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By Lionel Shriver

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The wine was sweet and potent. The flame flickered beside Charles Corgie and lit his profile as he stared off into the black bush. He breathed deeply and held the wine in his mouth a long time before swallowing. It was impossible to tell what he was thinking. ” he asked at last. ” “No, soft. ” Charles reached over and rapped against her outstretched leg with his knuckles. “Hear that? Bong, bong, bong.

Corgie would reach for her in her sleep, and she wouldn’t know if he meant to caress or strangle her until the moment his fingers wrapped around her neck. The bush got thicker and more hazardous as they advanced. Through thorn trees Osinga stared at Gray’s hands, surprised that they bled. Yet she didn’t cry out or complain when the thorns stuck far into her flesh, so he assumed she felt no pain. All her life people had made this mistake with Gray. When she stepped on a trail of fire ants and they swept up her legs, Osinga stood back and watched as she rapidly picked the insects off.

Hassatti shook his head with incredulity, reached over, and touched her cheek. “Ol-changito,” he said. ” Hassatti shook his head. ” “Ol-murani o-gol,” Gray reasserted. Hassatti shook his head again and smiled. ” There was a conflict of interpretations here. Gray claimed to be a warrior, as Errol knew she saw herself. “Ol-murani” was an old joke with her, though they both knew it was no joke, not really. Yet Hassatti had called her something else, and wouldn’t take it back. “You have,” said Hassatti, “a great deal to learn, ’l-oo-lubo.

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