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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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Erica Birnbaum

This can't be happening.

I inched my hands, fingers, fingernails through the shag like creepy crawlers. Wall to wall. Fuck. How fucking stupid. Hardwood was the way to go. Could've had hardwood in that first place we'd looked at, but no. Soon as the renter used folks and quiet in the same sentence Manny'd grabbed my arm and split out the door, down the stairs, out the door. I never understood; he never played music real loud, was like a silencer himself. Noise filtered out in his presence. It took a bow.

Manny sat in the blue velvet armchair, body upright and sturdy but comfortable, like a blue velvet armchair. His eyes so concentrated they broke down the moments of my movement. It made me feel my action as a series of reactions to each other (no real purpose). He positioned me frame-to-frame, eyes going deeper and deeper. Until they paralyzed me. What was the point of moving? As I stared back I felt the anger burn. Felt my face flush flesh red.

Why are you just sitting there? Where did the blow blow? Did you see where the fan blew it? Manny, answer me. Manny. Fuck man.

Nothing. Silence. He was gone again. Fast and quiet like the outside air, he disappeared again. I shouldn't have addressed him. Should've just pretended like I didn't see him and gone about my search. Next time. I'll try that next time. There was something else I'd thought to try after the last time for the next, but I'd forgotten. Gotta remember IGNORE. Next time ignore him. Then he'll stay.

My index finger recovered a white speck. I took it to my mouth, rubbed along the gums. Top. Bottom. Finished with the tongue. No effect. It was only dirt. I didn't mind. Finding something and feeling that pit-of-your-stomach sensation of possibility is better than nothing at all. Even if it's a bust. But then that feeling took off so quick. I was back to nothing again. Maybe I should call Miss X and tell her: I got mugged on the way home, yeah, you know how they do. They did it right out in the open, took my bag, so how's about a replacement? No way. That would never fly. She wasn't a super store, a mega mart, an ultra outlet giving up store credit on receipt. Fuck. This can't be happening.

This can't be happening. No coke. No codeine. No vicodin, demerol, zanex. No Manny for sex and happiness. For companionship. No cigarettes. No tasty food. No tea (hot or cold). No money for cigarettes. No money for tasty food. For tea. The last of it went the way of the wind thanks to the fan. Fuck the fan.

My man's gone. My coke's gone. My soothers, gone. Stuck alone with the rusted metal fan.

Shit like this is always happening.

Erica Birnbaum was born and raised in Atlantic City. Being the daughter of professional gamblers, she was forced into many long nights doubling down at Harrah's and figuring odds at the race track. After many failed trifectas and boxed exactas, Erica's parents gave up on their dream of her following in their footsteps, and so instead taught her how to read. Voila. Contact her: MarDeErica@aol.com.