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Part Two

(Part One), (Part Three), (Part Four), (Part Five),

(Part Six), (Part Seven), (Part Eight), (Part Nine), (Part Ten),

(Part Eleven), (Part Twelve)

Ginny Good, A Mostly True Story:

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Chapter Six

The next morning Giselle's head felt better than it had in years but she hardly noticed because IT HAD SNOWED! There were icicles hanging from the eaves and a couple inches of new snow clear out to the smallest of the branches of the Black Ash by the window. Bluewhite frost splashed monochrome fractal patterns out from all four corners of each pane of glass. Wow, did she ever want to get into the woods, to walk among the fir trees and the naked aspens and spindly poplars down to the river, to feel her lungs ache from the cold, to feel the ground crunch and the snow squeak under her feet, to find animal tracks, to see her breath in the air!

She bounded out of bed, still in her green flannel pajamas, pulled on a pair of baggy Levi's, tugged a gray Gap sweatshirt over her thick head of hair and slipped into a pair of unlaced Doc Martens. Down the stairs she ran with the four yapping little Pekinese dogs chasing after her. She got the trash bag from under the sink in the kitchen, tied it up, replaced it with a new one, went out the back door, stuffed the trash bag into the garbage can and ran over into the backyard where Ketchum, going around and around in circles on his sturdy chain, had already made fresh Great Pyrenees tracks in the new-fallen snow.

"Hey, you big lug, you're having all the fun," Giselle yelled happily to the bounding white dog. Ketchum, who answered to most any name Giselle chose to call him, slid to a stop in the snow, curled his tail over his broad back, turned like a jackknifed truck, stormed toward her with his tongue hanging out and his eyes filled with joy brought by the first snow of winter, and leaped into her outstretched arms like he thought she might catch him. She didn't. She tried to catch him, but he knocked her down again, the way he usually did—and, once he had her on the ground, he jumped all over her, licking her face and her hands and anything that got in the way of his panting, drooling, insatiably happy maw of a mouth.

"Okay, okay, knock it off." Giselle spoke sharply.

Ketchum cowered. He was sorry. He couldn't help himself. He got overly excited. He was a dog. He loved her. He was glad to see her. What else was he supposed to do? Yeah, yeah, she knew all that and stayed on her knees in the snow while she unhooked the chain from his collar. Now they were free. All six of them. The four little dogs, the big dog and her.

The Pekes didn't like Ketchum. They didn't dislike him; they just ignored him, for the most part. They weren't intimidated, exactly, they just didn't seem to recognize any dog larger than themselves as having a right to exist. The feeling was mutual, although Ketchum's attitude seemed to be more along the lines of noblesse oblige. Giselle loved all five of her dogs, each in his or her own way. They were so different, so unique, even the ones who looked a lot alike were different. They all had their quirks, their personalities, their pros and cons. They were like a family—Giselle and her dogs. She was the mother, of course. The mistress. The provider. The queen. The center of attention; the sea toward which all rivers flow.

Today was a day for play. And play they did. Ketchum ran and ran, toward her and away from her, dutifully fetching the handle of a splintered baseball bat Giselle kept throwing. Calm chased her tail. Toot walked around like a bigshot until he got to a patch of ice from an overturned watering can and fell flat on his butt. Ankh stayed inconspicuously close to Giselle. Mon chased after Ketchum chasing after the splintered bat, but, by the time Mon got there, Ketchum was already tearing back to drop it at Giselle's feet again. Sometimes she threw a snowball, instead. Ketchum got confused. That seemed to give Mon great satisfaction.

Giselle laughed.

She was about to make her way down to the river to see whatever tracks the critters that lived down there might have made during the night when she heard a car honking its horn. Hers was the only house it could be coming from.

"What the fuck," she said with a frown. The dogs, in unison, all cocked their heads to one side like there might have been a big old RCA Victrola in the snow.

That was when she noticed her headache was almost completely gone. Why, she had no idea. Something in the food from Woo's? His red envelope surprise, maybe? Some ancient combination of secret Chinese herbs that had suddenly alleviated the headaches she'd had every day for the last twenty years? Oh, my gosh, if that were true, she'd buy a barrel of the stuff. She'd marry the guy if he'd have her. She'd make him the best wife any short, fat, bald Chinaman could ever hope to have.

Tom Riley's battered Toyota pickup was in front of her house when Giselle finally got Ketchum back onto his chain and had coaxed the Pekes inside again. She kept hearing him blow the horn at polite intervals. Every time the car honked, the dogs went berserk. They jumped onto the back of the sofa and barked their fool heads off, leaving tiny little Pekinese nose tracks in a line across the front window. Her little dogs hated people, all people, indiscriminately—men, women, children, it didn't matter. Well, except for Giselle, of course; her, they loved. But other people. Pfssh. Bring 'em on, her little dogs would tear them to pieces like a school of piranhas, they'd have them reduced to skeletal remains in no time flat.

She waved through the picture window to let Tom know she'd be a minute. She needed to get herself presentable. She had a certain unflappable image she liked to maintain among the people she worked with. She tucked the shirttails of her pajamas into the loose fitting Levi's, arranged the collar of her pajamas so that it was even around the neck of the Gap sweatshirt, then stretched the sweatshirt down as far as she could, checked her hair in the mirror above the fireplace, untangled a tangle or two, and she was good to go; presentable as she'd ever be.

Tom's truck was a wreck. The kids at school had taken to calling it the "Taliban Truck." They climbed up into its rusted out bed and pretended they were carrying Kalashnikovs and rocket launchers. They called him Mr. Riley, of course. He taught computers. The kids knew he didn't mind them climbing around in his truck. They couldn't have done it any harm if they'd tried.

Tom had a mild form of cerebral palsy. He could still use his hands and feet well enough to drive, but his speech was slow and he couldn't get around on his own very well without a wheelchair. He had a part time nurse who helped around the house, got him in and out of his truck, but he liked it that he was still able to drive. He'd had a crush on Giselle since she'd started teaching there four years ago. She wasn't flattered, exactly, but he was harmless and sweet. He paid attention to her, stuck up for her, and got all shy and tongue-tied when she straddled the arms of his wheelchair when she was feeling festive at a Christmas party, say, or that time the kids bought her a cake for her birthday.

Giselle got into the dusty, cluttered cab of his pickup, patted the knee of his brown polyester pants and said, "What's up?"

