The Shenanigans of Minister Shivers
A clown, just before turning forty, took all of his civilian clothes and dropped them into the ocean.
Hours earlier, he visited the Golden Mesa Retirement Community, where he met an old woman befriended years ago. He could never remember her name, but called her Gloria Babbit. This was close enough; she answered to it. Longer ago, he entertained at the Golden Mesa as Minister Shivers, a priestly fellow always bumbling to impress god. The administration made it clear that, after viewing his act over the course of several visits, clowning was not appreciated by the residents; god, meanwhile, made it clear that he didn’t care this way or another about Minister Shivers, a fictional character still very devout. The clown took it all very personally. But while most residents had no time for antics, Gloria adored him. Friendship bloomed.
On this day, the weather was sunny and uncomfortable. Our hero had yet to wash the dishes. Ants lived and worked beneath his sink. Across town, a protest had shut down the highway, thus making it impossible for Minister Shivers to get to his birthday gig. All dolled up but with nowhere to go, he visited Gloria. They sat in metal chairs around a metal table in a small weed patch and had iced tea. Dogs yowled through the yard, chasing nurses. Shivers didn’t ask why. He had other things on his mind.
“How are you, Minister Shivers?” Gloria asked.
He frowned. The world weighed down on him and without the Savior to help shoulder the burden he thought he may collapse. His whole body frowned and became briefly boneless. He flopped into a casual position, chin resting in hand, hand resting on arm, arm resting on elbow, elbow resting on table, table resting on weeds and dirt.
“Down on your luck I see.” She smiled and licked her lips and rubbed her hands together.
Childishly he said, “I lost a gig cuz the g-darn protests. And cuz Gawd hates me.” His body lifted when he said Gawd, only to come crashing back down so violently that his head slipped from his hand, popped on the table, then bounced back into his hand.
Gloria giggled, then glared. She kept eyes on busybody Dolores across the yard. Dolores conspired with nurses and agents from private security firms. Her busy body flung around as she spoke in agitated whispers, gesturing widely to the dogs, shaking accusatory pointers at the residents playing with them, and lifting flat palms of exacerbation toward residents tossing telephones from windows. Phones rained down from even the highest floor, shattering on the sidewalk below, chiming last tones on cement. Gloria smiled at the scene then returned her focus to Shivers, who wrung an invisible towel in his white-painted hands.
“You lost your gig for good?” she asked. “Why blame protests? Maybe Gawd sends messages. Have you even tried to get there?”
Shivers mimicked driving a big big bus, honking a horn, screaming and shaking his fist at traffic, then mimed a sad man draped into an overcoat hanging from the dangling public transit handle, body swaying back and forth as the bus lurched to a stop.
“You have a new job?”
He wrinkled his face in total perplexion. “No! There’s no way I could ever ever get through that mayhem on the bus! I just know it. Harrumph. The news report told me so and I prayed and I prayed and I prayed, but nothing. Yet again, I am abandoned, waiting here now for the great beyond. Holy Gee-Wiz and Woe is me.”
He now rested his face in both palms and let his eyes spill over with tears. His massive red lips peeled downwards as if to droop onto the table. “Maybe….” He sighed so loudly that Dolores turned her head and wrinkled her nose in absolute disgust. “Maybe I should purchase a g-darn automobile. Oh Lord forgive me! Forgive me.”
Dolores and Gloria met eyes. Dolores’ busy hands played civil and waved, but her face snarled. Gloria waved and cursed the busybody—as witches do—under her breath. The nurses and guards stared at Gloria now too. They knew things about her that Shivers did not.
The Minister’s hands collapsed together into unenthusiastic prayer. Did he roll his eyes? Maybe. Did he flash a goofy if not slightly evil grin? Perhaps. Did he, like Gloria, feel a fireball inside? No: he felt the Arctic, cold and dark.
“Do you want to purchase an automobile? Beep beep.” She mimed driving a roadster, honking the horn at beach bums, surfer girls, and others she ate for breakfast. She imagined running down the busybody but shook her head: too messy.
The Minister shivered. “Ugh. I haaaaaate driving.” The word hate unfurled from his mouth, a snake choking him only enough to not die, but desire release. He clutched his stomach and heaved. He examined the invisible thing that fell from his mouth as if examining the polygonal fractals of a perplexing and foreign human soul. “I don’t know who I am anymore.”
“It doesn’t matter who you are,” Gloria said, chirping. She smiled at a squirrel as it squeaked up a tree to greet the other squirrels. Together, they studied the melee of hounds and elders. She winked at her clown friend. “I myself am resigned to Last Days.”
He shook, briefly, out of character. “Don’t talk like that.”
“Oh, it’s nothing horrible. I’m content enough.” Nothing rolled down her spine. She looked happy.
With hair salon bravado, he said, “How do you do it?”
