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No Matter
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No Matter

by Russell Flinn

I wondered how many times other people had done the same thing.

I boil up endless cups of tea to compensate for such occasions. That curious moment when you suddenly remember the cup of tea you made earlier and then discover that you have already drunk it. How did we drink it and not even notice it? How is it we are not refreshed, our thirst quenched?

I have asked other people if they ever found the same thing and some have replied that on occasion they had experienced something similar, but most often they returned my enquiry by asking if I was going to get on the bus or not. Perhaps they preferred not to think about it, or chose not to show that it had also happened to them a lot but never gave it a second thought.

Second thought.

A strange expression that one. Why should we choose to measure time in seconds, in units named after something that implied bifurcation or a pair of something. Surely time was best yardsticked with firsts, with singular instances rather than by increments of doubles or pairs.

I first fucked Tricia Wilson from Accounts Receivable a month ago.

Don’t get me wrong, I had done so more than once before in the lavatory cubicles at work, but then she had simply been something envisioned in my head to bring on a swift conclusion as it were and the images were as fragile as the toilet tissue on which my lust choked out a few pearly tears.

But on this occasion I would prefer to describe the events leading up to what I prefer to think of as the real thing.

We had been working late because neither of us had lied enough to get out of it. Some temp in Ordering had misplaced a zero in one of our routine shipments of letterheaded stationery to a very important corporate client. They spent a lot of money on our printing work and, like anyone who invests an awful lot, their petulance was in equal proportion when you cocked things up. The misplaced zero was transposed onto the temp’s wage-slip that month and she left soon after to work in a tanning salon where her caramelised superficialities might look less incongruous.

So there I was with Tricia.

She is one of those people who flirts outrageously because she knew nobody in the office would dare take her on. I heard she had a paramour and had seen her once with some builder or other, his arms nutty with muscle and bruised with tattoos that had faded into his skin like the names of the carnal conquests that threaded through them must have faded into memory.

She was certainly up to the attention, not one of those saddle-bagged middle-aged divorcees who look as though they had been shoplifting cellulite. Tricia was slim, petite and doll-like, which takes into account her personality as much as it does her appearance. A body which she displayed to great effect. Were it true that less is more then she was practically intangible.

We interspersed our time that night - between bargaining a rapid turnaround with the company to whom we were farming work - with talk of what we might do for the summer and who looked old on television these days. We both agreed that you don’t see much of Tom O’Connor these days.

By the time we had finished up and gathered our things to leave we had spoken maybe one thousand and seventy words that were not related to the task in hand – I’m unsure of the exact figure as I had lost count in the confusion of deciding if I should class ‘don’t’ as two words or one.

This was something of a milestone in my working days. Normally I can get through eight hours with somewhere between five and six hundred words per person, far less if they were stood beside me at the urinals or delivering the mail to my in-tray.

For some reason the buses were running on time and as I parked up at some red lights I saw Tricia standing by the stop being harangued by some youths wearing so many labels that I wondered briefly if their parents had signed sponsorship deals prior to conception. She laughed when I told her this, throwing her head just far enough back in the confines of the passenger seat for me to glimpse a dentist’s-eye view of her breasts. I told her I was going to stop off at my local for a quick bite of something and that she was more than welcome to join me. She said it was okay and she wasn’t hungry right now but that a drink would be nice.

In the end we went to her local. I remembered that my local was a gay pub and that The Cock And Piercing was not to everyone’s tastes, including mine. I had once been approached there by a young man whose hair looked alert with gel but once I saw that those of his companions who weren’t Ecstatic were evidently breaking the Speed limit I declined the drink he offered me and made my excuses to leave. He served me the next week in some record shop or other but we never mentioned it, though I did detect a sense of unrequited longing in the way he gave me too big a bag for just a CD single.

Her local was a smaller affair, intimate insofar as it was cramped. Small islands of laminated wood foliated with glasses of all shapes and heights were cramped full of teenagers trying to look older and older couples who thought they were teenagers, both illusions buggered by their proximity to the real thing.

We were served drinks by a barman who eyed me suspiciously and gave me wet change.

“It was nice of you to give me a lift, Durban”, she said, and I lied that it was the least I could do because I hadn’t really wanted to.

She remarked that she had had two drinks to my one and I explained that my father had made me wary of alcohol and that he had drunk like a fish, filling the washing-up bowl with beer and immersing his head entirely in it.

Vodka and coke sprayed from her nostrils like a chocolate nosebleed and I told her yes, it had looked something like that which only made her laugh harder as though it was all a big joke.

“You sure you’re not hungry?” I asked, remembering it was two for the price of one. There was a moments’ obligatory pointlessness as we both tried to find out what the other was going to select, as though ordering the same thing might make us difficult to tell apart.