"What's up with you. That's what I want to know." Tom spoke precisely, with exaggerated pauses between his words and at the ends of his sentences, but, even so, he still slurred a syllable or two here and there.

"I'm groovy, man," Giselle bubbled. "I think I might go out and god damn conquer the world today."

"What about last night, though?" Tom had a goofy grin on his face. He often had a goofy grin on his face. Giselle took it as a compliment. He was a good-looking guy in a nerdy, Niles Crane sort of a way—fine, thinning, blond hair, a mouth that quivered with sensitivity and repressed desire.

"What about it? You're making no sense, Tom."

"I called you and you talked to me in a very strange way. I couldn't tell if you were even talking to me or not. You didn't seem to hear me talking to you."

"When did you call me?"

"Last night. At about a quarter to seven."

"You did not."

"Yes I did. You called me 'Bozo the Clown.'"

"You've lost it, man. What kind of meds they got you on?"

"You told me I wasn't funny. You said you had caller ID. You told me your dogs were going to bite me. You said I was the Mayonnaise Man. You said this is nuts and then you hung up the phone on us."

"Wait a minute. I got a crank call. Some guy kept saying he was the Mayonnaise Man. Over and over. That's all he said. Are you telling me that was you? What the fuck were you doing that for, Tom? Jesus Christ." She frowned.

"I didn't do it." Tom held his hands like claws at the ends of his arms. "I didn't know what you were talking about. I thought I had the wrong number. I kept saying, 'Giselle? Giselle is that you?' That was all I ever said."

"Tom. Get off it, okay? This is sort of weirding me out."

"I swear. I was worried about you. That's why I came here. Snow or no snow. I had to call Mrs. Grady over special. I thought something was wrong with your phone. I didn't know what else to do." Tom's voice cracked.

Giselle knew he was telling the truth as best he knew it, but that made it even worse. "Let me think for a minute, okay," she said.

They both sat there. The snow was already beginning to melt. She looked at her house. Her house looked sort of mournfully back at her. The two upstairs windows with the shades half-drawn looked like eyes. Water dripping from melting icicles looked like tears. She wasn't even going to have to shovel the sidewalk.

"Look," she said, finally. "Some guy called me in my third period math class yesterday. He said he was the Mayonnaise Man, whatever the fuck that means. That was it. I didn't recognize his voice. Then the same guy called me again last night."

"When last night? What time?"

"During The Simpsons."

"That was what time I called, Giselle. At around a quarter to seven. I remember for sure. I was watching The Simpsons too. Marge was thinking about being unfaithful to Homer. Maybe there was a bad connection."

"Bad connection, my ass. I talked to the guy."

"What did you say?"

"All that stuff." She flung her hand toward the windshield. "I didn't say 'Bozo the Clown', though."

"Did you say, 'Call some twit who might give a shit?'"

"Yeah. Exactly. How the hell did you know that?"

"It hurt my feelings. I didn't know what I said wrong."

"Tom, you're creeping me out, man. Seriously. Knock it off."

"Do you think you might have...stress? Like they told us some of the kids might have? Post traumatic stress? From the attacks on America?"

"Attacks on my ass." Giselle breathed a puff of air up into her bangs. "No. Really. I never felt better in my life. Honest to God. I was just playing with the dogs in the snow like I did when I was a ten year-old kid. I feel good. I feel better than I've felt...Jesus, I don't know...in a long time. I think you're dicking with me."

"I'm not. You were very incoherent to me on the phone last night."

"Okay, okay, let's check it out. I'll go inside. Call me on your car phone. We'll see if anything strange happens, okay?"


"You need the number?"

"No." Tom smiled shyly, then turned red.

Giselle went inside.

The phone rang.

She picked it up and said, "Hello."

"I'm the Mayonnaise Man." The same man's voice said the same glib way.

She hung up. Now she was pissed. God damn Tom Riley wouldn't fuck with a fly, why was he fucking with her? She went back out to his truck, ripped open the passenger door, leaned down, stuck her head in and said, "Okay, Tom, god damn it, what the hell's going on?"

"You hung up. You said, 'Hello.' I said, 'Hey, Giselle.' You hung up."

"Yeah, well, there must be something wrong with the phone, then. I'll call the phone company. I'd better be letting you go. I gotta go do something about getting it fixed. It's too god damn weird, man. It's pissing me off."

"Will you call me, though? I worry. You're all alone out here. I like you. You know that. You're my favorite person in the whole world."

"Yeah. Thanks, Tom. I'll be fine. I'm a big girl. I can take care of myself."

Giselle went back inside her house and waved to him from the window, then watched Tom Riley drive off cautiously through the melting snow.

Chapter Seven

Giselle's parlor was cozy. She had a small, pastel flower print sofa in front of the picture window. There were no drapes, just thick, off-white, lace curtains which she opened and closed with a bamboo rod. Across the room was the big TV, of course, then there were sundry end tables, two matching fluted straight-backed chairs, the leather La-Z-Boy, table lamps, floor lamps, a cherry wood cabinet filled with knickknacks. "Kitsch," Dennis had called it.

Pfssh. Giselle liked her kitsch, especially Bambi with a butterfly on his tail and the Seven Dwarfs, well, four of them, anyway, Sleepy, Dopey and Sneezy having been casualties of having left Ketchum alone in the house one day. She loved her parlor. She'd had new off-white, wall-to-wall Karastan wool carpet with the expensive pad installed and there was a soft wool pastel green and beige Chinese rug in front of the fireplace. She had a doozie of a stereo system, too, with six speakers of various sizes hidden behind hand painted ceramic pots filled with plants.

Dennis had bought the house for her after the divorce. It wasn't very big, two bedrooms, one bathroom, a basement. He'd kept the home they'd made for themselves in Evanston. It was close to his office. Giselle had wanted to move back near where she grew up, to live in the country, to get herself a cottage in the woods by the river. Her best friend, Mimi Crenshaw, had had a house on the river when Giselle had been a kid. They'd spent tons of time together, mostly at Mimi's house—since Giselle's mother didn't want her own kid underfoot, let alone some other mother's kid. That had been fine with Giselle. She didn't want to be around her mother any more than her mother wanted her around. It worked out well.

