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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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Kimberly Soenen

"We've made a mess," he said.

Amorphous pain from the crown of my head fed into the tributaries within my body. Too-doo, the informed Abyssinian cat, was tiptoeing on the ledge outside of the window crying out fiercely, angrily, demanding to be let back into the bedroom, out of the cold. He was balancing on the slender ledge of the window pawing the latch in an effort to reenter. The clicking of the latch was rhythmic, Too-doo's effort persistent. My friend of science and sensuality laughed through his nose and shook his head in theatrical pity. He was standing naked over the wastebasket near to the corner of his desk at the door, tending to himself.

The bed sheet beneath me was wet. My cheek was resting on the silky smooth mattress. It was light blue -- the shade of blue you see in the ancient embroidered Shishu panels from Japan -- or the color of the vests drug store managers wear. I don't remember an odor. Damp cold. But no odor.

I heard spoken tongues, computer languages, sailing, flying, climbing, bicycling, skiing, single malts, love of folk and bluegrass, reading and cooking. I savored the bias toward taildraggers, sailcraft, telemarketing, cask-strength scotch, local musicians, Cajun food, and authors whose ideas weighed more than their texts. I adored his particular interest in the line of a painting or the layer of pepper in Bordeaux. Now I was the detail du jour, the object of his fierce attention. And I hurt.

The pain was running like rapids through the tributaries now. Despite it, deltas from years past were preventing flow to my limbs, my synapses, my taste buds, my hearing, my expectation, the instinctive eight-year-old girl. My head hurt more and more as my eyes wandered about the room. A few books representing his interests lined the shelves and blanketed the floor: Charis Wilson's Through Another Lens, Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer, Falmouth for Orders, Two Years Before the Mast, Sexing the Cherry, Faultlines, and anything and everything by John Zorn for theory (though he found the arrogance of jazz repugnant).

An always ready, never-fully-unpacked army bag awaited on the floor. A wardrobe rod on wheels stood in the corner with a few wool sweaters hanging, uncared for, from wire hangers. The desk was dusted with a smattering of notes, clipped and cut papers, artifacts attempting to fill the room with the karmic residue of authentic communication. Each paper -- small handwritten messages in all sorts of different ink. A card from his brother in New Orleans, a phone number written in a woman's handwriting, a reminder from his partner, a phone found at a flea market, most likely purchased in LaRochelle.

Now he was washing up in the bathroom and continuing to make noise all around me. Talking about possibly hitting Gustave Moreau tomorrow or the teahouse by Pere Lachaise. I think he might have been talking about "that" bottle of wine we were to find that was suggested to him by a very smart woman he met on the flight back from Israel weeks ago. If you are ever in Israel, he was saying, he knows where to find the best ice cream on the gods' great earth.

I closed my eyes to escape the shape. In that darkness I felt the pain less. Everything was less.

But the sheets beneath my legs continued to grow warmer and more wet. I didn't move. I couldn't move. Or I didn't want to move. Which was it?

He shouted from the bathtub, the water running.

I'm like the king of a rain-country!

he said.

and I kill the day in boredom with my dogs;
My bed of fleur-de-lis has become a tomb!
even the ladies of my court, for whom
Try as I might I cannot put on shameful enough dresses for my skeleton!
I cannot invent washes to cleanse my poisoned element.

He laughed again.

I opened my eyes. He danced to the window and opened the latch for Too-doo. Snow floated into the room. The cold angry cat leapt to the wood floor and dashed to the kitchen pantry for warmth. The jester spun around and danced naked. Tony Furtado's guitar was again audible by way of the living room stereo. The blue grass strings bounced around the kitchen and into the bedroom and out of the window.

Tears kept coming. Warmth. Wet. Sea of risk and trust in word, dispel the myth that is belief in good. If all were to surrender to this what might remain? Darkness, bits of paper, hollow kisses, flakes a flight, and blinding pain.