“Well, sometimes I miss my youth. Miss? No, I resent. No, I don’t have time for resentment. I feel like my youth should visit me more, and I act angry at my bones, but it’s just a show I put on. I’m relieved. I don’t want to worry about her theatrics, the boring problems of youth. They appear anyway, begging me to worry about them. Youth the sourpuss. She abandoned me here, so I abandon caring.”
“You don’t need the shenanigans of youths! Ramshackle kids!”
“I can feel Death’s cold breath at the back of my neck, even stirring deep within my chest, even burning, like ice-things can, somewhere even lower. It’s enticing, invigorating. This loom of Death feels like an unrequited love that animates idiocy. Youth has no monopoly on idiot love. Do you know what kind of love I’m talking about?”
He shook his head like a dog, wide-eyed and attentive.
“It’s a terrible love, frowned upon, unrequited. I like it. I like being hopelessly in love with people who can’t love me back, and not as some form of self punishment or obsession. That’s what people think when you do these things to yourself, but I enjoy keeping secrets and playing games. Unrequited love is a very secretive game. This is how I feel about Death. Does that mean he won’t take me? I don’t know about that. It’s just a gig to him, a job. It has nothing to do with love. It’s like a crush on a handsome waiter. It’s their job to be nice to you, and yet I adore the feeling, the anticipation, a potential never realized but never destroyed either. This illusory dance. Very one-sided.”
Shivers mumbled. “Just because it’s a job doesn’t mean they don’t love… Besides—” He thought for a moment. “I sure hope you don’t mind me coming here with my big-ol problems. Lord knows Lord ain’t listenin.” He spoke like a sad cowboy.
“Oh my no. It’s different when it’s your own youth knocking on the doors of memory. I once carried a heavy burden, a disproportionate amount of care. Memory begs me to continue and I have to ruminate. I could collapse from such burdens, but maybe I want to collapse! Still, this is a lot to think about. With you, I can think proportionately. This is better in the long run. That way, we don’t wear each other out. Youth wears you out. If we are never young, we can never be old. I think I almost understood this, but not quite…. I’m sorry for being so sappy and introspective! My meds are kicking. Pardon me if I slur my speech a teensy-weensy bit. But I wonder: whose problems do you talk about when you talk about your problems? Minister Shivers?”
He squeaked like a squirrel and pleaded the empty sky with his wet eyes. “Tis I, Minister Shivers.”
“Your problems are problems of faith. Not mundane problems. Rent, jobs, money. Profane things are no match for the sacred.”
He rolled his eyes and then rolled his entire face. “Bobane dings rr no mats fer-de bla-blis-bliss.” Shivers mocked, then quickly felt horrible. “I’m sooo sorry.”
Gloria smiled with her eyes and mouth and whole face.
“I am here to do the lawd’s work.” Now he was southern preacher. He spilled tea in his lap and screamed.
Gloria clapped and laughed. “That invigorates too!”
Minister Shivers jumped from his seat and batted his hands to dry his crotch, or fan the flames of cold tea. His gesticulates were Cartoon but his articulations Bard. “Oh what calamity befalls thee and what befalls thine soul? These quests I ask of myself.” He became childish King James. “Oh me oh myeth. I am Job. The Lord constantly testeth. Testeth me through mine own buffoonery, my own thomfoolery. Why must He testeth me!”
“No one knows.” She swayed, her medication altering the flow of gravity only minimally.
Minister Shiver composed himself and sat back down. “So this is how it shall be then, good lady Babbit. Minister Shivers must follow the great Lord’s righteous and ragged path.” His voice altered to Evangelical, a touch Pentecostal, on the verge of snakes and tongues. “Even if the great and almighty Lord appears to have abandoned you, well He has oh yes He has.” He threw his face violently into his chalk-white hands, then peered up with clenched eyelids and channeled a great prophet. “For one day we will all find home in the Kingdom of Heaven. Amen.” His head fell back into his chalk-white hands and he wept, mostly dry-eyed, but spitting and slobbering. Then he let loose a great big fart. “Oh that devil flatulence! I cast thee out! Not this time, Satan!”
Gloria cackled. “The devil is a tricky fella. But I try make time for his shenanigans, on occasion.”
“What about mine?” Now the needy child, Shivers peaked his eyes hopefully over his fingers all wrapped around his face, words muffled. “The Shenanigans of Minister Shivers, Volume One.”
“Lovely.” Gloria clapped. “But regretfully, because I feel a little woozy and have a big tomorrow day, this lady’s old get to got the on move.” She began to stand, wavering. Shivers quickly stood to help her, though knocked over his chair in the process, tangled his right foot in the metal rungs of the chair’s undercarriage, dragged the chair through the weedy dirt and over to Gloria’s side as he helped her stand. He handed her her cane.