In the end I settled on some crisps and she had the cherry from a cocktail. I realised that as with so many desirable women she was on a perpetual diet, which explained her nymph-like figure and the zinc deficiency evidenced in her fingernails. She was okay for protein, she told me, but I imagined she had that builder friend of hers to thank for that.

Once we had spent something like hours discussing nothing in particular, finding that what we shared was that we had nothing in common and as little to say about it, we set off to her place.

I drove very carefully, conscious that not only had I been drinking but that I was always longing to run down some anonymous pedestrian or other so that people who never knew or cared about them could say what a loss it was that they went so soon or so untidily. Tricia was still laughing. It was really beginning to grate on me so I described the finer, indelicate points of Korean cuisine to shut her up.

“I could never eat a dog or a cat”, she said sincerely, but I reminded her that they would have no compunctions about human flesh were they starving and she seemed to give it more thought. So she reconsidered and said that it might be okay if the dog was of a particularly ugly breed. She then fell silent until we arrived at the focal point of graffiti and concentrated housing that was where she lived.

The building into which she led me was divided into flats that competed in bad curtains, the lights from within broadcasting opal, tangerine and lime-green luminescence. I heard some people swearing outrageously while another occupant appeared to be killing something pixellated with gusto.

I walked her up to her door, then walked her up to her flat and then followed her onto her settee. She kept the light low and I felt slighted, as much as it increased my charms. Did I want a coffee?

“You have the most beautiful eyes”, I said – repeating words I had once heard from an adjoining cubicle on a train platform. She seemed impressed enough, pressing her breasts into my hands and moving across so that I could kiss her if so inclined.

I did what I could until my flagging penis lay on my thigh, a Judas cock, but by that time she had told me she was coming on at least three occasions which surely meant she had got there by now and was beginning to close her eyes. I looked at her naked body, the smooth thighs that had expertly milked me dry and left me with faint contusions on either side of my waist, the slightly-parted lips greasy with gloss whose colour passion had caused to run.

I went to the bathroom to examine myself for other injuries under a dim bulb the exact shape and colour of a droplet of wax. I would have seen better were it switched into life but I decided that it would either wake her or me. Besides that, bathroom illuminations always seemed designed to show us ourselves in the least flattering light, highlighting our folds and inconsistent symmetry in stark relief.

I was overweight in a number of areas and the early stages of acne rosacea provided me with a nose not unlike a summer strawberry stirring into ripeness. My hair was beginning to thin in places, perhaps refusing to compete any longer with the verdant new growths staking their claims in my ears and nostrils. I did not like to look at myself particularly, feeling that it would be better to leave that to someone better qualified to judge. A pathologist, say, or a homosexual.

I dressed and went home, leaving her snoring fitfully under the duvet. I thought of leaving her some small note, something to remind her of the occasion or to thank her for her perseverence, but aside from ‘Well Done’, I could think of nothing and decided that it made me sound even more a lump of meat.

I drove home in the faint gleam that was the sky practising daylight and went to bed to wait until it was time to get up for work. I tend to suffer bouts of insomnia, which means that I spend many nights staring into the darkness impersonating the sounds of my neighbours’ central heating until my throat hurts.

The next day saw Tricia back to her normal self, flirting with rep’s and shimmying across the office-space as though it were too much effort to raise both hips at once. She ignored me almost entirely, the respite from this being the point at which she went on safari for paperclips that had not been unfolded and tipped with earwax.

That night she was at the bus stop again and every working night that month, the two of us going through much the same ritual at first until she must have made a conscious decision to forego the foreplay of the pub and our minimalist meals and we simply used the extra time this afforded us to get to sleep sooner.

I felt no pique that she refused to acknowledge me at work, nor that she seemed so perfunctory in sexing me once the rest of the staff had gone. I was not confident in romance so the businesslike way in which our genital mergers were conducted suited me very well, seeming to flow quite naturally from the diurnal routine of our combined working days. She never moaned, unless the time was right, and never once complained.

Then came the boy’s night out.

It was a profoundly drunken affair, although I was drinking very little. I was trying to save enough money to buy Tricia some small gift, a token of my depreciation, and had my eye on a ladies’ watch. I had decided to wait, however, hoping our affair would go on long enough to see it in the sales.

Things were still going quite well in that department and I saw little reason to think anything was about to change, except perhaps the bus timetable. I took to phoning in bomb threats to the local depot in order to ensure it was always too late to whisk her away before I could pick her up from our usual rendezvous.

