The Puzzle

“It will come to you. Don’t get discouraged,” the voice on the other end of the line stated. “Such a beautiful puzzle, two thousand pieces. It is a work of art; just like you, a work of art.”

At that moment I didn’t feel like a work of art, not anything close. My drinking was getting to my health. My marriage had fallen apart; I was estranged from my children. I was terribly depressed; thoughts of taking my own life accompanied me everywhere.

“But, but, all I want is a puzzle to take my mind off my life,” I stammered.

“Yep, how it’s designed,” the voice on the other end of the phone proclaimed. “You’ll catch the hang of it.”

“There is no picture, just a plain, grey paper box, not even instructions,” I said in an irritated voice.

“Give it a chance. Take the first step, open-the-box,” came the reply. “But I have to ride the sound waves now, another troubled man is on the other line.”

“Who are you?” I asked sharply into the handset.

“I’m God. Gotta go.” The line went silent.

I sat there with the dead phone in my ear.

You see, I am very troubled, I am very ill. The prognosis for my recovery is poor. I see why they take their lives, I thought to myself. If I keep going like this I will end up dead, just like the other men, the other survivors of child abuse.

However, the answer to my recovery came to me in a dream. A lovely carefree dream. A dream of flying with angels. I was to buy a puzzle and assemble it. Not any puzzle mind you. A specific puzzle, from a specific source.

In the dream I saw myself reading the newspaper where a small ad in the classified section stated: ‘Free puzzle specifically designed to release your cares. Completing this puzzle will change your life for the better. Guaranteed!’

For me, the `guaranteed` part cinched the deal.

The next morning, I stepped outside and recovered the newspaper from the bushes where the cruel paper boy threw it. The disheveled newspaper had fallen open to a page of advertisements and there prominently displayed in the middle was the ad from my dream.

Try this puzzle free. You can pay me later.

Staring at the ad in disbelief I uttered, “Oh hell, maybe there is something to my puzzle-dream.”

After the morning chores I made out an envelope and sent away for the puzzle. I put it out of my mind and entered back into my old pre-dream space – nightmares, alcohol, and depression.

A week later the postman delivered a package to me. The puzzle.

Ripping off the packaging, I opened the box. Two thousand pieces were enclosed in a clear plastic bag. I cut the bag open with the scissors I kept in my desk drawer and laid out the Masonite board I used for assembling puzzles and poured the pieces onto the center of the board.

I am confronted with the disconcerting fact that all the pieces are blank – on both sides. I reached for the phone and called God. A recorded message from the phone company indicated: ‘The number you have dialed is not in service.’

There has to be a way.

Sifting through the pile I withdrew all the pieces that had a straight edge. Four of the two thousand pieces looked like corners; I laid them out on the board in a manner that marked a large rectangle about the same shape as the unmarked box.

Some of the straight-edged pieces seemed to fit together. I attempted assembling the puzzle sides. Progress was slow. I saw the puzzle was cut by a machine where the characteristics of cutting them left the pieces with a top-side and a bottom-side. I flipped all the pieces over until all of them were arranged on the board top-side up.

Becoming discouraged with the enormity of the task, I pushed back my chair, and paced the floor. Sinking again into a fit of depression I reached for the gin bottle, which was secretly stored in the back of a kitchen cabinet. For once in my life I thought the better of it; instead I went outside and took a walk.

I had been on the walk for an hour and it was becoming dark; I turned and walked back to my cabin and went to bed.

In the dead of the night an angel appeared by my bed. I was frightened, but she was beautiful; her countenance disarmed me and I forgot my fear.

“I see you got the puzzle God told you about. Good going, I am proud of you, you are on the way to a better life.”

The angel spoke in a tender, lilting voice, almost musical, sheer poetry and very comforting. I will never forget her voice.

I really need a better life, I thought to myself. I sure screwed this one up.

“Agreed,” the angel said. “You have some big problems, they are not insurmountable, the puzzle will show you the way.”

“Who are you? Who sent you? Why are you here in my dreams?”

“I am your Guardian Angel, I have been sent to you by the Universe as a messenger, I supply your intuition. I give comfort to the abused.”

“What do you know about my abuse?”

“I know everything about your abuse; I have been with you from the beginning. You do not really know about your abuse, which is why you are so troubled. Once you understand what happened, you will be able to move on and fulfill your destiny, a destiny of love.”

