sort of made the prior paragraphs feel without merit or made me question them and I’m not sure if that’s what you’re going for. Gorgeous work as always.

  7. Rogan

    I love the lean in to the details and the scene. You setup such trust with the reader, Francine. I was in for all of it. This turn felt special: “She gets it, the subtlety of his statement. Of course he doesn’t think that Italian would keep him from enjoying the costumes, the delightful soprano, her voice a bird warble, the shimmer of the chandeliers.”

  8. Kristin Bonilla

    I love when a piece surprises me at every turn. And you do it without alienating or confusing the reader. This is delightful. It reminded me a bit of certain bits of Italian cinema–sad clowns, a donkey at the opera. It has a very cinematic quality and I could see every new detail no matter how absurd it might seem. It kind of made me wonder–like Italian cinema–if we were going to see a return of former characters near the end at the opera. The mother and the clown? Something to consider? Wherever you go with this, I’m excited to follow.

  9. Wendy Oleson

    I’m so envious of that last line, Francine! Bullseye. Amazing.

    This killed me in a great way: “One day the woman looked at her mother and noticed how red her nose was.” And I was so pleased by the donkey’s entrance on the platter–so absurd and right such that his becoming a central character felt good.

    Thank you for sharing!

  10. David O'Connor

    Francine, I love this, feels super cinematic, I could storyboard it perfectly. This: “Am I supposed to eat this? The woman asks thinking back to the times she said this to her mother. She thinks of the times she said this to the clown, only instead of eat, she said love.” stood-out for me as brilliant and heart-rendering. So well put, the self-questioning/poetic nature. Like all your work that I have read–top shelf!

  11. Benjamin Niespodziany

    That final line! Yes, yes.

    “His last words were that he never said he was a clown.” I want this line to end one of these sequences. I think there’s a real pulse here. I can almost see the donkey relationship extended (love how it evolves) and with one of their fights/arguments/break-ups, the donkey can say “I never said I was a donkey” or something like that. That kind of miscommunication and misunderstanding (especially for these kind of dunce titles) is really captivating here.

    That final visual though. Keep that final visual! Wow.

  12. Todd Clay Stuart

    Francine, your tales (no pun intended, maybe ha) are always so fresh and strange and original. This is no exception. Great work as always!

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