The circus had blown town years ago like a dust kitten scattered by a door slammed in anger.
Oblivious to the blackening sky, Funger walked slowly home from the corner store where he went every morning to buy a scratcher and a bottle of cough syrup. He was thinking of the girl with the pencil tucked behind her ear who smiled a kind smile as she gave him change. Funger loved her with all his giant heart.
Then, Funger’s normally downcast eyes were ensnared by the bright colors of a new “Cheerful-Tide Brand Detergent” billboard that showed a beached mermaid frolicking in the sand under a snappy dialogue bubble: “Improved Cheerful-Tide Super Ultra Power Plus Detergent Washes Dirt From Your Clothes. . . and Love onto Your Lonely Shores.” Funger looked back down at his own clothes, and sighed.
As Funger shuffled up to his tiny house with the boarded windows his eyes lighted on the neighbor’s rose bush. He glanced around, and with the seed of a good idea blooming in his heart, picked just one. Funger’s hands were encased like sausages in soft knit gloves, making his fingers feel like they were wearing blankies. The rose’s sharp thorns barely made his fingers bleed at all.
At home, Funger carefully sat the rose down on the kitchen table and began removing his only clothes: a rumpled pair of baggie pants, an electric orange and green sweater jacket, and his cherished soft blue shirt. He loved them so much he had never, ever washed them. He couldn’t afford any “Cheerful-Tide Brand Detergent” but maybe—just maybe--pure water and anti-bacterial hand soap would be sufficient.
Wearing nothing but his gloves, shoes, and stained pinstripe boxers, Funger scooped up his outerwear and took them to the washer in the basement. “I will be so clean for her!” He dreamily squeaked.
As Funger stood anxiously watching his clothes go round and round, first in the washer, and then the dryer, he thought to himself: “I love her. I love her SO much!!! And when you love someone enough, they love you back. They have to love you back!!!” Funger believed with his whole heart that this is how love works.
As the dryer beeped and the tumbling stopped, Funger felt his heart beat faster as he imagined himself and the girl with the pencil behind her ear holding hands as they jumped from the high dive into a tiny bucket of water. An almost-smile rose up deep in Funger’s heart and nearly made it to his face when he saw his only clothes, horribly shrunken.
“Oh no!” Funger cried, biting his still-gloved index finger. “Please be okay. Please be okay!!!” He prayed over and over as he hopped and wriggled into the once baggy pants, finally snapping the brass button shut. Funger strained and pulled and got into his shirt, and then his sweater jacket, so upset he didn’t even notice how soft and warm they were. Funger hunched in front of his dusty mirror and felt his heart sink.
Funger scurried under the store awning and was greeted by his reflection in the window. His fish-white belly lapped obscenely out between shrunken pants and shirt. His glorious green locks were plastered to his face, and the rose-- the beautiful gift of love--was missing most of its petals. In the rain, he couldn’t feel the tears on his face, but the ones in his heart whispered “Go home Funger. No one could ever love someone like you.”
Soaked and cold but safe at home, Funger quietly closed the door against the driving rain. He dug around the kitchen drawer, found a razor blade and went to the bathroom. He got in the tub fully clothed, and started carefully scraping mildew from the tile grout onto a plate. He put the plate in the toaster oven, and when the timer jingled, Funger finished every bit of his humble dinner alone.
Then, still hungry, Funger sank beneath his thick, soft comforter and cried himself to sleep, where he dreamed he was a dolphin swimming with the other dolphins in the sparkling blue oceans from which both man and clown had crawled millions of years before, searching.