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The Hemingway Resource Center Short Story Contest> Winning Entries>Mr. Dearborn's Big Vacation by Philip Loyd (Winter 2000)

 

Mr. Dearborn's Big Vacation

by

Philip Loyd

 

     The heady waves crested just below the setting sun, crashing upon the white, sandy beach as Anna came splashing to the shore. She shook her head, her wet hair whipping from shoulder to shoulder. She smiled and waved to Richard, resting comfortably on his beach towel, sipping his margarita. He waved back. She was a vision of loveliness, the image of simple virtue and supple charm altogether. She was everything he had ever dreamed of. Seeing her smile as she kicked up sand running toward him, he wished this moment would last forever. But just like all honeymoons, it wouldn't outlast the days and years to come.
     This is what Mr. Richard J. Dearborn remembered as he sat daydreaming behind his busy desk. For the clutter of penholders, picture frames, and paperweights, there wasn't even room for his feet.
     The door to his office abruptly opened and in the same motion a woman of great bearing came bursting through, the secretary saying "Good morning, Mrs. Dearborn," all the while Mrs. Dearborn yammering on and on, as was her way. "Oh the traffic--frightful. Why is there always such a crowd down below? I could hardly get into my own building. Bums. Oh, they call themselves musicians, or artists, or some other clever names like bohemians, or avant-garde, but they're all bums, just the same."
     "Now, dear," said Mr. Dearborn.
     "Don't dear me," snapped Mrs. Dearborn, removing her gloves. "This city has gone to hell in a handbasket, overrun by hoodlums and hooligans alike." She hung up her purse. "Why, you can hear them all the way below, even with your radio playing" she said, closing the window. "What is that noise anyway, if it even qualifies as that?"
     "Simon & Garfunkel, Sounds of Silence," said Mr. Dearborn, "you remember--"
     "Silence is right," said Mrs. Dearborn, and she turned it off.
     "But--"
     "But never you mind," she said, changing moods at the drop of a hat, as was also her way. "How has your day been, dear? Are you ready for the Gates merger? Everything in order?"
     Mr. Dearborn sat forward, now standing and walking to the window.
     "Why, look at your desk," said Mrs. Dearborn, now organizing it, "you've not even your papers together. What's this?" she said, now holding his pocket-size book of poetry. "Edwin Arlington Robinson. What's this rubbish?"
     Mr. Dearborn looked out the window toward the park.
     "How do you expect to..." Mrs. Dearborn began, and then he tuned her out altogether.
     Down in the park, a dog was barking, running, jumping, and catching a Frisbee. Richard had a dog when he was a boy, a bright-eyed Beagle named Smokey; but Mrs. Dearborn would have no part of it, said she was allergic to the dander. A thirty-something couple strolled along hand in hand, pushing a baby carriage, the father looking all around for everyone to see, the mother looking up at him then resting her head on his arm, both glowing with pride and joy. Mr. and Mrs. Dearborn had tried to have a baby, but after the miscarriage their doctor advised against ever trying again. Mrs. Dearborn had never been real fond of children anyway, though she did often donate money to several orphanages and literacy programs. A college student lay beneath a sprawling oak, his head resting upon his backpack while he scribbled something in a notebook. Poetry, most likely, Richard thought. Richard used to write poetry. In fact, people used to tell him he was quite good. That was back in college though, when Anna and he first met. He remembered sitting in the park, looking much like the young student below, when he first saw Anna sitting across the lawn. She was the most beautiful sight he had ever seen, her sun dress hiked up ever-so slightly so he could just barely see her legs, her hair resting upon her shoulders and flowing like silk down her back. But he couldn't muster the nerve to talk to her. Why would someone like her talk to somebody like him anyway? So he wrote her a poem, something about flying and the freedom of the never-ending horizon, and dropped it in her lap without so much as even a stutter. She read it, and even though she didn't like it, she liked him. She came over that very next day and sat with her toes twiddling in the grass. From that day forward they sat together in the park, their textbooks open and pretending to study, but never turning a page. And from the very first she had that look of love in her eyes, like they were at somebody else's wedding and she had been merely his girlfriend long enough now. Mr. Dearborn saw a young couple playing footsie on a blanket below. It reminded him of Anna. For their ragged jeans and filthy T-shirts, they couldn't have had more than two dollars between them. Oh how wonderful it must be to be penniless and silly in love. But Mr. Richard J. Dearborn didn't know about such things anymore. That was so long ago, it must have been somebody else.
