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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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Jensen Whelan

On Thursday I decided to have a party so I called all of my friends. I walked over and invited the Palindrome Girl in person, because she was new to the neighbourhood, having just moved into the house next door with the noisy gate hinge and clapping screen door; I wanted to make sure she felt welcome.

"Oh, I don't know," she said when I asked her.

"You should come, it'll be fun. Besides, you'll be the hit of the party."

"I'm not really sure. I won't know anyone."

"Everyone would really like to meet you, Palindrome Girl."

"I guess I could make it. What time did you say again?"

"Seven. Can't wait to see you." And I couldn't. I had really started to like her. She had knees and elbows that could bend both ways, two matching noses and two sets of beautiful white teeth. Her braided hair swung from side to side, framing both of her faces. It was always the same with the palindrome girl, whichever way you looked.

But by eight there was still no sign of the Palindrome Girl. I put food out on the table and started serving drinks.

None of my friends are big party people and they are all hard to get to know. When I looked at them standing in small groups in my house, I felt a tinge of disappointment. What was I doing? I'd hoped they would help me to get to know the Palindrome Girl better, but now that I thought about it, I was pretty sure they would only hurt my chances.

Mr. Acronym was as abbreviated as ever talking in the living room with the Contronym twins, telling them both how many MPG's he got in his SUV.

"I have an idea," he said. "How about the three of us get together next Friday night? Say 9:30, just after I get out of my AA meeting?"

"We're sorry. We have a biweekly tennis night every other Friday."

"How about sports? I have season tickets. NBA, NFL, NHL, and baseball!"

The Contronym twins just walked away. "God, he makes everything so simple by shortening it like that," they said. They seemed a little put out by Mr. Acronym's style. But later, when I overheard them arguing with each other, I knew everything was all right.

"That's exactly what I'm saying. We fought with the British during WWII," said one of the twins.

"How can you say that? The British were our allies!" said the other.

The Palindrome Girl finally arrived close to nine-thirty. Mr. and Mrs. Freudianslip were both quite drunk by then.

"Sorry I'm late," she said, "I couldn't decide if I should really come or not. I was back and forth, back and forth all day. I can go both ways with most things."

"Wonder what that means," Mr. Freudianslip mumbled loud enough for everyone to hear. The Contronym twins thought this was pretty funny. They both laughed so hard tears came to their eyes. It was a rude thing to do, but I do have to admit that Mr. Freudianslip can be funny at times.

I led her into the kitchen and offered her a drink. She looked amazing. Her shirt was one I had seen her in before. It was a men's dress shirt with buttons running up and down the front and back. It was slightly too big and hung on her body loosely.

"Hey Palindrome Girl, what's happening?"

"Not much."

"Race car," I said. I tried to show her that I'd thought a lot about her and was willing to learn more. I wondered if she would think it was a stupid thing to say. From where I was sitting, I could see how much dust had collected under the refrigerator. I concentrated on it and avoided looking at the Palindrome Girl. I was embarrassed for wanting her to be there so bad.

She touched me arm, smiled and said, "God lived as a devil dog."

We stayed in the kitchen talking for a few minutes until Onomatopoeia Boy came running in screaming. "Pop! Bang! Smash!" He yelled and laughed, "Ha Ha Ha!" I chased him out of the kitchen. The Palindrome Girl and I were separated for the rest of the party.

Later I had to ask Onomatopoeia Boy to leave because everyone was a little sick of him and all his yelling and animal noises. I was happy to do it. I don't like being rude to people, but he'd ruined my time with the Palindrome Girl.

As I was throwing him out, Spooner showed up drunk, which was unfortunate because he's hard to communicate with even when he's sober. Talking to him when he's had a few is like having a conversation with a hiccup.

"I've only had dree thrinks!" he said, when I told him he couldn't come in.

"Whatever, Spooner."

He pushed his way past me. The party was really starting to get going. He confused everyone by inverting letters and switching syllables around the whole time he was there. No one was sober enough to find it in any way amusing and I had to ask him to leave too.

The party went on for a few more hours but I never got a chance to talk to the palindrome girl. She was always stuck in a conversation with someone. Sometimes they'd have her on both sides. I caught her eyes when she was chatting on the couch with Mrs. Freudianslip and gave her a sympathetic smile. The Freudianslips are a hard couple. They have a quick sense of humour, and never really say what they mean. I shot her a look that asked if she needed help when she was pinned in a corner by the aggressive Professor Anagram. He was coming at her from both directions trying to pick her apart and put her back together in a clever way. I felt sorry for her and a little guilty, too. She was the real reason I'd had the party, and she looked miserable.

Finally, at around midnight, the party started to break up. The Contronym twins caught a ride home with Mr. Acronym. He's been sober for a few months now so usually ends up driving someone home when we all get together. I called a cab for Mr. and Mrs. Freudianslip and Professor Anagram passed out on the couch. Who knows what happened to Onomatopoeia Boy and Spooner after I kicked them out. The next day I heard they'd gone down to Murphy's Pub on the corner for a drink and got in a fight with some college students.

After I said goodbye to the last guest, I went into the kitchen where I saw the Palindrome Girl sitting alone at the table.

"Hey," I said.


"Can I walk you home?"

"Yes, I'd like that."

I walked her back to her front door where I waited to see if she would invite me in. The wind pushed her braids back and forth, back and forth. It reminded me of her. I had been falling in love with her across the room all evening. She said she had to get up early and hoped she'd see me again. I thanked her for coming and kissed her lightly on all four of her cheeks and both of her foreheads. We said goodnight. I saw the lights go on in each room that she entered. I watched her silhouette, not able to tell if she was walking forward or backward, and tried not to let myself love her anymore. She'd met my friends, I didn't have a chance.

Jensen Whelan's fiction and poetry have appeared or are forthcoming in Eyeshot, Surgery of Modern Warfare, The Glut, Perfectland, The Edward Society, Fiction Warehouse, Pindeldyboz and others. He lives in Stockholm, Sweden.