Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg
Paris, France
December 31
Writer, copy editor, translator, travel planner. Head servant to my cat.
A reader, a writer, a fingernail biter, a cat person, a traveller, a cookie inhaler, an immigrant, a dreamer. …And now, self-employed! If you like my blog and if you're looking for sparkling writing, painstaking proofreading, nimble French-English translation, or personalized travel planning, feel free to check out


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APRIL 8, 2011 12:56PM

Fiction Friday VI: The Clowns Next Door

Rate: 19 Flag

Rita Bourland has resurrected Fiction Friday.  This week, Rita gave a sixth prompt to all of us interested in doing some creative writing.  Either you could write whatever you want, or you could write a story involving a garden, a birth, and a pie. I opted for this prompt.  Here's what I did with it.  I hope you enjoy it - and I hope that you, too, will be inspired to write some Friday Fiction! 

NOTE: If you respond to the Fiction Friday VI OC, please use that as one of your tags, and also please contact Rita Bourland to let her know you've done it, so she can put you on a list of links.  


The Clowns Next Door


“Hey Joe, what’s this pie doing in your tulips?”

My father propped his cigar neatly on the side of the thick, clear glass ashtray that brooded through all weather on our patio table, and walked over to where Uncle Calvin was standing.  My uncle was staring in surprise at the overturned pie tin and the whipped cream that streaked the leaves and flowers around it, but my father only glanced quickly and then rolled his eyes and turned away.

“It must be from those clowns next door.”

He wasn’t being facetious.  The Shaw’s really were clowns.  They’d been performing in different circuses for years, and when their children, Buddy and Darla, were born, they’d just incorporated them into the act.  Then one day they’d hit the lottery and had done what anyone sensible would do: retire to a big, luxurious house in an upscale neighborhood, where they’d swim in their private pool all day and only leave the property to go on vacation somewhere with an even bigger pool and maybe the ocean.

The only thing was, clowning was in the Shaw’s’ blood.  Mr. and Mrs. Shaw had met at the circus…because both of their families were performers.  If you went through either one’s family tree, you’d never find the end of clowns.  They even liked to say that at least one of their ancestors had been court jester to Queen Elizabeth I.  With a long history like that, it’s not easy to give it all up overnight, no matter how nice your pool or vacation plans are, I guess.  We started hearing them laughing and shouting over the stone wall that separates our property from theirs.  Sometimes we found objects (balls, pies, funny hats) that must have been thrown too far and landed in our yard.

Then one day, when my sister Jill and I were in the garden, we saw a pigtailed girl go flying through the air, laughing hysterically.  Without a moment’s thought, Jill had scrambled to the top of the stone wall, and absently held out her hand for me to reach onto and pull myself up.  When I got to the top, I could see what had her transfixed: the flying girl had landed and was running to a small, very bouncy-looking trampoline.  She got onto it and started jumping. Higher and higher she went, the frilly blue satin collar of her yellow clown suit bouncing into her face, and when she got really high, she started doing tricks, flips and splits in the air.  Then, suddenly she bounced and launched herself towards a pile of what looked to be pillows about ten feet away.  We saw her fly just as we’d seen her before, and it was no less amazing now that we knew why.  Instead, in that moment, something was born in Jill and me: we would be clowns.

It’s been several years since then.  Our training with the Shaw’s has been covert.  At first, they didn’t want to teach us anything, maybe because they knew what kind of neighborhood this was.  But then Jill hinted she knew about a lion they were keeping in one of the bedrooms.  She could see it from her own bedroom window at night, and she claimed she had pictures.  

Jill and I have talent, that’s what the Shaw’s say.  Of course, we’ll never be like Buddy and Darla, but they still see promise.  In a few more years, we’re planning to run away to the circus. And maybe before we do, we’ll free the Shaw's’ lion and take him with us, too.   He can’t be happy in a place like this.   

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All I thought of was the Flying Willendas as I read this but they had no lion..:)
Great job ma souer.
rated with hugs
I love the fancifulness in this, Alysa. Jill should try sneakinga picture of the lion, then you two will have solid proof and cannot be refused by the Shaws. Delightful!

I hope your packing is coming along seamlesslyy and wish you a bon voyage.

OK Alysa, now stop clowning around and get back to work!!!!!
Work on these two girls, they sound like a great bed-time adventure story to get your kids ready for bed. Of course you'll have to stop clowning around and start fooling around to get the family part up and going.
This is great! I actually had not anticipated where you were headed with this. Just the thought of generational clowns made me laugh at loud (fortunately in a lunch-empty office). Nice work.
My friends Joe and Tom Canepa were part of a pretty famous acrobatic family back in Baraboo Wisconsin where they performed with the circus.
Very fun post! I love that we are developing a Friday Fiction Club!!
I dreamed or running away to the circus as a kid, and I still have my moments. I'm a sucker for a girl with a red rubber nose!
You never know where a pie in the garden might lead. Love the wonderful spin on this story. The Clowns Next Door. Such a fun and double-meaning title. Alysa, this was just a breath of fresh air. Love your writing. R

I won't get started on clowns.

