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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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Paul A. Toth

I am going to tell you a story, Mankie, and I want you to keep your trap shut.

Janet and Grover sit atop two mountains on separate continents. They love each other very much, Janet and Grover, but they have a problem: Their feet are these weird stem thingies and they can never move from the spot where they were born. They do not complain or attempt escape, the way you would. They just wait. They will wait a zillion years -- anyway, a "lot of years" is a good measure.

Stop squirming, Mankie. I'm not kidding around.

Janet and Grover are very accepting and know they will live a very, very long time apart. They must wait for love, not grab it and push it around like spoiled brats. You see, Mankie, they can only wait as the mountains atop which they live drift toward each other across the disappearing continental divide.

It will be a long process. It will make our time on earth seem like nothing. You could not bear it, Mankie. You would jab your eyeballs out after three, four hundred years. Maybe your brother could handle it. Yes, I bet your brother could deal with it but then you always were the crybaby.

If you don't like it, leave. I know how to be a father. So go ahead and leave if it's coddling you want. I'd like to see the look on the face of whoever finds you on their doorstep. That would be a good one, Mankie. You make me laugh. You're funny looking. The world must bear two hundred or more years of you and Lord, as people would say, Lordie me, sweet mother of Christ oh Jesus Jesus you will make a lot of laughter, and I suppose that is a good thing.

See, Mankie, you're always interrupting and sidetracking me. It's not funny. It really bothers me a lot and you know it does. That is another thing your brother does not do: purposefully bother me. That's what I'm always telling you: It's not that your brother is special, it's that you're especially annoying.

Can I finish my story now?

They are called Poochkins, Janet and Grover, and there are only the two of them, and there have only ever been the two of them, and there will always only be the two of them, until their mountains come together.

Here is a fact. The nickname lovers give each other -- "Poochie" -- is derived from "Poochkins". The word was brought to us by our explorers, who discovered Grover on a mountaintop and returned with stories of a creature calling itself a Poochkin. Today, smitten creatures everywhere call each other Poochie because they feel like two Poochkins whose mountains finally came together. Yet no one knows or cares about the Poochkins. If only we could be as patient as the Poochkins.

Janet and Grover must bear many, many tribulations before the true moment arrives. Otherwise, they will not mate, and their species will die with the two of them, just as it started, lonely and separated, and very, very slowly. So they have to be careful with their love. They must treat their love as a delicate relic from ancient times.

If you ask me "why" one more time, I swear I will beat you. No, I won't hit you, but it's annoying that you come out and say it. This is another irritating thing you do that your brother does not do. So please, Mankie, please: I am begging.

Love is much more precious to those denied it, Mankie, and the longer the denial, the better. Those showered with affection become unbearable idiots loaded with love for themselves, like humans who spend their lives figuring out to love themselves more. Can you imagine? Yes, Mankie, you are finally laughing at something that is really funny.

Maybe now you can see that your brother will grow to expect the love I show him from everyone, while you'll expect mistreatment. You will be a little more angry than your brother, but so what?

Now I will tell you something. You must have noticed by now that our kind always has two offspring, either two daughters or two sons, and that makes a family. And one of the two children is always treated like royalty, while the other is treated like dirt. Then, over time, we see who does better in life. Guess what? The ones treated roughly far and away surpass the pampered ones. Now, of course, every once in a while the more harshly raised child goes crazy and murders people. There is a flaw in everything.

So tonight, Mankie, I want you to imagine the Poochkins, riding their mountains toward each other so slowly that it looks like they're just sitting there doing nothing, when they are patiently doing all they can to make their love come true. And then I want you to remember that your father mistreats you because this is a difficult world. If it was good enough for me, it's good enough for you.

No, Mankie, please don't hug me. What did I just get done telling you?