Mimi and Giselle did all the freckle-faced tomboy stuff they could think of to do—snowball fights, herding tadpoles into empty coffee cans, following fireflies, catching them in their hands, dropping them inside Mason jars with air holes in the lids, looking up into the clear black sky at night, finding falling stars—and it stuck in her mind somewhere forever that that was where she wanted to live, that was how she wanted to live when she grew up. And Mimi had Jasper! Jasper was a big golden retriever who ran with them and sniffed out muskrats and raccoons and came to her when Mimi called him. Giselle had Roscoe. Roscoe was a cat, a scrawny, skittery tabby cat with eerie yellow eyes who paid no attention to anyone, much less come to her when she called.

Giselle had furnished the house herself, mostly from ads in the paper, and had had some of her favorite prints framed; the Latrec that went with the Chinese rug and some conglomeration by Kandinsky which went with everything else. She added art to the walls all the time and moved it around to suit some frame of mind or other she found herself in when she was bored on weekends.

The open books scattered around on the carpet and on the end tables were further evidence of what she did when she was bored on weekends. She had no trouble mixing Death on the Installment Plan with The Bridges of Madison County. Books were all the same to her. She could go from a psychological biography of Van Gogh to stories by William H. Gass, from a pulp paperback about dubious accounts of visits by extraterrestrials to a scholarly treatise on the true identity of Jack the Ripper, then read R. D. Laing's theories on the links between art and insanity all in the space of a particularly long Sunday afternoon. The books scattered around were liberally mixed with the latest issues of People Magazine, Town and Country, Vogue and Vanity Fair. She was an eclectic chick. She read anything, anything and everything, from the ridiculous to the sublime, manuals for hooking up the stereo, In Search of the Miraculous, Wise Blood, The Uncommon Wisdom of Oprah Winfrey, you name it, nothing was too ridiculous or too sublime.

She had some serious thinking to do. The parlor was where Giselle did her serious thinking. The first thing she had to think about was why her head felt so god damn good all of a sudden, so almost normal for the first time in about a million years. She was alone but for the usual bunch of fluffy dogs sleeping everywhere. It was quiet. No TV. Just her on her sofa listening to Mozart's Concerto for Two Pianos in E-flat Major playing softly through the six speakers.

She closed her eyes and looked for signs of the aura effect which sometimes accompanied her migraines, the bright, flashing, fluorescent lights and herringbone patterns that crossed her field of vision—but there weren't any. She almost didn't have a headache at all, just some slight throbbing which may have been the residue of all the rest of the headaches she'd had for the last twenty years. It was amazing, incredible, almost too good to be true. She remembered the times she'd prayed to God, that she'd promised God anything if only her head would quit hurting, the times she'd pressed the heel of her hand against her forehead so hard it left bruises, the times she'd frozen her scalp with bare ice cubes and had seared her skull with a buckwheat beanbag from the microwave. She remembered all the drugs that hadn't worked; all the trips to all the emergency rooms, all the MRIs, all the sad-eyed doctors shaking their heads, wringing their hands.

Morphine hadn't had the slightest effect. Percodan. Codeine. Vicodin. Nothing stopped the pain in her head when it hurt. Alcohol had been the worst. She and Dennis used to have drinks at the bar across from the law school when they were first getting to know each other. She'd stopped drinking after they were married. She'd had to. Oh, my gosh. Drinking would have killed her if she hadn't given it up. It exacerbated the heck out of her headaches, for one thing, and it was hard enough working at the pissant jobs she'd had to work at before his practice got going without a hangover let alone with one. Dennis hadn't stopped drinking. Maybe that was why they'd grown apart. He was a drunk. She wasn't. His Bimbos were. Giselle couldn't believe her head still didn't hurt, not even when she thought about Dennis and his drinking and Dennis and his Bimbos.

"What the fuck?" she said out loud. Toot perked up his ears. Then she smiled. Then she got worried. Giselle always got worried when she found herself smiling for no earthly reason. Well, she had a reason, but it didn't feel like an earthly reason. It felt like a miracle. Miracles were for suckers. Could it really have been something in the Chinese food? She would totally go down there and fling her arms around Woo if that were true. She would kiss him and hug him and cut up his vegetables for him if he wanted her to.

Or what about this Mayonnaise Man bullshit? A bad connection wouldn't show up on two different phones. Maybe it was some kind of auditory hallucination. With all the whacked out stuff that had been going on in her brain for so long, who could possibly know what might get triggered? Not doctors, that was for damn sure. They didn't know squat. She'd been to the Mayo Clinic, the best in the business, the specialists, the guys who wrote the books. There'd been nothing anyone could tell her. One guy there was the one who had come up with the DHE. That had been the best he could do—and her local guy, Dr. Javid, well, he laughed at her jokes and looked for the face of Jesus in her MRI with her, that was about it.

Maybe some capillaries in whatever part of her head made her hear things had exploded. That might have been what was making her head feel so much better, too. Hey, if that were true, it was a small price to pay. She'd listen to some guy calling himself "the Mayonnaise Man" from now 'til doomsday if it meant she didn't have to have headaches. And in kind of a low, sexy voice, at that. She remembered how she'd gotten sort of turned on the night before. Oh, my gosh, it was Tom Riley, she thought. She put her hand up to her face, covered her mouth like a coquette and had to laugh. Then she got embarrassed.

The music ended. She picked up the phone and dialed Ted's number in Chicago, something she almost never did. But, hey, if he was around. She might like to see a movie. A Beautiful Mind was playing. She liked movies about whacked-out guys. That piano player who went nuts over in Australia or somewhere from playing that Rachmaninov Piano Concerto nobody could play had made her happy for weeks.

The phone rang. She heard Ted pick up. He didn't say anything.

"Ted? It's Giselle," she said.

"I'm the Mayonnaise Man," the same man's voice said, with the same happy-go-lucky lilt, the same conviction, the same lighthearted good cheer.

She hung up.


What if she really needed to call someone? She slipped another CD into the stereo. Astral Weeks. Giselle was pretty eclectic about her music, too. She liked the green oval of leaves on the album cover, the chimera of what might have been spiderwebs clinging to what might have been shadows of branches across Van Morrison's face. Auditory hallucinations weren't that uncommon. Celine had heard all sorts of bells and whistles in his head since he got shells shot at him during World War I. What harm could they do? Still, maybe she ought to get it checked out. The doctor in Rochester had been good. What was his name? Roland. Ronald. Dolan. Damn. Lapses of memory were nothing new to Giselle, either. Dennis would know.

