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**PRINT: KIND OF LIKE BIRDS, by Mairead Case. The rules for teaching writing in the local juvie? 1. Don't talk about sex. 2. Or drugs. 3. Or therapy or suicide. The latest in our new mini-broadsheets series, with new fiction from Lydia Ship as well. We encourage active participation in distribution from any interested parties. Follow the main link above for more.

**PRINT: LIFE ON THE FRONTIER, by Chicago resident and native Kate Duva, is THE2NDHAND’s 33rd broadsheet. Duva's been plying the brains of THE2NDHAND readers for several years now, and her characteristic stylistic mix of arch-weird and arch-real in story makes for an explosively brittle manifestation of reality in this the longest story she's published in these halls, about a young woman's sojourn at what she sees as the edges of American civilization, Albuquerque, N.M., where she works as a nurse in state group homes for aging mentally disabled people. Catch Duva Feb. 8, 2010, at Whistler in Chicago at the second installment of our new reading series, So You Think You Have Nerves of Steel? This issue also features a short by THE2NDHAND coeditor C.T. Ballentine.

**WEB: CHARLIE'S TRAIN, PART 3 Heather Palmer
MINNIE LEE's FUNERAL Anne Whitehouse
BASEBALL Alec Niedenthal

from the novella by
Heather Palmer

In the previous installment, Charlie found lodging and ever-contingent work as a newspaperman on his first test run covering a backroom abortionist...

PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 4 | PART 5 | PART 6 | PART 7

Somehow, like he'd feel if he were hit by a piano, or if from under a rock a snake wrapped its coils around his leg, Charlie's trapped. The feeling climbs up his stomach and around his throat till it chokes. He sits on the curb, under the platform of the Lincoln Square L, his head in his hands. He remembers to avoid his problems: last Easter Franny's mother invited the three to her house for ham dinner. Franny's mother was a brittle woman with small bones and arthritis in her spine and in the nooks of her elbows and fingers. When she mixed potatoes her fingers cracked. Charlie, not being able to bear either the idea of cracked pain or the sound, offered to mash for her. Louise and Franny busied themselves in the living room, discussing the maintenance of puppies. Charlie addressed Franny's mother only after his hand began to cramp to the point where he needed an excuse to break. --I like how you've done the kitchen.

Columbia College Fiction Writing Department

Franny's mother cooked without notice but grumbled in her way. --It's done enough for my taste. My husband never liked it, but that's no matter.

--I think men appreciate women who care about the condition of their homes.

--Oh please, men care little. Women only pretend not to know.

She tasted the potatoes just buttered. --These potatoes, whether they're fluffy, you think my husband cared a flyin' fuck? Only that he came home and dinner's hot. Whether or not that was after his affair or before. God bless his soul.

In his silence he knew he lives with women he's never bothered to see. And he doesn't care for fluffed potatoes, Louise's favorite dish.

--I want to see women.

Franny's mother put her hands around his cheeks.

--Now son, I'm not talking about you. I'm talking about men.

Her warm hands chilled cold his skin. Franny entered, saw the hands of her mother on Charlie.

--Mother, leave him go.

They ate until they forgot.

Except Charlie. He sits on the curb, hands in the same place Franny's mother had cupped his cheeks. Franny and Louise would come -- he still hoped -- and he had nothing but a newspaper story and a hotel room. But again the assuring thought: this is a vacation, a break. His relaxation meant everything to the girls.

His knees cracked when he stretched. The L overhead shakes thoughts, scolds wasted time. Whether they come or not he has a job to do before lunch, then later, Ann Marie's dinner.

The accountant
For a minute Charlie hesitates. He likes the sign outside Dole's office: simple, old and without embellishment: Accountant. Charlie pushes the spring door and walks in, hat in hand. Along the walls hang signs of Dole's certifications. Chairs align the opposite wall to comfort clients' twitchy hands. Charlie grips his stomach, queasy at the prospect of an accountant. Franny said those whose business is money especially disgust her. As if all money should be hidden, tucked in the back pocket or under the rug, where Franny keeps hers. Charlie would come home to her tucking bills into her sleeves. Her look dared him: go ahead, ask me.

A full pot of coffee brews in the corner.

--Have a cup.

A man greets. Charlie extends his hat.

--I'm sorry to intrude without appointment.

The man in the tan blazer offers Charlie a seat and a mug. --I'm Dole. I don't know if you've heard, but it's struggling times for Chicago. I'll take just about anyone.

Charlie remembers Graves saying the same.

--I don't have much of it myself.

Dole waves his hand. --Money. Sick of it. If I could start again I'd go into the motorcycle business. Do you like motorcycles?

Charlie loves motorcycles: the smell of the engine, heat against his legs and the way he flies on the freeway. His hands rub the stubble on his chin and cover his mouth.

--Louise doesn't like them.

Dole clears his throat of awkward. --You said you were new in town?

--Did I?

--Well, no, actually, but I figured.

--I'm sorry, I, um, seem to be lost.

Hands under his butt, Charlie numbs. Whatever this man's business Charlie doesn't care, he wants a confidante. He likes Dole's weak chin and frugal lips.

Dole stands up. --Do you need an accountant, sir?

Charlie tilts his head to the side. --Mr. Dole, my ass is completely numb, I can't leave yet, which I know is what you want, because, no, I do not need an accountant. I'm sorry.

--What's your name again?

--Charlie Cole.

--Where're you working?

