I am in a gentle place. There are books all around. At the table next to me earlier was the editorial staff of a new literary magazine working out how to deal with a legal complaint because they have the same initials as another literary magazine here. I should have introduced myself, but they were all so earnest and young and passionate and shit and really I don’t have time for that right now. I’ll drop them an email.

The music here is gentle. There are electric guitars and stuff, but they don’t get too carried away. Right now they are playing a pop song that underneath is Pachelbel’s canon. That’s OK, the P-man laid down a good tune. It is being followed by one of U2’s less aggressive tracks (notably, not With Or Without You, which starts out a lot like Pachelbel’s canon). Mellow white American music. No, U2 is not Irish anymore. Just listen to their music. It’s good, but it ain’t no Bloody Sunday.

The people in this place are, at least on the surface, gentle. They read books, speak softly to one another, and shout into their mobile phones. The crowd is young and more than half are American. Moments ago I broke down and spoke english to the girls at the table next to mine. More on that later, if my battery holds up.

It is a gentle place, and I am editing The Test. By coincidence I am working on the most graphically violent bit of writing I have ever done. It’s a powerful scene, and there’s no getting around it, and to pull my punches would weaken the story, but there’s no denying that it’s ugly. I will be embarrassed when Mom reads it. I’m embarrassed the idea of it came out of my head.

But it did, and there’s no taking it back now. If you want to show the evil of slavery, you have to show what happens to the slaves. While technically slavery is an abomination in the depicted society, the enormous gap between rich and poor has created a de facto slavery that is just as bad. So here I am, contemplating violence and degradation, the crushing of the human spirit, while I sit in a very nice bar drinking very good beer.

OK, the girls at the next table. They are at the table the editorial staff held before, and one of those left a sweater. The presence of the unclaimed wool has chased people from the table even when the rest of the bar was pretty full. A girl came in, and hesitated by the table. I had the laptop closed, conserving electrons while I contemplated the worst things that one human could do to another. I glanced her way and she asked with gestures whether the table was taken. I gestured that it was not. I wondered if she was czech and took me for american or whether she was american and took me for a czech.

The answer came when the waiter approached. She’s American. She’s moving out of town, and she doesn’t know how to say ashtray in czech. I don’t know either, but I don’t smoke. When her friend showed up I broke my vow of Czech to offer sell them the sweater. They didn’t buy it.

There was another girl in here earlier, very pretty, with her German Shepherd and her American Boyfriend (in that order). I don’t know where she was from, because her voice didn’t ring out across the small room. Probably she was czech, then. The dog was a sweetheart. There are no dogs in the scenes of terrible violence I honed to a knife’s edge today. I have that to be thankful for.