Home | Archive | Itineraries | Events | FAQ | Columns/Links
Advertise | Newsletter | About/Subscribe | Submissions | Art Walk | Books | THE2NDHAND Writers Fund

**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 |

Back to Archive Index

Tom Bradley

One gray sunset, Flip had arrived at the algae-contaminated body of water where he made gestures toward bathing himself, and was just popping his cock and balls out from under his belt, when he glanced up and, a couple feet to his left, saw something he hadn't noticed before.

Something mousy and fuscous, nondescript, possessing nothing but faith, nakedness, and maidenhood, plus an abnormally low, deeply pleated sinciput, underdeveloped button-eyes and -nose, the face's sole purpose on earth being not to offend. He'd seen pieces of lint drop out of his navel that looked more significant. So he just kept undressing and looking at it awhile, waiting for something to register.

A dusty little fifteen- or sixteen- or seventeen- or eighteen-year-old girl, leaning against a dioxin-belching culvert in the nighttime, displaying her lobster claw.

Flip gave it a good, long, careful look: one lonesome finger- and/or thumbnail peeping out from under a hood of wrinkles, clipped back. Webs of pores in weird configuration with flecks of grit.

And, with that, he made the connection: she was the bus girl at the hash house where he ate his free crackers and ketchup, locally famous for using her lobster claw more or less expertly to pinch up a plate or a corner of a place mat. Older-seeming than the other bus girls, this hired handicap, a tad retarded, perhaps.

After work she liked to lean for hours against the bulletin board at the Zippy Mart on the downhill end of town, displaying her specialty and watching people intensely to see if their eyes blenched away. Most nights someone with singular tastes--not necessarily old or filthy, but definitely suffering self-image problems--came along and gave her a ride and wound up examining her lobster claw very closely. Tonight her venue was not Zippy Mart, but Flip's territory, the town's culinary water supply. She'd dogged him out here.

Nevertheless, Flip and the bus girl did not share a pair-bonding situation that night. Ostensibly it was because he wasn't sure of her age, and neither was she, and it wouldn't do to share a pair-bonding situation with someone under-age. Really, though, it was because the more masculine component of this cute-meet did not enjoy the proper level of self-esteem at this point in his career to permit him to share pair-bonding situations very much at all under any circumstances. So, instead, he lay back in the lumpy fluid and described to her all the embarrassing scenes that might take place if they ever attempted to get pair-bonded.

If somebody with infrared binoculars had been observing the sudsing shores of Moroni Reservoir that night, and if pair-bonding had indeed occurred, the observer would've been impressed with a revelation, an analogy, a microcosm, or something else sweeping of that nature: something of national or even hemispherical import; something pertaining to the decay of sexuality, no, to the decay of physicality; something adumbrating the extinction, as it might be, the death rattles, of Homo sapiens as a species.

A pale stretch-marked thing, crawling on atrophied, knock-kneed legs out of filthy, oily, post-primordial soup, approaches the randomly chosen mate, gray and stunted, dull, terrified and fully-clothed on the dark orange froth that passes for beach. His clammy white lump of a vestigial copulatory appendage, his half-dead grub worm, which he vaguely contemns as much as he does her, is presented to her face in the most unsubtle, unritualistic way: chilled, impersonal, dispassionate, by no means bestial, this gesture, for it is lacking in any lustfulness or even persuasiveness -- a velleity, amoebic, a reversion to conjugation, to a single-cellular exchange of what diluted genetic material these two individuals of a dissolving species can muster.

She takes the proffered thing in her hand and mouth, with no accompanying grace of spinal undulation, which is vouchsafed even to the cow in the barn at the moment of seduction by the farmer's forearm. He moves not at all in the next few seconds. She soon turns her face and weakly coughs genetic material into diesel puddle. Genetic material clings to rust-flecked surface of Orange Crush can. Yellow cloud of smoke from nearby open-pit copper mine obscures this strictly imaginary scene.

Prissy Clyster (or whatever her name was) bit her fingernails and the cuticular segment of her pincer by an idiosyncratic single-snap, peel-back method, excruciating to watch. Her normal canines would snap once down into the sweet black restaurant grit at one corner, after which her incisors would shift into position and peel the nail back off the rest of the way, leaving a yellow crescent of quick exposed, throbbing, sometimes bleeding a little. Some of the menisci she'd swallow; some she'd wedge between her well-brushed, but still yellow teeth, presumably for a snack later; others, the biggest ones from her thumb and pincer, she'd hold in a saliva suspension in the palm of her good hand, and she'd ponder them as these two unusual youngsters spent the night together in the back of Flip's mom's red Volvo station wagon (which is where he lived, his address: "in the back of Mom's red vulva"). Her bit fingernails were jaundiced, and scalloped along the concave edges, like the pockmarked new moon floundering in the sulfur over nearby Mount Timpanogos, which was supposed to be shaped like a dead Indian princess or something.

There were neither birds nor bugs in this waste to keep them awake. Gradually, Flip began to be visited by dream rebuses on the theme of his little bus girl: Ewig Weibliche; eye-fig-wipe-leash.

Tom Bradley resides on the island of Kyushu off the Japanese coast. Click the link below for more.