I confess I was a hobbyist juggler for years, did a few gigs for walking around money.

I never appeared as a clown. NEVER.

I agree with OOA Limb - I can see these two sisters solving mysteries or something.
Wow. You make me want to be a clown, too.
This was such fun!!
so whimsical and wonderful--every child's fantasy
The whimsical quality of this one made me smile broadly. A LION in the bedroom? You must have seen The Hangover before you wrote this! :D

Thanks for reading, everyone!

Linda – Merci, and I don’t know the Flying Willendas, but I shall be looking them up…as soon as I get done with this cookbook translation (two recipes to go!!!).

Fusun – Thank you! Jill has pictures…now she just wants the lion. : - ) Thanks for your good wishes. Packing hasn’t started yet (ugh!) but arguments over what we’ll pack, have….

Out on a limb – Thank you very much – I suppose Jill and her sister could go on to have more adventures…we shall see. As for my own fooling around, for the time being I’m too tired even to clown!

Mimetalker – Thanks for reading and I’m glad you didn’t get into trouble! Btw, as a mime, how do you view clowns?

Susie – That’s cool – I don’t know any circus performers, though one of my first boyfriends did end up going to clown college. His name was Nate Niec and I recently learned that he died in a motorcycle accident a few miles from where we grew up. We hadn’t talked in years, but from what people said and wrote about him, he seemed to have stayed the same guy I knew back in our youth.

scanner – One of my best friend’s brothers has a bona fide phobia of red noses! Very odd…and he can never go to the circus. I’m like you, though, and have often dreamt of running off and joining one – but as an adult; as a little girl I dreamt of being a princess or going to fairyland or some such thing.

Rita – Thank you so much. I had to make this one quick this week, but the idea came almost immediately! I guess because I hate eating outside (not into bugs) – so this would be the best way for me to experience a pie in a garden!

steve – I wish I could juggle. I am far too clumsy for that, and that clumsiness makes me sort of a clown…without makeup…every day…. Don’t hate me! And thanks – I guess Jill and her sister could maybe become mystery-solvers – wait – you’re trying to distract them from their clown lessons!

Matt – Thank you. Aren’t we all clowns in our own way?

Satori1 – I’m glad you enjoyed it!

Sarah – Thanks. But joining the circus wasn’t my fantasy till I became a grown-up. I live life ass-backwards sometimes.

Lezlie –Thanks, and I never did get to see “The Hangover”. No real idea why. A lion in the bedroom? Could it be as funny as riding a cheetah like in “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle”? I must see “The Hangover”now more than ever!

Friday’s still not over – those of you who haven’t written a Fiction Friday piece still can! Go for it!
So much imagination here, very creative and orginal Alysa.
I could never hate you. Your OS persona is too kind to hate.

I want the girls to solve mysteries while traveling with the circus as apprentice clowns.

Cream pies in the tulips, a corpse under the big top grandstand, a dessicated severed hand in the cotton candy machine, this could start a few mysteries.

A bicycle horn, a cream pie and thou.
There is something about clowns that is bittersweet to me and you have captured that longing and whimsy perfectly...xox
Always had a sweet spot for clowns and have several stories regarding.

Nice touch with them as neighbors! :0)
ha...utterly transparent opacity, to me at least.

the lion next door, hidden in the children's room, is
obviously the mighty roar of that Aslan guy
from "Narnia", or , as all cs lewis neophytes know,
is symbolic of the living christ, etc.

the girls are blackmailing the neighbors to hush it up,
ha ha love it ...
they want to jump for joy on the damn trampoline

and stretch all their exquisite feminine muscles to
perfection without actually leaveing the safety of the
home..or..well, just over the fence..
at the clowns' residence...

they been doing it since when, now>?
since the Q-E-I tour of the seas,
when shakespeare ruled the land in the theater
of the logically absurd where

looked on with tentative approval but
a flamethrower to burn any witchy witchy wimmin
settin sail or sale
to the hotel california

where in the master's chamber they gather for the feast...
stabbing the bovine boything beast with their steely knives..

all to no avail, ever and ever, amen.

thank god the lion is safe, protected.
off to catch up...on Your Victory,
and then get a look
at your "Nice...rack"....

Original story! I love the sister Jill. Everyone could use a good sister Jill. The clown angle was utter delight. Love it!
I can't wait to start participating in these. You are a mean lean writing machine, Alysa. The Shaws really were clowns, eh.

Loved this. My favorite work about clowns to date.
Love it! Why do I have the mental picture of the Shaws owning a tiny limousine and well... you know the joke about clown cars. I like it that the Shaws still want to keep the old tradition alive, even if they have no practical need to perform anymore. Fun neighbors to have, even though I'm sure Jill is right about the lion being unhappy in a suburban bedroom.

