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**PRINT: FRIENDS FROM CINCINNATI: Installment 24 features this part coming-of-age short by Chicago's Patrick Somerville, author of the Trouble collection of shorts out in 2006. | PAST BROADSHEETS |

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Sharon Mesmer

She adapted the circus moves of her girlhood for her final performance: after assuming the spotlight in the center ring she began to "levitate." However, her harness and its shiny plastic strings were clearly visible; she hadn't even bothered with the proper garments. But it didn't matter in the least -- to thunderous applause she rose to the ceiling. She tried and failed at grabbing her ankles to assume "rock and roll" pose -- she was just too old now -- and slipped slightly out of the harness. A gasp rose from the audience. Laughing, she just sat up in the harness and swung back and forth. The other mistake she made was wearing a dress -- everyone could see right up it. But it didn't matter, everyone loved her, and then more than ever because of her failure, which amplified her innocence. She was never, of course, innocent. She was pure evil. But to her audience she was the Mexican Shirley Temple.

After being lowered to the ground by clowns and helped out of the harness, she took her final bow and wobbled over to me in the front row.

"How'd I do?" she whispered, knowing full well the audience could see her uncertainty. As usual, I had to be neither effusive nor dismissive, so as not to incur her wrath.

"They love you," I said, forcing tears to my eyes. "They always will."

A woman came over, threw a coat around her shoulders and drew her back into the ring. The applause was deafening. People were throwing roses, and those who forgot to bring flowers tossed their most valuable belongings. She pretended to crumble under the weight of so much love, and crawled in the sawdust. She was never more beautiful than at that moment.

"The Mexican Shirley Temple" is a story from Mesmer's second collection, In Ordinary Time (Hanging Loose, 2005).


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