     "So how do you?" said Mrs. Dearborn, standing behind Mr. Dearborn, her arms akimbo, her short hair molded on her unmoving head. "How do you expect to be prepared for the Gates merger when you're reading this?" she said, holding his book of poetry.
     Mr. Dearborn turned and looked into her eyes. They were as soft and brown as the day they met. The young lady he had fallen in love with was still in there, somewhere.
    "Dear," he said, grinning from ear to ear, "we need to take a vacation."
    "A vacation?" she said, taken aback. "You have the Gates merger in less than an hour. Your papers are a mess. How do you expect to..." Mrs. Dearborn began saying, and as she did Mr. Dearborn's eyes drifted to a picture on the wall. It was a photo of Anna and him, and her parents, the very first time he had met them. It was taken on Thanksgiving Day at their estate in the country. Anna's father was a banker, her mother the head of the local garden club. Both played bridge religiously and never drank. Richard dreaded meeting them, but since Anna and he were now going steady he knew it was inevitable. She told him not to worry. They'd love him, she said, because she loved him. He knew she wanted him to cut his hair and shave his muttonchops, but didn't ask out of respect for him. Out of respect for her, he did buy some new clothes and tucked in his shirt. He bought some dress loafers and left his sandals in his VW back at school.
     The ride was peaceful. Once out of the city, they drove through the piney green hills, past ponds and lakes alike, listening to their favorite songs. She didn't mind so much that he brought a few beers along; she knew it would calm his nerves. He brought some winterfresh gum to top them off and for a while even forgot where they were going. When she pointed out her father's country club though, he knew they were drawing near. He didn't even notice the row of oaks leading up the winding driveway, or the horses passing them by beyond the long, white fence.
     It wasn't until dinner that the conversation took an unpleasant turn for Richard. The unavoidable questions had finally surfaced, just as he was cutting into his prime rib.
     "So, Richard," began Anna's father, fork and knife at work, "where are your parents this holiday?"
     "They're back home," said Richard.
     "And where is home?"
     "On the South side."
     "The South side. Yes, I know it well. I was born there, you know. That's where I met Anna's mother. It was much different back then though, much more of a close-knit community, before the integration. We moved uptown shortly after we were married, after I graduated college, of course. I haven't been down there for quite some time. The neighborhood has changed so."
     Anna looked at her father, then Richard. No words were needed. Her mother never spoke.
     "And what are you studying?" said her father.
     "English," said Richard.
     "English," said her father, "why, that's fine--very noble. Of course, you plan on attending graduate school, then attaining your Ph.D. There's no real money in teaching unless you obtain a professorship at a university. Then what, perhaps make dean, or chancellor maybe?"
     "No sir," said Richard, "I want to write."
     "Write?" said her father. "What, like for a newspaper or a magazine?"
     "No sir, poetry, short stories perhaps."
     "Poetry?" snapped her father.
     "Richard's an excellent writer," interjected Anna, "everyone at school says so."
     "But there's no money in poetry," said her father. "You can't earn a living wage writing poems. Why, you might as well be a juggler, or a mime on a street corner."
     "Daddy," said Anna, "money isn't the most important thing."
     "Is that so? Tell me then, what is?"
     "Love," said Anna. "Richard and I love each other."
     "And I suppose love is going to pay the rent, put food on the table, put your kids through college?"
     Kids, thought Richard?
     "It will see us through," said Anna. "Richard's a wonderful writer. He's very talented."
     "But--"
     "Daddy, please," said Anna, with a tone of finality she had inherited from her father, "can we please just enjoy our dinner?"
     "Fine," he said, "it's just that--"
     "Daddy, please."
     "There, now," spoke her mother, finally, "we have crepes suzette for dessert."
     "That sounds delicious," said Richard, "at my house we usually just have apple pie."
