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In these stories, set in the malls and country clubs of the Southwest, Lee THE talkative men who dominate “All Things, All at Once” can make.
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And once in a while he pulls farther back, allowing his usual view of Southwestern towns and malls and country clubs to suggest a larger, more general emotional landscape, with all its quirks and murmurs and, again, its chatter. You could see into it, my father says on the tapes.

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And probably it could see into you. Throughout the story, Abbott adroitly mixes the speculative with the quotidian. Whatever their circumstances, they hardly ever find themselves without something to talk about — except when they become mired in the endless complexities of fathers and children, and then an emotion-laden silence can descend.

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Continue reading the main story. News World U. Lately, there have been changes to that house.


At first, scraping sounds coming from inside, and singing, and a tap-tap like many tiny things — things which shatter and things which rustle — being driven into the walls. Then, once, I saw a man. He dashed between the front door and his van, carrying a cardboard box that had already started to melt in the rain.

Like he owns the place, I would say, but who owns the place?

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The man was David and he took the house and now he is painting it pink from the ground up, despite the rain. It was by himself at first, and then a few weeks later there was a woman, and then another. I think he misses. I glance into each window and study the movement of light inside, and move on.

Animals are dying. It started with the birds. In the spring it was so hot that when Ms Audrey stepped off the grass onto the pavement the skin on his paws got burnt, so I carried him in a little bag. We sweltered under this unending blue sky, not a drop of moisture anywhere, except the sweat running down my temples, down my back.

The grass burning our legs. I only managed to prise them out of his mouth when we got back home. I left them to the side in a pile, and day by day they became only feathers. Then there were other piles. Other houses, other driveways. Other people finding them, until they stopped turning up. It never stops, it only rains less.

There are problems with the cows and sheep on nearby farms. Something happening in their feet, their hooves splitting and flaking, with whatever it is getting into their blood. Nothing, yet, seems to have happened to the pets although there are some people have found them in holes; digging and then drowned, maybe, in the soil that shifts in the rain.

I think about that and then think about how we found Ms Audrey. We walk despite the rain. I come home to the girls after I walk the dog. I say hello and talk to them, tell them about what we saw, what we heard, and what new things Ms Audrey has found variously: an orange, a ball, a piece of slate. The last thing they did — at least, that I remember — is name the dog, and they named him after the picture in the town hall.

Hence, the dog is Ms Audrey. I walk past their room and I can hear past the closed door that they are talking to each other in low, even voices about the rain, the heat, the animals, and — especially now — David and his house on the hill.

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I have to wait outside their door to hear these things when before they filled the whole house with their noise, and I would wait outside rooms myself and take a breath before going in. They were like their father that way. I watched the three of them together. It all amounts to the same thing. When they were 10 I saw one of them drop a mouse in the bin, and I heard it squeak and scrabble at the sides. Then, the other, she stamped her foot down in the bin and there was no more noise.

As if, I think sometimes, when the murmurs in the girls room have stopped and I know they are asleep, we are not the ones to blame. We sit tightly in our denials, and things die around us. But then I rub my eyes and think, but what can I change? He came to the house one time. He wanted to see about the girls. His hands were rough that time with paint as he tried to take mine. He told me this, on my doorstep, but I knew anyway. A healer of the god kind, except not the God kind; his healing is the type with hands and eyes.

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He has been around. In parks with women, hands on their foreheads. This is why I hated his hands on mine. The way his foot tapped, the splashes of paint on his shirt and his collar, the untidy way his clothes sat on him. Big grinning eyes, and a smell off him of gardens, that is, wet and dripping leaves piled high on stones.

I smudged out my cigarette on the wall, crushed the whole packet in my hand, and closed the door in his face. He knocked and kept knocking until even Ms Audrey was moved to bark at him, and he has barked at him since from our living room window as David passes our house to go to town, or returning home with a woman, or a group of women, all clutching their coats to themselves, or hands stuffed in their pockets, shimmering with rain, with cold, cheeks red, smiles stiff and cracked.

They stay with him in the house.

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Ms Audrey and I see them working in the garden, or touching up the pink paint on the walls. They picked out the colour when they were little, and it makes me think of them at that age, and shiver for them, for the girls that hang around David. They speak in forced little clusters of words, about the weather, the animals, about the house, and smile little smiles when they catch me looking.

When they were eight they went with their father to the pier and came back covered in saltwater, shivering, and talking non-stop about the boats. When their father died, the youngest turned to me, with her big raw eyes, and held my face and looked straight at me. I open the door.

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