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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 |

No Media Kings

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Gretchen Kalwinski

When they were fifteen, Amy and Monica stopped attending the Sunday evening Christian Youth Organization meetings that their parents, worrying that their Catholic school education would be marred in the public high school system, had forced them into. Their last event was a weekend retreat where Bonnie Tyler's song "Total Eclipse of the Heart" was played to represent the spiritual awakening that everyone at the retreat had experienced. The day was spent talking in groups about how to incorporate the Holy Spirit more fully into their lives, with intermittent speeches about how drugs, drinking, and premarital sex would forever damage their relationship with God. At the end of the day there was a final, culminating event, where all fifty participants stood together in a circle and held hands as one of the youth ministers pressed play on a tape recorder, instructing the teenagers to sing lyrics projected on the wall. Initially, Amy sang gamely with the others, "Every now and then I get a little bit restless, and I dream of something wild / Turnaround, Every now and then I get a little bit helpless / And I'm lying like a child in your arms... / Turnaround bright eyes." The youth ministers had tried to emphasize the inspirational undertones of the tune, but while Amy understood how lyrics like "I get a little bit terrified and then I see the look in your eyes" could apply to God, she was confused about how the lines "We're living in a powder keg and giving off sparks" or "Once upon a time there was light in my life / But now there's only love in the dark" were God-related in any way. She looked around the room to see most of the ministers and students crying, and holding each other. She knew something was wrong with her. She felt nothing but a vague, unfocused sentimentality, like when she had PMS and puppies appeared on a television commercial. Amy and Monica made eye contact and when the circle broke -- they snuck out the back of the church and never attended another meeting.

Since they had time to blow before their parents expected them home, they bought candy and magazines at the drug store and sat on a park bench. They'd grown up together and gone to the same middle school, but after ending up in different high schools they saw each other a lot less. Monica nabbed the lead in her high school's production of the Albee play Counting the Ways. She told Amy about taking the train to the city with her new theater friends and walking around Chinatown.

"Look, I picked this up for you!" Monica pulled a figurine of two white cats with raised paws out of her backpack. "The owner of this gift shop with a fish tank built into the wall told me that the smiley cat brings wealth, and the other one protection. Aren't they cute?"

"Yeah, I guess so. Are they ceramic or what?"

"No, just papier mache, but he swore that they'd bring you good fortune; that's why all these restaurants keep them around. Don't you love things like that? I want go back to the city and buy these cats for everyone I know."

"I like them. I'm just not sure what to do with them, and I'm not really superstitious. I could keep them in the front flap of my backpack I guess." When she got home, Amy put the lucky cats on a shelf with her Virgin Mary statues and the gold-plated photo of her first communion, soon forgetting all about them.

Monica and Amy each left town after high school. Amy moved to a small place on the west coast to waitress and save up money for a degree in nutritional medicine. She loved being close to the ocean, and took up jogging on the beach, but was completely alone for the first year -- no friends, no family, and her landlord didn't allow pets. One day there was a letter from Monica, who'd gotten her address from her parents. She was going to be in the area next week, and wanted to crash at Amy's place, was it OK? They talked on the phone and discussed directions from the airport. It had been ten years since they'd drifted, and all Amy knew about her old friend was that she was working with a small theater in New York. She used the excuse of Monica's visit to finally clean the apartment, and stumbled across some notes and drawings that they'd passed in fifth-grade science class, along with some photos in a shoebox of them winning first prize in a watermelon-eating contest at a church picnic. The same shoebox contained the lucky cats, wrapped up in an old girl-scout sash. The cats were banged up but still intact, and Amy dusted them off and displayed them on the mantle. She liked the idea of them still being around because they were a link to her past, one of the few that she still had after moving so far away. When Monica showed up a few days later, she didn't look anything like Amy's idea of a New York actress -- no red lipstick or shawls, and no flourishes to signify her promising acting career. Instead she just looked tired: grey skin, grey baggy clothes, slow but nervous mannerisms. They stayed up late making pesto and drinking tea on the front porch, and Monica confessed the real reason she was in town. There was a good rehab center not far away, and she was trying to kick a nasty coke habit, begun with the idea that it'd help broaden her performances. Amy pleaded with Monica to stay over the New Year's holidays: "I could cook for you; we could take walks, read magazines, and eat candy like the old days." But Monica had some friends living over in the next town, and was planning to leave the following afternoon and stay with them until beginning rehab the following weekend.

Trying to lighten the mood, Amy retrieved the lucky cats from the mantelpiece and handed them to Monica, "Remember the night you gave these to me? Can you believe those lame retreats? I wonder if St. Michael's still holds them?"

"Oh, Amy, you hung onto that? Those things are scattered by the thousands in every Chinatown across the country, you know. I think I must have paid all of fifty cents for the one I got you."

"Yeah, sure, I know. I just kept them because you gave them to me. Besides, I'm doing good right now, maybe they've brought me luck over the years, you know?"

Monica scoffed. "Yeah, right. You and everyone else who's ever visited a Chinese gift shop."