“Why didn’t you come to me before? What took you so long, can’t you see I’m suffering?” I asked plaintively.

“I came to you many times; you were so troubled you didn’t hear me. I heard your cries for help. I persisted. Many never hear me, they become lost. You may be different. I don’t know. You’re worth a try. This is your time, you finally hear me, we are talking. Now, complete the puzzle or be lost forever – your choice.”

My dream ended.

Upon awakening, I poked my right forearm and found to my surprise I was among the living. I got up, dressed, had a coffee, and walked over to the desk. I stared blankly at the puzzle board.

At least I have the four corners and some of the parts of the sides assembled. What did the angel mean when she said that it’s time for me to complete the puzzle?

The phone rang and startled me out of my funk.

“Hello,” I answered, not really engaged in the call.

“Hi there, this is God. I see you met Angel and started the puzzle. Wow, she is a hottie and whew, doesn’t wear any clothes. Way over the top. If you survive your past you may not survive her!”

“God, it’s you again. The phone company said your line was disconnected.”

“Yeah, I had a big response to the puzzle ad and had to shut down that operation. You got some of the pieces together I see and figured out which sides of the pieces represent the top surface. Wow, Way To Go, you are on your way to assembling the biggest puzzle of your lifetime. It is going to change your life for the good. That is, if sleeping with that Angel doesn’t kill you first.” God guffawed.

“I didn’t know humans slept with angels,” I frowned.

“Of course, they do. Happens all the time, including some of the biggest mistakes in history,” God snickered.

“This puzzle is impossible.”

“Nothing is impossible, it requires a little work on your part, that’s all.”

“Can’t you see, I’m working hard?” The words just came out of my mouth; immediately, I regretted saying them. For years, I’d spoken in the exact manner when I confronted my ex: spiteful, hateful, self-centered, angry words. No wonder she left me. No wonder my children drifted away. I was in such pain, I could only consider myself. “I am so pathetic. My predicament chases away the very people who care for me.”

“And I am not uncaring,” God countered. “All survivors say that. All alcoholics deny they have a problem. You’re different, you can learn to care and love others. You are worth saving. First you must learn to love yourself, with a little direction from Angel of course. Gotta go!”

God seemed a little more talkative this time, I thought to myself.

“He’s pretty good with humans, especially the troubled ones.” The words came out of nowhere.

“Angel is that you?”

A shaft of light came through the window and illumined two of the puzzle pieces. I separated them from the pile and saw a pattern where they would fit. My hand trembled as I hooked them onto their potential partners.

As they came together, an impulse of energy rippled through my hand and arm. At that exact moment, I had a brief vision, a vision of a small child crying. I was overcome with grief and the emotions of guilt and shame.

The image-board dimmed; light from the window passed into shadow. An imperceptible change came over me. I felt – relieved – relieved that I had made some progress on the puzzle. A picture resolved itself onto the pieces depicting a memory of my past, a snapshot of me when I was very young. The image made me feel very uncomfortable.

Sitting quietly, I called for Angel. She didn’t answer. Still, I felt calm, somehow knowing this would be the beginning of a long relationship with her.

It was time for the morning chores. My mood brightened, I did the chores in a relaxed and unhurried manner.

Then I took out my checkbook to see how much money was left. The balance was very low, I was going to have to tap my 401K again. Soon, I would be out of money. I needed to find a job, if I could hold a job long enough to get some money together I might be able to publish a story I was working on. Previously, I was never able to make any real money writing, but it could be different this time.

The morning flew by. Deciding to do something with my new-found peacefulness, I took out my laptop and opened the Word file for my story. I scrolled to the part near the ending.

New words came to me. My fingers flew across the keys. Years of pent up and repressed memories appeared on the screen before me. That’s when I realized knowing all about my past was within my grasp. For once I could be free of the terrible memories; they would be gone from me, recorded forever, permanently in print for others to read, who in turn, would discover their own ‘demons.’ Perhaps this is the story I needed to tell. A story of meeting an Angel, a story of faith overcoming all obstacles, a story of how giving my troubles to God set me free to make a better life for myself.

An hour flew by. I decided to take a walk and let the story gel in my head. On the way back, I stopped for the mail. It was the usual mid-week mail – bills, flyers, appeals for money, and, wait what’s this, a business letter from the magazine where I had made a submission.

