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The Continuing Tales Of… The Postal Service – Give Up

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    The Continuing Tales Of… is a new bi-monthly feature where we pay tribute to an album’s anniversary by asking writers to compose a short story inspired by each one of the songs. This installment is The Postal Service’s Give Up, which turns 10 this month.

    It’s fitting we’re kicking off our new short story feature with an album like Give Up. There have undoubtedly been thousands of hasty narratives scribbled on 11th grade physics notes, blessed with working titles like “Recycled Air” and “Brand New Colony”. These songs have been internalized by an entire demographic — it was indie rock. It taught us how to think, how to feel, how to love. Strange to think that these daring, transparent emotions have had 10 years to mature, without losing any of its briskness. In lameness and in coolness, The Postal Service has never been insignificant, and asking our writers (including Kitty) to chide or celebrate reckless teenaged infatuation was a wonderful challenge.

    -Luke Winkie

    Purchase this artwork (via Society6): Print || Canvas || iPhone Case || Laptop Skin

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    Artwork by Cap Blackard.

    Click the arrow below to continue on to our first story…

    “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight”
    BY ABBY JOHNSTON

    “I love you.”

    That is all the note said. Not signed, nor sealed. Just like hundreds of identical declarations before it I crumpled it up and threw it in the trash. I liked the crunch as it folded into a tight ball. I liked the anonymity of the paper as it joined the other refuse in the bin, packed away.

    As I worked a cork out of a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, I thought how his handwriting looked more frantic, even with a few strokes. I slugged down the glass like a teenager, desperate to erase the note, and recalled where the ink had run from another night spent weeping. I kept thinking that after all this time, all we’d been through together, the last three tumultuous years of desperation and longing, that I should be completely disgusted by now. But I’m not. I just feel sorry for him. One glass finished already. This was going to be a long night.

    I looked around my box-filled apartment, once a constant stream of friends and lovers, now compartmentalized in brown cardboard squares. God, I love this place. High ceilings, big windows that flooded it with light. I already miss my mismatched decor cramming the walls. My books filling the narrow, floor to ceiling shelf. How am I going to move all of those? I need a Kindle. Taking a seat on the bare floor I began to cry. I could still feel the paper pleading for my attention all the way from the trashcan.

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    It took a while rifling through boxes, but I located my emergency cigarettes. I’d smoked all through journalism school and my freelance career. In the earlier years, I remember a carton of Camel Blues showing up at my doorstep. He was always good about the details. I can’t consider myself a smoker anymore, but this stash was reserved for moments exactly like this. I unlocked the window and struggled to push it up as it screeched. Straddling the sill I inhaled, then pushed a cloud of smoke from my lungs over the streets of DC. I will miss this city.

    Tomorrow I’d start my transition to a new life, away from this place where I’d become an adult, where my friends were. I was on a first-name basis with the cashiers at the store a few blocks down. The bar where I worked nights during leaner times was a mile away. That is where it all started.

    I had worked there about a year the night he walked in. I knew immediately he wasn’t a regular, I knew the regulars. These guys were the blue-collar bunch, they ordered beers, not cocktails, and quizzed me over the Redskins. I even let Dan, a 63-year old HVAC tech, smoke inside toward closing time, but only because he reminded me so much of my dad and bitched about stepping into the cold to have a Pall Mall.

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    I wish I could say he slunk in or interrupted the flow of things ostensibly, but he didn’t. He just walked in.

    It took me a bit to get to him at the bar. He took a corner stool and waited patiently as I attended to regulars.

    I pointed to him hurriedly.

    “Vodka tonic, please.”

    As I made the drink I studied him. Blond, brown eyes. His hair reminded me of Julian Assange, who I always thought had a fabulous coif, despite being creepy. I thought about telling him that, but wasn’t particularly talkative and I thought he might take it the wrong way. I gave him his drink and opened the tab. He was a good looking guy, and I figured he was meeting a girl there, but the hours passed as he nursed his drinks, blinking at nothing in particular. He only had two. He closed his tab with minutes to spare and walked out. He hadn’t said more than 10 words to me.

