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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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Doug Milam

"...I'm not crazy about America; I am not America-crazy...I'm not the liar; you are the liar...you want to know about this bullshit? I'll tell you about this bullshit..."

Taking apart shelves, loading cabinets onto a dolly, breaking down boxes, sweeping the floor. It didn't much matter to him that there were others within earshot. He was intensely committed to this dialogue, putting as much labor into it as his hands and arms and legs put into his physical tasks. It didn't seem that he was as much talking to himself as to those with whom he imagined he had a bone to pick, a score to settle, a point to hone into a sword as mighty as the pen, had he used one.

But a laborer has little time for writing, and the point, among others, is digging into now and telling it like it is, when the mind is free. Now is the immediate space, now is the air that sustains, that carries the voice. Now goes back to the ear from where it was first heard, completing the circle, drawing out eternal ratios, 3.1416 -- count it in hundredths or thousandths if you like, what is exactitude? Something's riding on the words, they're waves -- something's felt at the speed of sound and for every crest there's a collapse....

How would he die, receding, dreadlocked into gray, skin stretched beyond the pale of what a man can exponentially endure in reverse. Age is a man's divider. Take half and halve it once more, halve it over and over again. Some say you can never reach the end, that there is always something to divide, that even the infinitesimal offers up room. But eventually, there is not enough space to breathe in, there is no air in which oscillations matter, the walls are too narrow for movement, there is only theory, the abstract, an atomic fractioned existence rendered as proof that the mind can go on, that deduction is infinity is immortality -- is largesse, an afterlife.

"...question is, is the soul whole, is the body shoddy?...how come I can't play like I used to?...well I don't know, you're going to have to figure that out for yourself..."

And then the Onion Kid, five feet tall with a scraggly devil's beard, an anarchist who won't pledge allegiance, who doesn't recognize the Government, who distrusts and forgoes banks, who knows how to survive on oak trees -- "dig deep enough for the roots, the ends, these are the means, the get-bys; cut off the root and it's just like a carrot; boil the wood pulp, chew up the bark, not too much it'll leave you constipated" -- who knows how to make whiskey out of common permutations I and you, maybe you, growing up soft and middle-class, never would suspect... -- he knows how to make wine out of any fruit, even vegetables, detailing all in a fast drawl, layer after layer of knowledge peeled back revealing more than class prejudices could ever rejoin, being narrow dire straitjackets allotted for a portion of 'sanity' and 'reason' -- he wears an hereditary tonsure but it's occult under a camouflage hat of sweat seven days a week, on weekends he helps his mom clean apartments, he's trying to quit smoking behind eyeglasses, he baby-sits his niece often and he left the home of his fathers, the violent endgame, the crystal methamphetamine, the sharded jagged gouging of the soul.