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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

As the curtains opened the audience shooshed itself, expectation released in admonition. Mademoiselle -- inside the opera singer -- stepped forward and unleashed a soprano gust. She did not know what the words meant, but no one seemed to notice.

After the concert she as usual headed straight for the bathroom. "Merci," the image in the mirror said, just as the week before, after busting out "Wang Dang Doodle" like a wolf on sheep, Mademoiselle -- inside a blueswoman that time -- headed for the bathroom, turned to the mirror and -- seeing not the color of her eyes or hair or lipstick or skin but only a brass-colored and diffuse light like sun reflected on a lamp pole -- said, "That's what I'm talkin' about, girl." Mission accomplished. A moment later, Mademoiselle drained away in a torrent of urine from the other's body, which lost its special light and returned to being plainly human.

The detectives never found a clue. The mystery deepened with every concert, like fingerprints increasing in number but fading in clarity, year after year, since just before 3:00PM on August 26, 1982, when Mademoiselle would have been born one Frieda Louise Goulet, multitalented vocalist, and who would die on August 19, 2020, at 2:38AM, during an act of sexual violence committed by a beloved acquaintance.

Later, as she slept in the hotel room, Mademoiselle noticed a freckle on her shoulder. Suddenly, the freckle turned into a Mountie, jumped to attention and called, "Mademoiselle? I salute you!" He leaned toward her ear, tickling it with his handlebar mustache, and whispered (although actually he was shouting into the canal), "Come on, let's get the puck outta here."

"To Canada?" she said. "I better learn hockey."

"Forget that," the man said. "This one's not a hockey loving kind of gal."

He waved her towards the door and she followed him into the hallway, down the elevator, through the lobby and into the street. He loves me, Mademoiselle thought, hoping it was not romantic love, for she loved him like a father (he would have died in 1922, had he chosen to be born). Along the way he remained nearly invisible at her feet, an inch tall. But when the moonlight touched him, he increased to normal size.

"You're going to draw attention to yourself," she said. "No one's ever seen a Mountie in Chicago before."

"I hate Chi-town. We're a day from Montreal, if we make good time."



They were both on horseback and in a moment bounding through the city, into and out of the suburbs, to the interstate, and on to Detroit, Windsor, and finally the Canadian countryside, where they passed one golf course after the next.

"Canada is very big!"

He held down his hat against the breeze that threatened to dislodge it. "I really don't know why it's necessary I wear these uniforms."

"You are an officer of the Law," she said. "Although I preferred the Chicago cop outfit. It fits an older man better."

"Hmph," he replied and, maneuvering beside her, yanked the reins of her horse.

"This is a beautiful counttttttttttttttttttttttttttry!" she shouted, gravity jerking her forward. "So who will I be this time?"

"Canadian folk singer. Sings like sunlight glittering on the surface of a creek, blah, blah, blah."

He threw a Canadian flag at her. She caught the flag and draped it around her shoulders. "O, Canada," she sang.

"You will need to sing higher and clearer than that. Of course, that's coming from a cop's ear."

"Why do I need security, anyway? Where would I run? I can only be run, right? It's hard to tell."

"Shoosh. I can barely hear her now. I'm losing the signal."

"I want to be solid. Solid, solid, solid."

"Solid? Overrated. Wait -- Jesus, the poor thing's a nervous wreck. She's smoking like the Atlanta fire. We can't do the impossible. Solid? Ridiculous. You? You couldn't stand it. Imagined and once in a while, for a moment, tasted, then gone. Poof, goodbye. You're kidding yourself. That's what security is for: Your own good. Now don't start crying. Shssh. I insist you stop crying. This girl needs your full attention. A music industry executive will be sitting in seat 12A, unbeknownst to her. If she knew that, by now she'd be the world's youngest lung cancer victim."

"But I'm tired of this. What do I care? What do I get out of it?"

"You had your chance. The rules were spelled out loud and clear. You get born or you get your mission. You transmit, you affect, you slide between the molecules, you snake down DNA firepoles, you do what you gotta do. You want to touch and feel, then you know the deal. You like it the ephemeral way, a little ghosty, you better get used to the smell of fog and a constant cool but humid air. There's a give and take. You can't go back now. We're the ultimate preemies and we're staying that way." He made a stop sign with his hand. "Hold up: She's drinking now. Christ almighty, your voice is gonna be shot to shit tomorrow. Well, what can you do? She'll thank you if it saves her from total disaster at this point. But do you get what I'm saying? You see what they go through. When you drain away, they know the moment's gone. What they sought turns physical and like all physical things seeps out of them into a drain and goes back, slowly, slowly, and chemically treated, all the way home, forever. Even the best singers know they'll never top that one moment. They grow old thinking about it. Not you. You get to be there again and again. What more could you ask? God, you're such a diva."

