Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Old by Doug Hawley

Mike Wilkie has the perfect family, but will he remain blessed through difficult times? By Doug Hawley.

The Perfect Couple

Everyone thought that Janet and Mike Wilkie were the perfect couple, and with good reason. Both of them were as close to physically perfect as imaginable. Janet was a tall Filipina-Irish mix and Mike was Italian-German. She was 5'8" and model-attractive and he was 6'3" and could have done ads in Esquire. Both were athletic, she was a distance swimmer who had swum the Bosporus and he had been drafted as a point guard for the Boston Celtics, but decided to start his own business.

While Mike was perfecting his electronic empire, Gold, which rivaled Apple or Microsoft, Janet had moved from local showings of her paintings to achieving huge success in New York and other world capitals. Many of her works of neo-impressionism, or as they came to be known to those who lusted for neologisms, heightened reality, appeared in the halls of major corporations. Her paintings, according to one critic "looked more real than real".

With that kind of success, you would expect that they would hang with the elite. To universally shattered expectations, they shunned the spotlight and hung out with buds from high school and college. They lived in a comparatively modest 10,000 square foot house in the West Hills of Portland, where they had always lived. There was no leaving for the Silicon Valley, Boston, LA or New York.

They shunned open involvement in politics, but were powers behind the scenes. They fully supported revisions to the insane form of Portland government and were behind politicians who had substance, rather than the usual useless councilors who valued ideology over substance. They did not succeed, because of the deluded local electorate, but they never stopped trying.

They were open about their favorite causes, such as Planned Parenthood and quality education, which they did not confuse with support of the teacher's union.

Of course they could not be the perfect couple without perfect children. Peg, the older, had graduated from the University Of Oregon and gone on to found "Whole World Blind" (an eye for an eye and the whole world is blind) which worked with any group that supported peace. They worked with moderate groups in Israel and Palestine to come up with a plan for an equitable boundary and the sharing of resources, and a group in Belgium attempting equal education for both the French and Dutch populations. Given the irrationality of much of the world, the success of "Whole World Blind" was limited, but it did prevent some hostilities and helped some oppressed peoples.

Jason followed in his father's footsteps and was working on an advanced, voice activated user friendly programming language, Simple, for Gold. Using his language, rather than writing Y = 5X, with Simple the programmer would just say "Y is 5 times X". He already had father Mike thinking that he could turn the reins over to Jason in a few years.

Not only should a perfect couple have perfect children, they should have a perfect family life. Both Mike and Janet, when asked if they ever fooled around, responded with a Paul Newman quote: "Why go out for hamburger when you can have steak at home?" There had never been any gossip about improprieties by anyone in the family. Regardless of tough schedules they always saved time for family activities. They camped all over the west and fished in their favorite Oregon spots, including some ocean fishing.

Rather than taking the grand tour in the old sense, they usually vacationed in Latin America. They had a tutor who taught the whole family Spanish, so they were comfortable in most of the continent. Their routine over twenty years was to go to Latin America and "somewhere else" once a year. "Somewhere else" had been the UK, the Mediterranean, Scandinavia, South Africa, Hudson Bay, Viet Nam, Sri Lanka and all over the USA.



Or Were They?

Of course they weren't really perfect, but they were close.

Mike dropped his healthy mental and physical routine whenever Janet was out of town at one of her openings. He ate junk food, including, but not limited to potato chips, pizza, hamburgers, and tater tots. He consumed not a bite of healthy vegetables. He drank cheap wine. The closest he got to vegetables was vegging out on the couch watching gross horror movies and teenage farces. He saw no ballet, opera or challenging theatre while she was gone. When she returned, he went back to looking after mind and body.

Janet's indulgence was high stakes poker when she was on the road. She never bet more than she had. She did not lose her jewelry or any of her paintings, much less the cars or the house.

Peg, during her rebellious period, got pregnant at sixteen and got a quiet abortion out of state. After that she was more cautious, but did continue to experiment. As she put it, "I'm not settling down until I've had a lot of experiences."

Jason smoked marijuana from the eighth grade through high school, but decided he'd better straighten out before he started college.

It would be fair to say that they all liked their fun, but kept it within limits.



How Did They Get That Way?