Oh well, probably just another rejection letter. I stood there with the mail shaking in my hands.

“Better get it over with,” I said out loud, to no one in particular.

“Hurry and open it!” Angel’s voice came out of nowhere.

“It’s you Angel. You took me by surprise again. I saw what you did with that shaft of sunlight on those puzzle pieces, neat trick.”

“Open that envelope; show me, show me, show me.”

I thought about the envelope, and then my mind went back to the puzzle pieces. I had a vision of my sisters. They were much older than I; I came along late in my family’s life. I remember being at the lake with them, those were the happier moments of my life.

The envelope fell from my hand; not all the moments were happy, some moments were very violent. I was getting sick, sick over the past.

“Breathe,” Angel said. “Exhale, you’re going to hyper-ventilate. Breathe at a normal rate, slowly, in, out, in, out,” she chanted.

I stood there and did what she told me. Soon my breathing returned to normal, the world stopped going around, my pulse rate dropped.

I picked up the envelope, opened one end and removed the letter. Within the folded letter there was a check made out to me in the amount of one-thousand-five-hundred and twenty-eight dollars. The letter said it was in payment for my last submission. The story would appear in the August edition. The editor would like to see more of my work, they may consider advances if the stories meet their guidelines.

“See, see what you have done, you’re published, you made moolah.” Angel seemed genuinely happy for me.

“Did you arrange this? Did God?” I asked in disbelief.

“No. You did. You are responsible for everything that happens to you. You have a choice, you can feel bad about your past and continue to suffer, or you can move on. Looks like you just moved on.” Angel started singing the theme song to The Jeffersons, Well, we’re movin’ on up. To the east side. To a deluxe apartment in the sky.

I laughed and continued down the lane to my cabin. Once inside I carefully put the check in my checkbook to be deposited when the bank opened. I placed the letter in my file of letters from the publishers.

This time, instead of caffeine, I took a cup of water and heated it in the microwave. With the steaming hot cup in my hand I sat at the puzzle board. I fiddled with some of the puzzle pieces. A few of them left me with the feeling they might fit together, I put them down on the board and as I pushed them along to the other pieces, a picture formed on them. A picture of a house on a steep hillside.

I went to the cabinet and brought down the box containing the family photos. I had carefully saved those photos in a beautiful presentation box. The collection of photos came from various family members, all of them gone.

I laid a stack of photos on the puzzle board. I thumbed through the stack until I found a picture of the house that was identical to the picture on the puzzle pieces. I recognized the house, one of the first homes I could remember. A pang of fear rippled through my body. The inner sides of my thighs began to burn.

“I see you found a couple of memories,” God said, his voice came out of nowhere.

“You startled me,” I blurted out, “must you always?”

“My apologies, I keep forgetting you are not a God-fearing man. Maybe you will think of me more often, my presence is in everything you do. I should not be a surprise to you, but at any rate, I see you are making progress assembling the puzzle. This time the pieces just came to you on their own.”

“How?” I asked God.

“Seek and you shall find. Ask and it will be given unto you. That’s how it works you know. Can you see how it works now?”

“Do you mean all I have to do is envision what I want, and it will come to me? How can that be?”

“It’s called the `Law of Attraction,’ concentrate on your true desires and everything you need will be placed in front of you. All you have to do is take what you want and discard the rest back to the universe.”

“You know I have plenty of wants, how come it hasn’t worked until this moment?”

“Oh, you want things alright. You want stuff, you want money, you want fame, you want notoriety, but you don’t want to work for it. You want it to appear without putting anything up.”

God’s words stung. “Isn’t wanting what I want, enough? How come I can’t attract it by just wanting it?”

“The Law of Attraction doesn’t mean you will get what you want. The Law works by enabling you to find a way of getting what you want. First you desire something. When you concentrate on that desire, the Law will place the pathway in front of you. If you are alert, you will find the proper way. It may not be easy, but it will come.”

“Everyone wants something, how come they complain they aren’t getting what they want?”

“They were like you. They want something. When shown the way, they don’t want to work. You are different now. You asked me, I showed you the way. The Universe is taking a chance on you. The Universe sees you might be genuine. The Universe gave you Grace and an Angel.”

“How are you, Angel, and the Universe connected?”

