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He wore a woolen tam, which he took off, and put the edge in his mouth and bit it like a man preparing to be hurt grievously without the blessing of anesthesia. I didn’t get it either at first, but at least I only suffered a short time before I figured out the Samuel gig, the pall of his sickness hanging on me just a few days, whereas it had been with the postman for months and looked to have spread.

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At each door we now paused; the postman raised our clasped fists high in a victory salute, and shouted through the open doorways, “Elena’s friend Samuel is recovered! ” “Long live our friend and compadre, the estimable Samuel!

,” to which, to a man, the people gathered inside would lift a hand either to heaven or to their hearts and with a collective sigh of pure joy and the sign of the cross, shout to me their encouragement and glee: “What a blessed relief!! ” As the day wore on, in the Latin way, their relief became more palpable, their exuberance more boundless, their gestures more effusive and their emotions more taxed. Chests got pounded and bottles got raised and dogs howled and children quieted before the profound spell of collective rejoicing.

“Walk with me, we must let people know—we have all been so worried!

” He held my hand in one of his, pushed his bike with the other.

It did not rain enough, or it rained so much that houses and bloated beings floated past. With the civil war over, all should have changed, the massacres should have stopped and the kidnappings ended. “They are coming to recruit boys.” They are coming, she meant, in their trucks to steal away the sons ages twelve and up, whom mothers might never again behold.

Men went to work in the morning and never returned. Guatemala wanted its aid back from the rest of the world, and its media blitz made everyone else (who did not live there) believe in reform and in newly enacted social justice. People darted franticly around us, but Lucinda held my gaze and stared at me deeply.I burned the telegrams in the trash the next day, stenographic testaments to a non-event which had not touched my life in any lingering way.The coups passed; their only measurable impact came these months later in the form of this profound and lingering dread which the invented Samuel inspired in the postman.We first strolled past the tavern where he spent his weekends, then to the comedor where he took his breakfast.We went to all the places where for many months the postman had tormented the assembled townsfolk’s ragged nerves with unceasing, climaxing worry for the health of my imaginary friend.“Samuel is fine,” I said at length, and because it seemed both accurate and honest within the confines of this make-believe situation, where the truth got danced around as if it barely existed, I added, “Samuel recovered fully, with no visible scars, and in fact hardly remembers anything about what happened.” The postman let loose with a long breathe of air, as if he’d been holding it these many months, waiting to exhale.

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