Mike came about his excellence in a strange way. His mother Cindy was a heavy drinker in college and was knocked up at a fraternity party while close to unconscious. The father Jake was a party-hearty kind of guy with no ambition. They acquiesced when both parents urged them to marry. After the wedding, hubby continued to be generally useless. Cindy had to quit college and get a job as a waitress to support the family after their daughter Julie was born. As the father drank more and more, he was not only financially worthless, but sexually worthless. Cindy had the sense to see that she had to quit drinking so there would be one responsible person in the family.

Cindy became lonely and depressed. One night when Jake was unconscious, she went to see a Portland State basketball game. PSC got a very narrow victory. In her exuberance, she caught the power forward on the way out of the gym. They ended up in a motel and she ended up pregnant. To keep her indiscretion from being discovered, she was able to seduce Jake during a rare moment of sobriety. The subterfuge was made easier by having the only white player on the team be the father.

Things were made simpler for her when Jake fatally lost a contest with a power pole coming home drunk after hours at a local tavern. The family benefited from addition by subtraction.

Mike's biological father was not only an athlete, but a dual scholar in business management and electrical engineering. His success came from a determined mother and a great sperm donor.

Janet's success is much easier to explain. Father Joseph was the producer of a long running television show "Runway" in which her mother Sue starred as the boss of a successful clothes design shop. They introduced Janet to art, fashion and music at a young age. The family traveled the world during the show's annual hiatus. When Janet got to be a little older Joseph and Sue decided they didn't need any more money and Portland would be a great place to raise Janet.



The Fairy Tale Ends

Mike usually took the Jaguar to the office and Janet drove the huge Suburban to her clothes design shop. One day in December, Janet said half in jest, "Mike you have all of the fun. I want to take the Jaguar today." Fair minded Mike agreed that it was her turn to drive something sporty, so they traded.

As Janet was pulling away from a four way stop, a Ford beater ran the stop sign and hit the Jaguar on the passenger side. For the remainder of their lives, it would be an unspoken question "Would she have been protected better in the Suburban?"

After months in the hospital Janet was released in a wheelchair. The Wilkies were told that she would never walk again, but they hoped for a miracle.

While caring for Janet, Mike found out as much as he could about the driver of the beater that hit their Jag. The immediate salient facts were that Doug Jenkins was eighteen years old, had a record of misdemeanors, a very high alcohol blood level of .25% and tried to drive away after the accident. Mike was not satisfied with this surface account. Digging deeper, he found out that the driver was born to meth heads and had subsequently passed through a number of low rent foster homes. He was beaten in some and verbally abused in all of them. Even though he tested as very intelligent, he rarely passed his classes as he went from school to school.

After he felt he had all the information he needed, Mike discussed their course of action with Janet. Together they decided to urge the court for mercy when his case came up, and to support him after his sentence was passed. Mike and Janet were not religious, but they believed in second chances.



Adapting

Mike had once asked a friend what he did after he had prostate cancer, which had made him impotent and incontinent. The answer was, "Well, you adapt." Indeed his friend worked several volunteer jobs after his cancer and did not complain about his condition. Mike and Janet used those words as inspiration.

Janet kept a couple of wheelchairs, one hand driven for short trips on level ground and an electric one for more complicated terrain. With the help of Mike's tech knowledge, the electric one had a phone, music, a GPS and several other technical doo-dads.

They indulged in whatever intimacy was available to them. They still enjoyed kissing and massaging each other. Janet got particular pleasure out of back rubs and sometimes front rubs. Necessity became the mother of kink.

After their situation was somewhat stabilized, they had a serious talk. First, Mike asked Janet to give him her honest feelings.

"I hate that this has happened to me, but I'm not looking for the easy way out. It matters a lot to me that I have a loving husband and two beautiful children who are gathering around me rather than being turned off by my condition. Up until the accident, my life was a fairy tale. Maybe this is some kind of averaging, the sublime with the second rate. I still think that I have a lot to give. I'm trying to give hope to the disabled, I'm still working on my fashions, and the kids still ask me for advice. What I'd like to do now is see if I can work on fashions for the disabled, and I want to make sure that we can help the healing of the boy who hit me. "

She continued. "Let me talk about you for a minute. You must never ruin your life because of me. You must never give up normal sex because I can't perform any more. The last thing I want is for my misfortune to be your problem."