“The Universe is the home of all life. You are born of the stuff of the Universe. The Universe wants you to live and create more life, to move life along, to spread life. You are the Universe. You created me. You called me your God. My job is to place the path in your way.

“You have created Angel, who is made from the stuff of the Universe that resides in your heart. When you listen to your heart, you are listening to life itself. But when your mind gets in the way, it is all caught up in the way you think you should be. Angel straightens that out for you.”

“Do you mean, I am the Universe, God, and Angel, all in one? I have the power to be and get what I want because I am life itself?”

“Yes, that’s what I mean. Gotta go.”

“Wait, wait, don’t leave me with a trifecta bombshell; I can never fulfill that role.”

My heart was racing, I stopped breathing again. What did Angel say? ‘Breathe, breathe, just breathe!’

It was time to sit down and write, I switched my chair to be at the laptop. Sitting in front of the empty screen, I decided to write about the house on the hillside, the house where it all began. The house of my nightmares.

I walk down a sidewalk to a small home and step onto the porch. I open the screen door towards me, as I grasp for the main door latch, the door opens on its own, I step inside to a long hallway. A few steps more and I see a parlor on the right and a dining room on the left.

The memories from the past came back. A chill descended on me. A creepy feeling raced up my arms. Working my way through the emotions, I concentrated on getting the words onto the screen.

The hallway is dimly lit by a small bare bulb protruding from a ceiling light. The parlor and the dining room are tastefully furnished in a style from the 30’s. All good quality furniture. The parlor has several overstuffed chairs with doilies on the arms, the kind that are woven from a thick string, woven into knots that circle around and around and join in the center. Standing on the end tables are simple, upright shaded lamps, alit with dim incandescing bulbs. The walls are covered with very flowery faded wallpaper. A thick Oriental carpet, worn in spots, fills the center of the floor, the outskirts, well worn, but expensive wood.

The dining room is not lit. Like the parlor, the window shades are pulled down blocking the outside natural light from ever coming in. It does not matter now because it is nighttime; middle of the nighttime.

As I moved along, I was writing the text in rhythm to my imaginary progress through the house. I could smell the dampness and decay of the aging building.

Walking down the hallway deeper into the house, the lights from the parlor and hallway fade behind me. It is darker now. Closed doors to other rooms line the hall. I have no idea what is behind those doors. My skin begins to crawl. I can hear faint conversation from the end of the hall where a stairway leads up to a second story. There is a closed door at the top of the stairs. I climb the stairs, careful not to make a sound. There are many voices quarreling with each other, sometimes laughing in a grotesque way. Demons; they know of my arrival. The door suddenly opens – the demons drag me into that room – and tear me to pieces.

I sat, barely able to move. Powerful memories of my childhood occupied my mind.

To distract myself from the force of the emotions, I moved back to the puzzle board. A stream of sunlight appeared as it had days prior. Pieces of the puzzle illuminated. I gathered them together and pushed them over into the side of the puzzle. They settled on the upper right-hand corner.

A picture of a middle-aged woman appeared, it was my mother. She was much younger than my recent memories of her. She was very beautiful and full of life and was picnicking with me and my sisters. My father was not to be found, perhaps he was the one taking the picture.

I started in earnest to find other puzzle pieces that would complement the ones I had already assembled. The job went very quickly now. Eventually I had completed the entire four sides and a great deal of the middle of the puzzle except for a round area that occupied the very center.

I was exhausted. Looking at the time I realized I needed to get to the bank before it closed to deposit the check from the publisher. After the bank I stopped for gas, then on to the supermarket to buy a microwavable dinner. After I returned home, I put the dinner in the freezer, then sat at the puzzle board.

“I see you deposited the check.” It was Angel. I could feel her presence.

“Can I see you? I want to know what you look like. God said you are a `stunner,` well, those were not his exact words, he said you were a `hottie!'”

“That God, he is a naughty old man, but you see me all the time. You see me in your dreams, you see me when you walk along the streets in town. You see me when you watch porn. You even possessed me when you were married. Too bad you lost her, she was a good woman.”

Cringing, I decided to whiz by the porn comment. “When will I actually see you? You are the one I want to see.”

“I’ll tell you what. Finish the novel you’re working on and you will see me in that way; I will become very clear to you. I will be your muse, I will become your sexual fantasy. Once the novel is finished you will know me and have me completely, forever; but not before.”

