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**PRINT: A GAME I ONCE ENJOYED, by Chicago's Patrick Somerville, is THE2NDHAND’s 32nd broadsheet. Somerville's work previously appeared in No.24 in 2007, and this Somerville’s second broadsheet since the release of his short-story collection, Trouble, in 2006 marks the first since his novel The Cradle launched into the cultural imagination with coverage in the form of reviews in places as high as the New York Times Book Review. Don’t let that turn you off, though; Somerville’s work is viscerally humorous and elegantly dramatic as the best out there, as evidenced in this epic story, about a chess game whose stakes might well be higher than its players know. Also in this issue: a short from Ohio scribe Daniel Gallik.

THE BITTER REDS Philip Brunetti
An excerpt from the novel HEARTLESS Eric Durchholz
MR. C.I.A. Gretchen A. Van Lente
PICKY and BLACK MANTA Quincy Rhoads

Philip Brunetti

How do they know so much?

It's a mystery. It's an outrage. I sit here without knowing. I'm the middleman in the middle of nowhere. It's exceptional. Nothing derives from nothing. Sometimes the tea tastes bitter, sometimes sweet. Whatever the difference is between these two I'm here to record it on paper like a stone tablet with engravings from the days of yesteryear. I'm trapped there, too -- but you go forward and it's all explained so nicely.

The way she sits with one leg thrown over the other and her little pink ankle sock peeking out below the hem of her jeans. Off-white sneakers with a bold orange swoosh and a matching pattern of air holes. Her friend smiling with such silly expectation, using words like "confrontation" and "sensible." I dribble and weep on the page. Its ruled lines run from edge to edge but one line bleeds blue under the fallen wetness from my face.


Men pretending the world is what they think it is. Women pretending, too. I'm here with nothing, like a cat in a cage waiting for release. I stalk the four corners and breathe heavily against the bars. This is the sickness of genius. Not that I'm a genius, just lonely -- and all lonely men are geniuses in the throes of their loneliness. It's loneliness that starts riots and revolutions in the heart and only such revolutions cause change. Not that I want change. I want nothing. Maybe just a whisper in my ear if you have something to say. But make sure it's original. I bore easily. I'm a tired old curmudgeon. I can't stand 99.9 percent of what I hear. What gathers round me like feeble forms from a lost planet. Words without purpose. Words that are hired hands of the heart.

You can't read Dostoevsky anymore. You can't read Poe anymore. You can't read Dreiser anymore or his ever-so-sloppy An American Tragedy. The days are wasted on wartime trouble. You look into her kitchen window, between the breezy curtains. She's whispering there. Her heart's having a tug-of-war with reason and chaos. She's leaning toward chaos but won't let the floor fall out from under her. She needs stability. She keeps using big words, words stolen from a nearby thesaurus. I love thesauri -- the dinosaurs of dead and living language. But I'm amazed I was once falling in love with her.

I have a cousin who's ready to give up. In fact, he gave up seven or eight years ago. Now he works in technology. He sells it like a rap singer sells gunshots. He passes me his business card all the way from Florida. I read it under the lamplight. It makes me imagine the diseases of the South. I lived in the South once. I went to Stone Mountain Park outside Atlanta. I watched a revision of the Civil War reenacted. I stood up in the park of grass and stone and laser lights and said: "I am a walking civil war."

"Sit down," said the girl on the blanket beside me. She was buttering her bread. She coughed in the sultry summer night.

"Summer colds are the worst," she said later.

We kissed in the car. I was dropping her off in a place like outer space. Once she exited the car she'd break away from my gravitational field for good. I couldn't hold her even in the darkest summer night.

"I'm sick," she said. "You don't want to come in. You don't want what I've got."

"I do want what you've got," I said. "In fact, I've already had it."

"Oh," she said.

"But I want it again," I said.

She was opening the door, escaping softly in the night. I put an APB out on her dog. Her dog was missing. She didn't have a dog and I wasn't a police officer. But I put an APB out all the same.

"We don't like you."

"I understand," I said.

"We want you to go away."

"I'm going away," I said.


I can almost hear the hammer on the hammer's block. A crack of attitude and authority. The judges are naked beneath their dark robes. Even Judge Judy, beneath her dark robe and lace collar. She's like a priestess of the dispossessed. She's scolding the world for being out of order -- and it is out of order -- and all her scolding changes nothing. But I believe in it. I believe in it like the bowels that have shaken and rumbled within me my whole life. There are certain sounds and feelings that one can believe in. They do not arrive very often. Usually it's just used-up time and repetition, and repetition again. The science of since then. And since then some more.

I want to go for a walk. I'm telling you it's my birthday. The girl in the rattan rocker is wearing an Afghan wrap as if she's a Middle Eastern or Arabic queen. But she's no queen. She's a harlot in high heels, peddling positions of the pointblank. I don't want to talk to her. And she doesn't want to talk to me. Everyone knows so much -- even in my dreams. The answers are crystal clear in the mouths of strangers, lovers, former partners, breadwinners, moneychangers, benefactors. The loaves that've been taken out of my mouth. I want to eat a second and third helping. A fourth helping. Why isn't there ever enough food? Why am I never satisfied? Anyway, satisfaction is a crime. At best, at our very best, we are meant for joy.