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    That was the meeting — nonchalant, forgettable. Now it gives me chills.

    A few days later, the letters started to come. My boyfriend at the time found the first crammed through the mail slot, the simple folded message, “I love you.” He brought it to me when I was still naked in bed. We laughed about, speculating which of the boys at the bar it could be. We always figured that’s where it came from, because surely the writers I worked with would have been a bit more verbose. We joked about my “stalker,” laughing that we would hold stake-outs to catch him.

    I shook my head as I thought about it. My carelessness made me sick. It all unwound from there, the notes became more frequent, but always the same – “I love you.” Then packages, presents. Things that I actually wanted. This guy knew things about me. My favorite cigarettes, my favorite wine, a novel I’d been eyeing at the used book store. Each time I received another box, another slip of paper, I felt sick.

    It’s strange how things erode you over time. I was afraid of everything. Countered by my joy of finally landing a staff position at a paper was the love of the solitude that freelance work allowed. I stopped going to happy hour with my friends, or even inviting them over. I quit my job at the bar and lived on Chinese delivery. I became so despondent that my boyfriend of two years ended things, clueless of how to handle the situation. The once loudmouthed life of the party was reduced to a cowering hermit, engineered by a puppet master that did nothing but give me gifts.

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    I flicked my cigarette into the street below and held out both of my middle fingers. “FUCK YOU!” I screamed at the empty block, as I lit another. Tomorrow this will be done, tomorrow I can start again. And tonight, I ruled my life again. I wasn’t afraid to sit in my open window. The promise of something else was tangible, I could taste it. Even if it was in Boston.

    I smoked a second cigarette down to the filter and went to check that the door was locked for the second time. It was a tick I had developed since this ordeal had started. To assure myself it was locked, I undid the lock, the chain, the deadbolt, and opened and shut the door. But as I began to close it, something caught my eye. A brown paper box, and a hand-written note.

    “Goodbye.”

    “Such Great Heights”
    BY CAROLINE RAYNER

    Do you remember calling me the night you left town? You asked if I’d started drinking, if I’d finished a bottle of wine yet, and I told you I was drinking mint tea and reading about life beneath Antarctic ice and thinking about ice inside the rings of Saturn.

    I read the same sentence over and over and thought of the whirlpool galaxy tattoo on your shoulder.

    You talked about Logan. You said that he was driving, that he was playing music you hated. Rap and space station disco, rewinding and skipping forward at the same time. You said you couldn’t wait to play the lame punk and metal you liked in middle school.

    Are you still eating stale Cheerios?

    Did you end up stopping for cigarettes?

    You’re always almost out of cigarettes.

    I like when you talk about chain smoking before shows and writing songs at the last minute. Songs about spiders or surgery or video games or acid. Songs you laugh about and Dan loves and Jesse hates and Logan sometimes forgets. Songs you all sing together, or yell together. Songs you play as fast as you can.

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    Remember the night you got high and played “Sister Ray” for an hour? In Logan’s basement before he got rid of the antique mirror and traffic cones and lava lamps? Jesse let me play his guitar, and Dan sang. You were wearing black jeans, and you’d just cut your hair into sharp angles that framed your face and fell across your eyes as you played bass.

    I haven’t been sleeping. I’ve forgotten how to sleep. I’ve forgotten where to sleep. I tried piling pillows and towels and sweaters in the bathtub and sleeping there. I tried curling up in the argyle armchair on my fire escape. I tried lying on my couch under the puffy blanket you stole from a yard sale.

    At four o’clock in the morning, I made chocolate chip pancakes.

    I broke a salt shaker.

    Do you remember driving through the mountains in the middle of the night? You took all the turns way too fast, and you told stories. About buying records and learning to like whiskey. You pulled over next to an abandoned gas station and spray-painted your name across the back wall. You spray-painted shooting stars and a shark, too.