Angel was right, I didn’t want to rush my relationship with her, it was too good. I didn’t want to be in a hurry. I decided to seduce her and make love to her in her way, in my novel.

I left the puzzle board and went for a walk. The novel began to take shape in my mind; the plot would be about a man who falls in love with an angel.

I spent the entire summer and much of the fall completing the manuscript. During that time, I sent off query letters to several agents about the concept of the novel. A number of my short stories found a home in publications, the checks were coming in, I had a track record.

One of the agents developed an interest in my work. Her name was Amanda and she wanted to see the manuscript, providing I could give her an exclusive for a period of time. I reluctantly agreed, I told her I wanted literary control over the content.

Amazingly, a publisher offered me an advance. They wanted some changes, Amanda the agent told me.

“They want some changes.” I spoke out loud hoping Angel would hear me.

“I know,” Angel said, “that is the way the industry works. The publisher is taking a chance, they need to be certain they will sell enough copies of the book to recover their investment, they have already indicated their good faith in giving you the advance. Give up your ego and make the changes, your readers need your story.”

Angel is right of course, after all, I know her well, and she knows me intimately.

“I see you are sleeping with Angel.” God’s voice came to me out of the blue. “I told you she was hot, and she is good for you. Have you finished your puzzle?”

“No, I still have the center hole to fill. I am afraid to look at it. My life is within the pictures, little vignettes from my past; the little pictures comprising a timeline from when I was very young until I married. I can’t find any pictures after that. Where did that time go?”

“You were so wrapped up in yourself you couldn’t think about others. You hardly even thought about your new wife and the babies the two of you created. It was all about you. Gimme, gimme, let me get more, which is why the memories are not there. It is just as well. Would you really have wanted to see yourself fall into your addiction? Your wife and children lost respect for you when you lost respect for yourself.”

God was right. I hated myself up until the time I started the puzzle.

“Pictures of everyone from my past life are in the puzzle; everyone that is, except my father. Where is he? Is his picture the missing part in the center of the puzzle?”

“Yes, your father is the missing part. Why don’t you stop what you are doing and complete the puzzle? Don’t you see you are slipping back into the same trap, wanting, forever wanting? Completing the puzzle will give you a new perspective. Completing the puzzle will bring you calm.”

God left me with those words. It was my original intent to find some peace, the novel and the constant attention to making the writing a business was indeed pushing me backward into the old life. At least I wasn’t drinking, that is up until now. I was constantly praying to Angel to keep me from falling back. The best she could do was to remind me that it was up to me to help myself.

I put aside the mail, and the files, I turned off the computer. I sat at the puzzle board and methodically moved piece by piece of the puzzle into alignment to the center of the puzzle.

A portrait of a man appeared before me.

The puzzle was complete, my life was all there, there except…

“God. God?” I cried out. “That man is not my father!”

“It’s me, Angel. He is your father.” I was so preoccupied with the puzzle I didn’t realize Angel was with me while I assembled the last of the pieces.

“It can’t be, I have his picture right here, puzzle-man does not look at all like my father.”

“You see, what goes on between men and women, sometimes, is secret.”

I was devastated.

“You mean my father was not my father?”

“You must figure that out for yourself. It will take some time, besides what difference does it make now? You are still you, nothing has changed.”

“We have to talk,” I replied pathetically. “I know I have you, you are an energy, not a human. I want human company, I want female human company,” I blurted out. “The fact I may have never known my biological father has tipped me over. I want a woman to hold me and comfort me in my grief.”

“What you mean is, you need to get laid.”

“Yes, that too.”

“Please see that your recent choices brought you to this point on your journey. You have followed the path that you, God, and I have put before you. If you desire a woman to accompany you on your journey, that opportunity will be given to you.”

I felt better getting my needs out into the open.

Months went by; I lost myself in the tasks of launching the book. Angel was right, whatever my past was, did not change the fact that I am here now. I found out about my past and have moved on. Moved on to a better life.

It was time to market my book.

I approached the first signing event with trepidation. Not being particularly outgoing, I was concerned about speaking in public. The novel had become an instantaneous hit, but I was unprepared for having to go on a book tour. I decided the best I could do was to talk at my local book store and do a small signing. If that went well I might, might, do another one someplace close by.