They used to listen to Astral Weeks together, she and Dennis, when they were first married, when they were poor, when they had the apartment off Clark Street, when she was working sixteen hour days, when he was studying for the Bar, when they were alone together pretty much only on Sundays.

"There you go, there you go
Standin' in the sun darlin'
With your arms behind you
And your eyes before
There you go
Takin' good care of your boy
Seein' that he's got clean clothes..."

Yeah, his latest Bimbo might answer the phone, though. Giselle didn't remember her name, either. Dennis had said calling him at home pissed off the Bimbo, but so what? This was important. She dialed his number and heard the phone pick up, then knew immediately that she didn't want to hear what whoever answered was going to say, and started talking really fast, instead:

"Listen. There's something wrong with my phone. I can't hear what anyone says on my end. So I don't know who I'm talking to and I don't know what you're saying, see, so I'm not ignoring you or being rude, I'm just going to say what I have to say. If it's Dennis, cool. Hi, Dennis. If it's not, please relay this message. I need the name of the muckety-muck Mayo doctor in Rochester. The good one. You, Dennis, if it's you, know who I mean. Or he, if it's not you, will know who I mean. Ronald somebody. I think. Something has gone very strange with my head. I need to get a new MRI. Give me a call. Or better still, send me an e-mail! Oh, my gosh, I totally forgot. Sorry, sorry. I should have just sent an e-mail."

Giselle stopped. She listened to the benign silence coming over the phone line. Then she said, quietly, tentatively, hopefully, expectantly:


"I'm the Mayonnaise Man," the voice said, as full of himself as ever.

She hung up. Fast. And felt her face flush. Her skin got hot and her hair prickled, like it was trying to stand on end, like she was some kind of wild animal.

Wait a minute, though! Mayo. Mayo Clinic. Mayonnaise. Holy shit! Maybe one the doctors had stuck some kind of implant in her head, some experimental device. They'd had to put her under a general anesthetic that time her head had gotten so bad. Maybe it was some newfangled cure. Dennis might have conspired with them, signed some kind of consent form. That had been years ago. They might have just presumed it hadn't worked and had forgotten about it, and now the thing was kicking in. She had to tell someone. She had to ask. She had to know.

"And here I am
Standing in your sad arrest
Trying to do my very best
Lookin' straight at you
Comin' through, darlin'..."

E-mail! What a good idea! What did she need a phone for? Fuck the phone. Fuck the Mayonnaise Man. Her auditory hallucination could blow it out his ass. She stood up to go out to the kitchen to get on her computer and was struck through the top of her skull by a bolt of lightning.

"Uhh," she let out a moan, a muted cry as if she'd been stunned by a sledge hammer. It was more real than if a real bolt of real lightning had crashed through her roof and through her ceiling and had struck her on the top of her head and had burned her brain and her heart to a sizzling crisp. Her head broke from the pain. In her eyes she saw a light brighter than any sun, brighter than a million stars, too bright, beyond bright. She was split in two with light and pain. She saw her heart in her head. She felt her heart break into two as the bluehot jagged blade of lightning and pain tore through her head and her heart at the same time. She fell onto her knees and onto her elbows and onto her face on the pale green and beige Chinese rug.

As she lay there, her arms and legs shook with electrical activity. Her torso shook. Her body convulsed from head to toe with waves of overwhelming energy coming from her brain.

"Could you find me
Would you kiss-a my eyes
Lay me down
In silence ease the ache
To be born again
To be born again
To be born again
In another world..."

Chapter Eight

It was dark. It was quiet. Ankh was breathing onto Giselle's closed eyes. She felt her eyelashes move when Ankh exhaled. She knew it was Ankh by the way her quietest little dog breathed—almost as if she was too polite to disturb the air. The Van Morrison CD was no longer playing. There was no sound in the room but the sound of the soft panting of a five year-old, six-and-a-half pound female Pekinese. The Chinese rug smelled like the inside of a vacuum cleaner. Giselle's arms ached. Her legs ached. Her abdomen ached. Her neck ached. Her head didn't ache—not one tiny little bit, not at all. There wasn't the slightest echo of all the throbbing that had throbbed through her brain for as long as she could remember. It felt strange, odd, curious, unreal, like she'd had some kind of weirdo cartoon brain transplant that had emancipated her head from pain for the first time in twenty years.

She wasn't sure she could open her eyes if she wanted to, but she didn't want to. She had an excruciatingly clear picture of her heart in her mind. She both felt it and saw it at the same time. Her heart was bleeding. With each calm, methodical little pain-free gush of blood through her brain, Giselle saw a fresh wet gloss of cherry-red blood seep from her heart. Her heart seemed to be alive, to be breathing, to be human, somehow, like it had a complexity and a character and a personality all its own, like it was someone, an entity, a person who'd lived inside her all her life, an armless, legless little full-grown human soul of some sort, someone she'd never known was there before, someone who didn't have a name or an address or a TV or a computer or a T-top Firebird or a pair of shiny black alligator shoes—someone who had no use for a name or an address or a Firebird or alligator shoes.

Giselle opened her eyes. The image disappeared and, at the same time, all four dogs began wagging their tails and making whining noises. Mon jumped up onto her butt and started pawing at the seat of her baggy pants. She wondered how long her dead body might have been sprawled there before they'd have started gnawing away at the flesh on her fingers. Calm never would have, no, not ever, not even a nibble no matter how hungry she may have been. She was way too proper. She would have died first. Ankh was way too polite, too, but the other two, the guys, phssh, Giselle figured she'd be dog food inside three days.

She was dying of thirst, but wasn't convinced, yet, that she was ready to attempt the ordeal of getting up onto her feet and walking into the kitchen—plus she had to piss like a racehorse. Ha! Her father used to say that. Still did, the big dumb Polak ex-football player, ex-ironworker, ex-proud papa, ex-adoring dad with an ice queen for a wife. What the hell time was it anyway? What day was it? What planet was she on?

"Where the fuck am I?"

The sound of her voice was a cue for the dogs to remind her that they hadn't been fed. They did so by prancing, prancing and barking. They pranced and barked for a minute, then ran halfway to the kitchen, stopped, looked back, then ran to where Giselle was still stretched out on the Chinese rug and pranced and barked some more.

"All right, all right. Gimme a break," she said.