The next morning they said that maybe they'd see each other in their hometown for the next set of holidays. They even arranged to meet up again when Monica's treatment was finished, but Amy was pretty sure that she'd never see her again. After the rental car drove away, she put the cats back in the shoebox. It was New Year's Eve, and it felt weird to be alone, so Amy cooked dinner and gave half to the neighbor lady next door. Just after midnight, she took a walk down to the ocean, listening to the city break into choruses of "Auld Lang Syne" sprinkled with shrieking and chaos in the distance, over the hills. Her neighborhood remained quiet while families counted down with NBC in their living rooms, kids already passed out in front of the tube.

The night was cold and only a few people were scattered on the beach, swinging champagne bottles. She walked until she was alone, thinking about Monica, wondering what the years had been like for her and what kinds of friends that she was staying with that night. The dark water in the distance was murky and rushing, and she moved in a little closer, watching the waves until the slow crescendos were almost hypnotic. She wanted to take this moment and make something significant of it, so she stretched her hands above her head, held them out at her sides, and closed her eyes. For a moment, it was beautiful. Then, in a silent crash, a wave reached out with a long, unexpected reach, plucked her body and flung it underwater. Suddenly she was in a breathless somersault where a moment ago she had been a safe bystander, separated by half a basketball court from the sea. Her balance was completely thrown off and she had no idea if she was in the sky, ground, or water. Everything was dark and swirling; then there was an insistent tug in the direction of the beach -- hands, reaching for her, pulling her away from the quicksand of dark water. She could hardly see the jogger who grabbed her from the sand and dragged her further ashore, but once she stopped coughing she heard the woman say, "Are you OK? Can you breathe? I saw the whole thing; that was a big one that got you." Still gasping, all Amy could make out before she passed out were some blond dreadlocks, a wrist full of hemp bracelets, and a T-shirt printed with two white cats, one smiling and one serious, opposite paws raised.

Sunday afternoon, six years later. Amy is in bed with Evan, and "Total Eclipse of the Heart" plays from the radio. She tells him about how she and Monica started ditching church retreats, about winning the watermelon-eating contest. He already knows about how the lucky cats intervened that day at the beach. She keeps the cats on the dresser, although their ceramic is cracked and only duct tape keeps them together. She hasn't spoken to Monica since that New Year's Eve six years before. The Sunday paper is sprawled on the bed, and Evan reads aloud from the science section. "Sweetie, check this out -- scientists just managed to put atoms into a cat state. Did you hear about this?"

"No, what's a cat state?"

"OK, do you remember when I told you about that experiment in the 80s where particles were teleported across the room, like in Star Trek?"

She adjusts her glasses, getting excited, "Yeah, that was so cool."

"That experiment proved what Einstein had called 'spooky action,' or a link between particles, but until now, no one really understood what it meant."

"But I thought you said that even Einstein believed that reality as we know it couldn't allow for that theory."

"He did. And this new research has taken the idea further. In quantum physics, a cat state means being in two opposite conditions at once -- up and down, dead and alive -- but still interacting so that an event affecting one particle will affect the other and force action in it. Eventually, it could lead to computers using quantum magic to make calculations, but basically what we've always thought of as 'magic' has just been proven in a lab."

"Are you kidding me? Why isn't this front page news?"

"It's probably not being spun that way because everyone would lose their minds. It could be anarchy; the stock exchange might go bananas. So it's buried in the science section. The implication is that every possibility for an object is realized: the Red Sox win and lose at the same time, and a phone both rings and is silent at the same exact moment because of the potential energy. Even the scientists don't know what to make of it -- one of them calls it a 'profoundly deep violation of an intuition that we've been walking with since caveman days.' Another just calls it 'really weird.'"

"Don't you think that our lives should be altered, now that we know this?" Amy laughs incredulously. "Like, why are we eating fiber and buying insurance? Let's not go into work tomorrow!"

Evan laughs too. "Yeah, right. Who do we think we are?"

"I wonder if we can force action, like the particles. Wanna try to talk to each other telepathically?"

They spent the rest of the day facing each other in bed thinking numbers to each other. First try, she guessed wrong, "2?" "No," he told her, "eight, but I was thinking about 2 circles, try again." Then 4 was in her head right away, so she screamed the number and they hugged because it was right and they had good juju like that. His turn: they concentrated hard, then "nine!" he said, just at the moment she was meditating hard on the flourish that a nine makes.

That night, Amy could have sworn that they were inhabiting bodies other than their own, bodies from Mexico or Russia that were drifting through the night air, needing to take form, some sort of out-of-body thing happening as the bed shook and the windows rattled, and the lucky cats bounced on the dresser, and the neighborhood kids whooped and hollered in the old factory next door, banging garbage lids and whistling bottle rockets. Evan smoked a cigarette during one break in the action in a bathrobe by the windowsill. Through cracked glasses he looked at her with all the right kinds of water in his eyes. When they finally slept, it was next to a pile of strewn clothes, glasses with vodka and watermelon, and the lucky cats, smashed on the floor.