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Zadie Smith’s turn to short fiction.

Molly would have been so much better at this online dating thing. We used to sing it together at a karaoke bar called Same Same But Different during our J1 summer in New York, her on lead vocals, me on backing. She loved that song, she was the one who wanted to be famous. In the end, she had her picture splashed across the newspapers for the worst possible reason.

The guy, his name is Luke funnily enough, is going on and on about how you can never replicate the sound of vinyl on a computer. I gave her the silent treatment on the way home on the subway. It all seems so silly now. We fought a lot that summer, I was tired of her finishing my sentences and speaking for both of us, a throwback to when I had a stammer as a child.

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Old habits die hard, I suppose. A toothache? Where did that came out of? Everyone you meet knows someone you know, and sooner or later everyone knows your story. But all this bloody sunshine makes it much more difficult to be alone. I constantly feel like I should be sitting with a group of friends in a beer garden or taking romantic seaside strolls.

I should have thought about this before moving to Australia on my own. Maybe I should have gone to Seattle, I hear it rains a lot there. The recession was my official excuse for leaving but mostly I was trying to get away from my parents. Birthdays are the worst. While she will remain forever 21, and perfect, I continue to age, with the croakiness and crankiness that that brings. We all wonder what she would be like if she were here. Would she have made it as an actress? Got married? Had kids?

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We picture a parallel universe, one with her in it. The Americans really buy into all that stuff. We never experienced that sort of psychic connection. That said, on the night she died, 3, miles across the Atlantic, I sat bolt upright in my bed at 4am, as if waking from one of those nightmares that has a silent scream at the end. It was 11pm in New York, which I later learned was the time the taxi slammed into Molly as she walked home from a night out in Brooklyn. I had cut my summer short by returning to Dublin to repeat my oral Irish exam.

That fact has haunted me for years. Even though I was at home while she was living it up in the Big Apple, the independence was freeing. In the months after, he turned up at my door late one night looking for a Molly-shaped shoulder to cry on. I opened a bottle of wine and we sat up talking for hours.


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We kept most of our clothes on even when he was inside me, and we were ever so quiet although there was no-one to hear us, as if being quiet somehow made it less of a crime. As he sobbed into the crook of my neck, I wondered if my skin tasted like hers. I saw him a few times after, but we never found a way to talk about what happened. After that, I tried changing my look, thinking it might be easier for everyone if I looked less like Molly. I cut my hair short and bleached it blonde, invested in a new wardrobe, ditching the jeans and hoodies we used to wear.

Now here I am in Melbourne, with my new hair and my new clothes. This part of Brunswick Street reminds me of Brooklyn, with its vintage shops and cafes selling types of bitter-tasting coffee. But I barely have time to experience the pang Brooklyn brings before I hear a voice that unmistakably belongs to Deirdre McCarthy from school. How are you doing? I came here to break free of the past, not to meet it for a pint in an Irish pub in St Kilda. In fact, I seem to think about Molly more than ever these days.

Early on, one of them was bitching about her sister taking her favourite leather jacket without asking, and she asked me if I had any siblings and I said I was an only child. I enter and ask if they can fit me in. Cut and colour? Just a colour, but not the blonde I have now, it never suited me anyway. I want to go back to being a brunette, I say. These six people occupied the farther end of the coach, and represented Society—with an income—the strong, established society of good people with religion and principle.

It happened by chance that all the women were seated on the same side; and the countess had, moreover, as neighbors two nuns, who spent the time in fingering their long rosaries and murmuring paternosters and aves.

One of them was old, and so deeply pitted with smallpox that she looked for all the world as if she had received a charge of shot full in the face. The other, of sickly appearance, had a pretty but wasted countenance, and a narrow, consumptive chest, sapped by that devouring faith which is the making of martyrs and visionaries.

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The man—a well-known character—was Cornudet, the democrat, the terror of all respectable people. For the past twenty years his big red beard had been on terms of intimate acquaintance with the tankards of all the republican cafes. With the help of his comrades and brethren he had dissipated a respectable fortune left him by his father, an old-established confectioner, and he now impatiently awaited the Republic, that he might at last be rewarded with the post he had earned by his revolutionary orgies.

On the fourth of September—possibly as the result of a practical joke—he was led to believe that he had been appointed prefect; but when he attempted to take up the duties of the position the clerks in charge of the office refused to recognize his authority, and he was compelled in consequence to retire. A good sort of fellow in other respects, inoffensive and obliging, he had thrown himself zealously into the work of making an organized defence of the town. He had had pits dug in the level country, young forest trees felled, and traps set on all the roads; then at the approach of the enemy, thoroughly satisfied with his preparations, he had hastily returned to the town.

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He thought he might now do more good at Havre, where new intrenchments would soon be necessary. Short and round, fat as a pig, with puffy fingers constricted at the joints, looking like rows of short sausages; with a shiny, tightly-stretched skin and an enormous bust filling out the bodice of her dress, she was yet attractive and much sought after, owing to her fresh and pleasing appearance.

Her face was like a crimson apple, a peony-bud just bursting into bloom; she had two magnificent dark eyes, fringed with thick, heavy lashes, which cast a shadow into their depths; her mouth was small, ripe, kissable, and was furnished with the tiniest of white teeth. She forthwith cast such a challenging, bold look at her neighbors that a sudden silence fell on the company, and all lowered their eyes, with the exception of Loiseau, who watched her with evident interest. But conversation was soon resumed among the three ladies, whom the presence of this girl had suddenly drawn together in the bonds of friendship—one might almost say in those of intimacy.

They decided that they ought to combine, as it were, in their dignity as wives in face of this shameless hussy; for legitimized love always despises its easygoing brother. The three men, also, brought together by a certain conservative instinct awakened by the presence of Cornudet, spoke of money matters in a tone expressive of contempt for the poor. Count Hubert related the losses he had sustained at the hands of the Prussians, spoke of the cattle which had been stolen from him, the crops which had been ruined, with the easy manner of a nobleman who was also a tenfold millionaire, and whom such reverses would scarcely inconvenience for a single year.

Monsieur Carre-Lamadon, a man of wide experience in the cotton industry, had taken care to send six hundred thousand francs to England as provision against the rainy day he was always anticipating. As for Loiseau, he had managed to sell to the French commissariat department all the wines he had in stock, so that the state now owed him a considerable sum, which he hoped to receive at Havre. And all three eyed one another in friendly, well-disposed fashion.

Although of varying social status, they were united in the brotherhood of money—in that vast freemasonry made up of those who possess, who can jingle gold wherever they choose to put their hands into their breeches' pockets. The coach went along so slowly that at ten o'clock in the morning it had not covered twelve miles. Three times the men of the party got out and climbed the hills on foot. The passengers were becoming uneasy, for they had counted on lunching at Totes, and it seemed now as if they would hardly arrive there before nightfall. Every one was eagerly looking out for an inn by the roadside, when, suddenly, the coach foundered in a snowdrift, and it took two hours to extricate it.

As appetites increased, their spirits fell; no inn, no wine shop could be discovered, the approach of the Prussians and the transit of the starving French troops having frightened away all business.

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The men sought food in the farmhouses beside the road, but could not find so much as a crust of bread; for the suspicious peasant invariably hid his stores for fear of being pillaged by the soldiers, who, being entirely without food, would take violent possession of everything they found. About one o'clock Loiseau announced that he positively had a big hollow in his stomach.


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They had all been suffering in the same way for some time, and the increasing gnawings of hunger had put an end to all conversation.