     They finished dinner in silence. Anna and Richard made love beneath the moonlight that night, through the woods by the lake. They left early the next morning. Richard and Anna's father shook hands, as etiquette decreed. He kissed her mother on the cheek like she was his mother-in-law already. Though Anna never said anything, he knew she was very impressed with the way he held his composure all the while. He was headstrong, like her daddy. He knew this was the girl he was going to marry.
     "Well," said Mrs. Dearborn, throwing the book of poems on his desk, "how do you expect to be ready for the Gates merger when you're reading poetry?"
     "Dear," said Mr. Dearborn, "we really do need a vacation."
     "You're not going to start all that again, I pray."
     "We could go to your folks' place in the country. Remember the lake, the moonlight?"
     "I don't understand you," said Mrs. Dearborn. "You know as well as I that the Gates merger is our biggest deal yet. This isn't just any merger. How on earth could you be thinking of vacation at a time like this? They'll be here in less than half an hour. Honestly, Richard Jonathon Dearborn, I just don't understand you sometimes. How do you intend to..." she began saying, and as she did his eyes wandered toward a paperweight on his desk, a smooth, flat rock he had found while they were hiking in the Adirondack Mountains one summer while on break from school.
     They'd had the most serene two weeks of their lives. They were on top of the world, ascending mountain tops and shadowed rocks altogether. There they stood, hand in hand atop Mt. Marcy, the tallest of forty-six peaks in the Adirondack chain. He was completely out of breath when inspiration shot through him like the cold, thin air burning in his chest. "Wait, baby," he told her, "don't move an inch."
     "Why?" she asked.
     "Just don't move," he said.
     "OK," she said, shrugging her shoulders.
     He scurried about, looking for...she didn't know. Then he picked up a rock, hurrying back to her side.
     "What are you up to, sweetheart?" she said, giggling and aglow.
     "Anna," began Richard, "I've loved you since the very first time I laid eyes on you."
     "What are you doing?"
     "I'll never forget that day. You were wearing a white sundress that was hiked up just enough so I could see your legs. Your hair was resting on your shoulders and you turned and smiled at me. I froze. I was paralyzed." He knelt before her.
     "Oh, my God," she said, blushing and giddy.
     "Anna, I've known ever since that day, we were meant to be together, always."
     She began to cry.
     "Will you please do me the honor of becoming my wife?"
     Anna was all choked up. It was not her way. Richard waited patiently, nervous and confident all at once. The wind came whipping down from the sky. Anna caught her breath. "Yes," she sniffled, "YES," and her shouted response swept across the valley below, echoing from the next mountaintop.
     Richard placed the rock in her hand.
     "What's this, " she said.
     "Well," he said, "I know it isn't the rock you really wanted, but right here, right now, it's all I have to give."
     "It's wonderful, sweetheart," she said, now crying again. Before descending the mountain, Richard suggested they come back here every year, so as never to forget this moment. Anna said she thought it was a great idea. She said she would have suggested it herself if he had not first.
     "Well," said Mrs. Dearborn, "how do you intend to absorb all the merger information before the Gates brothers arrive? They'll be in here in less than fifteen minutes."
     "Dear," said Mr. Dearborn, "we could go hiking."
     "Hiking?" exclaimed Mrs. Dearborn. "Richard Jonathon Dearborn, have you lost your mind?"
     "We could go to the Adirondacks, Mt. Marcy, remember?"
     "This isn't the time to play Sir Edmund Hillary," said Mrs. Dearborn. "The Gates brothers will be here in fifteen minutes. How do you think you can possibly..." she began saying, and as she did he looked over her to the mounted sailfish on the wall, proud and forever in flight, an enduring reminder of what they could accomplish when they worked together. They had caught it on their honeymoon.
     Richard was talking to the boat's captain about something in Spanish, something he didn't fully understand, when suddenly Anna's line caught, nearly yanking the pole from her hands while she hooted and hollered, hopping all around. Richard came immediately to her side. "Give it some slack, baby," he said, wanting so to grab the pole. "Let it run with it."
     "Let it what?" she said, and he came up behind her, putting his arms around hers.
     "Here," he said, and then the tension in the line slacked off and the reel started spinning. She giggled for relief and he laughed with her, their bodies pressed up against one another. The captain hurried to the wheel and started the motor. The chase was on.
