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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 |

Columbia College Fiction Writing Department

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Ted Grossman

Fiction by Grossman has appeared in Fiction International, Pindeldyboz, and Sniper Logic. He lives in Chicago.

They came and when they came they were not happy.

I'll tell you a story about them, they didn't want to know my name, they didn't want to think about any of that. They had rings in their noses, and ears and lips and tongues and eyelids. Not real rings, but imaginary. They told me to imagine they were real. I didn't like any of them, except for the one that looked like a bear. He wore a hat, as certain bears will. I asked him not to wear it inside, and he held it in his paw, up against his furry side.

The Bear is my friend; that's what I told Agnes, later, having coffee under the linden. She liked to drink coffee with non-dairy creamer, the powdered kind, and poured the crystals in with a look of disbelief when I told her the Bear had nice features, for a bear. She started to tell Charles, but he held up one hand. Make it less than explicit, okay, he said. He was holding onto his wheelbarrow with one hand then. He had come from checking on his family. They were cozy, he said. I only saw them at the reunion.

Charles is a stickler for manners and grace, and even propriety. He doesn't like explicit. Anything explicit and he sort of freaks out, his eyes go bonkers, and the hair on his arms rises as if it were waves of grain in a summer windstorm. Actually, none of us like it getting too explicit.

In the greenhouse, we can see the moist air falling like snow, hot snow, over every single kind of species that we grow. I take the potting soil, a mixture of guano and other forms, and spread it on the beds. The seed people are in the next room; they have little packets of seeds with information scrawled (in their terrible hands) on the outside of the packets. Today is the day they trade the seeds. The light is fine. Even if it is gray.

The Bear has some special seeds he said came from when he ate this berry bush and shit them up later. He poked around before the beetles got to his expulsion, and said the seeds had been purified, if you knew what he meant. He had decided not to get too explicit.

If you go on too long with anything, other than breathing, you tend to pay for it with abandonment. And then silence. The silence isn't as bad as the abandonment, but it is a feature of it, so it has that resonance. I can't take the silence in my room, so I play music, or listen to see if there are sounds from the street. Potter comes sometimes, and spreads his beozine gum on my little desk; he rolls it into little balls and takes strips of foil from his hair, and rolls that around the gum. He fills his pockets with these balls before he goes back out on the streets. He is from a river town and is always telling tales of river town life, and assorted river happenings (muskrats and pontoons). He likes otters.

Here, he takes his foiled gumballs and shakes his pockets, to show me how many he has done. His face is like water, only harder. I've told him over and over, he can't come here if he is going to spit in the corner. This is my room, I say, no spitting. He takes me to the corner and we examine the puddle of spit. He says, it's a little garden, I thought you were into gardens. I am not into gardens, I say, I am in gardens.

In the community room, which stinks of asparagus and beer and urine and fleas and hormones and tulips, I watch the game on TV. They are all operating on a different level. The players. The operators. They have what it takes, that's what Mr. Frye-Kampf says. He was an artist, so understands working on levels, and operations. It's all theater, he says, my boy, it's all theater. Can't you see the game is just theater?

He had me there. I remember the theater. We had a theater, and the performers were top notch. I looked from behind the curtain and they were moving in their costumes in the lights. Faces beyond them like pods of synchronized movement. My job was to spread powdered chalk in between scenes. I held the bucket and pushed the scoop down into the powder. When the lights went down I hurried out and flung the chalk wherever I saw black space. The chalk was supposed to whiten the space. To give it a luminescence, the director had said. At every moment there shall be luminescence and this little fellow, he clasped me by the shoulders, is our fellow of luminescence.

After the show a guy named Floyd swept up the chalk and dumped it back in my bucket. I hid behind the costumes in the changing area and watched the performers sip champagne and smell roses and kiss their mothers on the cheeks, and kiss air, and then later kiss each other on every part of their body. They let me sleep down there that summer, and there was a hole in the ceiling and I could see the stars moving in the sky. Stars are always moving; that's why they have light in them. That is what they told me.