Mike said "I didn't think that you would give up, but I wanted to hear you say it. I'm 100% in favor of your plan to be productive. I hope that you know that I will never stop loving you regardless of what happens. If there is someone who can give me what I want, I will approach that situation discreetly, but believe me I do not feel deprived." Mike never intended to cheat, but he wanted to make Janet happy.

All of this sounded fairly formal, but they both were relieved by the conversation.

Jason took over more responsibility at Gold, and Peg took a leave of absence from "Whole World Blind" to spend more time with her mother. Janet and Peg did more shopping together than they ever had before. Jason invented games to keep Janet intellectually involved. Even at that, Mike carried most of the emotional burden.

Henry Charles had been the Chief Information Officer at Gold until he retired early with a pile of stock, convertible to several million dollars. He was an amateur sportsman and a playboy before he retired, and they became his fulltime pursuits when he retired. The paternity suit against him was an impediment to his plans until it was thrown out when his vasectomy was revealed. With no work to go to, he worked on his tennis game until he was winning senior tournaments.

In spite of the severely different outlooks on life, Mike and Henry had been close since they were at Oregon State. They both had off-center views of life and truly egregious senses of humor. Their routine was for one to start off with a bad joke and the other one would try to "bottom" it.

Mike: "Why did dyslexic Fox Mulder investigate the sad dental hygienist? Because she was a sighing flosser."

Henry: "Why is a sick raptor against the law? It's ill eagle."

Mike: "The beginner's book for ventriloquists is 'Dummies For Dummies.'"

Henry: "I give up. That is the worst."

They had talked off and on since the accident. When Henry thought Mike might be ready, he called Mike and said "Why don't you visit with me at my cabin at Forchet and we do some fishing?"

Forchet - pronounced "For-shay" - is a resort 25 miles up the Siletz River from the Oregon Coast. It is an expensive fishing camp, resort, and artist colony. Henry had had the cabin for ten years.

Mike didn't think he could leave Janet, but when his family heard about the offer, they ganged up on him. Janet said, "What do you think, I'm some sort of invalid?" After a strained silence, she began to guffaw, followed by Jason and Peg and finally Mike. They continued to laugh and cry for five minutes. Jason and Peg knew how much he liked hanging out with Henry and how much he needed a break. He hadn't been out of the Portland area since the accident.

The next Monday, he loaded up the Subaru, which had replaced the Jaguar, with the fishing gear he hadn't used in a year and took off for Forchet. Within three hours he was greeted by Henry and ensconced in the cabin.

The next couple of days they did nothing but fish and make small talk. They had a lot to catch up on, but stayed away from "the accident". Mike had brought down some CDs of the electronic music he had been recording. Henry showed off his paintings, some of serene nature scenes from Oregon's beauty, and some of the wilder scenes of his girlfriends. They spent a little time on Portland's and Oregon's dysfunctional government, but that conversation had nowhere to go. Neither had any interest in shop talk.

Mike was surprised to notice that Henry looked several years older than the last time he had seen him. Henry noticed the stare and said, "Retirement is a lot of work. It's wearing on me."

Fishing was so poor that they were forced to take most of their meals at the local restaurant "Henri". Many had wondered about the French sounding names abounding at the resort. Very few knew that the Finn that established the place had thought that French sounded classier than Finnish.

Mike wanted to know how many girlfriends Henry would have if he were poor.

"They all say that the money makes no difference."

"How many do you believe?"

"None."

They laughed. Some of the guilt Mike had felt was starting to ease, and Henry was glad to see his old friend relaxing a little.

As Mike strolled around the town, he noticed that there were a lot older men with younger women, but they did not all look like sugar daddies. It wasn't a big thing, but it was noticeable.

After a few days, Henry said, "There's a better fishing spot a ways up the river, I'll show you the path if you are interested. It is several miles, so you may want to take your overnight gear. I've got to tell you, it could change your life."

Intrigued, Mike asked, "Change how?"

"You'll have to find out for yourself."

Challenged, Mike decided he had to go.



Rebecca

The next morning, Henry showed Mike to the path and said, "Keep going until the path hits the river."

It took almost all day to get to the fishing spot, but indeed the fishing was great. As he was about to set up his tent, he heard a feminine voice, "I don't see too many people this far up the river. What's your story?"

