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suffering

13 articles
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The Banks of The Vistula

A student plagiarizes a paper, and is drawn into an ongoing debate about oppression.

"Some parts of the paper I had just copied down verbatim, without really understanding, and now I was stuck with them. Now they were my opinions."

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The Ghost of Berries

A boy roams a bleak dystopia, seeking fruit.

"The boy had never tasted fruit in his whole life. When his mother grew too sick to work, he tied a bandanna around his head and waited in the slog farm lines. He was underage but passed through the checkpoint with her ID and no one looked."

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Painwise

A man engineered to feel no pain travels the universe as an unwilling scout.

"Articulated motors were installed to move his limbs. Despite himself, a kind of zest grew. Two planets later he found industries and wrecked himself in a punch press. But on the next landing he tried to repeat it with a cliff and bounced on invisible force-lines. These precautions frustrated him for a time, until he managed by great cunning again to rip out an entire eye."

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The Embassy of Cambodia

A neighborhood, a building, and a woman's precarious existence at the periphery.

"No doubt there are those who will be critical of the narrow, essentially local scope of Fatou's interest in the Cambodian woman from the Embassy of Cambodia, but we, the people of Willesden, have some sympathy with her attitude. The fact is if we followed the history of every little country in this world—in its dramatic as well as its quiet times—we would have no space left in which to live our own lives or to apply ourselves to our necessary tasks, never mind indulge in occasional pleasures, like swimming. Surely there is something to be said for drawing a circle around our attention and remaining within that circle. But how large should this circle be?"

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Twenty-Six Men and a Girl

Men working in penal servitude develop a fascination with a sixteen-year-old seamstress.

"Life was stuffy and tight in a stone box under a low heavy ceiling, coated in soot and cobweb. It was hard and sickening in thick walls, spotted in dirt and mold. We rose at 5:00 AM, unrested, and — dull, indifferent — by 6:00 we were making kringles from dough our comrades made while we slept. And all day at a table from morning to ten at night, shaping elastic dough and rocking to and fro so as to not go numb, while others kneaded flour with water. All day sadly purred boiling water in the pot where kringles cooked; on the stove the baker's shovel hit fast and angrily, flinging slippery boiled dough on hot brick. Morning to night wood burned in the oven and flared, reflecting red flame on the workshop wall, as if silently laughing at us."

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None Of Your Business

A grim conversation with a gas station attendant.

"Look, he said, none of my business but in my experience the longer you live in a car the bigger it gets. So as you never find your way out."

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Orientation

Welcome to your new workplace.

"Amanda Pierce, who tolerates Russell Nash, is in love with Albert Bosch, whose office is over there. Albert Bosch, who only dimly registers Amanda Pierce's existence, has eyes only for Ellie Tapper, who sits over there. Ellie Tapper, who hates Albert Bosch, would walk through fire for Curtis Lance. But Curtis Lance hates Ellie Tapper. Isn't the world a funny place? Not in the ha-ha sense, of course."

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A Good Man Is Hard To Find

A family, headed to Florida, encounters a gang of criminals in this grim classic.

"The old lady said that in her opinion Europe was entirely to blame for the way things were now. She said the way Europe acted you would think we were made of money and Red Sam said it was no use talking about it, she was exactly right. The children ran outside into the white sunlight and looked at the monkey in the lacy chinaberry tree. He was busy catching fleas on himself and biting each one carefully between his teeth as if it were a delicacy."

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Negative Emotions

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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Memento Mori

An alternate take on Memento's amnesiac-detective concept, written by Christopher Nolan's brother.

"He is caught at the door to his room, one hand on the knob. Two pictures are taped to the wall by the door. Earl's attention is caught first by the MRI, a shiny black frame for four windows into someone's skull. In marker, the picture is labeled YOUR BRAIN. Earl stares at it. Concentric circles in different colors. He can make out the big orbs of his eyes and, behind these, the twin lobes of his brain. Smooth wrinkles, circles, semicircles. But right there in the middle of his head, circled in marker, tunneled in from the back of his neck like a maggot into an apricot, is something different. Deformed, broken, but unmistakable. A dark smudge, the shape of a flower, right there in the middle of his brain."

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Now Is The Time For Us To Be Sweet

Not exactly Valentine's Day: an English professor in Chicago, lost in grief, begins dating a student.

"I can't even figure out what it is in Eric, why he sometimes reminds me of my old boyfriend. It's something in the way their faces shift, but I can never pin it down to a feeling or a cause. It surprises me right out of sleep."

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At The Kitchen Table

A woman reflects back on a son who died in prison.

"A few of the guards were kind to her. In a couple of them she could see them look at her as if she were a vision of their own mothers driving four hours to be humiliated, to be searched, to have the insides of her thighs patted down for the love of a son who didn’t deserve it. "

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The Road

The perceptions of an Italian mule, pressed into military service on the long WWII onslaught on Stalingrad.

"Everything had become habitual and therefore right. Everything had joined together to form a life that was right and natural: hard labour, the asphalt, drinking troughs, the smell of axle grease, the thunder of the stinking, long-barrelled guns, the smell of tobacco and leather from the driver’s fingers, the evening bucket of maize, the bundle of prickly hay."