Grins at Dawn
The story was too short. Abridged too far, as some wag said.
Therefore, knowing me as you do, it was not surprising that I became determined to spin out the story as long as it would go, without making it too obvious. However, the preamble would likely be excised once the rest of it had been written.
The wag in question, meanwhile, was not the typical joker who often befriends you just to take a rise out of you or wind you up. He was a serious man called Neil Immortalis: one of his typically tongue-twister stage-names by which most people, even in his private personal or family life, knew him.
He actually worked professionally as a clown when he could get the increasingly scarce Circus work or as a stand-up act in various Comedy pubs. He’d even once been on TV where I first saw him. But that was in his hey-day. And that’s another story even potentially shorter than this one!
“A wallow to follow” and “Cold chips, missus?” were his two famous catchphrases (spoken with a shrill type of madness) and, indeed, in that way, he always greeted me – with one of his grins accompanying the catchphrase before kissing me liberally.
Did I say ‘famous’? That may now seem an exaggeration in the context but I assure you he was famous, if not always regarding the things for which he wanted to be famous! You see, even his rivals in show business gave him rough gruff love, grudgingly, as they duelled with him – half humorously, half seriously – for an increasingly scarce fame. And often things got out of hand. Once with even more than simply serious repercussions. But that’s a story that deserves a much longer day for telling.
One instance I remember most and want to record here for your benefit as well as for my own was when he decided his career needed a boost. A new catch-phrase was in order. As he absent-mindedly fondled my left ear-lobe, he repeatedly rolled ‘Cold chips, Missus?’ and ‘A wallow to follow’ over his tongue with loving nostalgia: literally steeped, as the very texture of the words was, in the strident spittle of many seaside-theatre choruses’ renditions of ‘There’s no business like show business’.
He was still showing the facial signs of inefficiently removed makeup from a clownish mission: and tears came to my eyes as I silently counted the diminishing years left in his stage career. His grin always got me – I loved the grin more than anything else about Neil Immortalis – and as the sun began to rise over the city streets and through the bedroom window – I suddenly said out loud, without preamble:
“Grins at Dawn.”
He looked at me quizzically at first. Was I bringing the story to a close far too prematurely? No, that was not his concern then, only mine now.
No, he simply repeated the words, in his signature shrill rhythm of matey-ness and cheek: “Grins at dawn, Grins at dawn, Grins at dawn.”
He wiped away my tears with a dubious hankie. And smiled, a rare smile instead of the grin. I saw love for the very first time. He had evidently won his Duel of Fame. With whomsoever he was duelling did not seem to be the point. It could quite easily have been many another clown or comedian in bitter or friendly rivalry, but who exactly it was, I never asked him. A duel needed two people, I guess, but I was his second, his shadow at worst, abridged too far.
The fact that my name was Dawn is neither here nor there.
(written today and first published here)