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Themes common to all connect people: Dreams, petty jealousies, regrets, the need to give and receive love are just some that are explored in Brian Cox’s short story collection: “Birthday Presence: 16 Stories with One Thing in Common.”

From the opening lines in the first story “Say Something Positive,” it is clear that there is something going on beneath the surface of conversation. It may be simply illustrating the push and pull of conflicting personalities, or it may be something deeper.

“Mickey the H” in the second story could be just some gangbanger in a cemetery helping two guys out, or a sage voice with knowledge he needs to pass onto others.

Andrew did not get the four balloons in the third story, “Four Balloons Andrew Never Received.” Perhaps the story should have simply been titled “Why?”.

The answers are in the stories but so are many questions. And that may be another basic need – the need to ask questions.