Mike turned around to answer, but paused before spoke. What he saw was a statuesque brunette with a Barbie figure. She was wearing a tank top and cutoffs. Her forehead came up to his nose. He imagined her in a beer commercial dressed in a bikini and f___ me pumps playing volleyball. After his mind returned, he told her, "Just a business man from Portland doing some fishing. What are YOU doing up here?"

"A long time ago, I decided to live off the grid. I built a little cabin out here and do some art carvings, which I trade for what little I need in Forchet. It's a simple life, but I like it."

"That sounds like a dream for some, but I couldn't handle it. I need my family and friends to keep me sane."

"Tell me about your family."

"Well my wife Janet is an artist like you except that she paints and designs clothes. Son Jason works at my electronics business and daughter Peg is seriously trying to save the world with the 'Whole World Blind' organization."

"I've heard about the 'Whole World Blind' Foundation. Now that we are old friends, maybe we should exchange names. I'm Rebecca."

"I'm Mike."

"Say Mike, I know that you were about to set up your tent, but I've got a second bed in my cabin that I think would be comfy, and I think that it might rain tonight."

"You're not worried about being attacked in the middle of night?"

"First, you don't know what weapons I've got and second, maybe you should be worried."

"I think neither of us should worry."

It was just a short walk, and they were at the very modest cabin. Mike tested the mattress, and it was firm just the way he liked it. There were a variety of pillows for his comfort. After some small talk, he starting rereading some classic P.D. James that he had read a few years ago, and she worked on a small carving of a cedar tree. Soon, they said their good nights and went to their respective beds.

During the night Mike dreamed that Rebecca entered his bed and grabbed him. After a bit, dream Mike said, "I can't do this."

Rebecca responded, "You are not cheating, this is a dream." Her words turned loose his pent up passion. After some missionary sex, his dream got kinkier and kinkier.

The next morning, Mike noticed his crotch was sticky. He thought, "This is the kinkiest wet dream I've ever had." Without giving any details, he mentioned to Rebecca that he had dreamed about her.

She immodestly responded, "A lot of men have." Mike had no problem believing it.

After a breakfast of venison, he bid Rebecca a fond farewell and smiled all the way back to Forchet. He noticed that he was very tired. Could dream sex wear him out that much?

Back at the cabin Henry said, "You look worn out. Tough walk?"

Mike didn't want to talk about Rebecca, so he just agreed. "Yup, I must be getting older."

Henry smirked knowingly and asked, "How was the fishing?"

"You were right, the fishing was good, and I brought some back, since you can't seem to catch anything."

Mike had planned a couple more days at Forchet, but the next day he got a call from Peg saying, "Mom's got an infection and has been hospitalized. Get home now."

Back in Portland Mike's guilt about leaving Janet's side returned, but at the hospital Janet said, "Don't worry, it is no big deal, I'll be out tomorrow. In case you think that I missed you, you haven't noticed all the young, good looking doctors around here." Mike, Jason and Peg all relaxed and either smiled or chuckled.

At two that morning Mike was called by the hospital and told, "We are sorry to tell your wife passed away an hour ago."

"I can't believe it; she was scheduled to be released this morning."

"Sir, come in at eight and we will give you a full explanation. Again, you have our deepest sympathy."

Mike called Jason and Peg, had a few drinks and watched bad late night TV. There was no chance that he would get to sleep. At the hospital, they got another shock. The doctor explained, "Ms. Wilkie's death had little to do with her accident or her infection. While those events may have hastened her death, we have discovered a congenital heart defect that could have caused her death at any time. If it is any consolation, she far outlived her life expectancy. I can only hope that this information makes her passing a little easier to accept."

In a daze, Mike went home and broke the news to Joseph and Sue. Mike had been close to his in-laws and they all tried to do what they could to support each other. Joseph and Sue had known about the heart defect and were not as surprised as Mike expected.

"We learned of it when Janet was an infant, but because there was no treatment, we decided not to tell her for fear that it would worry her about something which could not be helped. In spite of our loss, we feel good about what she did with her life in the time that she had. We never told you because we thought that you would spend your life worrying about her."

Mike had been feeling draggy even before the accident. His doctor confirmed that he was physically only about five years younger than his chronological age as opposed to the excellent ten years younger that he had been. Everyone put it down to the strain and stress.



