Friday, September 21, 2018

"My Love, Ana" -Tommy by Jhon Sánchez

Tommy and Ana fall deeply in love with each other's internal organs in Jhon Sánchez's quirky vision of the future.

For Melissa Ortiz, Ninotska Love and Yani Perez, three ladies who can easily steal your heart.

My wife divorced me because doctors removed my tonsils. She said that I wouldn't be the same. "A different being," was the precise wording she used. I was appalled. My mind flooded with images of the first time I saw her.

Initially, I hadn't been particularly drawn to her insides, her heart, her guts. I had asked the matchmaker for someone different, unique, like Grandma was for Grandpa. Their pictures together, their love notes and photographs, were like an oasis of warmth and care scattered throughout the apartment that they left for me.

Of course, I marked on my application all of the regular boxes of women I didn't want at all. No people with kidney stones, no people with risk of coronary disease, no HIV/AIDS, no risk of cancer, just the regular stuff that everybody asked for. I wanted someone who would die of old age with me like Grandma and Grandpa - sixty years of marriage - but also someone unique, who kept me mesmerized all the time.

The matchmaker showed me several possibilities. One was a girl who had her heart on the right side. When he showed me the X-rays though, I hadn't even noticed.

"Do you know how many people are born with that heart? Less than 1% of the population."

He made a pretty good case for the girl, but I wasn't sure what kind of feelings this person might have. I tilted my head, and I looked away, imagining what it would be like running to meet her on an open prairie. Our chests would collide, and we'd press against one another, and then what? My heart beating was her heart beating. "I don't want a mirror of myself," I said to the matchmaker.

The second girl also looked fairly normal. The heart was in the normal position, lungs working well, functional kidneys.

"So...?" I asked.

"Her blood. It's better than most. It's purer." He showed me a real photo of her liver blown up to ten times the normal viewing size. "Do you see the little bumps right there?" He waited for me to nod. "Those work harder. This girl can eat whatever she wants and processes cholesterol six times faster than any other human being." He moved to sit next to me and tapped me knowingly on the knee. "With a girl like that, you may have a wife even after a nuke. No risk of leukemia."

"Do you really think that she is going to accept someone with regular blood like mine?" I told him to drop this candidate then and there because I didn't want a wife who might consider herself of better breeding than me. What if we were to have children? Some might inherit her purer blood, but, on the other hand, they could end up tainted with mine. She would look down on us, resent us for our pedestrian fluids. It had to be a hard 'no'.

Then, he showed me Ana's pancreas. The photograph glinted with a sheen like a rainbow. It didn't look like a pancreas at all. It was more like a long leaf with dew crawling along its crevices.

I'm not stupid, of course. How could I know it wasn't Photoshopped or something? I had a friend who'd fallen in love with a girl who he'd been told had a very beautiful and potent liver. He boasted to anyone who would listen at every bar he went to that his girlfriend's liver produced so much oxygen that her cells would light up like embers, "Little fires of pure passion," he would tell us. A month after the marriage, he found out that what he thought were cells bubbling with oxygen were just Photoshopped scar tissue. She had regular, old, boring cirrhosis, not too serious. Unforgivably normal.

"I can't let that happen to me," I said to the matchmaker.

"One hundred percent guaranteed. We have conducted all the medical tests and so on in-house. There's no risk of any cancer or other chronic disease."

"Why's that?"

"There're several hypotheses. Things that she ate... She's Korean, you see, but born in Colombia; so, it's perhaps a product of a dietary combination of kimchi with beans. Quite unique. But we're not certain." He brought out a magnifier, "Do you see that there? It looks like a plastic raincoat, a kind of extra layer, a double-skinned pancreas to be precise. Quite amazing, like someone has spread a translucent blanket on it." He cleared his voice, "It could be an implant, but who cares? Know what I mean?"

It took me a couple of days to think about it. I stared at the photograph every morning, trying to imagine how it would be to feel that pancreas. I also thought about what my friends would have to say about the girl. Well, it wasn't something particularly spectacular like an oversized lung or kidneys in the shape of strawberries. It was only that sweet, gentle glint.

