Next show at three o’clock.
The clock strikes. We remember the tatty window. Striped canvas framing a series of shabby events. There have been whispers of wife beating, but the Policeman avoids involvement in mere domestic upsets.
The clock strikes again. We remember the Beadle arriving at the same time as the photographer. He’s terribly attracted to Judy and considers that adultery would not be out of the question. If the circumstances were right.
In another part of the hotel Mr Punch makes plans. Judy has taken an aspirin and is lying down in their dark bedroom. Mr Punch shows tact. “No more tears in the wardrobe,” he tells her. She has concealed Mr Punch’s stick under the sink.
Is the hotel haunted? Sometimes Mr Punch’s imagination daubs white bodies across the counterpanes. He scratches improperly and giggles.
That afternoon Mr Punch watches his audience gather. His colleagues talk quietly, destined for failure, trying to elect a spokesman. The baby is the subject of some discussion. “Democracy is the refuge of nervous old men,” claims Mr Punch.
The baby is quiet now and we shall know the reasons behind that in due course. The crocodile arrives and poses for pictures.
The Policeman detaches himself from the huddle of minor characters. “In marital disputes,” he observes, “One must ask oneself, are the weights more or less evenly distributed? What was she looking for? Did she belittle him with intellectual discussion? What comments does she make about him to her friends?”
“In my marital disputes decisions are reached through compromises,” counters Mr Punch. “One must ask oneself, how heavy are the utensils? Are the advantages evenly distributed? Had she already been discarded?” In the hotel every evening Mr Punch makes comments to his friends about the women who walk through the foyer. In his diary he writes their names, which change daily.
Should the Policeman have found out the connections between his treatment of close family members and his relationship with casual callers and passers-by? Joey the Clown is now running the American operation so we can’t ask him.
The photographer arranges the minor characters in a shifting range of poses, woes paraded for the camera’s flash.
Does Mr Punch hear crocodiles every day? Next show at three, the clock says. Each person signals his desires and fears. Mr Punch is frightened each morning by dreams of his baby crying. There are teethmarks on his stick. “We become subject to the needs of our children,” he cries, momentarily impotent.
The doctor talks gently to Judy and administers the white pills. Chuckling to himself, Mr Punch reconstructs his daily fantasies.
He accepts easily the cheers of the audience. They are here as actors on his stage. All will be made to illustrate exactly what shocks them when they perceive it in others.
Mr Punch kills his baby. There are reports of crocodiles. What has been done in the name of Mr Punch? In Judy’s eyes, Mr Punch exists. “He is real,” she claims.
In the hotel room Judy is naked. Mr Punch turns on the television. There is general agreement that their hourly screams are the closest they’ll get. Mr Punch plans and giggles. Let her eyes be closed while his hand is on her. Kissie, kissie.
Judy laughs, she is young and strikingly beautiful. “Women can be ambitious, demoralised, abused even,” says Mr Punch, who has just finished making love. “Or they may scheme with the Hangman.”
Snatching shots between shows, the photographer wonders how often Mr Punch’s scriptwriters lose their nerve. His camera catches Judy smiling, the sun sparkling in her eyes and on the sea lapping.
“He is just a trickster,” Judy tells the onlookers. She is sunbathing before the next show starts. In his office desk Mr Punch now stores napalm. Judy, according to rumours, will retaliate this time. She looks in the mirror, noting what has been missed by the camera.
More talk in the hotel foyer. The Beadle arrives. Where is the baby? Everything must be questioned by the Policeman. Before the end of today he will ask the Hangman to give up his noose.
Mr Punch slips off the padded hump, removes the false nose and relaxes. Judy brings the evening papers which he scans for complaints about the quality of his performance and the number of deaths resulting from it. The comments of the children please him. Apparently in the past year his stick has been stolen by souvenir hunters nine times.
Judy arrives with a cup of tea for Mr Punch. Stirring it, he sighs, “We actors are always confused with our roles.” Judy wears the apron Mr Punch bought for her.
Mr Punch muses on his women. Their red tongues flick so, speaking as if talking is to know. He plans and giggles, ignoring his manager’s proposals to stop Dog Toby fouling his parking space and the sands where the children are to sit.
The actors gather for dinner. Soup is served as their dreams shiver in the evening light. Mr Punch will watch them play their parts as if free from observation. Their words are like flags they wave at him, flags which flap at us all, echoing the crack of the canvas on the empty beach.
The photographer reloads his camera. “Must look as if we’re busy,” croaks the Hangman, clutching his copy of The Daily Mail while swinging pop-eyed from his own gibbet. There are reports, again, of crocodiles.
Twelve hours and three deaths later Mr Punch pauses carefully for our laughter. Congratulatory telegrams and roses wait in his room, clichéd and unanswered.
The be-ribboned pavilion is empty now. Most of the children have been beaten to death with spades. The few survivors are being buried alive beneath ingenious sand-castles, topped with little paper flags on sticks. What a pity.