communication

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A diagram of gossip concerning an affair.

"He called it love, said Ellen. He said he was in love, that's the word he used when he finally admitted it. I mean you expect the I-made-a-mistake speech, said Connie, the she-came-on-to-me speech, the it-was-meaningless speech. You expect him to say that it was just the one time, knowing that it was more, but you can ignore that. You expect him to say it was protected sex and that you don't have to go to the clinic to get some sort of test for chlamydia, said Ellen. But you will, anyway, said Sonya, and make him do it too just to rub his nose in it. But no, said Grace. He tells you that he's a new person, in love for the first time ever. What do you do with that? She told Sonya that as soon as he'd said it, as soon as the words were out of his mouth, she'd felt the room swaying."

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Sex and communication in experimental fragments.

"We are in your white bed full of light drinking white wine and it is dark. I balance the base of the glass on the side of my naked hip and look at the marble spa tub in the bathroom. There is a flushed gleam bouncing off the mirror, fainting exhaling ebbing back into the room and I ghost the smoke a reprise a remorse of sighing and feeling nothing but beam."

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A new year, a test of faith for a man and his married lover.

"He was astonished, having never suspected that her husband could be brutal. He was a man of the world, of the better class, a clubman, a lover of horses, a theatergoer and an expert swordsman; he was known, talked about, appreciated everywhere, having very courteous manners, a very mediocre intellect, an absence of education and of the real culture needed in order to think like all well-bred people, and finally a respect for conventionalities."

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A narrator's strange daily life is fused with strange appearances from the natural world.

"Freezing, I sprang from bed and assembled, in darkness relieved only by a bluish gleam cast by the iceberg, sweaters, flannel pajama bottoms, my heaviest wool socks, and a down-filled coat suitable for an assault on Everest. For the iceberg that crowded my bedroom was no symbol of the world’s entropy or of a man’s estrangement from his kind, nor was it any longer a figment of the dreaming mind. (We don’t suffer cold in dreams, nor do we sneeze as I did twice while fumbling at my clothes.) Dressed, I drew aside the rime-stiffened curtain and gazed out on a flotilla of icebergs gliding solemnly down the flooded street. (To acknowledge, as you no doubt have, that I spawned one berg, a pack of them is easily granted.)"

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Executives discuss a reality TV pilot gone awry.

"'I don’t know what happened in there. Like I said, maybe if we hadn’t told him she was in on it, whatever it was would’ve gone down differently. But a few minutes later the girl comes running out of the house with blood on her, screaming like hell. Cortez caught her and took her inside, waited with her while Benny called 911—'"

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Desire and dental surgery in Northern India.

His father leaned back on his hands and tilted his face to the sun. Daniel bent over his cushion. In the habit of telling The Number his thoughts, he had already begun to narrate for her his feelings about the woman."

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Tension between two co-workers turns into a complicated game of lies and intentions.

"I picked up the phone and told Stan I’d like to drop by for a moment. He hesitated, and it hit me that B. could still be there, and I struggled to banish images of Stan pointing at the phone and mouthing my name while B. twisted his hair-encircled mouth and gritted his brown teeth. Stan asked me to give him ten minutes to wrap up something, and I agreed."

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Actions, thoughts, and observations of animals in a great garden; a microcosm of humanity.

"Everywhere in the garden, there is a similar confusion and frustration. The monkey sits on the ground with its hands hanging loosely around the base of a tree. It wants to whip a stick at the back of the horse’s legs. Its body seems so perfectly tuned to skitter up the tree, and it wants only for something to chase it there. The pig roots aimlessly at nothing; the frog despises the fly; the fly falls in love with the donkey and the giraffe stands awkwardly in a clearing, as if awaiting instructions."

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A lonely woman's attraction to a waitress leads her to quiet social experiments.

"Odette had fallen in love with a waitress who was too good to be true. Odette thought the woman looked familiar and asked if they'd met somewhere. The waitress said, 'I've never even met myself. I don't know who you are, for sure.' Odette tried again the next weekend, made sure she was seated at an appropriate table. Still nothing."

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An American woman in Chile takes a scenic trip with a local photographer.

