Caroline Evans finished her third year as teacher’s aid at Amon Heights Elementary. She’d moved to the town from Philadelphia after college and rented a room from her older cousin. Both of her younger sisters were married with children, but Caroline intended to take her time before settling down. She was never the type to rush into things. At twenty-five her family spoke rumors of her descent into spinsterhood, but Caroline didn’t worry. She was content with her job and didn’t need a large space for herself. With each passing year she felt more comfortable in the possibility that she may never marry. Caroline valued her alone time and the freedom that not being attached brought her.
One afternoon she took a bus into the city and watched a small theater production of Pagliacci. She’d never been to the opera before and had nothing to judge it by, but was able to gather that this stage and this troupe were not the ideal situation for such a grand show. Nevertheless, she was entertained by the performance in spite of not understanding a word of it.
After the show, as she rose from her seat, the strap on her purse snapped and spilled its contents onto the theater floor. A man knelt instantly before her to gather her scattered belongings and place them in the purse.
“Oh, thank you, sir.” she said as she regarded the man. He was of average height, and had a ruddy complexion and rather a long nose. He wore a well-tailored, dark red suit, with a checkered handkerchief in the breast pocket.
He handed her the purse and said, “You’re welcome.” in an accent she couldn’t quite place.
He did not step aside but held her gaze for an uncomfortable amount of time. Not knowing what else to do she extended her hand, while clutching the purse in the other.
The man took her hand. For a moment she feared that he was going to kiss it like she had seen European men do in movies.
She sighed in relief when he merely shook it and said, “Greetings madam, my name is Alec.”
“Well, hello Alec. I’m Caroline. Pleased to meet you.”
“”What did you think of the production?”
“Oh, the-the opera? I’m not exactly a connoisseur. It was nice. I liked the singing.”
“They didn’t get the story quite right, but Signor Leoncavallo wasn’t actually there, so we can hardly fault him.”
“So, you’ve seen other versions of Pagliacci?”
“I am very intimate with Pagliacci.”
“I see. Well, it’s been nice meeting you, but I’m afraid I have a bus to catch.”
“I shall not keep you, madam.” said Alec, as he stepped aside.
Caroline left the theater and was immediately assaulted by the sunlight. Reaching into her purse to retrieve a pair of Foster Grants, she found instead an unfamiliar pair of sunglasses. They were black and quite stylish. The brand on the frame read “Balatron”. Realizing that Alec must have dropped his glasses into her purse she spun around to return them, but the man was nowhere to be seen. He had been behind her in the theater when she left, so it made no sense for her to not see him leave. She checked with the usher who remembered no one fitting Alec’s description.
Having exhausted her attempts to find the man to no avail, Caroline had no choice but to head home. The sun was bright so she decided it only fitting that she use the Balatron sunglasses as Alec had apparently lifted hers presumably by mistake. It would make no sense to steal the cheap glasses she’d picked up the week before on the Wildwood boardwalk in exchange for what appeared to be luxurious Italian designer frames.
They worked exceptionally well and were quite comfortable to wear. Even when she entered the dim interior of the bus Caroline could see clearly. Somehow she was able to read her Agatha Christie novel with them on.
Walking from the bus depot to her home on 42nd street, Caroline saw a man in a clown suit walking toward her. His white overalls with multi-colored polka dots stood out amidst the greenery of the suburban landscape as he strode nonchalantly into Bernardo’s Shoe Repair on the corner of 43rd and Westfield, his enormous shoes flopping all the way.
Caroline wondered if Bernardo charged extra for clown shoe repairs.
The next day Caroline stopped for lunch at Fresco’s Pizza on 48th street. As she sat down she noticed a pair of clowns in one corner, engaging in conversation. She found it odd to see so many clowns in one 24-hour period and asked the server, a young woman, if the circus was in town. When the girl gave her a blank stare Caroline gestured at the clowns. The server said she didn’t care what people got up to in the privacy of their own homes and walked away.
Caroline decided to catch a matinee of The Music Man at the local theater. The box office operator was also dressed as a clown.
“Is there some sort of special event today?” she asked the clown.
“No, you pay the standard 75 cents like everybody else.” said the woman with a painted frown and a droopy flower in her hat.
“I mean...the outfits.”
The woman looked up at Caroline. “Where did you get those glasses?” she asked her.
“These? Oh...an...acquaintance gave them to me.” Caroline was not one to lie, and this was not entirely untrue, but she was taken off guard by the accusatory manner in which the ticket-woman spoke.
“They are not for you.”
“Well, I think they look quite nice on my face.” said Caroline with indignation as she sauntered into the theater.
She could see easily enough in the dark theater with the sunglasses on, but thought it strange to watch a movie in them, so Caroline dropped them into her purse.
The film was delightful. Caroline as always stayed through the credits out of respect for the filmmakers. When the theater lights were turned on she was approached by a young usher.
“Excuse me miss,” said the pimply young man, “the manager would like a word with you.”
“You must be mistaken, young man. There were some hooligans in the back of the theater. I saw them when I entered. Surely-”
“No ma’am. He was specifically clear that I would talk to you.”
“This way, ma’am.” said the usher as he led Caroline to the theater office.
It was a cluttered room infused with the dry smell of old nicotine and whiskey. Stacks of film reels covered every surface. On one side of a small desk sat a pale man in a dark suit, with a charcoal colored hat and prominent black eyebrows. Across from him sat a frumpy woman wearing a flower-patterned blouse and an unfashionable hat.