"Would you like some tea?" he asked. "Lapsang Souchong," he said, raising his voice from the kitchen. Sometime later I opened my eyes and the wetness and warmth had seemed to slow, or stop. Or I don't know which.

"Or maybe Musee Mailoll," he suggested. "This muse created a museum after his death of the artist. He created in all mediums one could possibly imagine. Really something to see. Really something."

For in and out, above, about, below,
'Tis nothing but a Magic Shadow-show
Play'd in a Box whose Candle is the Sun,
Round which we Phantom Figures come and go.

He jigged.

He sat on the edge of the bed frame turning to me with a mug of tea. He was nervous now. He stroked my hair apologetically, as if I were a child. I no longer responded to his touch. My headache provided background noise. Static. A subwoofer maybe for the underlying conversation that would never, ever, be. He was a bit out of focus, but I will always remember his hands. The window was still open and I welcomed the cold. Flakes continued blowing in, and he asked, almost in a whisper, as if my lack of fight had quieted his bells and stripped him of his colors and trumpet, "Are you cold?"

I might have said no, aloud or maybe to myself. I don't know which.

I sat up and I drank the tea. Blood was drying between my legs, and when I rolled to my back and sat up to take a sip, I winced at the excruciating soreness. The light blue sheets and mattress -- the color used in ancient Shishu -- were stained with blood. A mud puddle. A Rorschach test. Rajasthan. My jaw hurt. The outside and inside of my arms between the elbow and the shoulder were bruised. He had torn me open. I played back the sounds that had poured from me. Sounds beyond submission. Sounds beyond fear. Amplified short-circuiting. Violent surges and thrusts dispelling the myth that is belief in good.

I drank the smoky tea he served. Rational. Spiritual. Sensitive.

Too-doo suggested that I get drunk.

But with what?

with wine, poetry, or virtue
as you choose!

But get drunk.

"And hurry," said Too-doo.

There was one more night together. It was illuminated with fireworks high above Paris. A new year, it would seem. The streets were foggy with smoke from celebratory fireworks hovering lazily in the mid-winter moisture. And the ornamentation on the city's buildings appeared like coral through a scuba mask -- sea anemones of firecracker-paper red and sulfur algae -- misdirected bottle rockets and hopeful delighted scurrying children. Laughter, and mothers yelling to quash the delight, I would remember. And I hurt.

I woke the next day in the darkness of early winter morning to uncharacteristic ugliness and disregard from the Marais. A new year. He spun up and around, checked the clock and went about the business of getting dressed quietly. Before slipping out the door he sat on the edge of the bed once more and stayed silent. He said good-bye to me while facing Too-doo. Momentary sadness, but no look to my eyes.

With snow for flesh,
with ice for heart,
I sit on high, an unguessed sphinx
begrudging acts that alter forms;
I never laugh, I never weep.

The front door opened and shut and I listened attentively as he walked sloppily at a steady pace down the winding three-hundred-year-old staircase. I closed my eyes, and Too-doo jumped into bed with me. I heard the steps again coming up the stairs and the three locks on the door being reopened. I hugged Too-doo closely. Hard. My heart sped up, and I began to weep. My knees retreated into my chest and I scooted to the headboard and into the corner of the bed with Too-doo protecting my gut. I felt dizzy. The third lock unlatched and the door swung open quietly and slowly.

He stepped into the room. Three quarters of his face showed. Sparkling eyes of a sprite -- knowingly cursed. He rocked back and forth looking down impishly at his shoes. An apology. He looked up at me and said, "Have a safe trip backů." He again stepped outside of the bedroom, then swayed back in with a single pivot. He looked me in the eyes and held my attention. My full attention. Again. Still. I don't know which.

I feel a shard of pity for him. This swell is followed by an unbearable riptide of tortuous shame for feeling forgiveness as I lie in the now dry stain that is my wanting sea of risk and religious trust in word.

"...and keep writing," he adds.

Kimberly Soenen lives and writes in Chicago.