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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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Ben Tanzer

Tracey was our babysitter, she was four years older then me, and I hated her. She had ratty brown hair, way too many freckles, and no ass at all. Her mom had moved out when she was kid, and her dad had been raising her ever since. She smoked cigarettes on the breezeway and invited her dumb friends over to tease my younger brother Timmy. There was Amy, with the boobs, and Liz who always looked like she was on the verge of crying.

Timmy had a lisp, nothing too bad, and he was working on it, but Tracey would not give him a break, especially when Amy and Liz were over.

"Okay Timmy, say, Canada, c'mon cutie."

"Sure Tracey, Cananada, I mean Candada, I mean…I can't do it," Timmy would say.

And Tracey would laugh and laugh.

Amy was the first girl in the neighborhood to get breasts. It wasn't that she was bad looking either, she had olive-colored skin, this kinky sort of corkscrew hair, and these great dark eyebrows, but it was definitely her boobs that drew your attention, they were awesome, round, and large, like Nerf basketballs.

We all wanted to see them of course, but no one wanted to see them more then Billy did. Billy was wild-eyed with unruly black hair and he talked about them all the time.

"Hey man, did you see Amy today?" he'd say.

"Yeah," I'd say, "why?"

"Did you see what she was wearing?"

"Yeah. I think they call those t-shirts."

"Right, but that's a pretty tight t-shirt isn't it? Did you see her boobs?"

"Yes, I did. They're very nice, just like when you asked about them yesterday."

"Dude, I've got to see them," he'd say, "I'm dying here."

And to give Billy credit, he didn't just walk around the neighborhood talking to us about them -- he talked to Amy about them too.

"How many times do I have to say no?" Amy would say.

"A lot," Billy would say, "a lot."

Amy finally said fine, lets get this over with, and she took him back behind his house. They weren't gone long, but Billy didn't stop smiling for a week.

Billy's dad was named Larry. He was tall. Larry played Triple-A ball for the Pirates, but blew out his arm before he made it to the show. That didn't matter to the other dads in the neighborhood though. They loved him for getting so close, and were happy to let Larry hold court in front of his house as he sucked down beer after beer spewing forth his endless stream of crap.

"Reagan's a great man, a leader, a real fucking leader, you can see it in his eyes, and you can see it in the way he talks to the camera. He's speaking to you, not at you, he gets you, you know? I'm not embarrassed to say I love that man," Larry would have a tear in his eye by the end of it.

All the dads would nod in agreement, their golf shirts a bit too tight around the waists, their sunburned noses now peeling and turning ugly.

They didn't know of course that Larry had fucked half of their wives, and was now eyeing their daughters too. But Billy knew. He would follow his dad around and watch him through their bedroom windows. He felt proud. He felt sick. He didn't know what to feel.

Tracey's other friend Liz cried a lot and she liked to wear black. She cut herself too, but she had to do something; she had a secret that she couldn't tell anyone about. And no it wasn't how she had slept with Larry one time after babysitting for Billy's younger brother Stephen, though she had, or how she had slept with Tracey's boyfriend Frank, though she had done that as well one night following a party where Tracey had made fun of the very slight eye twitch Liz got some times when she was nervous.

No, it was something else entirely, something that was dark and wrong, and not to be repeated. Liz had once had a baby sister named Tabitha who she regularly watched because Liz's parents were never around much at night. Liz didn't mind watching her, and in fact had developed a game for she and Tabitha to play before bedtime. Liz would hold a pillow over Tabitha's face and muffle her breathing for just a moment before pulling it off and yelling "peek-a-boo!" Tabitha would always cough for a moment as her little lungs grasped for air and then laugh hysterically. It was great fun.

Liz soon realized that if she held the pillow on Tabitha's face just a little longer each time, Tabitha not only would cough more, but laugh more as well. One night when Liz lifted the pillow though, Tabitha didn't cough, or laugh, or do anything at all.

Tabitha wouldn't start breathing no matter what Liz tried. She gave her mouth-to-mouth, she picked her up and walked around the room, she begged her to breath, "c'mon Tabitha quite fooling around, c'mon baby, please breathe, please," but nothing worked.