She tried to sound tough. She wasn't sure her little dogs were buying it. They knew her pretty well. It was hard to really put much of anything over on them. Giselle was glad she had to do the things she had to do. Feed the dogs, go to school, stop for pizza or Chinese food on the way home, pay the bills, put gas in the car, watch The Simpsons—otherwise she didn't know if she'd ever do a damn thing.

She pushed herself up onto her hands and knees. Her hair hung down around the sides of her face like thick dark thunder clouds looming in her peripheral vision. She stretched the muscles of her lower back, stretched her arms, her thighs. Everything seemed to be working; sore, but functional. Little by little, she made it up onto her feet, steadying herself with one hand on the mantle. No lightning bolt crashed her back down to the floor again.

She turned on the lamp by the fireplace and got a glimpse of her face in the mirror. Her eyes were the same wide, brown, puppy dog eyes as ever, but she noticed a stubborn, mischievous, rebellious little twinkle in them that she hadn't seen since she'd been a kid, since her head hadn't hurt. Wow. She felt seventeen again. She was cute. Her face was pretty, striking, different looking, gorgeous auburn hair, all messed up and curly like Jennifer Beals in Flashdance...whoa, when the hell had that been? She felt like Rip Van Winkle, like she'd been asleep under a tree in the Hudson River Valley for twenty years, like her whole life had been a dream.

The dogs were going crazy around her feet. She was careful not to trip over one or another of the little buggers as she made her way into the kitchen. The first thing she did was drink water, sucking it out of the glass, gulping it down in big noisy gulps, then filling the glass again. Next she took off her boots and her sweatshirt and her baggy Levi's and threw them all into the laundry room, which left her in her pajamas again. Finally she got around to feeding the starving little alien creatures masquerading as dogs who were leaping clear up almost to her elbows by then.

She thought about Ketchum for a second—he had dry dog food to last him for days—then went upstairs, sat on the toilet and pissed like a racecar. Ha! She used to tease her dad by saying that. "I have to piss like a racecar," she'd say. He'd give her a strange look. He liked her, though. She knew that.

She flushed the toilet, went into her bedroom, picked out a new pair of white flannel pajamas from her chest of drawers, took them back into the bathroom, showered, washed her hair, dried herself with a fluffy green bath towel, put on the fresh flannel pajamas which smelled like cedar wood from the inside of the drawer, and went back downstairs again with the vague notion of poking around in the refrigerator. Digging out a big dill pickle from the big dill pickle jar, perhaps. Maybe with a few slices of bologna wrapped around it. And some cheese. Cream soda. Carr's Pepper Crackers. She had everything all figured out.

The stairway entered into the parlor. She was wide awake. Her hair dripped drops of cold water onto the V of bare skin the pajamas made at the top of her chest—and still she didn't have a headache! It was beginning to dawn on Giselle that maybe a miracle had in fact really happened. She felt healthier, happier, more confident, more alive than she had ever felt before in her life...but she might also have just been so starving to death that she was hallucinating. When was the last time she'd had anything to eat? Woo's red envelope surprise. Yesterday afternoon. That was it. Yikes! No wonder she was starving to death.

Halfway down the stairs, Giselle thought she saw what looked like a man's bare feet on the carpet in front of the sofa. That was impossible, naturally. The dogs would have been having conniption fits, for one thing. It must have been an empty paper bag Toot had dragged in from the garbage can. He was her explorer, her archeologist, always bringing something he'd dug up for her to admire.

Giselle avoided looking very closely at what looked like a man's bare feet until she was all the way into the room. Then she saw a guy sitting on her sofa; the whole guy, bare feet and all. He had on her gray Gap sweatshirt and the Levi's she'd tossed into the laundry room. The dogs weren't doing a god damn thing. She was hallucinating for sure. She had to be. Nothing else would have been rational.

She walked past the sofa, but still saw the guy out of the corner of her eye. He didn't say anything. She didn't say anything. When she got to the china cabinet by the kitchen door, she saw the guy reflected in the glass. She closed her eyes and opened them again. He was still reflected in the china cabinet. A couple choices presented themselves. She could either continue into the kitchen, get something to eat, then come back and see if he was still there, or she could turn around and look right at the guy until he disappeared. Reflections could be deceiving. She turned around and looked right at the guy. He didn't disappear.

"Why aren't the dogs barking?" Giselle frowned.

"Maybe they like me," the guy said.

Holy shit, a talking hallucination. "My dogs bark at everyone," she said.

The guy shrugged. He was beautiful. He had thick, kinky dark hair and a wispy, wavy, rusty, reddish-brown beard clear down almost to the space between his collar bones. His hands were laying palms up in his lap. They were good-sized hands, with long fingers like he probably got told he should play the piano a lot. He was staring directly into Giselle's face with such big, clear, wide, amazed brown eyes he reminded her of Tutankhamen. He looked a little like Father Gregory, too, but that was probably because of the beard. The guy sitting on her sofa was darker than Father Gregory, olive-skinned, they called it in books. He looked a little like every guy she'd ever seen or imagined that she thought was just stunningly handsome and pious and shy, Dostoyevski's monks, El Greco's lieutenants, Michelangelo's dukes.

He even looked vaguely like Osama bin Laden, the same length beard, the same calm, polite eyes, except the guy on her sofa was way cuter. Way. He looked a little like Giselle might have looked if she'd been a guy. He looked perfect. When what little light there was in the room caught his beard and his hair just right there were hints of mahogany...chestnut, auburn.

"I don't even want to know what the hell you're doing here," she said.

"Yes you do," the guy smiled. His mouth stayed slightly open. His lips were smooth and plump, succulent looking, like plants or flower petals.

"Okay, what are you doing here?"

"I'm the Mayonnaise Man," the guy said.

"Oh, great. Like I didn't know that. What do you want?"

"To love you."

"Like nobody's loved me?"

"Come rain or come shine." The guy cocked his head, smiled half a smile and sort of crooned the rest of the words. "Happy together, unhappy together, and won't it be fine..."

"Hey, so, go ahead. Love me. Knock yourself out. Ha!" She laughed.

"I need your help," he said.

"What do you want me to do? Pretend you're not a fucking hallucination?"

"For starters, yeah. Humor me. Love's a two-way street. Reciprocity is all."

"My ass is a two-way street. I've gone completely crazy. If you had any substance the dogs would have chewed you to pieces by now—or tried." She couldn't help but find that slightly implausible given the fact that her four ferocious dogs were busily ignoring even her at the far end of the sofa.