"Carlos had told her there were beautiful things to see on the way. That this was one reason he’d like to take her into the outer heart of his native country. The other reasons were still in her inbox — he had fun that night, dancing and drinking and talking. He thought she was smart. He thought she should consider staying in Santiago for a while, making sure to add that he didn't want anything serious, just a friend. She could not say what she wanted. She did not want to go home and face the next step in her life yet, not even knowing what it was. She didn't want to be a cliché, falling in love with someone in another country, either. Of the two options, the love one to her seemed better. Ultimately, she’d let life take her where it wanted for a while. To read and run in the morning as she always had, but to give some months up to contemplating her place."

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In a fictionalized Haiti, a man explains the inner workings of the political landscape and his own shady rise to the role of Prime Minister.

"Yet…deciding to recount the entire tale, the whole historical record, as in order for events to work out as Richard wanted them to, then yes, he’d have to make good on his promise that everything would be made clear, revealed in one fashion or another—it’s probably best if I explain: Jean was once a senator in the Haitian senate, the second-youngest senator in Haiti’s history in fact, and as a senator, he was wildly inept. You can’t really find him totally at fault however, because Jean’s parents bought him his seat when he was fresh from school. I can’t fathom why, but my guess is that they knew he had no head for business and that there was nothing else he’d really be good for, so they had hoped that a career in politics would both keep him busy and allow them to control a portion of the country without too much effort. But well, Jean, Jean bloody fucked all that, what with his reckless politicking and all."

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A late bloomer works up the nerve to interact with a woman in his building.

"On his way down in the elevator he was joined by a woman who looked familiar, and as he glanced at her sidelong he tried to recall where he might have seen her. Sensing that she was being looked at, however, she turned to Archie with an expression of covert hostility, her gaze lingering just long enough for Archie to notice that her eyes were greenish brown with corners that tapered upwards. He also noticed that although she was not small, exactly, there was an un-robust quality about her, what his mother might have called 'peaked.'"

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Sketches of late nights, drinking, friendships, and worries.

"We get drunk at the bar. We yell and sway. We hold up fingers in each other's faces. We wave our arms and say, But-but-but. We drink the cheapest beer we can find. Or we drink the beer with the highest alcohol content. Or we drink bottles of beer, not mixed drinks, in the bar down the street because the owner, Maria, has a weak pour. We stay up all night. We watch the sky start to grey and we feel sick, like we're seeing something we shouldn't, though it feels as if we missed something, too."

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A one-sided interview about a one night stand and a detailed, harrowing story about a sexual assault.

"That it was a titanic struggle, she said, in the Cutlass, heading deeper into the secluded area, because whenever for a moment her terror bested her or she for any reason lost her intense focus on the mulatto, even for a moment, the effect on the connection was obvious—his profile smiled and his right eye again went empty and dead as he recrudesced and began once again to singsong psychotically about the implements in his trunk and what he had in store for her once he found the ideal secluded spot, and she could tell that in the wavering of the soul-connection he was automatically reverting to resolving his connectionary conflict in the only way he knew. And I clearly remember her saying that by this time, whenever she succumbed and lost her focus for a moment and his eye and face reverted to creepy psychotic unconflicted relaxation, she was surprised to find herself feeling no longer paralyzing terror for herself but a nearly heartbreaking sadness for him, for the psychotic mulatto. And I’ll say that it was at roughly this point of listening to the story, still nude in bed, that I began to admit to myself that not only was it a remarkable postcoital anecdote but that this was, in certain ways, rather a remarkable woman, and that I felt a bit sad or wistful that I had not noticed this level of remarkability when I had first been attracted to her in the park."

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A series of sociological observations made while shopping at a Salvation Army.

" Sometimes, I'd wish that we were real friends, the other women in the store, and me. Then the glow would last a little longer, then we'd walk out arm in arm, our huge bundles floating light as down pillows as we sauntered down the street. We'd have our coffees and linger for a cigarette or two before going our separate ways, back to our apartments and all the riches a Saturday night in New York City could hold."

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A woman's communications and interactions with a potential criminal.

"The beaten man lurches to his feet and pulls out a shape, a gun, from his pocket–somehow it must have escaped the notice of the other men before. He staggers backward into the porticos and I can no longer see him. But a minute later I can hear him yelling in English as he storms up the stairs of my building, calling, 'Help! Help!' and hammering on doors. There are several banging sounds as though he’s fallen."

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A young man explains the physical and psychological turmoils of his anatomical differences.

"Sorry, I keep forgetting you’ve seen my file. As I was saying. Even after I started dating, I still had to leave the gloves on. I’d tell a girl that my hands were covered in burn scars or that I had early onset arthritis. It was easier to lie to them, give them something they’ve heard of, something they could believe. Something they could deal with."

