The Clown King finds herself next in a city where people spontaneously combust into a flurry of confetti. Cherry-blossom pink and white, or glittery and holographic, a diamond-cut shine.
The newspapers call this terrible affliction a result of dreaming too colorfully. The Clown King bristles when she reads the airborne leaflets and landbound posters warning people against extremes of merriment and revelry. The flyers illustrate in bold, black lines the Dangers of Dreaming. Fear turns people in the streets from incandescent to ashen, like cigarettes trampled in the gutter.
Watching her community, her heart is tender as a bruise or a daisy; open as a wound, a sunflower. She turns, like she always does, to her trusted troupe of harlequins, pierrots, and mimes.
“Should we leave and protect ourselves?” she asks when the combustion cases are in the thousands and the powers that be continue to sit idle.
“No,” the troupe decrees. “We stay. We help.”
The Clown King releases a sigh of relief, of resolve.
“Then help we will.”
The Clown King and her troupe chop tomatoes, onions, and okras in the middle of the plaza, where the worried and the heartsick can come together and share a hearty stew on picnic tables. She sews patchwork quilts and hands them out on busy corners. The soup and blankets won’t heal the survivors’ grief or guilt, but they will warm them up nonetheless, so they may face another day. She gives those mourning their loved ones dustpans and brooms, helps them scoop the glittery confetti remains into mason-jars-turned-pastel-urns to treasure forever.
The troupe of clowns and other volunteers take turns working and resting. At night, they create and print flyers of their own, demanding research for a combustion cure. When that doesn’t work, and dreams--dreamers--are still blamed and ostracized, the flyers become calls to protests and marches. Invitations to underground performances that raise funds and morale.
In the morning, during the first cooking shift, the police arrive with loaded guns and rictus smiles. At once, dreamers form a shield around the Clown King and her troupe. They hold hands like flower chains woven together with steel thread.
The Clown King stirs rosemary and thyme into today’s soup special. Tears of salt, too. Dream, you rainbow children, she thinks. Keep on dreaming.