“Thank you,” she said, taking the cane, biting it, inspecting it, then using it properly. “Yes, I think it’s time to rest. Maybe some ghosts!” She said things like this sometimes. It didn’t concern Shivers.
She wrapped a shawl around herself, which had nearly fallen off as she stood. “Ghosts and the dreary displays of mad capitalists, teehee, but they’re on the same channel now and I want to ruin busybody soaps—her infernal and tepid stories—I do love ghastly messes. What was I saying?” She caught sight of the squirrels, plotting with the recently arrived crows. “Oh yes. What’s next for you, Minister Shivers? Volume Two maybe?”
“This weary soul?” He clutched his chest, something horrible pounding beneath. “This wayward scout of the Lord, this man of nondenominational or transdenominational cloth? I must cast away everything, do you think, that is not the Lord’s Path. Right? Is that what I hear in the angel’s weepy voices?”
“I can’t answer that, dear.” She patted him on the back and explored the interior of her own mouth with her suddenly conspicuous tongue. “Now is not the time for answers,” she said, though in her glossolalial manipulations, it sounded more like “Owes ota ime eraner.” She placed her tongue in its conventional location. “But is it ever?”
He could see in her eyes her deeper thoughts:
You Must Follow the Sacred Path of the Clown.
They parted, and a plan formed in the mind of our hapless hero.
He returned home and dumped all of his non-clown clothes into six garbage bags and walked them two at a time to the ocean, four miles away.
It was dark and it took him hours. He imagined this a beautiful sight: the flapfooted clown, slick black hair and bright red nose, blue eyes of sad devotion, cracked white hands of desperate prayer, his oversized robe emblazoned with cartoon crosses, a triple-xl crucifix dangling heavy and plastic from his neck, weighing him down and bending his spine into a collapsing hook, he drags big black bags of clothes down the endless nighthaze street, underneath the glimmering streetlights. Thump thump thump, goes the garbage over the detritus and imperfections of the sidewalk. Thump thump thump, goes Shivers’ boots flapping sadly like a dumb yawn of despair. Then, heave-ho, the bags soar into the sea under the muffled stars, just another nocturnal crime amongst countless nocturnal crimes, clandestine lovers, illicit liaisons, passionate bloodshed. Who were they to judge?
But by the time he was finished, he was drenched in sweat and his bright red shoes filled with dark red blood, ill equipped for long-distance and persistent walking. The night became cold and uncomfortable, moonless and starless, erratically windy. The sun rose and no one noticed. He took a shower and slept in the bathtub as his sweaty clothes dried.
The following day, in the late morning, he returned to the nursing home smelling of rotten water, and learned that Gloria had left on a daytrip to the protests.
“The protests!” Shivers exclaimed to an unfamiliar Attendant, who may have only been a resident playing dress-up in nurse garb. “It’s chaos on the other end of town. Chaos! Lordy oh Lordy I will pray for her safety.”
“I think she’ll be okay,” the Mock Attendant politely replied, eyeing the encroaching hounds, batting them away with a gentle hand. Shivers did not notice the hounds study his clownish posture, did not notice them glare expectantly at the false nurse, did not notice their quiet growls as they lurked away. They had menace to spare. But Minister Shivers left of his own accord, no menace necessary.
His collapsing body dragged itself down an avenue of dead trees. Head down and pouting, his oversized feet shuffled, tangled, and tripped him.
No one watched him elegantly tumble, roll, and bounce up again like an antique wind-up toy. No one watched his lead-heavy arms pendulum violently at his sides, pulling his body in two directions at once, gravity asking for his descent forwards and backwards. He thus kept a precarious and impermanent balance.
He fell again; again, no one saw. No one saw him lie in the street, writhing and giggling like a vaudevillian villain, mad with madcap energy and anarchic antics, all trapped impossibly within a body of mostly obedient organs, bones and listless muscles. No one saw the clown-turned-puckering-fish flapping on the asphalt, so full of devotion that it suffocated him. He almost had an epiphany—it involved, vaguely, ruminations on the path of the holy fool, whatever that meant—but lost it within a miasma of worry and self-loathing.
He whispered, “Why must the lawd take her from me, take her to such horrible places?” He cackled, a sputtering flesh machine full of leaks.
Finally, his body squirmed to a flapping stillness, the last jerks of the drying fish, mouth puckered hopelessly. He mumbled. “No. She will not be fine. She’ll die, while insufferables like Dolores continue to haunt the earth. It’s impossible not to love Gloria. Impossible. Death loves her most of all.”
He stood, and brushed himself off lazily. “Another loss for Minister Shivers. Ho hum. The final loss of Volume One.”
No one heard him say this.
No one watched him move on to Volume Two, not even god. That chapter is a secret kept even from the lawd.
But the devil knows.