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    I drove through the mountains by myself. During the day. I saw red flowers and a crumbling chimney and an old woman wearing a paisley dress and round glasses with turquoise frames and carrying a basket of apples.

    You would’ve wanted to stop to talk to her. You would’ve made us stop to talk to her.

    You said that you’d been stealing Dan’s clothes. That you were wearing one of his T-shirts. A hot pink one with a ragged V-neck that he cut himself.

    Did you take the black sweater I let you borrow? The one that’s too long on you?

    You can keep it, if you want.

    I don’t know why I called, because you’re playing a show tonight. You’re playing a show right now. You’re playing in some room with a low ceiling and exposed pipes along the walls, some room where everyone crashes into everyone else because you and Logan and Jesse and Dan play so loud and so fast and you hate saying anything between songs.

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    I bet you’re wearing a jean vest and red lipstick.

    You might forget to call back. Sometimes you forget. Usually you forget. You’ll shoot whiskey and shotgun a beer and start an argument about Johnny Thunders and lose your cigarettes and bum one or two or three from someone you don’t know. Someone wearing a leather jacket. Someone skinny. Someone you’ll convince to get a neon blue comet tattooed on his wrist.

    It’s almost midnight.

    I haven’t eaten yet.

    I wish I could remember all the songs you’ve played for me. I wish I could remember what you say about them, too. You say weird things. You say they sound like garage shock treatment and old horror films on coke.

    Do you remember sneaking up to the roof where someone always hangs quilts from a clothesline? Do you remember sleeping there?

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    Shit.

    I should go.

    “Sleeping In”
    BY JEREMY D. LARSON

    A hare darted out so I just fired one shot.

    ‘Oswald! You almost shot me! Shert voz me!’ Every time they say my name it sounds like ‘Ass-wild’

    ‘Oswald!’ Ass-wild.

    The snow is too loud under these boots and it’s so wet it’s crinkling which is no good because those hares can smell us and hear us. These tracks aren’t going anywhere, boys, and my hands are frozen to my rifle. Look! I’m not even grabbing it its frozen to my hands and I taste vodka in the corners of my mouth and —

    Where’s Ethel?

    She was right behind me – I wonder if she saw the hare. I need to turn around. I need to turn around. Turn around. Why can’t I turn around? OK, why am I still walking. Stop. Turn around.

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    ‘Lee,’

    And now she’s on top of me, Ethel, her onyx eyes and astonishing tits directly in my face. Ethel I have to tell you — you have huge tits. They’re astonishing and huge.

    ‘Lee, where are we? What happened to the hunting trip?’ I can see her breath in the room. We’re not hunting anymore, we’re at the hotel.

    ‘Which one?’ The Soviet one in Moscow, with the chipping enamel on that tub. Ethel, feel my wrist, is it cold? Her fingers fall on my hand and her thumb swipes across my veins. Heaven, her tits are even closer to me. Unbutton her blouse and let them out. Do it. Just move your hand and do it.

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    Out of the corner of my eye, I see frost lacing the corners of window. Our breaths collide into each other. Her tits are so close to my chest it feels like they’re breathing on me. My hands are frozen. Can I warm them?

    ‘Lee I’m a married woman.’ It’s like her tits are radiators, I can make out the wavy lines of heat coming off of them. Now she’s just in her bra. ‘But, Julian…’ Oh to hell with Julian, Ethel.

    Her hand slides up my uniform my old civil patrol garb, and she dents her spine, drags her lips up my neck, and whispers in my ear, “The proletariat is right. The proletariat must always be right, and the revolution of the pro-“ Christ, not now! She presses her lips in harder, calming my shivering body, moving to my cheek and finally her lips are on mine, her tits are on mine. Bend my hand back and touch her tit. Bend my hand back and slide it under there and touch Ethel’s warm tit. Why won’t you don’t it. Why can’t I do it. Just do it. Move your hand. Come on.

