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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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Erika Mikkalo

We convened for no specific purpose out in back of the Atheneum, where the exhausted arbor carried bundles of unripe grapes, small hard clusters like ball-bearings beaded together by some mystery floss. A woman carried a violin case, eroded velvet of the interior stained by apricots that she then distributed, passing a couple with the gravitas of extreme unction, others tossed with light-wristed flips. She hummed "Sewanee River." The assembled company rolled their eyes. Someone outside the circle shouted, "I can play taps on a tuba!"

"Good blood, bad blood," chanted a Croatian chanteuse with emerald green elbow gloves, her satin fingers clenching air, and then "Red leather, yellow leather!" I echoed her words in my own mouth, silently, rolling them like a little globe beneath the tongue. The fruit-tosser started singing "In Excelsius Deo." Two too demure twin homosexual surveyors began to measure the periphery with sextants and unnaturally orange tape.

"I never had a band during my rock-star days!" I announced to no-one in particular, suddenly feeling somewhat ludicrous in a sundress of pink chiffon, requisite parasol clenched too tightly in my lacey-fingerless-glove-covered hands, the sunshade a device that I typically associated with trained poodles riding sequinned unicycles on high-wires. On cue, the poodle appeared. He dragged a travois with a large book strapped to it with an engraved leather belt.

"This is the sacred text!" the singer announced. She pounced upon it and tore out a center sheaf, ripped the paper into strips, and began to devour them, tilting her head back, jaw agape, and lowering in the spirals.

"The word made flesh," I twittered in embarrassment. A fire truck passed, quietly rolling to a hose-cleaning. The woman crouched, curls of pages inflating her cheeks, and pressed the last apricot between her palms. A rivulet of juice trickled down her wrist.

Another attendee declared, "Save me from all that I desire." I began to tabulate all that I desire, but quickly became exhausted, and am ashamed to confess that "Do unto others" did not lead all the rest. In fact, I suspect that I wanted nothing more than to win the Powerball and acquire some lithe and limber, greased and strapping male acquaintance. Four young black boys tried to sell us smoked goats' heads out of a wooden barrel that they pushed about in a cart.

"Take me down to funky town," the eldest deeply intoned. I counted the bricks in the patio.

The woman with the violin case stood up and spat out the paper, then cleared her throat. "The first time that I knew love, it was taboo to me," she said, shifting from foot to foot to continue. "To this day, I am not certain that I have ever loved another human being. They function as scrims for me to project upon. All I need is a warm body, the prettier and quieter the better, because they always say the wrong thing. My disappointment is inevitable and profound. I am terrorized by the possibility that there is something innately wrong with me and I am incapable of giving and receiving honest affection."

The Croatian singer smirked in recognition: "'Oh, no. This one isn't following the script anymore. Time to start looking for another one."

I nodded -- it seems as if they all stop following the script at the same time -- and wanted to offer some glimmer of hope, but had become bored. A cloud passed in front of the sun. In the ensuing chill, one sparrow landed on the surveyors' device, another pecked at the tape.

Erika Mikkalo has received the Tobias Wolff Award for short fiction from the Bellingham Review, made the finals round of the Poetry Center of Chicago's 7th Annual Juried Reading, and won the Writers Publishing Cooperative's Millennium Poetry Award. One-half a book of poems is available at under the title "Other Stations."