Life As A Widower

For a month or so Mike acted like a zombie, stumbling around, talking in monosyllables. All the while his children and friends, while also suffering, were advising him to work on ways of easing the pain.

He had to agree, so he finally listened to their advice - get involved in work, socialize, and try to find things to laugh about.

When he went back to work, he found that Jason had taken over in his absence. His executives pretended interest in his ideas, but were following Jason's lead. After a few days of being righteously pissed, he realized that this was what he was working towards even before Janet's accident and he was really proud of his son. He wondered, "What can I do with my daughter? Maybe I should be improving the world, rather than finding more ways that people can isolate themselves with their electronic gizmos." He remembered that one of his wild ideas was generating energy with tidal power. Peg had been telling him that the world needed more drinkable water and power. Tidal machines could make the power, which in turn could be used for desalinization.

He spent a few weeks with Peg talking about the best places for making tidal power sources. He took a few million of his own money and started crowd funding for the project. He knew that practical tidal power was at least a decade out, so he found the brightest young engineers he could and some political operators. He knew that he had more than an engineering problem; he also had a public relations problem. People were wedded to the new lower prices of petrol, and getting them to change wouldn't be easy.

Eventually, after a quick assessment, he had to admit to himself that he was a very marketable male. It is hard to top rich, tall and good looking even though his long marriage had dulled his dating skills. In spite of that he found no trouble finding dates at the various charitable events that he attended. He was amazed by the variety of responses that he got. Some wanted no physical contact at all, but expected to be taken to the most expensive restaurants. He didn't wonder why they were single. Others expected sex immediately. After months of celibacy, he felt a little guilty about how easy he had become. Not too guilty.

After a few weeks of this, he had a date with Jill Epstein, a fascinating woman. On the first date she told him what she called a "Jewish Joke".

"A middle aged woman is sitting in a beach chair on Miami Beach. A hunky very pale guy sits down beside her. She asks why he is so muscular and pale. He says, 'I spent ten years working out inside a prison cell for killing my wife.' She says, 'So you're single.'"

Jill explained. "Here is the point. Look, you are a very eligible bachelor. You've got to expect to be hit on by women regularly. Let me tell you about my situation. I've made a lot of money getting divorced. Husband one was playing around and was happy to give me a big settlement to save his reputation. Pretty much the same thing with husband two but in his case he was playing with boys. Bigger settlement. At this point I'm pretty much done with marriage, but I like sex. A lot. And I like variety. I suggest that we start an open relationship. I think that we could be good for each other. We are both intelligent people, so if the sex ever gets boring, we can talk. Both of us could see other people."

This sounded good to Mike, so they started at his house that evening and Jill delivered on all of her promises.

Mike's recovery from his loss was not that unusual except in one sense. Every night since Janet died, he had lucid dreams of Rebecca. None of them were particularly erotic. They could be eating, talking or taking a hike. Even though he had only seen her for a few hours, they acted like they had known each other all their lives. The inexplicable part of the dreams was that Rebecca would talk about things that Mike didn't know. She told him about the book "Wild" which Mike knew nothing about. After waking up, he checked on what he had learned in the dream and found out that it matched the book exactly. Mike was at a loss to explain how that could happen.



Back To Forchet

One morning Mike woke up and said out loud. "I want to see Henry and Rebecca again. I'm going back to Forchet." After checking with Henry, he cancelled all of his plans for the next month and took off.

When he met Henry he asked without any preamble, "What do you know about Rebecca?"

"After you talk to her, I'll tell you what I know."

Rebecca wasn't in town; they supposed she must be back at her cabin.

Mike started early the next day so he would have time in the afternoon to get her story. Before they spoke Mike noticed that Rebecca looked a few years older than the last time he had seen her. She had a few gray hairs this time. After a few preliminaries at her cabin, Rebecca said, "Please listen to my story without interrupting. Your will want to interrupt me, but please listen to the whole story before saying anything."