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    There. Oh my god. Never let go of Ethel’s tits. Her hips push into mine, and I finally I start to warm up.

    ‘Lee, you left the water on in the tub’ The tub with the cracked enamel (I’ll never forget the cracked enamel) now, apparently, has rosy-pink water pouring out of it on to the floor. Oh no. We have to go, we have to go where it’s warmer. Ethel, please, the Cuban embassy, Japan, come on.

    ‘Lee, no, let’s stay here, you’re warming me up’ Ok. Staying here is fine, the water will freeze anyway because liquid couldn’t stay liquid this freezing room. Out of the corner of my eye I see a sheep. Ethel why is there a real live sheep in this hotel room? My uniform was on the floor, and the rosy water wasn’t stopping. My wrists are cold again.

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    ‘Lee, when did Castro go to the Bronx Zoo?’ 1959 – he fed peanuts to the baby elephants. I wish we could have been there. I used to go to the zoo as kid all the time, skip school and feed the elephants peanuts just like Castro did. Is that where the sheep is from? The zoo? Another kiss on the neck. We could still go, just steal away and go.

    Ethel I’m sorry but your tits – I just, see, I can’t stop feeling them, I never want to take my hands off them. I grab them and lift her so she’s straddling my skivvies it’s like touching two steaming kettles.

    ‘Lee, we shouldn’t. I kiss her chest, between her tits. I look up: Mr. and Mrs. Lee Rosenberg: It would have been perfect. Why didn’t you meet me at the Bronx Zoo when I was a 14? Why didn’t you meet me in Mexico City where it’s warm? Or in Texas in my tiny room. I go to these ridiculous ACLU and ACP meetings in Dallas eyes trained on the door waiting for you to walk in.

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    ‘Lee, I’m here now’ Ethel, why Moscow? The hunting trip, the hotel – what are you doing here? Why this place with the tub and the water and the fucking sheep—she kisses me quiet, her tits now hot like kettles to the touch, burning my chest red. It feels so good. The bed is starting to move. Ethel the water it’s picking up the bed. Your tits are burning me, I can’t let go of you. ‘Lee, the revolution of the proletariat—‘ Christ, Ethel stop and just take me with you.

    The sheep won’t stop bleating and the bed is unhinged from the floor, adrift in the hotel room. Ethel’s body is burning mine, my skin is starting to blister and char but she’s here. The crendza bumps into the bed, and the frost on the window is gone. The room is porous and breathes with our breath, crinkling and curling into itself — seeping through any hole it can. No. No. hang on. Don’t stop. Ethel’s lips graft on to mine, her tits sinking into my chest, through my ribs, and my hands catch fire behind her and as the water rises faster out of the corner of my eye I see the rifle floating. ‘Lee did you shoot the hare?’ she speaks into my mouth, burning my tongue away turning my teeth to ash sending fire down my throat. No, I didn’t.

    It was 11:00 a.m. November 23rd when Lee awoke, and a few miles away in Dallas Texas the Union Pacific Railroad that ran parallel to Dealey Plaza blew its whistle he knew it was too late to get to the 6th floor and all of a sudden a real pain hit his throat and ran down to his stomach. He sat there, paralyzed in a flutter of afterimages. He thought about sprinting (he could get there), but then he tried to hang on to Ethel as her face, her eyes, and voice slipped from his mind.

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     “Nothing Better”
    BY ANDREW UZENDOSKI

    I.

    She called me at eleven that night: “I just broke up with my boyfriend.” To be more specific, he had just broken up with her. But she was in shock and I would give her the benefit of semantics. More to point: it had happened just two and a half minutes ago; she was still in his studio apartment; and yes, he could hear her having our conversation.

    “He is sitting right on his bed. He’s just playing with his stupid cell phone.”

    In a single studio apartment: an x-boyfriend and an x-girlfriend, on a bed and a couch, respectively. It was 7 degrees outside and snowing. I asked her how she was going to get home, how she was going to get out of there.