Finally, of course, I sent all of my medical records with the requisite photographs and X-rays accompanied by compelling descriptions of each of my organs. I struggled to remain calm as I waited for the reply. One might say that my heart has a good shape to it, no risk of any coronary disease and a nice rosy complexion. And, my lungs do not have the slightest signs of smoking. An acute observer would detect a nice smooth layer, well polished, like fine china, but nothing compared to her pancreas.

I spent years taking care of my lungs after middle school when I had started getting frequent bouts of sickness. There were coughs which became horrible colds, more than two pneumonias, and even six attacks of bronchitis. My parents sent my profile to different matchmakers, but they always sent it back with a note on my lungs.

Only once was I invited to a quinceañera. It was so exciting. I could imagine me with the other boys chasing the girls around the ballroom, and maybe Alejandra the beautiful Mexican quinceañera would dance with me. I could see my parents were nodding once they saw her medical records, so I would be free to kiss her. When we got into the party and passed through the scanner, I hadn't imagined that they would lead me to a room with only two other people, a boy and a girl. The girl had tuberculosis, and the boy, according to the scan, had a risk of lung cancer in the future. I almost cried when I saw the quinceañera waving at us. She was separated from a glass window in the ballroom illuminated by the multicolor rotating light. They didn't understand that I had had colds, but it wasn't tuberculosis. We, the other boy and I, sat at opposite corners, turning our heads away from the tuberculosis girl, until the music ended, and the lights of the ballroom were turned off.

After that, I took care of my lungs the best I could. I tried to not talk too loudly, and I learned to use the breathing techniques of singers. In winter, I always covered my mouth and nose when I moved from hot air to cold air. I took an X-ray three times a week. It took me two full years to see any improvement with my lungs. When I went to college for fashion design, I was afraid that too much cotton and wool in the air would affect my lungs, but nothing like that happened.

Sometimes I imagined my lungs exhibited in a museum like a true piece of art. The work I had done to breathe properly, careful not to expose myself to contamination or cigarettes, had paid off. The problem, though, was that they still didn't really stand out. Of course, my lungs were jewels, rosy, salmon-like, capable of beautiful movements, as if they could soar into the air under their own power. My bronchial tube and its multiple divisions looked like a robust, naked, leafless tree in winter and not like those sickly saplings that grew by the sidewalk. But, only an expert would really appreciate it.

After years of deep breathing exercises and keeping away from smokers, I had been at least somewhat rewarded. I could hold my breath for thirty-five seconds under the water, but I wasn't really sure that a regular girl would see what this achievement meant to me.

During those days, I would ask myself whether I should get a tattoo on my lung, but I couldn't think of the right image. A dragon blowing fire from its mouth felt like it would somehow be contradictory, and similarly so, the Chinese symbol for 'freedom' might seem off, locked inside the ribcage.

I could have implanted patches from the lungs of a loved one for a very reasonable price, but I really liked everything natural - and the only people I might want a piece from were my grandparents, who were long dead. Yet, at the same time, when I saw that photograph of Ana, I didn't care that she might have an extra layer implanted on her pancreas. It was beautiful, and that was all that mattered.

My colon was another of my strengths, with its rosé wine color. Sometimes, I imagined myself going through it in a gondola, admiring its cavernous appearance, culminating in the grand, gaping exit. It cost me a fortune to have a tiny video camera installed there, floating back and forth through the system. But, the last time I had had a date, after I showed her this daily video of my colon, she barely knew what to say.

I guess people don't admire simplicity, the lack of decoration, just being healthy. That's why, in my application, I emphasized that I was a healthy man with natural tissue in each organ, ready to play.

A week after my submission went through, I got a phone call from the matchmaker.

"We got a date. She was fascinated by your tonsils."

"My tonsils?" I asked, taken by surprise. But, it was completely true. Once she saw me, she caressed both sides of my throat, saying, "They float beautifully, like two balloons trying to escape through your mouth."

Of course, this was only our first date. We did all the normal stuff that couples do, comparing the waves in our stomachs, listening to the humming of each other's livers and eating ice cream while we laughed at the funny up and down movement of other customers' esophagi projected on the shop screen. A week later, we were surprised when, for several long moments, the electrocardiogram kept marking exactly the same beat for both of us at exactly the same time. For me it was a strong indication that we felt exactly the same way. "We may die at the same moment," I told her. I imagined that if she got pregnant, I would be able to feel the same things she felt, even the same pain. Ana would be the person who might feel the urges of my sexual desires, the tickling between my legs, the vacuum sensation arising from the mouth of the stomach and even waves of heat and cold that launch the heart into a race.

