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This story is definitely from an SF&F collection. IIRC it might well be by Connie Willis, but she wrote so many stories in so many collections.. And maybe it is not by her, after all, but still, I consider it is on topic because of the collection it is in.

Not Science Fiction, not Fantasy, not even alternate history. But I am positive that I read this story (longish short story ? shortish novelette ?) in a SF&F collection about 20 years ago.

The POV character is an unhappily married woman. Her husband, who is a University professor, got a new job in her "Alma Mater". Wherever she goes, she reminisces about her old times there. She does meet a few people who were actually students at that time, but mostly she sees new students who remind her of herself and her friends. There are a lot of flashbacks, mixed into the story. I remember it was sometimes difficult to follow the timeline. I forgot how it ends, but it left me an impression of deep sadness, even despair.

The only "fantastic" aspect is that some events at the time of the story seem to repeat what happened years before, but this is only in the mind of the POV character, she mixes past and present, nothing is really weird. But just enough to be in a SF&F collection...

What sci-fi collection contains the story described above?

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    (in order to identify the book, some details about the other stories could be useful)
    – lfurini
    Oct 27, 2023 at 12:53
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    @ifurini I have absolutely no idea what others stories are in that collection; that was 20 years ago. All I remember is that is was in some SF&F collection. All of the same author (Connie Willis ?) or by several ones I don't remember either. My definition of SF&F contains "published in an anthology of SF&F" : the editor's decision is what counts.
    – Alfred
    Oct 27, 2023 at 16:08

1 Answer 1

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The story you described is "Chance", a novelette by Connie Willis, first published in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, May 1986, available at the Internet Archive. The story (tagged "fantasy" at the ISFDB) is about an unhappily married woman whose creep of a husband is hired by her old alma mater, and she seems to experience or hallucinate a kind of timeslip.

Editorial blurb:

Sometimes life seems to go round in circles, events repeating themselves endlessly. Yet we can't go back to the moment when our roads divided, and to when we, perhaps, set off down the wrong path.

Elizabeth has come back to her alma mater:

"No, I can't stay. I know you're trying to get unpacked. I'm sorry you had to move in in all this rain. We usually have beautiful weather here in the fall." She smiled at Elizabeth. "Why am I telling you that? Your husband told me you went to school here. At the university."

"It wasn't a university back then. It was a state college."

"Oh, right. Has the campus changed a lot?"

Elizabeth went over and looked at the thermostat. It showed the temperature as sixty-eight, but it felt colder. She turned it up to seventy-five. "No," she said. "It's just the same."

She meets her younger self in a (hallucinatory?) timeslip:

The girl who had been Elizabeth Wilson put her books down on the cement bench and came and knelt down by Elizabeth. "I hope we don't collapse in a heap," she said, and smiled at Elizabeth. She was a pretty girl. I didn't know that either, Elizabeth thought, even when Tupper told me. She took hold of Elizabeth's arm and Tib took hold of the other.

"Tripping innocent passersby again, I see. How many times have I told you not to do that?" And here, finally, was Tupper. He laid his bike flat in the grass and put his bag of Tupperware beside it.

Tib and the girl that had been herself let go and stepped back, and he knelt beside her. "They're not bad girls, really. They just like to play practical jokes. But banana peels is going too far, girls," he said, so close she could feel his warm breath on her cheek. She turned to look at him, suddenly afraid that he would be different, too, but it was only Tupper, who she had loved all these years. He put his arm around her. "Now just put your arm around my neck, sweetheart. That's right. Elizabeth, come over here and atone for your sins by helping this pretty lady up."

If this is the right story, that leaves us with the problem of finding the collection you read it in. It has appeared in several compilations of science fiction and fantasy. Given that you read it about twenty years ago, maybe it was Willis's 1994 collection Impossible Things or her 2007 collection The Winds of Marble Arch and Other Stories. These collections can be borrowed (for free but registration required) from the Internet Archive: Things Winds

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    To tell the truth, I was primarily interested in finding the story. And you definitely found it. The question about the collection was a way to put "on-topic" a question that some participants considered "off-topic", and it is not my major point. I considered the list of stories in those two collections. Both contain, in addition to "Chance", "At the Rialto" , "Ado" and "The last of the Winnebagos" but only the second one contains "Winter's Tale", which I also remember. Of course I might have read "Winter's Tale" in a third collection. But probably it was "Impossible Things".
    – Alfred
    Oct 28, 2023 at 18:37
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    If it was a paperback it must have been Impossible Things; it seems that The Winds of Marble Arch and Other Stories was only available in hard covers. As for "Winter's Tale", according to the ISFDB it only appeared (in English) in Asimov's magazine, in Impossible Things, and in Margaret Atwood's hardcover anthology Wild Women.
    – user14111
    Oct 28, 2023 at 20:39
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    It was probably a paperback, but after all that time, I cannot be completely sure. But I checked Wild Women and none of the titles of the other stories there sound familiar. The collection in French with "Conte d'hiver" has the same titles as Impossible Things. But I'm sure I read "Chance" in english, and also At the Rialto. So it is almost sure that the collection was indeed Impossible Things
    – Alfred
    Oct 28, 2023 at 21:39

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