"My head is so whacked," Giselle said in a whisper, digging the fingernails of her right hand into her scalp under the hair around her right temple like she was maybe trying to keep her brains from leaking out. Then she looked directly at the guy sitting on her sofa again and asked, "What do you have to do with that big-ass bleeding heart I saw?"

"I didn't know you saw a big-ass bleeding heart." He raised his eyebrows.

"Okay, how about this? I'm gonna close my eyes and when I open them, you're gonna be gone. How about that?"

"Go ahead. You might want to pinch yourself while you're at it."

Giselle closed her eyes. She opened them. He was still there. She didn't pinch herself. She didn't think it would do any good and didn't want to look dumb.

"Give it a chance," the guy said.

"Give my ass a chance." Giselle rolled her eyes.

"Trust me."

"Like how? Talk to you? Ask questions? Okay, do you have a name?"

"I'm the Mayonnaise Man," the guy said.

"I got that. Hey, you know, I checked on the Internet and there's a guy named 'Zim-Zim, the Mayonnaise Man.' So are you, like, some other Mayonnaise Man?"

"Yep. I'm the real Mayonnaise Man."

"Like the Best Foods Mayonnaise Man?"

"That's a lame advertising slogan." He seemed offended.

"Well, I'm not going to call you the god damn Mayonnaise Man, that's all there is to it." She crinkled the corner of her mouth.

"Call me Abraham."

"I'd rather call you Ishmael."

"Ishmael's not my name. Abraham is."

"Abraham what?"

"Lincoln," he said.

Giselle laughed. She couldn't help herself. Then she saw that the guy had said it with a perfectly straight face, exactly the same way she used to say, "Giselle Szewczyk," and felt like she may have hurt his feelings the way her feelings used to be hurt. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to laugh. Abraham Lincoln, huh?"

"Yep," Abraham said.

"Man," she shook her head and spoke, primarily to herself, out of the right side of her mouth. "They're going to put me on such fucking knockout drugs I won't know my ass from my elbow."

"Just don't tell anyone, Giselle. People will think you're insane."

"Ha! Holy shit. I'm totally crazy." She kept on muttering, aloud but still to herself. "So, hey, here I am. Talking to Abraham fucking Lincoln."


"And he's telling me not to tell anyone."

"Right again."

"And he's answering me."

"Anything you want to know, absolutely."

"Well. So. Abraham. What the fuck. Freed any slaves lately? Wrote any Gettysburg Addresses? Seen any good plays? They still call you, 'Honest Abe?'"

"Nope. Abraham Lincoln's just my name. It could just as easily be George Washington...or Washington Irving...or Irving Berlin."

"But you're not any of those guys. You're Abraham Lincoln?"


"Yeah, and I'm the fucking Queen of fucking England."

"I like hash brown potatoes."

"My father liked hash brown potatoes," Giselle said.

The phone rang. Giselle looked at the so-called Mayonnaise Man, the guy sitting on her couch calling himself "Abraham Lincoln," as if she expected him to disappear. He didn't. The phone rang again.

"Answer it," Abraham Lincoln said.

"Hello?" Giselle answered the phone warily, keeping one eye on the guy sitting on her sofa the whole time.

"Hey, Giselle. It's Dennis. Gloria said you called. Can you hear me? She said your phone was screwed up. I don't know if you can hear me or not."

"I can hear you, I can hear you. Why are you shouting?"

"Oh, hey, sorry," Dennis said. "What's going on?"

"Nothing," Giselle said quickly. Abraham was still sitting there. He raised his eyebrows approvingly and extended his thumbs in opposite directions like he might have thought he was "The Fonz."

"Well, she said you sounded horrible," Dennis said.

"Who?" Giselle asked.


"Who the fuck is Gloria?"

"The woman I live with. The woman I've been living with for, oh, say, a good year-and-a-half now."

"Oh, the Bimbo, yeah, her, right. She would."

"Would what?"

"Say I sounded horrible. Only she would have said, 'har-rible.' I can just hear her: 'Oh, Dennis, Dennis, Giselle called. She sounded har-rible.'"

Dennis ignored her. Giselle knew he liked it when she acted like she was still jealous. "She mentioned something about a new MRI? Nolan's the guy. Donald Nolan. He was the one who had something on the ball up in Rochester. Don't get anyone else. The rest of them were schmucks. You want me to set something up?"

"No, no, I can do it." She shook her head.

"He's kind of a hard guy to get to. I can pull strings."

"I couldn't remember his name, is all. I can pull my own strings."

"I know you can. I still get a little maternal."

Giselle wasn't sure how to take that. Was he being snotty? He knew more about her trouble with her mother than she did. It was one of her buttons. Of course he knew that. He was being snotty. "What the fuck's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing, nothing. Slip of the tongue."

"Hey, Den, I need to know something. Seriously, okay?"

"Sure, hon. Anything. You know that."

"When they had me up at the Mayo Clinic that time, when they knocked me out, gave me that general anesthetic, did you sign any papers or anything? Like a consent form for some kind of experiment?"

"No. What makes you say that?"

"I don't know, man. Don't worry about it. You're sure, though, right?"

"Sure as I am of anything." He slurred his words slightly. It sounded as if he might launch into one of his drunken soliloquies on the ephemeral quality of "reality," the ever-changing chimera of "truth." She wasn't in the mood.

"Hey, don't dick around, okay?" Giselle said.

"Okay. What was the question again?" Dennis seemed to sober up, to listen more carefully. That was one of his strong points. No matter how drunk he was, he could always become lucid when he had to.

"Did you sign a consent form for them to do anything weird to my brain?"

"No," Dennis said.

"You're sure?"

"Positive. Cross my heart," he said. "Cross my heart" was what she and Dennis used to say to each other when they weren't dicking with each other. They dicked with each other a lot. There had to be a way to distinguish the truth.

"Okay. Sorry. I knew you didn't. I'll let you know when I go there."

"Yeah. Do that. For sure. Are you okay, or what?"

"I'm fine. Sorry about calling. My phone was fucked. It's better now."

"Donald Nolan. That's the guy. I'll confirm it in an e-mail. You forgive me for that maternal bullshit, right?"

"Yeah. We both know too many sore spots."

"How is she, anyway?"

"My mother? Fuck if I know," Giselle said.

