Evie was in Venice when she first saw the clown. She was there on a vacation with her two best friends, three days after their college graduation. Four hard years of studying, six months of saving. The decadent trip was a dream they had worked toward together. Evie, Sarah and Adele.
It was the first evening of their trip, late in the gloom of impending night, when Evie caught sight of the clown. He stood in the back of a long black gondola, rowing the empty boat in the midst of the Grand Canal. Forward stroke, then back. Forward stroke, then back.
His clothes were somber for a clown, vaudevillian, in deep browns and blacks. A crooked brown hat topped his thin head, while his hair stood out in a shock of red-rust; wiry kinks around a painted white face.
The clown’s eyes were what had attracted Evie’s terrified attention. Surrounded by pools of black greasepaint, his irises glinted a steely blue. Even at a distance, separated by murky water and the blue-black of twilight, Evie just knew that his eyes were a startling, piercing blue. They shined in the scant light, carrying his steady gaze on a sudden chill breeze.
Below those eyes, the clown’s mouth was a garish red slash, dripping at the corners and lined in smears of black. A fine black dust had settled into the cracks of his white make-up, bringing his face into wrinkled relief. Evie wanted to look away from the horrible face, but she had become locked in place. Her eyes trailed helplessly as the gondola slowly rowed ahead into a cluster of shadowy boats.
“Are you coming?” Adele called back with a laugh, “Hello? Earth to Evie!”
In the echo of her friend’s soft voice, Evie had a prescient vision of Adele and Sarah, cowering at her feet. Cowering while the clown instructed her in a thin, reedy voice. Whispering in the way he would, in the months and years to come.
But when she turned, Evie promptly forgot the clown. She forgot the vision, the whispers and the eager tremor that had excited her skin. The air was warm with the glow of street lights and mingling strangers. Travelers and locals alike passed through a friendly haze of laughter and music. They were in Venice. They were poised to take on the world.