My agent was adamant about me promoting my own work. She told me the readers love to connect with the authors. She was also in the process of arranging appearances on local talk shows.

“Why don’t you just go with the flow,” Angel told me one night when we were talking after making imaginary love. “You are making plenty of money, the book is a hit, you will most likely get a movie commitment – why don’t I arrange it – I will be the Oscar-winning lead.”

“No, no, don’t get me involved in something I can’t handle,” I stammered.

“You can handle it.” God’s booming voice came through loud and clear. “Look what you have done. You stopped drinking, you are able to focus now, you are making a living doing something you love, you are in contact with your children. Even your ex has become a little more civil towards you.”

“What is this, a tag team?” I blurted out. “Here in the bedroom, is there no privacy?”

Angel and God fell silent.

After a semi-sleepless night, I developed a bad case of angst over the signing scheduled for this afternoon. I got dressed and went out to Dunkin’ Doughnuts for coffee and a blueberry muffin. Rather than taking my treats home, I decided to eat there, slowly enjoying my food. The local TV news station was announcing the happenings going on in the area. The picture on the screen showed my books on display at the bookstore, while the commentator announced I was going to be at the store in person to sign copies for the buyers.

The butterflies erupted again, I became sick with fear.

“You can do this,” were Angel’s comforting words.

She was right of course. Angel was right about everything. She was right about the puzzle and my past. She was right about my father not being my father. She was right about letting the words flow onto the paper directly from my heart.

“What do I do?” I asked her.

“Slow down and eat, go home and finish your daily chores. You have a few phone calls to return. Take a shower, get dressed and go to the bookstore.”

“That simple huh?”

“Yes, that simple.”

I finished the muffin and coffee and drove home. Looking through the mail, I found a card from my daughter. It was a note card. A nice one, expensive, a very modern design from Papyrus, just beautiful. Her inscription said: ‘Good luck at the book signing.’ That simple, it reduced me to tears. I became a sobbing mess.

Angel appeared. “Cry it out for a while, and then get on with it.”

The morning went by quickly, I hadn’t realized how much work had piled up. I had thirty minutes to shower and dress, which I did without thinking. I had some decent casual clothes I bought thinking they would enhance my writers image. I had no clue as to what that was. I opted instead to just dress the way I do when I write. Jeans, loose fitting outdoor shirt, jogging shoes and white athletic socks.

Can’t beat that style, I said to myself when I looked in the mirror before leaving the house. As I approached the bookstore I saw the line came out of the front door and continued around the block. As I drove by I got cold feet. I picked up my cell phone and called my agent.

“Why are there so many people outside the bookstore, do they have a water leak or something?”

“Where are you?” she asked. “We are here waiting for you. There is no problem, all those people are here to listen to you talk about writing the story, they want you to sign the books they buy. I sent a runner to another store to get more books, we are going to run out if he doesn’t get here soon. Park where you can, I will meet you at the door.” She hung up.

I drove around to a side street and parked, then jogged to the store. Amanda from the agency was waiting for me and hurried me inside. A podium had been set up at the rear of the store. The staff was busily unfolding chairs they had procured from the church down the street.

Somebody took up the microphone at the podium and announced, “Please find a seat or a comfortable place to stand. Your author is here, his talk will begin in three minutes.”

Amanda rushed me up to the podium, introduced me, and shoved the mic into my hands. I stood petrified, frozen by fear.

“Don’t be concerned sweetums, the Universe, God and I are here. Just talk, it will be perfect.”

The words came automatically as Angel said they would. I simply spoke, I spoke for twenty minutes. A nice lady presented me with 3 x 5 cards with questions on them. The cards were picked randomly so the audience had some sort of a chance to ask about the book and how I wrote it.

We broke from the podium to go to the table where I was to sign. The applause continued as I made my way to my chair. I had my favorite felt tipped pens in my pocket. Smiling people came up to me and presented their books to be signed. I politely asked their name, folks talked to me as I signed. I have no recall of any of it or any of the faces of the people who stood before me.

Except for one!

“Hi!” I said. Our eyes met and locked on to each other. She was very beautiful, just right for me, the spitting image of the heroine in my story. I could hardly hold my marker. “Who do you want me to make this out to?” I questioned, barely able to say the words.

“Angel,” she answered, “my name is Angel.”

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