Cover

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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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pp. vii-x

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Troth

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pp. 1-18

It was a world exactly like ours, with three differences.

First, short went first. When two people crossed paths, the taller gave the right of way. Same if they reached a door at the same time. Or bumped into each other.

The rule was simple. Even children learned “sky hangs, earth moves” and fumbled past each other in reverse height order. The rule was logical. A taller person could better view and anticipate a crossing situation, then make up lost time...

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94 Selvage Street #1

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pp. 19-20

In 1992 my father had a tenant, in his thirties, friendly, with AIDS. He wore a sheepish smile that said he did not love himself too much. His man and cotenant left after five years. Three months later my father found fat yellow flies in the apartment and the tenant sitting on one end of the sofa. Under and around him was a silhouette of pink foam. The ambulance came. A paramedic with a clipboard walked in and said, “Uh-uh. No, sir,” and walked out. A different ambulance came, took...

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How Héctor Vanquished the Greeks

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pp. 21-26

In Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, there is a twelve-year-old boy who puts a balón de fútbol on the point of his left shoe. Not on the top of the foot, not against the shin. On the exact point of his shoe, like a globe on a needle. He can balance it there for ten minutes. His name is Severino. Severino can do the same on his right shoe—and leaves the ball there indefinitely. Even better: he can launch that ball, once balanced, with the same force as if he’d kicked it, but with more...

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Pleasantville

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pp. 27-54

In Pleasantville, in the first week of September, a madness sets in: autumn. Squirrels overrun porches to harass the stray nut. Raccoons bustle in quivering ovoids, prevented from fealty to any one route by the urgency of all others. Crickets know something’s about to end; they misunderstand, and think it’s them, and so announce themselves day and night. Panic means flight, and flight means roadkill, and the roads are lengths of black bone erupting everywhere in soft red rot....

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The Duplex and the Scarp

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pp. 55-60

The duplex experience is an outsized thing.

Its double current cooks the flesh off the commonplace. Its monarch girth—this and that, too—cows the imagination.

“Don’t come upstairs yet,” she says.

“Why not?” he says.

Sex is a duplex.


It had better be. The species depends on it. This one-two cannot disappoint: the sweet thrill of cumming, the heady...

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John Tan Can’t Play Classical Guitar

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pp. 61-68

I was ten when I took up classical guitar with a dwarf.

He wore thick glasses. The ends of his mustache dipped frownishly around his mouth. He spoke like a squeaky puppet.

I do not recall how he came to be my instructor. There is an age—the year varies but not the phenomenon—prior to which life is largely inflicted and grossly inexplicable. Likely my mother, the maker in our household of the happening of...

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Abridged

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pp. 69-112

It had flowed brilliantly once.

No longer. His nouns squatted there, like deserted artillery. His verbs lifted nothing. They just bent the sentences in half. The remaining parts of speech sagged one way or the other.

He noticed something else: His typing hands felt as cumbersome as the lumps of prose they left behind....

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Of Satisfaction and the Lying Sun

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pp. 113-120

The night he lost his wife, before the divorce was final, or filed, or a word uttered with intent in their kitchen—that is, the night his wife decided that she could not go on like this and that a divorce was in order—he had been researching the doctrine of satisfaction of antecedent debt. The case law was solid. So were his doubts. Even as he drafted the brief, he had wondered, perhaps virile with the protein of delivery sushi, perhaps ornery from the nighttime chill...

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Kennedy Travel

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pp. 121-136

Once he sees her he cannot stop looking. Upon an exquisite left shoulder hangs a purse, and this purse barely moves. A time—early morning—for introspection, for making plans, and here he is, marveling at the speed of a strange woman’s walk, and at a purse so calm on her rocketing shoulder it mocks him.

He’s hurrying. But she’s on the other side of the street already, the same side as the stop. In a few moments she could be boarding the bus. He’d still be teetering on the curb,...

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The Girl Who Not Once Cried Wolf

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pp. 137-152

There are no German shops in Blitzenstock, Germany. Only shops.

On hiring a coach at Pflanze’s Inn, you do not direct the driver to Heiborgplatz Castle. It is the only castle near Blitzenstock. You simply say, “The castle.” Or maybe, “The castle, please,” if it is Sunday and good feeling abounds. Otherwise the coachman will fix you for an arrogant city-dweller, turn in his seat just far enough to publish his disdain, and—...

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You Will Excuse Me

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pp. 153-156

He washes his hands. He has shaken a lot of them.

He dries his hands. The backs of them, too.

Really he takes his time washing to put off what follows. He knows this but does it anyway.

Each time the restroom door opens, the sounds rush in. A broad and liquid hum, cocktail glasses, a woman laughing. Bells floating on ocean.

When he goes, he does not have to wait. Immediately it...

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On the Far Side of the Sea

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pp. 157-192

A man so rich, so young, learns to expect favor. Youth tells him the world is an eager thing. Wealth says it holds presents.

The dog Basil had two purposes: to scent quarry, and to unspoil his master of these expectations. Because everything about this dog was a trial.

This time it was a flaking door. A brown flaking door that once was red. The dog Basil was now scratching at it. A hovel in the middle of a humid wood with a brown flaking...

Acknowledgments

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pp. 193-194