After awhile Liz put Tabitha back into her crib, and crawled into bed not knowing what to do or who to call. She awoke the next morning to birds chirping and her mom Trish screaming. When asked about the night before, Liz said she put Tabitha down as she always did, which was kind of true, and had then gone to bed, which was also pretty much true, and hadn't heard a sound all night, which was definitely true. The coroner said it was probably SIDS, nothing else made sense. Sometimes it just happens, he said. Liz didn't bother to correct him.


One afternoon I am over at Billy's playing pong when Tracey, Amy, Liz, and Tracey's boyfriend Frank come by. Frank has long, stringy, dirty blonde hair and glasses that tint when exposed to the light. He likes Def Leppard. He's lugging a case of Genessee Cream Ale.

"What's up," Frank says, "we're hoping we can drink some beer here man, what do you say?"

"Sure," Billy says.

Frank slams a beer. Then another. Tracey matches him beer for beer and then starts kissing him on the neck.

"Hey," she says, "is there a room we can use?"

"Yeah," Billy says, "my room is at the top of the stairs."

They leave and the four of us, Liz, Amy, Billy and I, sip our beers and stare at one another. No one has much too say.

"Hey, you want to play spin the bottle?" Liz says to no one in particular.

"Why not," Amy says.

Liz spins an empty beer bottle and it points to Billy. They start to kiss.

"Let's go upstairs," Liz says. And they do.

Amy looks at me, shakes her head in disgust, and spins the bottle.

"Go ahead," she says. "You can kiss me, but that's it, no touching, grabbing, pawing, or petting, got it?"

"Yeah," I say, "I got it."

I've never kissed anyone before. I even wondered if I ever would. I lean forward, mouth slightly open, and then Amy does too. Her lips are soft, like ripe melon, she lingers for a moment, and then lets her tongue dart around my mouth. I lean in some more and run my hands along her lower back. She pulls away abruptly and looks at me as if she has just awoken from a light sleep.

"Jesus, I just made-out with a little kid," she says, half-smiling. "This is our little secret, right?"

"Yeah," I say.

Tracey comes over to baby sit for Timmy with Amy and Liz in tow, and Tracey starts right in on Timmy.

"Okay baby can you say spaghetti for me?"

"Sure Tracey," Timmy says, "saghetti, saspetti, spa--"

"Why don't you leave him alone," Amy says.

"Why don't you and your boobs shut-up," Tracey says.

Everybody is silent and unmoving, unsure of what comes next. And then there is a scream. "Oh sick, a mouse just ran across the room," Liz says. Tracey calls Frank and begs him to come over. He shows up a little while later. He has his BB gun with him. We sit awaiting the mouse's return. It does not return.

Somewhere along the way Amy starts touching Frank, subtly at first, a hand on the shoulder, a brief brush of his leg, and then when he begins to take notice of her, she grows more brazen, running her fingers through his hair and squeezing his inner thigh. There is eye contact, low breathy murmurs, and whispers.

Frank suddenly says he has to leave and Amy and Liz leave moments later. Tracey sits on the couch by the front window and expects to watch them all start their walks home. What she sees instead is Amy and Frank making out. In a fit of rage Tracey steals one of my mom's rings.

My mom confronts her the next day and Tracey denies stealing the ring, but my mom fires her any way. Tracey starts babysitting for Billy's younger brother Stephen soon after and to get Frank back for his indiscretion with Amy she sleeps with Billy's dad Larry one night after he offers to take her home. Frank could care less though, he has fallen in love with Amy, and her breasts, and not necessarily in that order.

Larry gets Tracey pregnant and she is sent away to have the baby. Tracey never tells anyone who the father is, but Billy knows, because Billy was watching. After this Billy is no longer so obsessed with Amy's breasts, all he cares about now is avoiding Larry and hurting himself whenever possible.

He begins to take risks, sprinting across the freeway at night, cars missing him by a hair, jumping blindfolded off of the old water tower up on South Mountain into the bushes below, even drinking nail polish on a dare. Billy doesn't care about anything anymore, and why should he, the world is crazy and there's no making any sense of it.