     Nearly two hours later, working in shifts and sometimes together, Anna and Richard reeled in the great fish. It was still fighting, flopping on the deck as the captain clubbed it to death. Its shiny scales shimmered in the sunlight as Anna and Richard held one another, both their arms sore, their backs aching and their legs shaking. The captain smiled his toothless grin, saying something in Spanish to the effect of "A grand fish." They didn't need to understand him; they knew it already.
     That night, he would never forget. He had never known her to be so spirited. He had barely walked into their cabana when she threw him against the wall tore open his shirt and had his shorts down, all seemingly in one motion. When she arose to kiss him, he could see the fire in her eyes. His lips disappeared into her mouth and she nearly swallowed his tongue. They never even made it to the bedroom, much less the bed.
     After margaritas and a spicy meal, they danced the night away. During a slow dance, Anna threw back her hair and looked up into his eyes, hers all glossy and silly in love. "You know what, sweetheart?" she said, spinning slowly in his arms.
     "What, baby?" he said, his hands resting on her waist.
     "That moment when the fish took my line, when you came up behind and wrapped your arms around me, it was like at that moment nothing else mattered, like there wasn't anything else in the world to matter. Just like now, here with you; just like earlier, alone with you." Her cheeks turned red. He felt the same.
     "We should just stay here," she said.
     "What, for another night?" he said.
     "No, forever."
     "Forever?"
     "We could open up a café, or a cantina. Or, we could just buy this one. I have money. Then we could fish every day and dance every night. We could sip margaritas on the beach and make mad, passionate love until sunrise. What do you think?"
     "I think you've been in the sun too long."
     "You don't like my idea."
     "Sure, I like it, but what would your father say?"
     "Oh, phooey on him."
     "Well, you're not the one who has to see him every day. He expects me there bright and early Monday morning. It was your idea, remember?"
     "Yes, I remember," she said, looking up at the stars. "It was a wonderful idea though, wasn't it?"
     "What, me taking a job with your father?"
     "No silly, our staying here together, forever."
     "Yes baby, it was a great idea."
     "Well then, let's make tonight last. Let's watch the sunrise one more time."
     They spent their last night on the beach. There was a full moon, then the sun came climbing over the ocean from beyond the horizon.
     "How do you think you can possibly be prepared for the merger?" said Mrs. Dearborn. They hardly ever made love anymore, only after hostile takeovers and auspicious mergers.
     "Dear," said Mr. Dearborn, "we could go south of the border, to that ocean-side village where we honeymooned."
     "Now Richard Jonathon Dearborn, I know you've lost your mind. The Gates brothers are surely on their way up right this very minute," said Mrs. Dearborn. "If daddy could only see you, why he'd turn over in his grave. Now straighten your tie and comb your hair. You look a mess."
     Mr. Dearborn turned toward the window, looking over the tall buildings across the park. "Dear," he said, staid, "we need a vacation."
     "Lord have mercy," said Mrs. Dearborn, "we just went to London not even a month ago, the Bigsby merger, remember?"
     "Not a business trip," said Mr. Dearborn, "a real vacation. Just somewhere, anywhere--a real vacation, just the two of us."
     "We're going to Japan next month," said Mrs. Dearborn, "you know, the Hioto merger."
     "Or we could go to Tillbury Town."
     "Till what?"
     Mr. Dearborn said nothing, he just stood gazing out the window toward the horizon.
     "You're just tired, dear," said Mrs. Dearborn, coming up from behind and tenderly spinning her husband round. "Tomorrow is Saturday and you can sleep in." She kissed him. "You know how much I love you, dear." She hugged him. "I love you too, dear," said Mr. Dearborn, and he hugged her.
     "Now," she said, "get your papers ready. The Gates brothers are surely in the lobby as we speak."
     "OK," he said, but he didn't need any papers. What is that old cliché about a fool and his money? Oh, yes. Mr. Dearborn needed no preparation for this merger. The Gates brothers had a lot of money, and they were quite the fools. Mrs. Dearborn freshened up. Mrs. Dearborn left. Mr. Dearborn's secretary buzzed him. The Gates brothers were in the lobby. He straightened his tie. He combed his hair. Just another day at the office.


