Sideshow in the Center Ring by Marian Allen

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ISBN: 9780989971188
Pages: 280

 Marian Allen invites you join comedy star Connie Phelan on a planet where slavery is legal. Connie has suffered an unfortunate cosmetic reaction, but she isn't going to let that keep her from her goals: outgrowing her clown identity, avoiding a love/hate relationship with her nemesis, and resisting the urge to do a good deed.


It started with parties and ended in blood. I’m not a violent woman – who would have thought it would end in blood? Maybe it started on Helena Street. If you go back that far, maybe the blood makes sense.

Helena Street was where I was born and raised: a thousand feet of narrow, broken, asphalt that we called Hell Alley. It ran from Market Street to the service entrance of 63 Andriot, a block of condominiums, overpriced for the upper class. We were a century into the New World Order, and a quick flip through a history book showed a pretty familiar picture. The Haves did, do, and always will; the Have-Nots didn’t, don’t, and won’t. Helena Street was for Have-Nots.

“Connie!” my mother would call me in that fingernails-on-chalkboard voice: part panic and part rage. “Cornelia Phelan! You get home!”

I would grin and roll my eyes at my grade-school cronies and give them a slow wave. I’d stroll across the street and up the three feet of “walk” between the pavement and our front porch. When I got into the house, Mom would pinch my shoulder between her thumb and her fingers and shake me hard enough to make my head whip back and forth on my neck.

“Your Daddy will be here any minute and just look at the mess you left me. You expect me to do it all myself? I count on you, girl, and you let me down!”

It didn’t do any good asking Mom what she’d been doing all day when I’d been at school – she didn’t have a job – not one listed on the National Register, anyway – or why she counted on an eight-year-old to do her work for her. That just would have made her wild, and Daddy would have asked where I’d gotten a split lip, and I’d have had to dodge to keep from getting another one from him. One thing you had to say for my folks – they had the spirit of stick-together, those two.

So, we’d get the house picked up in time, and Mom would open a couple of cans of stew and put a plate of bread and a tub of margarine on the table and a six-pack of beer for them and a Big Red for me. Daddy would come home with beer already on his breath and kiss us both and drop his shirt on the floor and we’d partake of our gracious family meal. Afterward, I’d go out back and play on my rusty swing-set, left over from the last family who’d lived in our particular rat-hole, and I’d kick the back fence as I swung forward and try not to kick the wall of the house as I swung back. Low profile – that was the ticket.

We shared the Alley with rats and other assorted vermin. We dodged pimps, pushers, and gangs. When we got old enough, some of us entered one or more of these bands. I never did. Just wasn’t a joiner, I guess.

Hell Alley consumed most of the kids I grew up with, but it was the making of me. Insult humor– Slapping, in our lingo – was very big in Hell Alley. I was good at Slapping.

A guy would say, “Hey, Girl! Good Girl! Come here and let me tell you something!”

And I would say something like, “If I was as good as you are ugly, I could work a miracle. What I’d do is turn your face inside out so nobody but you would have to look at it.”

And so on.


Slapping was only one of our favorite sports. Another was going to church. Mom and Daddy didn’t go to church; up too late Saturday to see much of Sunday. That’s how it was with a lot of the kids. My Aunt Bootsie – a sister of my Mom’s – used to drive down to the Alley in her purple electric mini-van and cram it full of us half-washed sinners. She’d take us to St. Philemon’s Cathedral uptown, near her two-story shotgun house, and line us up in the front pew where she could keep an eye on us from the choir. Afterward, she took us to Joe and Sinkers for doughnuts and then back to Helena Street. I’d go in and see if Mom and Daddy were up yet. If they were, she’d come in and visit. They usually weren’t, and she’d go home.

We’d go through St. Philemon’s hymnals looking for material to use in another of our games. We’d get a packing crate or an appliance box out of the big dumpster behind 63 Andriot, do one-potato to choose a kid to be “it,” put the kid in the box, and sing one of those hymns. Then we’d cheer and dance around for a while and sit down and eat whatever cookies or chips we’d scrounged for the game.

Our favorite hymn was “Flesh is My Portion.” You know:

Flesh is my portion, blood is my cup,

Through these, Life is mine .

At this, Your feast, I eat and I sup

Flesh and blood Divine.

The grown-ups would all beam and say, “Ain’t it cute, the kids playing church like that? Baptism and communion and everything?”

They never caught on. We were playing Cannibal.

  • Published by: Per Bastet Publications

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