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A simple title; a complex, detailed look at the ebbs and flows of modern dating and instability.

"'I’ve never felt you act this way before,' said Michelle, unsteadily, looking down; something in her previously assured, or at least focused, was now tired and scared, the protest of it having dispersed to something negotiable or seizable. They stood not looking at each other as the rain fell on them in an idle, general insistence of somethingness. Paul felt himself trying to interpret the situation, as if there was a problem to be solved, but there wasn’t anything, or maybe there was but Paul was three or four skill sets away from comprehending it, like an amoeba trying to create a personal webpage using CSS."

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A nameless, interlocking conversation about a tryst.

"Of course he was American, but I courted him, not the other way around. And now he's returned to the United States and you miss him. B-- removes a cigarette from her silver case. Please don't light that, A-- says, I haven't finished my meal. All right, go on then, tell us about him. When was the affair? C-- asks. He went home two weeks ago. You didn't tell us, D-- says. I didn't think you would understand. I understand that you're my friend and should have said something. So I was right, you don't understand."

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The trials and silliness of Facebook, from beyond the grave.

"In a last, desperate attempt to recapture our imaginations, Madeline began posting pictures of herself with dead celebrities like Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe, even Benjamin Franklin. But they were doing things like high-fiving, watching TV, and playing darts. As a community, we agreed it was in bad taste."

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A chance meeting among old co-workers brings up unspoken attractions and desires.

"She adjusts her T-shirt. Was I staring at her chest? I need to watch that, but can it really be avoided? I don’t know. I don’t even really know her. I once knew her, sort of, before I was married, though you wouldn’t call it a friendship exactly. We worked at the same agency and she had been hired to oversee this huge grant, AIDS stuff, before protease inhibitors and before anyone could manage the disease. People died then. That’s all. I don’t even remember what kind of program she was running, what anyone ran back then, hospice and support groups mostly. It was horrible. They called her the Angel of Death. It was meant to be funny, escapist, black humor. But she couldn’t deal."

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A teacher, his colleagues, and the misapplied wisdom of a Vietnamese Buddhist monk.

"A well-meaning teacher, inspired by a text he had been reading, once sent all the other teachers in his school a message about negative emotions."

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A depressed, pregnant woman shares a brief conversation with then-Senate candidate Barack Obama; from Chabon's upcoming novel.

" At his remark, the pregnant woman nodded without turning to look at him—there was an elaborate candelabra of a potted cactus behind whose tapered thorns she appeared to be attempting, somewhat punitively, to conceal herself. Obama was running for the United States Senate that summer and had given a wonderful speech last month at the Democratic Convention in Boston. When she did turn to him, her eyes got very wide."

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A ranch wife's conversation with a passing stranger is rife with unspoken implications.

"'Well, I can only tell you what it feels like. It's when you're picking off the buds you don't want. Everything goes right down into your fingertips. You watch your fingers work. They do it themselves. You can feel how it is. They pick and pick the buds. They never make a mistake. They're with the plant. Do you see? Your fingers and the plant. You can feel that, right up your arm. They know. They never make a mistake. You can feel it. When you're like that you can't do anything wrong. Do you see that? Can you understand that?' She was kneeling on the ground looking up at him. Her breast swelled passionately."

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An American visitor reflects on a visit to Bosnia, with observations both sweet and ominous.

"We liked the weather on the ground and in the mountains and we liked the drive up Jahorena with its dismantled houses, houses whose faces were opened by bombs and tanks. We stayed in a cabin surrounded by snow and the ruined landscape of an ethnic cleansing. And on that mountain we threw paper planes and shot homemade videos and played steal the bacon until it was time for us to go to sleep, then wake up again feeling safe in the cold house with an unfed, wood-burning stove."

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An abstract observation of a man on life support.

"The contract was spongy white yellow and was held by a paper clip and smelled of musk and told her to unplug them no matter what. He had wanted it that way. She too. But now here she was three sweaters down and two pairs of striped socks snug and warm against a niece’s fourteen-year-old cream calves and her drink resting on his chest sweating itself to dilution."

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Five provocative fragments from the author of this year's acclaimed experimental SF novel Ivyland.