One night at a party Billy announces to no one in particular that he is going to do a cannonball into the empty pool in the backyard. Liz grabs him by the arm and asks him to stop. Her dark looks suits his mood, and he's too weak to resist. They sit by the edge of the pool and talk.

"I hurt myself too," Liz says to Billy, "I cut myself, little pricks across my arms, little slices across my thighs."

"Why?" Billy says. "Why would you do that?"

"It's the only thing that helps," Liz says, "it's just such a release from all the shit, you know?"

"I do know," Billy says, staring at her. He has fallen in love.

"I've done a terrible thing," Liz says, "and I've never told anyone, and it's killing me."

"I have a secret too," Billy says, "and I just want to run from it, and keep running, you know?"

"I do," Liz says. "So why not go, then, you and me, what do you say?"

And so they go, they leave that night and promise each other they will never come back, they can't, the neighborhood holds too many shadows for them.

People start whispering about Larry, did he or didn't he? No one knows for sure, but they wonder. The wives stop sleeping with him. "Let's just wait until things blow over," they all say. With Tracey gone, Amy starts babysitting for Stephen. Larry becomes transfixed on her and decides he must have her.

Amy is resistant, though, she has Frank now, and she has heard the whispers. Larry pushes and pushes, asking again and again if he can make love to her, never listening to her protestations for even a moment.

"C'mon, baby, it's going to be great, best lay you ever had."

"Now, c'mon Amy you know you want it, I can see it in your eyes."

"Aren't you sick of those boys you've been sleeping with? I mean c'mon, don't you want to be with a man?"

Eventually Larry wears her down, Amy can only fight so much. It's easier to just give in.

When Frank comes to pick Amy up she is crying and won't tell him what happened. Amy's parents ask her as well. At first she is hesitant to say anything to them, but then says she will tell them what happened if they agree to leave the neighborhood. They do, and she does, and they leave the neighborhood soon thereafter. Amy tells Frank she can't tell him what's gone on and can't look him face him any more either. She hopes he understands, and asks that he think of her always.

Frank of course can't think of anything else. He loves Amy and he wants answers. One night he goes by Larry's house with a case of beer, and as the night goes on, gets Larry to admit to screwing his girlfriend.

"C'mon man, I know something happened with Amy," Frank says. "So why don't you just tell me? I mean, do you think I really fucking care?"

"All right, I fucked Amy, and I'm sorry," Larry tells him. "But she wanted me, you know, what am I going to do? What would you do if you were in my shoes? Look, forget about her, all women are cunts."

Larry, who just can't help himself, also goes on to tell Frank about Tracey and Liz and all the neighbors' wives he's slept with.

"All of them, my man, fucked them all, their wives, their daughters -- it's beautiful really, you know, all the joy I've spread."

Frank records the whole conversation and, after sending copies of the tape to all the neighbors, heads out into the night in search of Amy.

Larry's wife Sharon leaves him and takes Stephen with her. The neighborhood dads stop coming around to talk and drink and fry in the sun as Larry holds court. Larry loses his swagger. He is alone now and without purpose. After awhile, he stops leaving the house and no one even seems to notice. The days, the months, and then even the years start to pass, and one day with the mail piling up and the lawn overgrown the police kick in Larry's door.

They find him lying there on the living room floor, dead, alone, and surrounded by garbage, piles of old newspapers, and Pirates memorabilia.

And me, I never leave the neighborhood. I don't see any reason to. It is quiet, and I like it that way. Or it was before everyone started coming back. First, Amy and Frank -- he found her, one thing led to another, and they decided to move back. Billy and Liz drifted in some time after that. They had been all around the country, they said, but it was time to come home, and that's that. Even Tracey came back, alone but happy and who are we to doubt her? Once in awhile we all get together at someone's house and barbecue some steaks. We have a couple of beers, we laugh.

Ben Tanzer is a social worker and writer who lives in Chicago with his pregnant (and beautiful) wife Debbie and son Myles. Ben's work has been published in a handful of magazines and journals including Punk Planet, Rated Rookie, Clamor, Midnight Mind, Abroad View, and others.