Thursdays were always hardest for the balloon artist. Scratch that word out. To link what Anton Smith did to art was a cruel jab to the great creatives. Anton was a public service clown. It was his job, his service, to the state until he could find some small lottery in learning a skill which could get him a real job. And it was his job to make people forget. On Thursday’s, people found it extra hard to forget the tragedy at Peanut Sunset estate where he patrolled. It was given its name after one of the most satisfactory colours a person could tolerate according to public survey. All the new estates were. They sounded more like fictional resorts on Sesame Street to Anton. Marble Hill was still there though. What was left of it would block the sun from covering the courtyard and playground around mid-day. Marbles was his meal ticket wage but a stain to everyone else. Was it the memory of that day that caused such grief or knowing that the place that had killed their family members would probably outlast them too?
Anton the balloon clown was watching the residents slowly crawl out from their apartments and head down to the post office. Thursday was national wage day for the innocent and forgotten. The old always left early for the blessing of being seen first. It was a wise thing to do. For as much as the nation loved to queue, they were always ready to jab those in front. It was a searing hatred for your fellow equal that was as insane as it was egotistical. Thursday was not just the tragedy of Marble Hill but the nations unbearable reminder of defeat. The service badge clipped to Anton’s yellow jacket flapped in the wind as he strode across the asphalt waiting for lunch. On the park bench he could see Harry walking back from the direction of the post office. Walking slowly as old men do. His small sausage dog following just a hairs breath behind trying not to outpace her master. They both settled on the bench across from the playground and took the same break they took everyday while having a walk.
‘Quick to get out of there. Thursdays you know.’ Harry said as Anton placed his rucksack down and took a seat.
‘Thursdays…’ Anton sighed.
‘They are doing it twice weekly now you know.’
‘Soap-tax shows. Mondays and now Thursday. Right here in just ten minutes.’ Harry said while pulling out three digestive biscuits from the white wrapper. He handed one to Anton before eating one himself. The last biscuit he snapped in half and raised his hand to the sausage dog. Chip – short for chipolata – a name given to it by Harry’s granddaughter. Dead. Death due to cost-cutting government refurbishments. Chip placed her head on Anton shoes like always. It must have been uncomfortable to rest on a steel capped work-shoe, but she always did it. Then, with wet nose wrinkling and twitching, her eyes lit up and she stood up to attention.
‘What do we do Chipo?’ Anton said encouraging the old lady. Chip pushed herself back and raised her tiny brown paw.
‘Good girl,’ Harry said as he shook her paw and offered her the biscuit. Chip waited almost a millisecond before snatching the biscuit and gloriously chewing it. Smacking her lips and hoovering up the crumbs. ‘I don’t know why they don’t use animals as state performers. Who can ignore a dog doing tricks.’
‘It’s animal abuse to force a dog to do the same thing over and over for no reward.’
‘You’re right.’ The two watched as three social officers arrived in reflective jackets and started creating a barrier around the court where the soap-tax show would start. Placing cones down and shooing away any lingering drug addicts. The soap-tax show was about to be set up.
They were led out from the community service van to the growing boos of the crowd. Seeing them clamber out made him thankful for the skill he had. The crowd was ready to watch the entertainment. Most had been coaxed by the spectacle and Amazen vouchers offered to those who really got stuck into the theatrics.
‘Welcome great people of the nation and thank you for being here today. Now we all know the rules to these shows but let me give you a reminder. You can boo, hiss, shove, pull at their clothes, even threaten with a little violence. But please don’t swear.’ The grey suited, weedy man said to an applause. You could tell he loved it. The first guest walked onto the zoned platform. A few pinched at her jacket and spat.
‘So darling, you know why you’re here but tell the great and lovely audience here.’ The grey suited twat spoke.
‘Couldn’t pay the payday loans.’ She said trying to pull her sleeves further over her hands.
‘Yeah – that’s why you’re all here. You take too much – greedy grinning buggers – and you don’t expect to pay back. Well unlike our respectable people here who do pay their taxes and loans, why don’t you tell em what you spent it on?’
‘Christmas gifts for my kids. And the leccy came out early.’ Her words were drowned by the anger of the same very people in her shoes. The electricity companies had been especially cruel by going on their contracted word and taking out all payments in hefty chunks a week before Christmas. Channel One said it was awful, but it was out of the prime ministers’ hands. What could just one man do against those corporations.
‘Your disgusting you know that. Cheating the system and for what? We had her tied to a lie detector ladies and gents and guess what?’
‘What?’ The crowd shouted.
‘When we asked her if she felt bad for using that loan on the kids she said yes. But she was lying!’ He made a point to hiss that last part out. ‘And you know what happens if she doesn’t pay?’
‘We all have to pay!’ They chimed back in unison.
‘You guessed right. Smart bunch we have today lads. Double the vouchers for everyone who makes sure to give this piece of work a good telling off. Place her in the convo point mates.’
Two of the security placed their arms around the woman’s side and lead her to a small zone where the crowd could berate her as they please. Just seeing the queue already gathering Anton knew it was going to be an awful day. He twiddled and pulled apart the stack of balloon shapes from the bag. Peeling them from one another he would have to try and appease these people as they wait to bollock the woman and the others in the van.
‘See you Harry. See you Chip.’ Anton said as he huffed and inflated the long red balloon in preparation to twist its shape into a heart.