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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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Kevin O'Cuinn

8) England, on the road to Tintagel Castle, 500 A.D. I heard a rider approaching through the mist. Since the Saxons had arrived there was no telling how each day would end, so I scurried quickly into the oak above the stream. The horse stood 17 hands high, the largest and blackest I had ever seen. I'd heard talk of such monsters in the Holy Land. The rider dismounted and led the beast to the water. The horse drank and the rider removed gloves and helmet. As her hair fell around her shoulders, I crashed to the ground. I heard the unsheathing of a sword, then felt steel against my neck.

'My lady--' said I.

'Hold your tongue, knave.'

There was little else for me to do.

'How far to the Court of Arthur?' said she.

'Camelot, my lady? It lies yonder, half a day's ride.'

'You have kind eyes,' said she. 'Help remove my armor, and while I bathe you may brush my steed.'

9) Upstate New York, hotel bar.

'Good day?' she said from a couple of stools down.

'Not bad. Enjoy the conference?'

'Oh, I'm not here for the conference. I work here: I'm a hooker. Cassandra.'

'Oh. Well, nice to meet you, Cassandra. Drink?'


'Couple of Heineken, please. Cassandra. Where'd you get a name like that?'

'My mother. She was big into mythology. Apollo gave Cassandra the gift of seeing the future in exchange for, well, you know what guys generally exchange stuff for... But Cassandra reneged, probably without thinking about the consequences. It's never a good idea to mess with Apollo, who confined her to the check-in area at Hades. Hell, one long shift where nobody gets to settle their bill.'

'That's amazing,' I said.

'I think so,' she said, and shoveled a fist of popcorn into her mouth.

Cassandra, the popcorn girl, had beautiful, salty-buttered lips. They were so much bigger than mine, and I felt a longing rise, to lick them clean. 'Pay attention,' she said, 'you're staring.' She could have been a model, and I wasn't shy about telling her.

'I was a model. I guess you didn't see my Vogue cover? But I quit, modeling just didn't feed my heart anymore.'

And prostitution does? I thought.

'Popcorn?' asked Cassandra.

'Thanks, no. So what now?' I asked.

'What now?' she said. 'How about where, and how much?'

10) A parish hall in Idaho. We were the last two in the waiting room. 148 others had already passed through the door toward where Finbar Nolan was doing his stuff. Finbar Nolan the faith healer.

'If I don't die of cancer, I may well die of boredom.'

'Gallows' humor,' I replied. 'If we have to wait much longer I'll kill myself.'

'That'd be a waste of a 50. I don't think he's ever resurrected anyone.'

'True. Cancer, huh?'

'Yeah. You?'

'Eh, a touch of asthma.'


'Yeah, I feel pretty stupid surrounded by terminally ill people.

'Yeah,' she laughed, 'so would I.'

And then she was suddenly quiet. Gazing at the cheap print on the wall, of Caravaggio's Betrayal of Christ, she looked in pain.

'Anything I can do?' I said, knowing the answer.

She smiled for a long moment, her eyes closed.

'I used to have the most beautiful smile,' she said.

'You still do.'

'No, no I don't. Chemo stripped the enamel from my teeth. They said it was worth it, a small price to kill the disease. But now it's back, this time in my esophagus. I never smoked, and I hardly drank. Chop wood, carry water, that was my motto. And all I ever wanted was to farm.'

'Did you?'

'Uh-huh, 15 years. Fifteen years of pesticides, that's the problem. Agent Orange was the granddaddy of them all. The E-49s and C-- I don't know anymore. Be wary of anything with a number for a name. It takes Big Pharma ten years to get a product on the market, but Big Ag, agriculture, can do it in five. Three if a crop's threatened, like mine was, southwest lettuce. The bastards always have some chloride compound on the shelf. The EPA and DEC have been pretty hot on their tails though.'

'But too late for you?'

'Oh, and for you too, in fact -- maybe for everyone.'

'How's that?' I asked.

'Well, they only stopped selling the shit. It was too profitable to not produce anymore. And you know how it is, X lobbies Y. So now it's export only, to Mexico and Costa Rica, where they spray it on the lettuce and avocados and kumquats, and import everything back here, to a store near you.'

'But that's outrageous--'

'The outrageous truth.'

'Finbar will see you now,' said a voice from the door.

'Go ahead,' I said.

'No, you're up, 149.'

'That's not my name,' I said.

MORE BY Kevin O'Cuinn