     If you were to walk through the door of Mrs. Anna Dearborn's house on 1 Stanford Lane at or around four p.m. that Friday you'd swear there was a riot in progress. Imagine a hundred chickens in a room, beating their wings desperately and bouncing from wall to wall with their heads just hacked off, or the frantic floor of the New York Stock Exchange as the numbers plunge amid widespread panic. Now imagine somebody moving in the midst, someone who could not only make sense of it all but felt right at home. That someone was Mrs. Dearborn as she gave orders here and ordinance there: the flowers in the foyer, the settings on the tables, the food, the wine, the lighting, the staff... She said something to the caterer, then like a shot from a cannon exploded through the kitchen door. Her caterer wondered why she hired her at all. She was the most expensive in the city, but had barely lifted so much as a finger. No matter. When Mrs. Dearborn was in the cast, she directed the show. You dare not get in her spotlight.
     After a short stint terrorizing the chef and his help, Mrs. Dearborn came bursting back through the kitchen door. She rearranged the flowers again, checked the lighting once more, and wondered if her new drapes really matched her carpet, or if the carpet went with the sofa, or if the sofa complemented the chairs. She lined up the waiters, busboys, bartenders, cocktail waitresses, and coat-check girls like a drill sergeant and inspected them one by one: comb your hair; trim your nails; brush your teeth; tie your shoe; change your panty hose; and to the last, trim your nose hairs. Everything was ready. Everything was in place. Nothing could go wrong. Tonight would be perfect. What could possibly go wrong?
     Tonight would be a disaster, she thought. She went over everything again. She would get her husband on the mayor's commission and he would forget all that nonsense about a vacation. She was determined that this
night be special, one they would never forget. It would be, indeed.
     The phone rang, resonating from mirrored walls and chandeliered ceilings alike. It sent a jolt through the staff, scattering them in a flash as a young, professional looking woman with granny glasses came shouting through the ranks, "Mrs. Dearborn, telephone Mrs. Dearborn."
     "I'll take it in my study," said Mrs. Dearborn, staring all along at the foyer as if the Queen of England herself would soon be passing through. "And what have I told you about shouting?"
     "That it's very unprofessional."
     "And most unladylike."
     "Yes, ma'am. Sorry, ma'am."
     Mrs. Dearborn stood statuesque, arms akimbo, then removed one daisy from a vase, nearly smiling while saying "There" to no one at all. As she sat stiff-backed at her desk in her study--picking up the phone--she set down the flower, forgetting it was still in her hand at all.
     "Yes, this is Anna Dearborn," she said, as rigid in her tone as she was in her poise. "No," she said sternly, as close to shouting as a proper lady could come. "No, I ordered two, one for the pool and one for the gazebo. Lord in heaven, can't you people get anything right?"
     She spun the daisy between her fingers as she listened, staring at Richard's portrait on the wall.
     "I don't care what your invoice says;" she rebutted, "I ordered two."
     Spinning the daisy.
     "Just a moment; it's in my purse," she said, lifting her bag from the floor and digging through it. Her purse was absolutely the only thing in her life not organized, besides her powder room, of course.
     She grabbed a piece of paper from her purse and glanced at it momentarily. "What's this?" she thought aloud, then dropped it on the desk. "Here we are," she said into the phone, unfolding the invoice. "Two;"
she said, "it says here, two."
     She picked up the strange piece of paper from the desk.
     "Well you had better, otherwise I'll see to it you never work in the Free World again, or the whole world for that matter."
     She opened up the sheet of paper.
     "Yes, that will do fine."
     She read the title.
     "Apology accepted," she said, hanging up the phone, hypnotized by the words on the paper. They were words written long ago but she remembered them still, like seeing an old lover on the street one day, years and decades down the road. It was the poem Richard had given her in the park that day long ago when she had worn the sundress her Aunt Mellie had given her in the hopes of drawing his attention. Even though he wore torn jeans and had sideburns down to his jowls, she couldn't help not looking at him much longer, no matter how unladylike it may seem. Then he dropped this poem in her lap, running off like a scared little puppy, which she thought adorable. She wasn't much into poetry, but she was into him. She read it over and over because it reminded her of him. What had become of it in the years gone by she'd never cared about or known till now. He had been saving it all these years. And these weren't just the same words; this was the actual poem on the original piece of paper. She read through it again and even though she still didn't understand it, it made her think of him. She thought about him as he was back then, but mostly about how he was now, about the way he was acting and had been for quite some time--about what he had said. She remembered the very first time he met her parents. He was brash and cocky, quite rude. But she loved him and knew he was just nervous. She remembered how silly he was when he asked her to marry him. It was not how she had dreamed it would be, but it seemed like she had been waiting forever so she wasn't going to let the opportunity pass her by. She remembered him saying they should go back to that spot every year. She remembered agreeing. She hated the great outdoors. She knew they wouldn't have to go back. She remembered their honeymoon. She remembered catching the great fish and what a proud predator Richard was. It excited her so that she lost her poise and her clothes that night, then almost lost her mind thinking about staying there forever. It must have been the moon, or the drink. When he talked her out of it, she knew he was ready to take on the world. But he had been acting so strange as of late. He must be suffering from fatigue, what with all this talk of a vacation and all. And now his slipping this poem into her purse. Maybe he did need more than just a good night's sleep. Maybe he did need some time off. Just get him through tonight, she thought; just get him on the mayor's committee and then they would take some time off, perhaps even a whole week. Anything, just get him through tonight. She wondered how the Gates merger had gone.  She picked up the phone and dialed her travel agent. There. Everything was set. Then, she stormed out of her office, almost knocking over the caterer on her way to the door.
     "Mrs. Dearborn," said the caterer, "we still have to finalize the--"
     "You take care of it," Mrs. Dearborn said on her way out the door. "What do you think I pay you for?"
     The caterer didn't know. She had never known. She was by far the most expensive caterer in the city. She was scared to death she wouldn't get it right.
     The door slammed. Mrs. Dearborn had something much more important to take care of.