"How's Mame?" Dennis asked.

He sounded so solicitous. He was drunk. He could only stay lucid so long. His time was up. There was a gigantic silence.

"What the hell kind of a thing to say is that?" Giselle resisted her impulse to slam down the phone. Slamming down these new phones didn't do any good.

"Oh, man, I'm sorry, Giselle. I forgot."

"She's still dead thank you so much for asking."

"I was..." Dennis stammered. "I'm sorry, hon. I don't know what I was. Thinking about her, I guess."

Giselle was quiet. Fuck him. He could stew awhile. She understood it though. She forgot her grandmother was dead sometimes, herself. "I think about her too," she said, finally.

"I have a lot on my mind," Dennis said.

"I know. You're a busy guy."

"Hey, Giselle. Sorry, okay?"

"Sure. Say hi to the Bimbo for me."

"You're really all right, right?" Dennis asked the way he asked when she knew he was making an effort to pay attention.

"Right as rain, man," Giselle said.

"Okay. Love you."

"Yeah, yeah, me too." She hung up.

Well, at least her phone was working again. New hallucinations for old. Auditory for...what the fuck kind of hallucination would you call some guy sitting on your couch calling himself "Abraham Lincoln," Giselle did not know.

"Hey, what kind of hallucination are you, anyway?" she asked.

Abraham didn't answer. He didn't seem to ask stupid questions and didn't seem to answer stupid questions. That was refreshing, but what the fuck would they ever talk about? Giselle tried to think of a smart question. She was stumped. What would a sane person do? She didn't have a clue.

"Can I get you anything? You want a drink?" That had always done the trick with Dennis. Whenever there was a lull in the conversation she could always get up and get him a glass of Glenfiddich.

"I'm not thirsty," Abraham said.

"Are you hungry?"

"I'm starving."

"Really? So am I. Ha!" That was no lie. What the hell time was it by then, anyway? Giselle wasn't sure. She'd left her watch by the sink in the bathroom.

"Okay, I'll tell you what," she said. "I'm going to go out to the kitchen and see if I have any food at all. I'll find something. I'll make something up. And if you're still here, I'll totally set the dining room table for both of us, okay? Two knives, two forks, two plates, candles, linen napkins, the whole nine yards. We'll totally do it up right. A night to remember."

"Okay." He smiled a twinkly smile right into her eyes.

"And if you're gone, don't worry about it. Like it won't hurt my feelings or anything if you decide to leave. I'll understand perfectly. It'll be fine, in fact. I won't mind in the least."

"I'm not going anywhere," Abraham Lincoln said.

"Well. If you change your mind. Don't stand on ceremony, you know."

"I won't."

Chapter Nine

Giselle was no Martha Stewart. She knew in her bones she was no Martha Stewart; she knew at the core of her being she was no Martha Stewart. She was, if anything, the antithesis of Martha Stewart. If she and Martha Stewart ever bumped into each other on an elevator, the universe would collapse back into whatever the fuck it had been before that big bang they brag about. Humor him, the guy had said. Okay, Abraham Lincoln, how about I bake you a cherry pie? Quick as a cat can wink its eye. "But she's a young thing, and cannot leave her mother," Giselle sang distractedly while she opened the cupboards above the microwave.

Cherries, cherries, where would we keep cherries? Or was that George Washington? No. He cut the fucker down. He could not tell a lie. But maybe he made a pie out of the cherries that fell on the ground, the ones still on the branches after he chopped the tree down. He was just a kid, though. Maybe his mother made him the pie. She was probably the sort of mother who would do something like that. Giselle wanted a mother like George Washington's mother.

"Oh, so you chopped down the cherry tree, did you? Well, be a good boy and bring me the cherries and I'll make them into a pie." She was probably nice. She probably thought the world of her son. She probably gushed all over him and primped him and pampered him smothered him with love. How else could he have gone on to be the god damn father of his god damn country?

Giselle stretched, rearranging cans as she ransacked the shelves. Nope. No cherries. No apples. No peaches. A fruit cocktail pie? Nah. Probably no pie crust, either. Hey, wait, Ted had said something about a quiche. It had been a couple months, but she didn't think he'd ever gotten around to cooking it. She didn't remember eating any quiche. They'd probably just gone upstairs and closed the bedroom door to keep the little dogs out, although she had no vivid recollection of that particular instance, either. Poor Ted.

How the hell would he have gone about cooking a quiche? Was he going to make pie crust from scratch? How would a person go about doing such a thing? Who ever heard of making pie crust from scratch? Martha Stewart, maybe, that bitch, wrecking everything for regular chicks. Ted was no Martha Stewart, though. He had to have left some pie crust sticks somewhere. She searched the refrigerator. As an afterthought, she checked the freezer. A frozen pie crust! Ha!

Hey, if Ted could make a motherfucking quiche, Giselle could make a motherfucking quiche. She had eggs. She might even have some Canadian Bacon. She did! That stuff kept forever. And there was an onion! Now all she needed was a recipe. Giselle searched frantically for recipes on whatever few cans she happened to have in her cupboards. Carnation Evaporated Milk came to the rescue. She found a small can of sliced mushrooms, too. And cheese! She had cheese. Three different kinds; Swiss, Cheddar and Parmesan. She had it all. The label talked about adding broccoli or spinach, but that sounded like overkill...well, until she got to thinking about the Canadian Bacon. It crossed her mind that the guy might have dietary restrictions, like he might not be able to eat meat, and especially not meat from some squealing little cloven-hoofed farm animal, so she added a can of Del Monte Corn Nibblets, instead.

Abraham might have been Jewish for all she knew. Probably was, in fact. Who but Jews would name a kid Abraham? Well, aside from Abraham Lincoln's parents—but she didn't want to take the chance. She knew from Dennis that mixing any kind of meat, let alone pork, with dairy products would kill the guy if he was any kind of Jew at all. He didn't look Jewish. He could have been, though. He could have been anything—Jamaican, Tibetan, Pakistani, Polynesian, Russian—some strange amalgam of all the races on the face of the earth. It was impossible to tell. Whatever he was, he sure was cute. Damn. Nice hands, strong, delicate fingers. Sensitive lips. Early to mid-thirties? Most likely. He'd said he hadn't been born in 1967, but it had probably been around in there somewhere. She still looked like she could have been in her twenties. She looked like she still could have been in high school. One of the new kids had asked her what grade she was in. Ha!