Slowly, I convinced myself that we were the perfect couple, she, opening my mouth with a flashlight to see my tonsils, I, imagining the sensation of licking each crevice of her pancreas.

Three months, two days and eight hours after our first date, we got married. The doctor who inserted the IV in each of our arms repeated those sacred words:

"Death, sickness and hunger will unite you forever."

I really believed it with all my strength, with each drop of sweat. He continued the ceremony by instructing,

"Now you take the biopsy from the bride."

I stabbed the needle and pressed the syringe to get a part of her skin from her chest. She did the same, but took a piece from the skin along my throat. The pathologist returned two minutes later, proclaiming solemnly,

"Ninety three percent compatible."

Everybody in the ceremony already knew that, but her mother cried at that moment anyway. I only imagined what my parents would have done. They both had died long ago, a synchronized death. At that time, I would have felt happy if I could die with my wife like my parents did, with simultaneous kidney failure.

My grandma always repeated that it was crazy. "One thing is marriage. It's another to share the same disease."

I didn't think like her. I believed in death as a wonderful opportunity to truly unite with a loved one. Grandma was old fashioned. She was even buried in a casket, wearing a red taffeta dress showing her deep cleavage, prominent even in death. "Kind of weird," said one of my classmates from CFD, the College of Fashion and Design.

One day, Grandma even said about my fashion designs, "No, those are not dresses. They are tanks." From my design table, she picked up one of the pill-sized robotic modules that I was using to configure into a chest protective area. "We used to build models with toy Lego bricks like these."

"It assembles and disassembles itself to regulate temperature or reduce humidity."

"I like my sweat," she put her hand under her armpit.

"Grandma, why don't you try one?" I held out one of my newer designs, which featured three square screens, one on the chest, the stomach and a rainbow-colored one on the forehead as a complement to the helmet. "They transmit a minute to minute report of your blood sugar, brain activity, and heart rate. If something gets out of control, the ambulance would be right there and the paramedics can read all of you, from your sugar levels to your brain activity." I tapped on the chest screen with pride.

"Dresses with CAT scans?"

"Grandma, please. I'm going for fashion design. You should at least try one."

"Fashion designer? Better to call yourself a can opener. Calvin Klein, Ermenegildo Zegna, Yves Saint Laurent; those were fashion designers," she walked across her kitchen waving her hand and blowing kisses towards a collection of pots as if they were the audience of a fashion show. "You were a queen, feeling the stitches along your waist and wind fluttering each hem, each ribbon, as men were imagining your body. Look." She showed me her arm. The uncovered skin looked so strange to me without the assemblage of wires and the robotic arm extensions that she refused to use even though she cut herself sometimes when she chopped vegetables.

She slid her fingers across her skin. "I get goose bumps. Poor thing, you don't understand even that."

That was Grandma, who had probably died looking at the messages and photographs she had once received from Grandpa. I still have her old laptop, along with photographs, letters, and greeting cards stuffed inside a treasure chest.

I never saw her heart, her liver, or her kidneys. She wrote a proxy where only her doctor would have access to her medical records. When I wanted to know how she was, she would have said, "I'm fine like a bottle of wine."

"Grandma, but wouldn't it be nice if you could at least wear a helmet -"

"My belly button when I wore a bikini..." she said as if she were talking to herself. Then, she shook her head, looking at my eyes, saying, "How sad. Nobody knows what a bikini was. Bikini, the two pieces of clothing that made men crazy for Brigitte Bardot, and even women wanted to make love with Beyoncé."

I miss Grandma. She died two months before my wedding, and thank God. Otherwise, Grandma would probably have worn one of her antique maxi skirts with bohemian prints and shoes made of leather. How embarrassing. My life with Ana wasn't perfect, but what beauty is perfect? I didn't understand how she turned emotional, crying, gasping and banging her chest after observing the X-rays of my teeth. She described her feelings as if she had been lost and abandoned inside a cave. "It was the same when my father left us. The only thing he left behind was wall-sized X-rays of his teeth." She went on sobbing, "The last I heard of him was many years later, when a court order awarded me a rotten tonsil and his pancreas." As she explained to me, the other body parts were awarded to children from different marriages, who he had always left behind every few years.

