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Richard Bausch could be described as gentle. This is a man who dedicates his stories (“for Stephen & Karen & Nicholas Goodwin”), who begins one with “This is a story I would have told grandchildrenand great grandchildrenif I’d had any.” But forgive him his window dressing and enter his rooms: rooms that open up dark and mysterious, rooms that suddenly have the lights flicked on and your breath taken away. In “Someone to Watch Over Me,” an expensive anniversary dinner breaks down into a breakup. The woman, the too-young ex-waitress wife of a professor, lands all the right zingers and gets all the sympathetic graphs until the tale’s very end, when she is stuck in the car, having fled the brandy and the sweaty cheese. Now she waits for her husband, hopeful again, “arranging herself, smoothing the folds of her dress over her knees…” If Bausch wanted to dig clumsily into existential dread, he could have had her: (a) drive away recklessly, crash, and die; (b) go up into the hotel and fake an orgasm; or (c) slide divorce papers under her husband’s crème brûlée. But instead, Bausch slips us the shiv, leaving the reader with this woman “assuming the look, she hopes, of someone who has been slighted, whose sensibilities have been wounded, and to whom an apology is due.” Apologize for not taking Bausch seriously from the start when he reads from The Stories of Richard Bausch at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 12, at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919. (Jason Cherkis)