“That’s her.” said the woman. “She had the glasses.”
“I beg your pardon,” spoke Caroline, “What is this regarding?”
“My dear,” said the man, “our employee suspects you to be in the possession of property that is not yours.”
“Oh...” said Caroline, looking at the woman, “You’re the ticket operator. I didn’t recognize you without your get-up.”
“See?” said the woman to the man.
“Yes. Her get-up, of course.” said the man.
“What am I being accused of stealing, actually?”
“Our employee says you were seen wearing a pair of sunglasses that belong to someone else.”
“Oh come now!” said Caroline. “This is all over a pair of glasses? I told her, ``I received them from an acquaintance when I was in Philly.”
“And who,” asked the man, “would this acquaintance be?”
“His name is Alec, I don’t know his last name. We aren’t very close.”
“But close enough that he would just GIVE you a valuable-” began the woman, but the man interrupted.
“ALEC, you say? Can you describe this benefactor?”
Caroline told the man about her encounter with Alec at the show in the city. About the purse, and how he switched her glasses for his.
“So you admit it!” spat the woman, “THIEF!”
“Enough, Duckie.” said the man, “You are dismissed!”
Duckie got up to leave, pushing rudely past Caroline.
Once she was gone the man spoke, “I believe we got off on the wrong foot, Miss-”
“Miss Evans. We do not mean to call you a thief. Certainly this is a simple misunderstanding.” as the man talked he pulled a cigar and a cigar cutter out of a pocket within his suit. He manipulated the items in his hands as if he were preparing to snip the cigar, but the process seemed more elaborate and deliberate than necessary. It was like watching a magician perform a trick, except nothing ever actually happened. The man deftly handled the objects in a fluent motion but nothing came of it. The effect was somehow mesmerizing.
He spoke for several minutes as his fingers danced before her. Caroline could not recall a word of what was spoken, but in the end was convinced that the man was her ally. Finally she agreed to place the sunglasses in his care so that he may return them to Alec. How this man was connected to Alec was unknown to her, but whatever he said to her must have been very convincing.
She removed the glasses from her purse, examining them one last time. As she held them in her hand she could see one of the film canisters through the lenses. The canister was made of polished aluminum and showed a reflection of the man across the desk. When she glanced at the reflection through the lenses, the man’s reflection was different.
Caroline’s breath caught in her throat as she looked up at the man whose reflection didn’t match his face. Realizing that the glasses were what made the difference, she immediately placed them over her eyes.
“Stop!” the man yelled, but it was too late.
With the sunglasses on she could see his true form. It was certainly still the same man that sat before her, but his pale face was shock white, his dark eyebrows distinctly painted on. The tie of his nice, charcoal colored suit was much wider than normal and covered in white polka-dots while the suit itself had broad white, vertical stripes. His black fedora now sported an oversized white flower.
“What are you?” she gasped as the man lunged over the desk at her.
Caroline shrieked and bolted out of the office. In the foyer she saw Duckie, the box-office operator, once more wearing the hat with the droopy flower and sad-clown face. The young usher was in the foyer as well, but he seemed perfectly normal. No makeup. No get-up. Just a pimple-faced boy in an usher uniform.
“Grab her!” yelled the man from the office.
Duckie reached into her hat and pulled out a comically long rod, curved at one end like a shepherd's crook. It was at least five feet longer than the hat out of which it came and painted with red and white stripes like a vaudeville hook.
Her exit was blocked so Caroline twisted around and ran into the theater which was already several minutes into a second showing of The Music Man. The lights were off, but with the glasses she could see clearly in the darkness.
“Help me! The clowns are after me!” she cried to the theater-goers, but the small audience ignored her, enthralled by the film.
Caroline ran toward the fire exit to the right of the big screen. The young usher had sped down the other aisle and cut her off just before she reached the door.
“Ma’am”, he said, “I don’t know what’s going on here, but please calm-oof!”
He never finished as Caroline whacked him in the head with her purse. The boy fell to his knees more from the shock than the pain.
Caroline stepped around him and opened the fire exit.
She stepped out into the bright sunlight of a summer day onto the parking lot of the theater. As she did so Caroline felt the wind knocked out of her. The vaudeville hook was wrapped around her midsection and yanked her back into the theater.
Duckie was a short woman, but surprisingly strong as she pulled Caroline to the floor.
The manager clown looked down upon her as he removed the glasses from Caroline’s face and said, “These are not for you.”
He crushed the glasses into Caroline’s purse and stuffed it into her mouth.
With Duckie still holding her down, the man in the charcoal suit began to paint Caroline’s face with greasepaint.
“Please!” she cried through the gag, but it only came out as muffled nonsense.
The man continued to paint her face white, with diamond red shapes around the eyes. He added exaggerated lips and rouge on her cheeks. As he worked his fingers became smeared with red and white grease.
“There.” said the clown as he stood back to admire his work. “Now you are one of us.”
Intro and outro theme
Music Provided By Mediacharger
Artist: Darren Curtis
Track: Demented Nightmare
Background Music Provided By Mediacharger
Music Created By : Myuu
Song Title: Growing Shadows
Nothing Is Wrong is written and recorded in Haddonfield New Jersey on Lenapehoking territory.
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