Was all of that a representation of her fear of being abandoned? Maybe she loved me because my tonsils fulfilled her need for a father-like figure - who knows?

One day she spoke at length of the karma embedded in her father's dental X-rays as she girlishly kicked her legs back and forth beneath the bed. She even pulled them out from the drawer and made me touch them, asking if I could feel it. Even though I said "yes," I hadn't felt anything.

We also fought, of course. She always complained when I played TRANSPLANT, my favorite digi-game. I think she watched me from afar as I assembled my monster with different body parts and organs in order to face the enemy. One day, I killed my friend's monster. It was so exciting, and I got to pick up my bonus prize, a body part or an organ of the monster to be implanted into mine. I hesitated between an elastic arm for 50 points with eight different movements or 75 points for a pancreas that would give me an extra life. My monster looked nice with the extra arm, but I went for the pancreas. She went nuts.

"You're laughing at me," she said, poking the game screen.

"What are you talking about?"

"Selfish."

Saturday nights, we usually liked to view the history of our family's guts, their hearts, their lungs, important trips that they went on and how each majestically processed foreign foods. Everybody's was there, uncles and cousins, everyone except Grandma, of course. We compared their X-rays with ours and imagined how our children would turn out. I kept a comparative chart of each organ and genealogical tree. One day I said, "Our children would have large lungs, diamond-shaped kidneys -"

"And your tonsils," she said, holding me by neck and looking into my eyes.

"And the glint of your pancreas."

But she pushed me away and said, "Never."

"Never? Why? You don't have any problems down there. Your whole family tree is practically flawless."

"It's true; the only cancer that my father had was the cancer of unforgivable forgetfulness."

"Why don't you let it go?"

"Never, never. It's right here," she said, pointing to her belly. I wondered if she believed this was some sort of strange, inescapable portent, an indication that this abandonment would continue to follow her like a running theme. I hugged her, and I tried not to ask about it again.

That was our life, plus lovemaking and her obsession with watching my tonsils. At that time, we didn't have the new dresses that allowed you to read when your spouse had an active sexual desire, or the speed up of the heartbeats that indicated a lie. Now, they make those ones that even print a report of feelings of anger, disapproval or empathy, according to each organ. I thought for years that if these had only come along sooner, I could have saved my marriage, or maybe begun to understand her love for my tonsils.

Why did she have to watch them every night? I don't think she even rinsed the flashlight she used to put into my open mouth. This always gave me a sore throat.

"That's the only image of you that makes you transcendent," she used to say.

I didn't understand what she meant by that but she would lay my hand on her throat, saying, "Those are my dreams." She would move my hands to her chest where it felt like birds were flapping their wings inside.

At night after our dinner, she would make me open my mouth, hold my tongue down with a tiny spatula and keep me in that position for at least an hour. I can still feel her eyes fixed on my throat. It was as if she were under an otherworldly power. Of course, my jaw got tired. It was like going to the dentist every day, but I loved her.

One day, I woke up to find an image of my tonsils projected on the big screen of our bedroom. She had introduced a mini-camera all the way down through my nostrils.

"What have you done?" I could barely speak, until the camera flew out from my mouth like a little bird.

I ran to the kitchen. "A drone inside me?" I raged, after drinking a glass of water to relieve the raspy sensation that the camera had left in its wake.

"It was a game, and you always liked it. I don't understand the drama."

"It's my body. I let you do these things, but you need to ask me first."

"It's a way to read your dreams," she said as she passed me a towel, and ran to the bedroom where she locked herself in.

Once I had caught my breath, using my phone, I sent her an image of my tonsils with three cherubs.

She unlocked the door.

That night she was all kisses, touching me with her thumb and index finger on both sides of my throat, saying, "All your dreams are right here."

I think she really believed that. It was her way of apologizing. I couldn't fully understand, but this made me think that it wasn't that bad, that perhaps I had overreacted.

But where did she get this idea from? I'm sure it was the witch she used to visit. I confronted her the following day as we were having breakfast.