You just reminded me I wanted to come back to this. It stayed with me so I mulled on why. The deeper darker subtext. On the surface, it appears two little girls want to join the circus, innocent and lovely and universal in thought. Then we find out they have seen a large potentially life threatening animal at night from their bedroom, the undertone here is black. The deception from their family and the blackmail gives us this creepy Oh No Don't Do It feeling. Kind of like the circus itself.
rita – Thank you so much. It just came to me – I’m not a big pie person, except for Tollhouse Cookie pie…anyway, I just thought: “Clowns!”

steve – That’s actually a really good idea! Sounds like a potentially dark children’s book series. Maybe one day… And my “persona” is too kind to hate, but what about the real me? Are you implying it might be okay to hate me in real life? :-p “A bicycle horn, a cream pie and thou.” – That made me crack up. Thanks for those words!

Robin – I’m glad you liked this. I’ve never really thought much about clowns either way, just how they pertain to the overall feel of a circus. But as I wrote to rita, for some reason, the minute I read “pie” in the prompt, I just felt like writing about them!

Blinddream – I’d love to read those stories. As I just wrote to Robin, I’ve never particularly felt one way or another about clowns, but the “pie” just called out to me and took me in that direction.

James – I loved the Narnia books. This lion I don’t see as Aslan, though, more like an innocent maybe-victim (because maybe he has no problem living in a bedroom in suburbia and practicing circus tricks from time to time). And yes, he must be protected! :- ) Thanks also for mentioning my other posts. I hope you enjoy them – though some titles may be deceptive.

Rei – Thanks! I’m glad you liked it! The name “Jill” just came to me but when I was reading your FF post, I remembered that your protagonist, whose story I’ve been eagerly following, is also named Jill. Instead of a lion, yours has a lovely cat named Marigold! And now a very intriguing potential boyfriend…. I think so far your Jill comes out ahead.

fernsy – Thanks for your kind words and thanks even more for saying that one day you’ll participate in Fiction Friday! I can’t wait to read what you’ll write! Hope you’ll start soon – and I hope all’s getting better.

Shiral – Haha! I never thought about the little limousine. They probably do have one, but I imagine they keep it hidden and only ride it along the paths of their magnificently landscaped backyard. : - )

rita – I’m flattered this story stayed with you. Thank you for your second comment – it was so interesting; there is a subtext here, but for me it’s about the tension between what is expected of these rich girls with “normal” parents, versus the life they’re secretly planning to lead. The lion for me is sort of a key to the final rebellion; if they succeed in stealing him and running away, they’ll have screwed over both families. I don’t know why they’d hold anything in particular against the Shaw’s, though… I guess I was in a rebellious mood when I wrote this. Lion anarchy!
oh yes, i see this more feminine view of the Lion quite well,
now that you have articulated it with your ever crystal-
clear words (how the hell do you do that??!)

Also, bringing Rita's thoughts into the merry mix of musing upon
I am intrigued:
we have 1.a malevolent presence(rita)
2. innocent victim to be protected but expected to PERFORM
b. something the girls must steal to gain rebellious freedom

and 3. a christly male energy much like
Blake's ORC (back to your blake, sorry, ha)
enslaved by..yes, you guessed it, female "protection"..
read the preface to his "america"..

anyway...that is the wonderful thing about metaphors,
their multi-valence:
their attraction or aversion:
they mean nothing in particular,
but approach
(which is hardly a static thing, but a living evolving thing)....

A metaphor if it is good is universal, and your seemingly
fanciful metaphors herein are hardly
thin and shallow.

so we have the "male"
(which itself is but a metaphor, sorry, guys..!)
power, the feminine rebelliousness
mixed with, well, an attraction for danger...
feeble case-in-point: a badly-loved young girl
seeks magnificent freedom ,
maybe through carnal,
animalistic means...
there are cowardly lions.
there are lions with thorns in their paws.
there are lions with rabies.
there are healthy lions
enslaved and expected to perform for our enjoyment.

there are wild lions.

not many.
as wonderful or silly a job i have done deconstructing this lion thing,
how does one interpret the fact that basically male lions
lounge around looking amazing
while their girlfriends/significant others/wives
go out & do all the work.. i said, a metaphor is a complex thing!

Nature is there to be symbolized just as much as it is
simply there to be.

oh yeah: did you have george b. shaw in mind?
James: Whoa! I feel like you wrote a college essay on this piece! It was fascinating to read your ideas and the compilation of those of others'. I think what it comes down to is what you said, there are a lot of metaphors people might find here. I like that - I often feel that way about poetry, and I'm so happy readers can feel something with this story and take something from it.

As for George Bernard Shaw, I didn't think of him till the name "Shaw" came to me - and then I thought, "Will anyone think I meant to make a reference to George Bernard Shaw, because I don't know his work enough to really make any kind of reference." Seriously! :-)