    “Well, I don’t want this vagina to give me a ride.”

    The response was jarring. Passively she called him a vagina, via our phone conversation, to his face. Had I never actually heard someone call anyone else that? Not even sixth graders? Not even six year olds? I never had! Somehow the gluttony of its synonyms had rendered the word itself utterly useless as an insult—and society had just kind of instinctively known this. Except her! And her insistence on using the word again! She called him it a second and then third time. And then a fourth! It betrayed a stunning stubborn faith in uncreative emasculation. But I was caught up in the awesome moment of her newfound singleness to realize the ramifications of her not using “pussy” to shame an x-boyfriend!

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    I later realized that this was the exact moment when I watched myself not dodge a bullet.

    I picked her up at his place at a quarter past eleven. I couldn’t see him through the door, not even his silhouette. Even though it was February, she clearly wasn’t in a hurry as she slowly crossed the half-shoveled path from his front door to my car. It was almost too respectful of the accumulating snow, her deliberate transition.

    Waiting in the car for her to leave his studio apartment, I texted you not to wait up for me.

    There was no obvious destination for us to drive toward. She didn’t direct me anywhere. And I desperately didn’t want to know if she would prefer to go home. So I didn’t ask. Instead, the car drove us around the neighborhood for fifteen minutes. For twenty minutes. For twenty-five minutes. The neighborhood was just north of the Mississippi and the warehouse district and it was marked by rows and rows of streets named after presidents in consecutive order. Washington. Adams. Jefferson. Madison. Giant artificial clouds produced by the city just south of us hung over our presidential drive. Monroe. Quincy Adams. Jackson. Van Buren. Giant tangible subzero clouds that reached upward three times the size of the skyline. Harrison. Tyler. Polk. Giant clouds that somehow simultaneously didn’t weigh anything and yet made everything else weigh twice as much. Taylor. Fillmore. Pierce.

    We stopped at one of the forty or fifty corner bars named by or after Polish or Czech immigrants that checkered the neighborhood and the neighboring neighborhoods to the north. In Northeast Minneapolis, physics dictate that a late night drive will end, or at least monetarily rest, at one such bar. But the one that we stopped at, named Kermaczek’s, was the only bar that had a six by three fishing aquarium embedded into the wall behind the liquor shelf. After ordering a couple of PBRs, a sixty-five year old lady, who was bartending in front of the aquarium, asked me if I wanted to join that night’s meat raffle.

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    I turned back to her, a girl I had known for eight or nine months, but a girl I had never actually been alone with prior to that night. “Do you want to join tonight’s meat raffle?” I asked.

    She had never participated in one and was ecstatic. It suddenly seemed to her like the most perfect and urgent way to forget about a break-up. She bought eight tickets from the bartender at one dollar apiece.

    On the sixth number called, she won her choice of meat. She chose a pork chop.

    I told her we would come back here next Saturday at noon and win more meat. I told her we could then go across the street and catch a rival meat raffle at 3:00 PM. We made plans for two consecutive Saturdays. The frozen pork chop stood on the table thawing at an imperceptible rate. It might have been a trophy or it might have been nothing more than a slowly thawing pig. But ten minutes after 2:00 AM, I rested my hand on the pork to find it softening. We needed to get it back outside, back into the cold, back below freezing.

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    I texted you not to wait up for me. That I was going to meet up with Jason at Grumpy’s. That he had some dates for the band’s next couple shows and he wanted to run them by me.

    There was a vintage typewriter on her table. It was like some manifestation of her official hipsterdom; it was like her hipster passport. And she didn’t have any underwear on—I didn’t know if she started out the night without it or if that decision was made on the fly. Yes, I texted you not to wait up for me while I drove in your Chevy Nova to take another girl to a late night meat raffle.

    II.