"I don't know what the witch told you, but I don't want you to start reading my tonsils without me being present."

"You were present."

"I was sleeping."

"That's why." She started to suck her thumb and suddenly yelled at me, "So, you're hiding something from me. Another woman that sneaks into your dreams? One of your coworkers that you talk to all day? You want to leave me like a single rolling wheel."

"That's ridiculous. The tonsils don't store any dreams."

She opened her computer and showed me some pictures of my tonsils and how each sound leaves an imprint of some kind on them. "This is something that the brain seeps up and interprets in a dream."

"Pure bullshit."

"If only I could have gotten my father's second tonsil..." She took out the one she did have, which she kept in a small plastic container. "...I could understand why my father left us. I'd be at peace if at least I knew I was part of my father's dreams." She went on sobbing, "These pieces of us, even the pancreas has a language that can explain why someone is unreliable."

Tonsils and dreams? Insanity! But she firmly believed it. Still, after that second fight, I ended up nestled in her arms, the white puffy robotic arms she liked to wear to sleep. It was so comforting that I allowed her to use the drone to get inside my nostrils again while I tried to fall sleep.

Days later, I woke up with a sore throat. I almost couldn't pronounce a single word. Everything was about to change. When the tonsillitis didn't recede after two weeks of antibiotics and the doctor recommend an extraction of the glands, Ana yelled at him. "Stupid, incompetent doctor! He only wants to butcher my husband like a cow!"

We went to three more doctors who confirmed the treatment. "Surgery." She tried to convince me to go to her witch, but I refused. What sort of magic could have helped me?

The day of the surgery, Ana came with me to the hospital and said, "This marriage isn't going to be the same without those tonsils." Then, she added, "I could not love a man with no heart, or liver."

"Ana, for God's sake. It isn't the same," I managed to say after clearing my throat.

After the surgery, Ana didn't pick up my phone calls and didn't show up to the hospital. I explained to her that everything changes. "Think of this like one of my dress designs that doesn't need a chip or a circuit any longer. Maybe this is an upgrade." She didn't want to listen to me. While I was still in the hospital, she even posted a fresh batch of photos on her Anatomic Profile page, extremely flattering pancreas shots that she captioned by asking friends to vote on whether she should dye it a different color. Her friends mostly chose purple.

WHAT ABOUT IF I ENDED OUR MARRIAGE BECAUSE OF THAT COLOR, I commented.

She unfriended me and changed the locks to the apartment so I had nowhere to go after I was discharged. Our friends finally convinced her that we should see a marriage counselor.

The sessions went like any other sessions. She talked. I talked. She sighed. I yelled. The counselor made me stand and leave the room. Then, he called me back. Finally, we agreed to a compromise. I was supposed to claim my tonsils from the hospital and bring them home in a special jar full of alcohol, on display, floating there like two little fish.

She put them on the dining room table. The first day we dined in silence. The following day, I decorated them with Christmas lights - hey, I had to bring some passion back to the marriage somehow.

One night, just before I set the table, her long manicured nail scratched the glass of the jar; she squinted at my tonsils and began to cry. The pasta was just getting cold on my plate, but I started to sing. I wanted her to hear that my voice hadn't changed at all, that I was still the same. I fell asleep on the couch with my apron on. The following day, I found a note on the table:

Dear Tommy,

You cannot be the same after this. Without your tonsils, no one can ever read your dreams, not even yourself. I needed to be sure that I would always be a part of them. Now, I can never be 100% certain, and neither can you.

Ana

Scattered on the table I found her most recent blood report, bone resistance test, and a photograph of her pancreas with that beautiful layer of colors, but she was gone. I grew desperate, trying to find her. I called all our mutual friends, and even called the matchmaker to find out some clue as to where she was but to no avail. She left behind some of the X-rays, the video of her colonoscopy, and even the electrocardiograms we took together. Later that afternoon, I got an email telling me to sign the divorce papers. "You may see me in court to ask for forgiveness."

I thought this was probably another one of her games to make me feel guilty, and I signed right there at the dining table and sent over the document without realizing that the jar with my tonsils wasn't there. She had taken it. But why? Why did she want to take a part of me with her? I thought, perhaps she still loved me. They reminded her of me. But, why didn't she take one of my portraits or the electrocardiogram or the video of my colon? Nothing. Only my tonsils. She wanted me with her? I pondered.

