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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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No Media Kings

Megan Stielstra

I beg you, get out of my bedroom. I'm supremely allergic and I have big red welts all over my body, not just my arms and legs but also areas that I'd never imagine a mosquito could get to. They are not at all attractive and I get these looks on the street like what's THAT on your face? and don't even ask me about dating and some of the assumptions that've been made, it's certainly not very sexy to be itching in some of the places I've got to itch because of you. I've got pink goopy calamine stains on all my clothes including the Sevens I just bought at Neiman's which were really expensive -- FYI, I'll be paying that credit card bill off for a while 'cause you know I'm a waitress (in a breakfast place, no less) and it's not like I've got the cash flow to buy jeans like that every day, no sir, and now they have pink spots on the thighs and I'm pretty angry about that. To be quite honest, I 'm hanging on by a thread here so please, please go away. I've tried everything: citronella candles are burning as we speak and everything I own smells like Off -- my food is starting to taste like Off. Off sandwiches Off popcorn Off coffee -- and I've tried sleeping with the windows closed so you can't get in but it's August in Chicago and it's really hot and I can't afford an air conditioner so please, please go away.

I don't want to get nasty.

There are pesticides I can use, you know. Industrial ones, and I can stay at Sharon's house till the fumes subside. She told me the way they used to do it when she was a kid in New Orleans: take a bucket, fill it with dish soap and water, put it in the middle of the room under a spotlight and apparently you get all crazy attracted and dive in and drown horribly. Horribly. She used to stand over the bucket and watch you writhe and twitch and the thing of it is, mosquitoes, I'm getting to the point where I'd take it that far. The threat of death. And that's hard for me, you know? I'm an environmentalist! I believe in celebrating life in all its forms -- but, just so we're clear 'cause there's been confusion about this issue in the past, I am pro-choice, from a political standpoint. I mean, I'd choose life, you know, depending on the circumstance, but I need to have that choice. You know? I am constantly misunderstood on this issue. My boyfriend and I -- ex-boyfriend and I -- we're exes now, as of twenty minutes ago -- argue about this all the time. How can you support life and be pro-choice blah blah and I'm like, Are you even listening? And no, he's not, he's not a big listener, 'cause if he was he'd of realized that I've been trying to break up with him for about six months now.

He's a good guy and all, don't get me wrong. He's perfectly nice, and he does really sweet things like writing poetry on my stomach while I'm sleeping. He writes it backwards, so when I look in the mirror in the morning I can read it, and it's really beautiful. He's a good writer and he knows good stuff, too, but his taste in poetry does not get to the heart of the issue, which is this: we fight about silly stuff, like Who put the cheese grater there? and the meanings of films at Century Theater, when what we really want to fight about is the fact that he loves me more than I love him but I love him enough to not want to hurt him. But I do. Hurt him. Horribly. Yesterday he told me he loved me and you know what I said? I said, "Couldn't we just see a movie?" I am a bitch, mosquitoes. I am a great big bitch.

So I started trying to break up with him. It'd be better, for him, 'cause of the aforementioned bitchy thing and who wants to be treated that way? And for me, 'cause the guilt of this whole thing is killing me, really -- I mean, I'm hanging on by a thread. So I say to him, "Dave, we've got to talk," and immediately he looks at me all worried and pale, and he's got these really expressive eyes that can lift up or pull down and make you feel about a thousand things, so just then I'm feeling like the angel of death and I want to cry 'cause I know how much this is going to hurt him, and as long as I'm being really honest, mosquitoes, I'll tell you: I really do care about this guy. It's just that he's not right for me. I wanted him to be. I tried, I really did. But there's something about his smell that rubs me the wrong way. He's clean, really clean, actually overly hygienic to tell you the truth, but even after all the soap and oil and sprays everyone has their own particular smell and his involves woodchips. He smells woodchippy and that brings back this whole line of memories for me involving camping and my parents and nobody talking to one another, ever, just these icy cold silences and this is what love is supposed to be? so I know he isn't right I know he isn't right I know he isn't right but he's so wonderful in every other way besides not being right that if anyone were to hurt him, to lie to him or make him sad, I would crucify them. Seriously, I would level them, celebration of life be damned. And the fact that it's me who's hurting him? I should dump my own goddamn head in a bucket of dish soap, I'll tell you what.