     When Mrs. Dearborn came to the revolving door at 1136 4th Avenue--her building--she felt like saying something. No, she felt like screaming it. Bums! And the crowd had grown even larger, now stirring and chattering on as there seemed to be some commotion in the midst. She ought to call the police, but there wasn't time right now. She was on a mission. She would be putting a stop to it very soon, though.
     Bolting out the elevator door to the penthouse suite before the doors had even opened all the way, she blew by the secretary, as was her way, the secretary saying "Good afternoon, Mrs. Dearborn" as she burst into the office. She put on the brakes at the desk--holding the envelope with the plane tickets--and began to speak when all of a sudden she noticed that Mr. Dearborn was not sitting there. In fact, he wasn't in the office at all.
     "Marsha," she said into the speakerphone, leafing through her husband's papers on the desk, looking for the Gates document.
     "Yes, Mrs. Dearborn."
     "Do you know where Mr. Dearborn is?" She couldn't find the papers anywhere.
     The secretary said something, but Mrs. Dearborn couldn't make it out for the noise below.
     "Speak louder, dear."
     "I said, he should be in his office. He hasn't passed this way since the Gates meeting."
     "Well, he's not here."
     "Maybe he's in the bathroom."
     "No, dear. The door's wide-open. He's not in there."
     "Then I don't know. I'm sorry, ma'am."
     She found the document.
     "All right, then," said Mrs. Dearborn.
     "Is that all, ma'am?"
     "No," said Mrs. Dearborn. "I want you to call the police. I've had it with all the commotion below."
     "Yes, ma'am. I'll--"
     Then the sounds of sirens made their way, becoming louder and louder. Mrs. Dearborn smiled.
     "Never you mind," said Mrs. Dearborn. "It sounds like it's been taken care of. Put Mr. Dearborn through if he calls." She hung up.
     Mrs. Dearborn perused the document. All was well. Then, gloating, she traipsed over to the open window. She would never understand why Mr. Dearborn always had to keep the window open. Bums! Now, they would get theirs. She looked down below. There were two police cars and, an ambulance. Strange, she thought. She looked closer and, leaning out with one hand on the rail, touched a piece of cloth. It was a torn piece of a shirt. What? It was a blue pinstripe strip of starched cotton. It was just like the shirt Mr. Dearborn was wearing today. She knew; she had picked it out herself. Her heart began racing. Her face became flush. She looked to the street below. She screamed in horror.
     "Have a nice day, Mrs. Dearborn," said the secretary as Mrs. Dearborn tore through the office toward the elevator, faster than was her usual way. Did Mrs. Dearborn still want her to call the police? She didn't know; she couldn't make out the last thing she said for all the noise below. She would shut the windows on her way out the office, just like always. Those two really do need to take a vacation, she thought as she went about her paperwork.


The End


 © 2000, Philip Loyd

 

 

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