I went to court, more with the hope of seeing her again than anything else. She didn't show up. Her attorney spoke, pointing to a clause in the divorce papers which stated that I waived any present and future rights of my tonsils to Ana. Thank God the judge voided the clause, declaring, "A body part cannot be relinquished as a benefit to anyone, including a spouse, Counselor."

But even with that ruling, I couldn't do anything. Ana had left and moved out of the state, and I could never recover my tonsils. It took me years to start dating again. I felt traumatized whenever I entered a chat room and a woman started asking for the size of my liver or the rate of my heartbeat. Immediately, I turned off the computer and started to cry. When I was at my job, working on new features for dresses, I only kept thinking that if we had cracked that update to incorporate simultaneous heartbeats sooner, I could have been close to her again. I asked for a transfer and was assigned to work sales in the South.

Probably what saved me was the correspondence between my Grandma and Grandpa that I'd kept in my treasure chest. In many of the pictures, he was a very young soldier, holding an old rifle used during the Iraq war. I read those missives as evidence that love and commitment really existed, even though, as my Grandma had said, I couldn't understand any of that. Those pictures, those kisses remained elusive.

After a time, I realized that I still needed someone, but I was afraid that she might also believe that as a man without tonsils, I would be without dreams. I filled out an application online, and I specifically requested again, "Someone special. I don't want a girl with a regular heart or the same old bloody liver."

Soon, I got a reply, and I went to the matchmaker to see the photos.

"I know what you want."

He showed me an X-ray that I didn't quite understand.

He smiled, "This is her throat. Can you see right there?"

I nodded because I didn't want to show that I wasn't entirely sure what I was looking at.

"Four, four tonsils. It seems she implanted the other two."

I was confused. I didn't know whether I liked her or not, somebody like this, but then he showed me another pic. "Here is her pancreas with some rainbow glint. She's unique."

I ran away. It was Ana. Maybe the colorful layer in her pancreas was stolen as well. What was she going after? Someone's appendix? Maybe it was a kind of new trend: Seduce someone to collect his no longer functional organs, using the memory of former husbands and boyfriends like a lipstick. It occurred to me that we should have a new dress with an organ finding feature. It would trace any missing or stolen parts. That day though, I wasn't ready to start working on it. I was afraid and sad at the same time. That day, I locked myself in my room and opened my grandmother's letters. How much I would pay for a love like that. In one of her letters, there was a photograph of Grandma at the beach, her chest bare-naked. She had drawn over each line of her breasts and nipples with red ink, inscribing a message to Grandpa. I know how much you love these buds.

I wish I knew what she really meant.



The author wants to thank Nan Frydland, Samuel Ferri, John Reed, Juan Carlos Gonzalez and Charlie Fish for their editorial comments.

10 comments:

  1. What a fascinating read -- a sort of distopian society obsessed with social eugenics. You have a gift for foisting the plot twist out immediately and then making the reader anticipate the "how" of it all. By advancing the plot so quickly, your work reads like a wide-eyed thrill ride, downhill without brakes. Brilliant.

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  2. Weird and wonderful. A strange, strange world with very human and believable characters.

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    1. Thank you for your message. I also noticed that you're also a writer. Do you have a web page. I looked for you online but I found someone else. Well not Dave but David.

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    2. Jhon, thanks for asking. My website is https://writings217.wordpress.com

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  3. First off, I love the grandma❤️
    What a challenging piece, and so very sad. It is grievous how we’ve lost the notion that commitment to love another, particularly in the face of change or loss, is such a beautiful treasure. I also appreciate how you’ve indicated the ugliness in using another person. The story rolls along with a darkening awareness of both our guilt and neediness. This story made me think how I can love better today. Thanks, Jhon, for such a thoughtful tale.

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    1. That's a beautiful review. Thank you some much. I'm deeply honor for your comments.

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  4. Made me think of how the intrinsic value systems of societal groups change over time. Great read. Thanks.

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  5. This is a brilliant and creative story, Jhon! It is a very creative way to shed light on the strange ways we often approach love and relationships!

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