"If, as the present suggests, we are fated to spend ever more time in virtual realities, funneling ourselves into the abstractions of code, then so too will human savagery fold into this nonspace. Murder will be wiping a hard drive with minds on it. Infoterror and thoughtwar the apocalyptic threats."

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Duty and secret feelings mark the emotions of two undercover cops in a gay bar (NSFW).

"A black-haired man in a taffeta gown rustles close. Name’s Crow, he says. Got fully equipped rooms above. Certified clean. He waves his hand around the bar. Our eyes follow and we see men’s tongues licking the air. Some hands are down pants. Pick me, they all say with their faces. We spin on our bar stools toward the mamby pambys, tongues snaking out against our will, eyebrows up. "

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Two under-the-influence friends discuss a history of human violence.

"...for years and years they would do this, it’s all in the Las Casas, and for years and years Spanish soldiers were just like falling over themselves, they couldn’t believe it, just completely climbing over one another, trying to get out of their boats and get to their swords fast enough to get a quick, easy lead-off beheading of a holy tribal king without even thinking that maybe it might violate, oh, I don’t know, the entire Christian moral code or, that whole thing aside, that it might go against just obvious, timeless, and basic human good versus evil restraint, you know, something like that was around even with cavemen, the totally simple idea that maybe needlessly causing excruciating, savage, horrifying, life-ending pain to another being, to a brother, to somebody like yourself, might not be the thing you should do. They found their heaven and they turned it into a hell. On purpose."

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A congressional hearing exposes the hypocrisy of American superiority.

"So that’s where you need these cheap inflation dollars so everybody can pay everybody back, right? See we had this neat idea of this here trickle down theory only it didn’t work out so good, I mean it all like got stuck at the top where 15 years ago this richest 1 percent of the nation held 27 percent of the wealth now they’ve got almost 36 percent, I mean it mostly like trickled up. And see where the Administration’s goal was to end inflation it worked so good that this sudden massive collapse of it brought these terrific budget deficits so like now we’re this world’s biggest debtor nation where if these here Japanese weren’t like buying $60 billion in Treasury bonds a year we couldn’t hardly pay the gas bill, right?"

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A random conversation with a street salesman is not what it seems.

"I pass him every day. Melons, he is usually selling, although I've seen him with whole truckloads of other fruit, and in the fall with unshucked ears of corn. He has a lawn chair with an umbrella fixed over it. He sits and watches the traffic pass. Sometimes he stands with the forearms on the rim of the bed of his truck, looking out over his produce. There is something reassuring in his form. Maybe it is his placidity, the way he stands. Maybe it is because his produce always looks fresh and healthy. Seeing him means that the long hectic drive, with the traffic of the beltway and mad stop and start of the city, is almost done."

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A widow balances a new hobby and her interactions with her grown children.

"She signed up for an introductory course at the Museum of Natural History, sending her check in the mail with a slip of paper wrapped around it. It was the sort of thing that her children made fun of her for, but Marjorie had her ways. The class met twice a week at seven in the morning, always gathering on the Naturalist’s Bridge just past the entrance to the park at 77th Street. Marjorie liked that, the consistency. Even on days when she was late—all year, it had only happened twice, and she’d been mortified both times—Marjorie knew just where to find the group, as they always wound around the park on the same path, moving at a snail’s pace, a birder’s pace, their eyes up in the trees and their hands loosely holding onto the binoculars around their necks."

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Two people share a conversation and observations at a seafood restaurant.

"I focus on every bite of the meal. I read on zenhabits.com that you should chew each bite of food thirty times to achieve a meditative understanding of your body’s relationship to the food you are eating. By chew twelve the fish is nothing, a strange mire of goo-meat. I finish thirty chews, swallow and take another forkful of fish. I add a French fry to my mouth. I go slow. I feel myself filling. I was a vegetarian last year. I caved. This is my first battered fish in three years."

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A woman shares memories of various communications, ranging from the innocent to the violent.

"Still, there were occasions on which I had to be stopped. When you think of two things to say, pick your favorite and only say that, my mother suggested once, as a tip to polite social behavior, and the rule was later modified to one in three. My father would come to my bedroom door each night to wish me happy dreams and I would speak without taking a breath, trying desperately to keep him in my room with only my voice. I would see his hand on the doorknob, the door beginning to swing shut. I have something to say! I’d tell him, and the door would stop midway."

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Drunken students discuss politics and philosophy.