I think they want to make their parents go away. I think that's the secret formula. Their independence is like a reinvention of the self. And we know how many "reinventions" there have been. There are so many reinventions that we've started from zero again. We ran through the entire, infinite number line. We retraced the English alphabet and 4000 other alphabets 100,000 times or more. I walk into the room, a pencil in my hand (I think I'm quoting someone now, except I've changed perspectives). I'm the man on the inside looking in, not the man on the outside looking out. It's grand to be on the inside -- but once you're on the inside it's hard to keep going inside, and if you keep going inside, where do you end up? Inwardly internal? Internally ad infinitum? Shock therapy? Shock apoplexy? -- God's simple, subtle blessing?

Ah, the walls that once fell and the foundations that have been shaken.

She's exasperated. She rolls her eyes at me. I don't know how she knows so much but she does. She's traded her Afghan shawl for a dark-blue suit. She keeps shaking her head. She looks like a senator's wife but I can't identify the state.

"What state are you from?" I say.

"Virginia," she says.

"I once loved a girl from Virginia," I say.

She nods disinterestedly. Then she slaps one hand against the other. She's full of tiny gestures of authority. Her authority is unquestionable. I'm standing in the shadows again, writing my shadow journals. I try to emerge. This is our 10,000th conversation, even if we've just only met.

"Virginia," I say. "Virginia is for lovers. Remember that?"

She shakes her head no. I tell her it's a painting by Pablo Picasso from his Bitter-Red period, but he never released it to the public. "At least not during his lifetime," I add. The Bitter Reds -- paintings that transfused blood into the bloodless, the libidinously forlorn.

"I thought there was just a blue period," she says.

"The Bitter Reds were too dangerous," I say. "Too volatile and alive."

"How long has Picasso been dead?" she asks.

"He's not dead," I say. "We're dead. He's just asleep."

And then she goes to the bakery to buy several loaves of bread. This is the most genuine act she's performed in months. I want to fall down on my knees and cry. But I remain stolid and immovable. I train my eyes on her. It's almost like I have a tiger's eyes, night vision, infrared, something that sees beyond normal seeing. Something that stalks and then forgets itself.

"Here's the bread," she says. "And here are the rolls. And here's the pay dirt."

She dumps everything out on the kitchen table. She's not my girlfriend and we're certainly not in love. We haven't been in love in ages and never, really, with each other.

"I think you should leave," I say.

"I'm leaving," she says. She runs her fingers through the little mound of pay dirt on the table.

"I've got a lot of problems," I say. "There's something wrong with me."

"You don't have to tell me," she says.

She plants her fingers in the dirt, almost like its fertile soil and her fingertips are seeds.

"I've been thinking about God," I say. "I've been thinking about Creation."

"Don't," she says. She turns her back on me. She's already out the door before I've got a chance to understand what's going on. I mean it's true that it's 37 years later and I've been timing my life and counting down the minutes with an old egg timer. I thought the yolks would've broken by now -- but no. They seem so much more fragile than the heart.

"You should never let yourself be arrested for a crime you haven't committed--"

"I've committed every crime," I say.

There's a sudden dull silence for which I'm grateful. I'm tired of talking. Even original conversations have become banal and tedious to me. I've used up my flesh and blood like an old cat's ninth life -- but I can't change it.

"Have you ever seen the movie Cat People?"

"No," I say.

"You've got glowing green eyes and full lips. It's unusual," she says.

"I'm not one of them," I say.

"I thought you hadn't seen the film."

"I haven't," I say. "But everything is a metaphor for something. Especially the outsider. I've been driven to the limit by the pomp and circumstance of the outsider. Just forget it."

"Excuse me for complimenting you," she says.

"You didn't compliment me," I say. "You insulted me. Even though that's impossible."

The tables and chairs in the room are perfect. The window shades and the heavy burgundy drapes and the marble-slab coffee table -- everything is perfect. It's a perfect set-up for a life unlived.

"Sometimes you have to walk away from everything," I tell her. "Sometimes it's an antiestablishment wrap-around. Sometimes you're just back to from where you came."

"And sometimes it's pay dirt," she says.

"Yes, sometimes it is," I say.

She doesn't respond. She's remembering the day she turned 30. It all seemed so promising back then. The world was her oyster, they had said. Now she feels left without even the slimy shell.

"Don't cast your pearls at swine," she says, tiresomely.

She's up on a kitchen stool, reading the King James Version of the Bible aloud. The sullen good news of the New Testament. But she's only wearing her violet underwear and a see-through shawl. It's made of black lace and tinges her skin a darker, more sensual color.

"I've lost the lust," I say.

"I understand the lust," she says. "I don't understand the love."

We're turning the pages -- yellow pages of yellow journalism, everything that's come and gone before. It's newspaper Sunday and the newspaper is like a bomb that's exploded into all four corners of the cage. I'm reading about the Nubians, what look like Nubians, but I might be wrong.

"The Nubians," I say. "The Nubians are coming."

"Is that something like the British," she says.

I nod my head gently, ever so gently. I'm suddenly thinking of other things. Another time, another place. The slipstream escape. And yet, the Nubians are coming. At least of this, I can be certain.


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