    Here is a list of reasons why, not only do I never want to date you again, I never want to see you again, and if I ever do see you again, I’m running you over with my car that you drove to pick up that bitch from her x-boyfriend’s apartment:

    1. You went to your first meat raffle with me not her.
    2. You went to your second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth meat raffle with me and not her.
    3. And apparently you went to, what, your nineteenth raffle with her?
    4. Your reason for breaking up with me the first time was that you needed some time alone.
    5. You didn’t say that you were breaking up with me because you were fucking Alison Ward.
    6. And her name is Alison. So fucking say it! Alison Ward.
    7. You texted me fourteen variations of Don’t wait up for me or Band practice ran late over the month of February:
    8. You wouldn’t have been able to use that fucking meat raffle as an impromptu first fucking date if it wasn’t for me.
    9. You weren’t turned off by a woman who calls someone she dated for two years a vagina to his face a half dozen times on the phone while she waits for her rebound to pick her up from his studio apartment?
    10. You like Mumford and Sons.
    11. You still come to the coffee shop where I work at, usually in a hoodie.
    12. You fucking took her to our meat raffle!
    13. You bought the Mumford and Son’s SECOND LP?!
    14. You cheated on me in my Chevy Nova?
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    III

    It was the morning after my first night spent at your apartment. We didn’t mind that we were sleeping through half an entire Saturday. But then suddenly you sat up—you remembered!—there was a meat raffle at 12:00 at Kermaczek’s! And it was already 11:47! Last night we had discussed that neither one of us had ever been to a meat raffle, but it wasn’t until after the morning had passed that you remembered about 2:00 at Kermaczek’s.

    You quickly described the handmade poster that hung on the wall between the men’s and women’s bathrooms: “Meat Raffle Saturdays at 12:00 PM. Premium cuts from Von Hanson’s. Share your winnings (or not) with your neighbors.” The “Or Not” was not an amendment added later but clearly a deliberate choice by the poster’s original author. Below the handwritten lettering there was a pig playing pool with another pig. A no-nonsense looking cow, who worked as a mechanic at the shop around the corner, watched from a stool in the back. He was wearing a plaid t-shirt with a pack of cigarettes tucked into his right sleeve next to the shop’s logo; he clearly knew his way around these parts. But whether he was staring in defiance of bovine segregation or in anticipation of the next game with one of the pigs, it was not clear. There was also two PBR cans, a case of Bush Light and a single Old Style tall boy huddling around the table. The cans were all the same size as the cow, and astonishingly, they were somehow characterized as equally captivated by the pig duel as the no-nonsense (and maybe an asshole?) cow was. But for you, the advertisement’s most striking feature was that there was not any actual “meat” meat on the poster. There were talking pigs and talking cows and possibly talking beers but there was no packaged and ready to cook meat. You were suspicious of this at first. But then you sensed that this poster was for community insiders, and then you weren’t suspicious. Rather, you were Minnesotan. (And I was from Wisconsin, which was close enough.)

    Two hipsters went to a meat raffle: I found your underwear, you found my jeans, I forgot my socks, one of us was twenty-five and the other twenty-four.

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    Neither of us won any meat. The first generation grandparents cleaned-up. There must be skill to this, we thought. There must be old-world knowledge of how to fight for meat. Or perhaps it was just that our five dollar joint pot was not enough capital for a weekend’s supply of ground chuck, let alone the top sirloin steak that was chosen within the first three tickets. But at a dollar a ticket and with the raffle three blocks from your apartment, it certainly felt like the odds would get better as the year went on. And our luck/skill did increase! We would grill out first cut of prize tenderloin in less than two weeks. And I would find a yet undiscovered skill at preparing pork shoulder. Later that summer, I would even win first choice from the hallowed freezer of meats.

    And we learned that the aquarium was a gift from the will of an old bartender. His wife (and co-owner) still worked as one of the bartenders and he wanted to leave her with something that reminded them both of 80’s décor and retirement. At least we’ll always have the meat raffle.

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