Corn Quiche? Sure. Just 'cause she never heard it didn't mean it wouldn't be good. She made up for not having nutmeg by adding extra pepper. She found a couple dusty bottles of wine. It was like a dream come true. She'd always known that, in a pinch, she'd be able to come up with something—like, say, if Abraham Lincoln—ever unexpectedly dropped over for dinner.

She went to work. She was happy. Her head didn't ache. She sautéed onions and beat eggs and poured milk and used more bowls and cups and kitchen utensils than she'd ever used in her life. It felt good. Then she remembered why she hated cooking and stopped beating the eggs for a minute. She hated cooking because she hated her mother! And why did she hate her mother? She didn't hate her mother. She loved her mother. That was the trouble. Giselle hated her mother because she loved her mother and her mother didn't love her. Her mother hadn't ever loved her. Her mother hadn't ever even liked her. Her mother hated her. Her mother had always hated her. She'd hated her since the day she was born—and now Giselle didn't like her mother. Simple as that.

She'd had intimations that her mother didn't like her, sure, but Giselle hadn't wanted to believe them. Who wants to believe her own mother had hated her since the day she was born? Nobody, that's who. So Giselle had always changed the subject. Told jokes. Talked about the weather. But now, for the first time in her life, Giselle simply knew that her mother hated her, that her mother had always hated her, that her mother would always hate her, period. Reciprocity is all, Abraham had said. Ha! Reciprocate this, she thought, and went back to beating the eggs.

Her mother could do no wrong in the kitchen. She was the ideal wife. She wasn't such an ideal mother, but she was an ideal wife. She was Martha Stewart! Giselle hated Martha Stewart. She'd always hated Martha Stewart. Now she knew why. Everything Martha Stewart touched turned delicious. Everything her mother touched turned delicious. When something spilled, her mother wiped it up before it dried. Giselle couldn't do anything right. According to her mother, she didn't know how to boil water. She'd show her. She'd make a quiche—practically from scratch. A corn quiche. The best corn quiche ever. A corn quiche fit for a king. Better than a king! A corn quiche fit for Abraham Lincoln! Ha!

"Wow, am I ever whacked," Giselle whispered. But she didn't feel whacked. She felt good. "I feel good," she sang out loud, but softly, like she was James Brown, but quieter, and played a few riffs on an air guitar. "Na, na-na, na-na." Then she sang, also softly, "Woooah," but couldn't decide whether she was James Brown or Ray Charles by then and said, "Fuck it." In her head she didn't sing softly, in her head she sang as loud as James Brown and raspy as Ray Charles.

When she'd finished pouring the runny concoction into Ted's frozen pie shell and had shoved it onto the middle shelf of the preheated 350 degree oven, Giselle checked to make sure Abraham was still on the sofa, then started setting the table.

Give it a chance, he had said. He wasn't going anywhere. She used her best china. She used the silverware that had been a wedding gift from Dennis's parents. She used the Waterford Crystal. She lit candles. With the table set and the timer on the oven set to go off after fifty minutes, Giselle went back into the parlor again.

Abraham was stretched out on the small sofa. His bare feet were hanging over one arm. He had a pillow behind his head. His eyes were closed. The dogs were asleep on the Chinese rug. Calm looked gently up at Giselle, then closed her eyes again. Abraham had his arms crossed across the big GAP stenciled on the chest of her gray sweatshirt. He looked like he might have been in a casket. Giselle knew all about people in caskets. His chest was moving gently up and down as he breathed, however. Dead people don't breathe.

The whole quiet parlor was sound asleep. She sat gingerly down onto the carpet, then leaned her long, slim back against the front of the sofa. Her hair brushed against his Levi's. Her Levi's, Giselle remembered. But she couldn't really tell whether her hair was touching him or not. It might only have been touching the fabric of the sofa. She closed her eyes, too, like it was any other lazy Saturday night. She felt her hair move. He was touching her. It had to have been him. Who else could it have been? Giselle was nothing if not logical.

The back of his hand was brushing against her hair. She felt his hand move through her hair, pushing it carefully aside. The warmth of his fingers warmed the back of her neck, sent shivers down her spine. She still hadn't actually felt his skin on her skin. She kept her eyes closed and thought maybe she never would feel his hand on her skin, like maybe if he tried to touch her, his hand would go right through her the way the hand of a ghost or a hallucination would go right through her. Then his knuckles brushed the silky hair at the base of her skull. Giselle was electrified. The biochemistry of her brain stunned the living fuck out of her—the way a touch could send instantaneous prickles of heat and affection through all her nerves, everywhere, all at once. The touch of his hand crackled through the nerve endings at the tips of her nipples and into the concentrated little bundle of nerves in her clit.

She felt her heart race. Her ears got hot. The bottom fell out of her stomach. She was lost, she was floating, she was carried away...and that she could make rational constructs out of the whole process, that she could think about what all was happening to her at same time too, well, that amazed her beyond belief. Wow. She had no breath in her lungs. She had no lungs. There was nothing in her chest but her heart beating all by itself in complete emptiness.

He took his hand away.

She opened her eyes and asked, after she'd waited awhile to see if he was going to touch her again, "Do you want to hear some music?"

"Nope," Abraham said.

"Want to see what's on TV?"

He didn't answer.

Giselle rested her right arm on the edge of the sofa with her hand beside his ribs. His eyes were still closed.

"Do you want to just sit here?" she asked.


She stretched and rested her other arm on the sofa. She turned her head to the left and saw her hand close to his bare feet and asked, "Want me to rub your feet?"

"Sure," he said.

"Want me to get some oil?"

"If you want."

"Dinner won't be ready for awhile."

"That's okay."

"I haven't eaten since...when? Yesterday afternoon? What time is it?"

Abraham didn't answer, but he did open his eyes. Then, after maybe a minute or so, he said, in a dreamy, lost, impersonal, distant sort of tone of voice, "The Savior began the work of our salvation with fasting."

"Oh, man," Giselle said in a subdued whine. "Are you going to turn into some kind of Jesus Freak on me?"

"I like Jesus," he said. "Jesus likes me."

"Yeah? So, does that mean you're going try to, like, save my ass, or some bullshit?"

"Nope. What you do with your ass is up to you. Why don't you come sit a little closer so we can talk."

Previous, Part One

Next, Part Three


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Gerard Jones
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