"My mother was a Siletz Indian. I'm the result of a one night stand with a disgraced Oregon politician. You would recognize his name. At least he sent enough money to my mother to keep her in comfort in return for her silence. We had enough money for me to get a good education at the U of O. After I got back from college my mother asked me, 'How old do you think I am?' I'd never really thought about it before, but people mistook us for sisters. She said she was forty even though she looked like twenty-five. She then said, 'I'm going to tell you a secret that you won't believe. I used a ritual that a very few Siletz women have used. In earlier times most avoided the deep woods because they believed that is where evil spirits dwell, and in more recent years the ritual has been largely forgotten. First, I made my way to the headwaters of the Siletz and bathed in the waters and then said, 'Give me life'. According to the ritual I had to lie with men after telling them that I was taking part of their life. Since then I have not aged. I was willing to abase myself and they were willing to surrender a portion of their lives in order to partake of my perfect body.' Of course, I didn't believe her, but she seemed much younger than her years.

"I got a job in Portland and visited her from time to time. I forgot about her ridiculous folk tale. With your recent loss of Janet, it may be painful to hear, but a year after I heard my mother's story, she died after being hit by a hit and run driver. I came back to clear out her house. After a few days in Forchet, I realized how much I hated the city and wanted to return to the Siletz. With my small inheritance I built the cabin where I live now. As a lark, I hiked the short distance to the headwaters of the Siletz and completed the ritual. While at the lodge one night, I was picked up by a handsome tourist and I told him the deal. You may think me immodest, but I truly believe that I can deliver the ultimate pleasure. He didn't believe the part about losing some of his life so he was ever so eager to lie with me. The next day, despite some twinges of guilt, I felt great physically. He felt a little run down, despite reveling in our evening together.

"After that I would take on men as needed. Sometimes I enjoyed it, but mostly I felt degraded. There were married men, ugly men, short men, stupid men and mean men, but I stayed young and they got old. Do you think that I look forty?"

"After many years, I could not go on. Aging had to be better than the life I was leading. This was about the time that you showed up. You don't know it, but I recognized you immediately from pictures and stories in the Oregonian and Portland Magazine. I was amazed that after years in the news, no one had found anything negative about you. Most of the men I have known would have played on my sympathy about your wheelchair bound wife. Instead, you declared your monogamy. At that point, I decided I would break the spell, whatever the cost. It didn't hurt your cause that you were easy on the eyes. Your dream about me the night that you stayed with me was not a dream, but a little bit of magic. I was right that sleeping with you without telling you the bargain broke the spell, but what I didn't know is that it would take years from both of us. I can't apologize enough to you for what I did.

"That's the story. Your turn."

"I can't believe it."

"Would it help you to believe if I told you the acts of love that you remember from your dream in my cabin, or if I told you about the dreams you have back in Portland? Even though the original spell is broken, I still have some magic."

"Now I can't believe it and I can't disbelieve it."

"Can you forgive me for the wrong that I have done you?"

"Love conquers all, and you may not believe ME now, but I do love you."

Before leaving Forchet, Mike asked Henry if he had accepted Rebecca's bargain.

"Yes, several times."

"You were willing to give up years of your life?"

"I wanted to keep at her until she admitted I was her best."

"Did she?"

"As far as you know. Seriously, as much as I liked her, I knew that she would never settle for me, and I couldn't stand to lose any more years."

Mike was sorely irritated with Henry until her remembered that without Henry, he never would have met Rebecca.



Ten Years After Plus A Few Months

Mike and Rebecca have aged normally. They are celebrating their tenth anniversary. Mike's friends and family love Rebecca. His guy friends think that he is a lucky dog. The women envy Rebecca.

Mike toasts first, "No one has been as fortunate in love as I."

Rebecca takes her turn to toast and angrily says, "Living with Mike has cost me my youth." As the guests squirm uneasily, she smiles broadly and finishes, "but I wouldn't trade it for anything."

3 comments:

  1. An interesting conceit! I liked the playful yet intelligent writing style - which had moments of pure elegance e.g. 'The family benefited from addition by subtraction'. The characterisations were a little underdeveloped but the pace and wit of the story compensated for this. Many thanks for a bewitching tale,
    Ceinwen

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  2. highly original, and easy to read, Mike gets two chances at the perfect life,
    well done
    Mike McC

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks for the comments.

    I think of this as a hybrid of romance / tragedy / magic.

    Inspiration - old B movies in which an evil woman tries to steal from others to attain / regain youth & beauty. I wondered if I could write a version in which the woman was sympathetic and there could be a happy love story as well as tragedy.

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