"Longhaired Empty in his furlined cape gazes down disdainfully on Harry, ogling Annie Axe’s butt as she wags it johnward. 'Alas, wretched mortal!' he says. Empty, alias Empedocles, flamboyant charlatan, lofty romantic, gay vegetarian, is the brightest and the maddest of us all. For Empty, ardent but gloomy democrat, the Red Scare is real, the Bomb is. 'It’s a time of increasing Strife,' he oft laments."

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A single father and his children examine and hypothesize the actions of his felonious, unstable ex-wife.

"They wanted possession of facts. And they each wanted in their own distinct ways that fit their own distinct lives, now forming and shaping in this new old-house, a clear and logical understanding of why she was the way she was, why she did those things, what sinister motives propelled her through those jagged movements that in turn transported her into legend."

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When we form our thoughts into speech, some of it leaks through our hands. Gestures are thoughts, ideas, speech acts made tangible in the air. They can even, for a moment, outlive the speaker.

What hand motions can teach us about language, ethnicity and assimilation.

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A conversation about love in the form of excavation.

"I want to be unearthed again, she says, marvelled at, brushed delicately, cradled, magnified, examined, taxonomied, announced at symposiums."

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Two women discuss various means of employment and potential job stereotypes.

"Tia is used to this. My bluntness has long ago lost the ability, if it ever existed, to even dent her obsessions. She's fascinated with the fringes of daily existence, as if her own position wasn't fringe enough. Her favourite daydreams involve strange kinds of work and the women she imagines doing them. She can't keep her mind off the jobs that, not to put too fine a point on it, nobody else wants."

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Attempted, inane conversations with a woman on her deathbed.

"I read her MAN ROBS BANK WITH CHICKEN, about a man who bought a barbecued chicken at a stand down the block from a bank. Passing the bank, he got the idea. He walked in and approached a teller. He pointed the brown paper bag at her and she handed over the day's receipts. It was the smell of barbecue sauce that eventually led to his capture."

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A woman has an unavoidable encounter on a city street.

" I detest him. I will do all in my power to avoid his languid eyes––the smirk that saturates his lower jaw. He demands my eyes to rummage his wares and drink in exactly what came groveling back at him from out of the pleasing mirrors and shop windows he passed."

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Upon seeing a random young woman, a man's mind goes through potential speaking points and stories.

"But no one can insist that his 100% perfect girl correspond to some preconceived type. Much as I like noses, I can't recall the shape of hers - or even if she had one. All I can remember for sure is that she was no great beauty. It's weird."

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A couple's late night conversation reveals much in its sparse dialogue.

" I could tell she was tired now, she was talking with her face on the pillow and her speech was slurred a little. 'And when you get back with the bottle and after you see your friend we could talk for a while and maybe sleep together.'She was quiet for a long time. Finally she said: 'I'm going with him.'"

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A detailed, fictionalized diary entry of a German Jew in the early 1940s.

"We actually forgot we were Jews most of the time. But the men in charge keep reminding us of our heritage in an increasingly torturous way. My father laughed it away at first."

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An American ESL teacher faces a potential crime investigation, mirrored by a crumbling relationship.

" The absurdity strikes him again – Jude the Midwestern philosophy major, worrying about a Thai jail sentence for counterfeiting – and he bites back a smile. He lives too much in his head, he knows, blowing up hypotheses and imaginings. The bills read ‘legal tender’; surely they are."

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Two writers, one young, one old, share a varied correspondence about writing, politics, and family matters.

" The Alcoy Council sent me his address without delay—he lived in Madrid—and one night, after dinner or a light meal or just a snack, I wrote him a long letter, which rambled from Ugarte and the stories of his that I had read in magazines to myself, my house on the outskirts of Girona, the competition (I made fun of the winner), the political situation in Chile and in Argentina (both dictatorships were still firmly in place), Walsh's stories (along with Sensini, Walsh was my other favourite in that generation), life in Spain, and life in general."

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Discomforting struggles between a homeowner and the hired help.

"But when I reminded her about the toast, she broke into a tirade – how could I think she would ever let the toast get cold or hard? But it is almost always cold and hard. "

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A new translation of this one-paragraph short, designed to be read aloud in English.

"The messenger set out at once; a strong, an indefatigable man; thrusting forward now this arm, now the other, he cleared a path though the crowd; every time he meets resistance he points to his breast, which bears the sign of the sun; and he moves forward easily, like no other. "