So I say, "Dave, we've got to talk." And he gets this sad look, and then I want to cry 'cause of the sad look, and then he wants to make me feel better 'cause he hates seeing me cry, and then we end up hugging. And this has been going on for months now, this little song and dance, me as the bitch and him as the hugger and this morning it just exploded all over the place. I was still feeling like an asshole from yesterday's "go to the movies" follow-up to such a beautiful, wonderful statement as love -- love, love, he loves me, shouldn't I want to be in love? -- and he was feeling bad 'cause I felt bad and we're lying there in bed and he's petting me, saying, "Don't feel bad," and then I feel even badder [sic: worse. I'm writing this on a typewriter so I can't go back and fix the grammar] that's he's comforting me when really he should be sticking pins under my fingernails for all these thoughts that keep pesteringpesteringpestering and I jump out of bed and say, "Dave, I've got something I have to say and I need you to listen," and his eyes pull down and he says, "Don't I listen? Do you need me to listen more? I can be better, I can!" and then I want to cry again but instead I get dressed and go to work.

The restaurant was packed this morning. We were one cook short in the kitchen and it was like an hour before whoever was working the short shift would show up, so Sharon and I are running our asses off. Bacon, eggs, pancakes, coffee -- decaf or regular -- multigrain or sourdough, and it's real easy to take your mind off your problems when you've got to make nine soy vanilla decaf lattes. Like, the mindlessness of the work just numbs your whole brain and your body becomes a machine, almost. Pull the espresso, steam the milk, stack glasses, and Dave who? Plus we were listening to some 80s remix CD, which was pretty comforting. Eighties music can take you closer to home than home ever really was (assuming you grew up during the 80s, which, incidentally, mosquitoes, I did). So we're running around, taking orders, seating tables, and then Martin in the kitchen starts ringing the little bell 'cause we've let the food pile up and I go running back there and stack like six plates of pancakes on one arm and I'm going to table fifteen up near the front to drop them off and suddenly I stop dead in my tracks. I stop and I stand there holding all those plates, 'cause through the speakers came the opening piano bars and then her voice, all desperate and edgy, all exactly how I felt: turn around, every now and then I get a little bit lonely and you're never coming round, turn around, every now and then I get a little bit tired of listening to the sound of my tears and I'm still not moving, there in the middle of the restaurant and all these feelings were bubbling up in my middle and Tuuurn around bright eyes every now and then I fall apart and I thought yes, yes it's soooo true! Every now and then I do fall apart! I do! And that's OK! It's OK to fall apart! Bonnie fell apart! And as I stand there, I can feel the tears coming down my cheeks and I listened to the song and mouthed the words along with her and felt better, and stronger, and more in control, and when I looked up I saw my customers crying, too, and they were all singing along, quietly at first, a whisper, and by the time we got to I don't know what to do I'm always in the dark with all the cymbals crashing and the choir singing backup we were all full voice, standing up with tear-streaked faces and holding hands.

Once upon a time I was falling in love
Now I'm only falling apart
There's nothing I can do
Total eclipse of the heart

Have you ever heard that song? No? You're kidding! Seriously, you should get the CD 'cause it totally saved me today. I came home after work and walked right up to him and shut my eyes tight so I wouldn't see his face and I said, "Dave, look. I don't want to hurt you, but I am. You're hurting, and I'm hurting and if you think about it -- if you really think hard, you'll see how unhappy we are, you're unhappy and I'm unhappy, I'm so unhappy with making you unhappy, and it's done, now. I'm craving something right, Dave, and if I have to hurt you big right now to make you hurt less later, so be it, and if you hurt big always I'm sorry but I need to save myself, Dave, I do, I'm hanging on by a thread!" And then I came in here to my bedroom and locked the door behind me.

The knocking started right away. "Let me in, let me in," he's saying at the other side of the door. I can hear him and it breaks my heart, it's killing me and then -- then, you fuckers -- you start biting. You're all over me and I don't want to do it, I don't want to smack my arm and squash you, I don't want to see you on the wall and flatten you with a hardcover book. So I'm asking you, one last time, to go of your own accord. I've done everything I can.

I don't want to kill you, but I will.

Megan Stielstra is a writer, teacher, and waitress. She lives in Chicago, where she edits Sleepwalk magazine and is the director of story development for the Serendipity Theatre Company and artist-in-residence for Barefoot Productions, where she creates collaborative stories with musicians and filmmakers. She's performed for the Storyweek Festival of Writers, Undershorts Film Festival, Piece by Piece, The Dollar Store reading series, and 2nd Story, an annual storytelling series at the Webster Wine Bar thatís coming up this May. Check the Serendipity site for details.