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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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Jnana Hodson

Many things changed for us after that Sunday night when Brandt came into the office to tell Kyle, "We've hired your friend Ross. He looks absolutely super. I'm glad you recommended him."

Somehow, that decision drew my husband ever more into the inner circle at work. He had proved himself in one of those mysterious ways the textbooks don't examine.

Teambuilding, they call it. Or bonding.

Ross and Renee, meanwhile, rented a place eleven blocks from us.

We were soon expected at Brandt's for afternoons of the good life of alcohol and horses. Ross and Renee would be there, as well.

"Ross's conversation is so loud, and Renee's about things," I said when we got home. "It's not what I expected. They were different when we were just visiting."

Kyle and I went for a late-night bicycle ride straight into the wind. My throat burned and I could feel a flu coming on. It was, after all, still winter, no matter how warm you dressed or how mild the air. "We seem to be getting further and further from our goal of establishing a center in the Spirit, wherever we are," I said.

"Nonsense," he replied. "We have the circle these days."

"No, it's not quite solid yet, for whatever reason. I don't know why, but something's still missing." We rode on a few more blocks before I laughed. "Hey, did you notice that Brandt's cat answers to 'Mousetrap'?"

"Maybe it just does the job."

There's no arguing with the fact that Kyle and I were essentially private people. Still, there was nobody we could casually drop in on, not even from our Sufi circle. I had thought it would be Renee, but when I tried stopping by, she was usually away somewhere, typically shopping. Or else at the doctor's. But when she was home, she always seemed distracted. Not what I expected.

"My life's become eat-sleep-work, eat-sleep-work," Kyle said. "By the way, we're burning too much wood. Our supply will never make it through spring."

These days, when he came home late at night, I'd already be asleep. I had made the mistake of teaching him to play solitaire. Every night, he went at it for hours. Everything he had failed to grasp in statistics class became relevant.

At least that changed when Kyle shifted over to a regular daytime schedule. We could spend more time with the circle.

"Ross called a bit ago, wondered if we wanted to join them for a pizza or something," I greeted Kyle. "We've spent the last two nights with them. He sounded dejected when I said we felt like staying home. I wonder if they can stand being together, or not spend money."

"Huh, and your mother was the one who warned me, 'You don't know what you're getting in for. Jen's a big spender.'"

"See how much I'm saving you," I grinned.

Actually, I'd been waiting for him to get home from the office so we could rearrange the living room. Well, it would only take us until midnight. Here Kyle was, a Weekend Junior Murshid, and married, too.

"We do have a comfortable home," he said. "Maybe that's why I married you. Jen, you're such a fine homemaker. Everything's orderly and in place, yet there's a sense of comfort and color without crowding. You have a knack."

"I'm getting old, getting fat," I complained between arrowroot cookies.

I countered every move of his with an instantaneous reverse command, wondering if he'd explode. In the end, I agreed to make a vegetable pie for our next Sufi gathering.

Although Ross and Renee were part of that group, they weren't quite as central to its life as we had expected. Instead, Wes and Emma were locating others who were joining in our weekly sessions, usually held on Sunday night.

For us, a typical Sunday meant breakfast for lunch. We joined Ross and Renee and Brandt and his wife for brunch at the airport.

"They seem to be looking for something in us," I told Kyle afterward. "They aren't like they used to be. There's a kind of nervousness, maybe even a reckless drunken running. They're consuming everything around them. They don't seem to remember that energy arising in silence, from within, is peace. I feel like they're expecting us to recharge them, and that's making me feel used, without their appreciating who we really are."

"Maybe it's all the time they spent out there in the woods," Kyle suggested. "Like maybe they're trying to make up for a lot of lost time. Or get their last kicks in, before the baby comes."

"Maybe that's it," I agreed.

Kyle pestered and persisted until he got me back into bed for an afternoon of long, languorous love-making, continuing well past climax, slow and warm, in many positions. After we showered, he put a Mozart piano concerto on the turntable.