--I just found a job at the paper, and, well... Charlie stops. He doesn't like lies and it dawns on him he just made one. His tongue sticks to the roof of his mouth. --I'm here to write a story on you.

Dole leans in. --Really?

--Yes. Your other business.

--Well, I'll tell you everything you want to know, but one thing's certain, I run a respectable accounting firm and I don't want that jeopardized.

Charlie nods. --So where do you like to eat breakfast? Dole slurps coffee.

--At home. He points toward the ceiling. --Meet me here tomorrow at nine. If you're late I eat without you. Morning person.

Charlie, hat to head, smiles and leaves. A glance to his watch tells he has just enough time to walk home, wash for dinner and write notes on this meeting.

His pocketed hands stick to his pant fibers. He snaps a thread, strings it through the gap in his teeth. Stops. Walks backwards. The crevice of skin above his mouth moistens; his finger fills the dip. In front of the hotel, he can't remember how he got there. The sign "Maya" blurs, black letters off the background. The hand in his pocket peels underwear cotton off his ass. He wants to strip down. So hot the sun bakes the tips of ears to itch. His free hand pokes an ear, returns to the crevice above the lip. He falls.


Someone kneels, pulls his arm over the shoulder. He leans on narrow bone. A woman. He wants to respond but his dry throat chokes. --Water, somebody get water. The voice vibrates but he thinks that might be heat. He heaves.

--Oh my God.

He struggles to look into blue eyes, dark hair. A bird. Raven. He begs her.

--Take the hand, please take the hand.

She doesn't. Why is she stiff? He begs again. --Take my hand.

She does not.

Another person lifts him between shoulder and knee. Her weighted voice orders:

--Where's the water? Hurry up.

He extends his fingers until the hand falls limp. Scolds it, her. --Damn you, why won't you give me your hand?

Good Company
Prostrate, he sees ceiling swirls. It might be his vision. He closes his eyes. But minutes later the same swirls -- yellow with gold tints -- wrap the fan. Such swirls are not good for the still faint. Charlie takes his hand below the pockets under his knees and twists till his knees crack twice. How long has he been lying here? He looks at the clock on the stand beside his bed. Seven twenty three. What time is dinner? How did he get to this hotel room? He stands up, rifles through his suitcase for appropriate dinner dress. Perhaps gray.

Practices introductions.
--A pleasure to be here.
--The kitchen smells wonderful.
--Your husband is a lucky man.

No, too much. A knock at the door snaps him back. Through the peep hole: a dark-haired lady wears a hat that conceals her face. She straightens her dress. He laughs. How public of her, how wrong he feels: peeping intimacy.

Charlie opens the door and her hat rises to reveal Ann Marie.

--Oh, it's you.

--Charlie, how are you feeling?

--I'm fine, much better. How does she know, what did she see? He calculates the odds of her seeing him fall.

--You should sit down, you look pale.

--Certainly not, I'm fine. In fact, I'm looking forward to dinner. What are we having?

Ann Marie opens the door wider and walks in. She figures it's her room before it's his, and he hasn't paid, anyway, not that she cares.

She sits on the bed. --Soup and crackers, delivered.

Charlie feels a punch to his gut. He stands so she's below him on the bed.

--That is ridiculous. I was a little hot, that's all.

Ann Marie shakes her head, traces the ceiling with her eyes.

--I was there, Charlie, I know exactly what happened. You need rest.

--You were there?

She pulls him by the sleeve to sit. He does, his hand on his chin now.

Ann Marie watches Charlie stiffen, pities his shame. --Charlie, how long did you say you were here for?

--I don't know.

--What do you mean you don't know?

He sees her open face, no lines yet, quick eyes, swallowing. --I was told when I came here I would be followed after, and now I think that may not be true.

Ann Marie nods. He'd looked lost when he came, travel on his coat, she'd given him the room, the benefit.

--So I figure I gotta pretend like they're not coming, get on with it and find a place. Work. If they do come, all the better.

--But Charlie, why not just go home?

The idea nauseated him. He buried his head between his knees, pulled it back in hatred of self-pity, and went to the other side of the bed where the dresser stood. In the drawer a deck of cards he shuffles, starts solitaire.

She doesn't ask again, kneels at the bed to watch him play, points to a red seven that's unmet by the black six in his hand. She cheats by fishing through the cards face down, to see if Charlie will win.

The soup comes.

Graves stands in the doorframe, his wife on her knees, propped arms on the bed, Charlie on the far side. Graves sets the plate of soup and thick-crusted bread on the dresser.

--Well well, I'm preparing dinner and you're playing my wife.

Charlie tilts his head back. Graves tugs Charlie's ears.

--And to think... Graves reaches into his pantspocket for a glass jar of peanut butter... I brought condiments.

Charlie laughs, his hands splay across the bed. Ann Marie yelps. --Look what you've done to the cards! Ruined.

Charlie stands, fishes for the peanut butter jar in Graves' hands. Graves plays hot potato with the jar, playing Charlie. This lasts minutes before Ann Marie interferes.

--Graves Southford! Don't bait a sick man. Graves doesn't care, likes the play, and Charlie too. But his wife's cheeks puff red. He stops, hands the jar to Charlie, who takes a knife from the platter and spreads the butter. Points the knife at Graves, grins. Graves winks, sits next to his wife. --So I ask you for dinner and this is how you treat me?

Ann Marie stands as her husband sits. --Just children.

She leaves. Graves sits with Charlie while he eats, and Charlie, thankful for company, shuffles his cards between slurps.

PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 4 | PART 5 | PART 6 | PART 7

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