When they arrived the next day, the Mountie went off to the usual Policeman's Benevolent Association. Meanwhile, Mademoiselle located the singer's home, a dingy one-bedroom dump that looked like the home of all gray clouds.

Mademoiselle found her sitting in the kitchen, face in hands, sobbing. She circled around the girl and yelled, "Look at you! Ship shape, my ass. This is bullshit, girlie. You wanna live under arborite skies your whole life? Come on, snap to it, drink your coffee. I can feel your voice already. Your throat looks like a hamburger, stupid. Oh, Jesus, here come the water works. Why can't I be tougher? It's not my nature but I'd kick you in the pants if I could. We've got to go now. Is that what you're wearing? Oh, yeah, you're a folk singer. OK then. But you're late for sound check. Come on. Man, you do need a shit disturber, eh? Come on. That's a girl. You'll be fine. You shouldn't drink that whiskey. You'll piss me out faster if you drink tonight, I'll tell ya that. I'll show up early and leave fast, if that's what you want. I'd save it for the end, if I were you. Aspirin! I will drag your dead ass there. I will inhabit and engorge. I will vitamize and inflame. I will simultaneously agitate and relax you until the perfect and unrepeatable chemical balance is reached. It will come because you don't expect it. Not tonight! Look for me where you're not looking. Then you'll not see what you've been looking for. Oh, God, you're weakening. Put the angel figurine DOWN! Don't insult me. I drip away in piss. The only wings I see are cotton. How would you like it? Now get up."

Mademoiselle did not know if her anger came from the girl. She never could be sure, and it never helped knowing that the Mountie (or, variously, Sergeant Ed, Captain Roy, etc.) sometimes came probing, making sure everything was in order, that she wasn't digging for loopholes into life.

Usually, however, he trusted her, and with good reason, as for the most part she was sickened by human beings and their nonstop problems, which moved in circles just wide enough to escape their notice. Like this girl here. No doubt she was sick from last night, and tonight would cause the same result for tomorrow. By circling the identical 24-hour block of time, day after day, the girl deceived herself that time was not passing. But as an old woman, she would torture herself for having achieved her goal, feeling as though she had never lived when she had traveled through every continent, even Antarctica. Yes, that was in the cards for her, if she impressed the man in seat 12A.

But that was not going to happen. Because having been under pressure for many months about that night's performance, which most likely would determine her career, she decided to avoid it by taking all of the "aspirin" on the counter. Of course, it wasn't aspirin at all but something much stronger. And then she washed the pills down with a whiskey and Coke. Meanwhile, Mademoiselle, as the Mountie would learn, never inserted the proper impulse that could have stopped this act. And so when the folk singer started choking and vomiting, and her self collapsed like a bridge, Mademoiselle jumped inside, into the fire -- it is hard to describe otherwise -- and superceded her premolecular state, inhabiting the girl so that from now on people would say something must have clicked that day. She would be different from now on, stronger, rarely depressed, and able to sing not just folk but any style.

Mademoiselle invaded and won. The girl's parents would be quite happy with the change that came over their daughter, barely recognizing her sudden confidence. If only she could have been that way her whole life, it would have spared the parents much grief, especially the mother, who had many times apologized for her daughter's irascible behavior. They did not even mind that for reasons unknown the girl took the name of Frieda Louise Goulet, although, of course, they were unaware that she would die on August 19, 2020 at 2:28AM.

The Mountie had loved Mademoiselle madly. He could still hear her thinking about him from time to time. She thought, People wonder why I'm always alone but I'm not alone; I love you like a father, Mountie.

Like a father.

After impressing the man in 12A -- and scoring a record contract - she traveled the world, this Frieda Louise Goulet. And yes, on August 19, 2020, she knew that the policeman who claimed to love her despite the violence he committed was indeed the Mountie, who bit and slapped her, hating that she had made him real, chasing him into being even as he chased her out.