"And you thought we were stuck in Pisces," I teased. "Tonight, I'm making shrimp tempura for the first time."

"Here I wondered if you were going to trim my hair."

"Maybe we'll even get to that. What's your hurry?"

Ross phoned with some other plans. He and Renee had been investigating federal Farm Ownership Loans. They came over to explain to us the various options available from the Farmers Home Administration ("That's 'FmHA,' for short"). These applied to individuals, partnerships, cooperatives, or corporations. They also explained how the Farm Operating Loans, federally guaranteed, provided loans from private sources.

"Interested in going in with us and buying an orchard?"

"I don't know a damn thing about running an orchard," Kyle replied. "Nothing about farming except what I learned by living with Murshid."

"You don't need to. I'm the one who knows about commercial farming," Ross answered. "It's more important that we have an income flow, especially while we're setting up. You've mentioned how you'd like a piece of land and some equity. Think about what you're paying for rent. If we buy a farm, it will probably have a farmhouse with plenty of room for all of us, at least for a while. Think about it."

It was terribly tempting. In the next few weekends, we went out to look at several places, but even Kyle could see why they were for sale. One was all rock and wind, not the ideal place for trees. Another had junior water rights and trees that were fit for little else besides firewood. The third wouldn't produce a decent crop for another ten years, yet it was priced as prime acreage.

"Well, your parents have been urging us to latch onto some real estate," Kyle reminded me. In the end, though, we still didn't have enough for a down payment, even when we pooled our resources. And my parents, hearing of the project, never offered to help.

That whole enterprise, though, left me pondering just where the hell I'd been plopped down on this planet.

"Know what the Mormon-across-the-street's only words to me have been?" I asked Kyle. "In all of the nine months we've been here, the only thing he's said to me has been to tell me how, when he was a kid, he and his friends put a cat in the closet and began throwing stones at it. 'You know,' he said, 'I believe they do have nine lives. We threw stones until it fell over and didn't move, but we kept throwing more. But when we came back, it was gone.' Do you believe that?"

"What, the guy's nerve or the story?" Kyle asked. "And why are you telling me this?"

"Well, for starters, our cat better beware of that guy!"

"Our neighbor should have known that his cat now sits at the left hand. That cat was resurrected whole." Kyle paused, then lowered his voice. "I wonder about those who insist on secret rites in regard to the great mysteries. Not just Mormons. The Masonic stuff my grandfather knew, too. What pulled them together or made them so feared? Excommunication might be part of it."

"Kyle, what are talking about? You're making no sense whatsoever."

"Uh, I guess it was the image of the cat, actually. You know, that whole Egyptian thing. Those sleek, aloof looking statues. Which then had me thinking about pyramids and sphinxes and maybe even human sacrifice."

"Kyle, you really lost me there."

"Never mind. It's just such a big planet we live on."

"I think you need to get yourself back in the mountains," I said. "There must be some places that aren't completely snowed in."

"And I wonder if I'll ever get back in shape, spiritually or physically, the way I was when I lived on Murshid's farm. The Hutterites say, 'Once a man goes soft, he never returns.' And I'm getting soft."

"Hutterites?" We looked at each other. "OK, why don't you save that story for another day," I suggested.

"Done," he agreed.

Meanwhile, Brandt was introducing Ross to the horse races. "There's more than one way to be lucky at the Meadows: Win. Show. Quinella. Daily Double. Place. Exacta. Combination. Take your pick. Watch the 'tote' board."

Kyle consulted Murshid's notes. "Stay away from gambling," the holy man had told his followers. "Accept what the Lord provides, and don't go craving more than your share."

Murshid was right on the money.

Instead, Kyle and I made love again. Ah! K-Y Jelly! It hadn't been like this since early marriage. As we said, some things had changed.

My hamburger and his wiener was just one view of sex.

Jnana wonders why so many writers prefer to dwell in old houses where none of the rooms are square, none of the floors are level, the heat's uneven, and a third of the electrical outlets are no longer connected. He suspects it has something to do with working in marginal arts that draw so heavily on the living past.