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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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Jonathan Messinger

She is not immune to television.

She worked young, making money through odd jobs: collecting tickets at her mother's county fair kissing booth, where tongues were as common and fidgety as toddlers. She does not consider this job to have been odd.

No one has told her to stop considering the armed forces as a career.

In Chicago, the driver of a rock star's bus let loose said vehicle's waste from the lower storage tank, a subcutaneous cyst, a carbuncle primed to be lanced. The muddy carnage of a hundred fast-food meals churned through bowels cascaded through the Kinzie Street Bridge and into the eyes, mouths, ears, and presumably any open wounds of unsuspecting boaters touring the architecture along the Chicago River. Upon hearing of this, she says, "It's like the tourists isolated themselves from 150 years of our poisoning the river by cruising on a ship and only looking up. And the river was insulted, so it found another way to shitslap them." She does not say this to anyone but me.

I invent a tautology: The perfect girlfriend is flawless. She does not remember what a tautology is, and when I start to tell her she puts up a hand and says, "I couldn't give a shit less."

There are times when she thinks of breaking up with me. When we argue about the nonsense that only interests couples, I become dead still in my opinions, inflexible as bedrock. She yells and cries and hangs up the phone when I take the hastily considered step of calling her at work to clarify my points. She begins to look at men who ride motorcycles, or cook, or are honest about their financial stability. Or all three. When it's over, and we are fine together, she does not blame herself.

She did not see Green Day in 1995, but only because the bus was late.

I know no one with her name before she enters my life. Over the years, it becomes so common to me that it seems in the year of her birth all expectant mothers held a contest for the most popular girl name, the only stipulation being that the girls would be slowly released into American cities.

There is a scene: we are walking below elevated train tracks, kicking a solitary rock forward between us as a game. It will carry on so long that I will stop and remark, "This stone totally has a life of its own, and we're like Roman soldiers shoving along an unrepentant prisoner." She doesn't listen, having tuned me out at "This stone…". She has grown tired of forced cleverness.

She asks me to water the plants and when I forget, she doesn't notice.

I invent a paradox: "The perfect girlfriend is seriously flawed." She says paradoxes are for myopic philosophy undergrads. And besides, it's more ironic than paradoxical. She does not smile when she says this.

When in Chicago six people die in a County Building fire, she is not surprised. She begins carrying in her purse an Evac-U8 canister, the kind that throws a bag over the user's head like a gallows' hood. She uses it at parties, but she does not take requests.

She did not see Ned's Atomic Dustbin in 1991, but she later bought a live video from a street vendor.

She does not tolerate blind ideology, criminal behavior, or eggs.

She did not find the Internet useful or compelling. She does not e-mail, claiming a preference for the post. She is not good about mailing the letters she writes.

In Chicago, the mayor orders city crews to ride through the streets in the horror-flick quiet of night and carve large symbolic crosshatches into the airport runways by the lake. We awaken to our radio alarm to hear of it. I sit upright and increase the volume so that the radio reporter's voice shakes like a man with good news. It is evident through her reaction that she does not consider hubris a character flaw.

I propose absurd vacations and she never naysays. She doesn't have to.

She never owned Vanilla Ice's To the Extreme, but bought the rap-metal album. She never confirms she bought it as a joke. When I ask, she just shrugs like it is the least important question in the world. It most certainly is not.

There is a scene: She and I are in a bar in Uptown and both drinking, though I have driven here. It is a night for us to mend, to create new memories like paintings hung over seams. She sips from my whiskey glass and we dance and obstruct revelers more adept than we are. I hesitate to kiss her. She is not worried.

I invent an aphorism: Discussing perfection only makes it worse. She does not disagree. Neither does she realize I am speaking of her.

People at her work spend the majority of their time in my company telling me how wonderful she is, as if I am a karmic database, ratcheting up their fortunes every time they pay her a compliment. Their compliments are discomfiting, however, coming at me like stealth bombers. They say "You must feel really lucky," or "You should really recognize how great she is." When I see them at the next company function they forget me and she does not reintroduce me to her world. It is as though I am a newborn who has crawled back inside her and it is now my responsibility to be born. I, however, much prefer the velvet lids of her womb and there I remain. She does not pay me any attention.