The bus stop had acquired a special meaning to me, not quite a romantic resonance because it did smell of piss, but I always felt a pang akin to a slight stomach upset as it drew into sight. I had stopped there one night mindful of leaving some sign of it’s importance, perhaps our names entwined in something more appropriate than the sketch of a heart with customary arrow piercing it, but all I could think of was to draw a vulva and my pen ran out because I paid too much attention to the pubic hair and so it remained anonymous. This was, by nature of our liaisons, the most apt, but nonetheless I persevered, and the next night after one of our I/O interfaces I left her drying out on the bedspread and set off to finish the job with a Magic Marker I had taken from her handbag. Someone had finished the diagram and appended a navel and breasts. In the end I decided to just put a brick through the glass.

She had not seemed irritated as I drove past her on the way to the pub to meet the lads except that the rain was soaking her through the broken glass of the stop. She simply glanced long and hard at her watch, which I had, the previous night, dropped into her toilet bowl in order to make her gift-to-come even more valuable to her. I heard her complaining the next day that the bus service had been cancelled indefinitely because of the risk of terrorist attack.

The pub that the lads had chosen was Bar Code, which I had trouble finding because I was unsure if it was next to Bar None, Bar-Bar or not next to either of them because I had never actually heard of it. In the end I parked my car and walked into the first place that gasped beer into my face as it’s doors swung open and spat some drunken youths onto the pavement.

I was greeted by yells that made me wish I were deaf.

Tom, a young boy whose bleached crown suggested a bad toupee, was trying to explain what he had got up to for the price of a shared KLM air-fare. He seemed slighted by my disinterest in his talk of crabs and fish – was he angling for compliments, I pondered briefly - but the truth was that I was simply losing interest as I thought I saw the likeness of Charles De Gaulle in someone else’s acne. In fact, it was Davina MacCall I was thinking of because although they didn’t look alike their names were similar.

“I have fucked Tricia from Accounts Receivable”, I said.

The next day Tricia punched me hard in the face.

I immediately regretted making the deposit on the watch that morning.

There was a lot of shouting and swearing and a mixture of both at once and for some moments I thought I was back in the pub and so I repeated myself.

“I have fucked Tricia from Accounts Receivable”, I said.

She punched me in the face again and I wondered if I was going to spend the rest of my life reliving that event and whether it was any better or worse than how I might have been going to spend it anyway. There was blood running down my throat and I realised she had broken her hand.

Then someone else hit me and I was both glad that I was not stuck in some odd hysteresis and sad that my nose had snapped. It sounded in my head like crunching on a mint imperial but tasted of lamp-post. It had been Tom who punched me, so I forgot all guilt about finding his story less interesting than blemishes.

That night I got a phone call from a complete stranger who asked me if I was going to send him his fucking Beanie Baby or not. I told him not and resolved to let it ring and ring after I had put the receiver down and stepped from the callbox. Sometimes the calls are for me depending on how unlike myself I feel at the time.

I had been advised to seek legal advice in case Tricia, my employers or the bus company decided to take matters further but the advice I got was varied. People told me I should either deck the bastards or find a good brief, while most told me to get fucked. To me that sort of advice was elliptical, being the cause of the problem as much as it’s likely cure.

I got a visit from my supervisor. She brought with her a box filled with stuff from my desk, mostly dust and small pieces of fluff.

“Tricia’s hand should be okay”, she told me, peering at the crookedness between my blackening eyes. “The police told me you have been involved in an assault case before?”

I told her that had not been my fault. I had been interested in buying a computer from out of classified ads and someone had advised me that it was always a good idea to knock people down. I asked her when I could return to work.

She thought for a moment.

“You do accept that it was a stupid thing to say?”

I didn’t understand, so she explained that the Police had interviewed Tricia about the allegations. The builder apparently picked her up from work every night. The rota and timesheets from our first night together showed that nobody had been in the building, apart from the cleaners, security guards and a homeless man caught by the latter in the act of fucking a kettle. She also told me that the Police had checked a month of CCTV footage and I was seen leaving at the same time as everyone else and often, pointedly, before everyone else.

“Then check the cameras that cover the car park”, I blurted. “You will see that I drive out in the direction of her bus stop”.

She looked hard at me, as though I was almost out of sight. She replied that I didn’t have a car because I can’t drive.

“That explains why I can’t find the keys”, I said.

She told me to get plenty of rest and perhaps see somebody. I told her I had been seeing Tricia but she suggested I see somebody else, perhaps my doctor. I knew my doctor was married and twice my age but left her thinking she had provided a valid route out of this impasse and let her out the front door, which was sticking a newspaper out at me like a silent yet verbose tongue.

I went back to my seat and for want of other ideas I watched her lips. She had forgotten to take them with her, so they was just hanging there in my lounge pouting platitudes long into the evening, juicy and crenellated like slugs glossy with blood, elasticating over every mealy mouthful, twisting in the darkening air as her moral flatulence gasped out. When I got tired of the effort it took to ignore their extemporising, I snatched them into my fist, squeezing their tacky writhing uneasily until I felt them leak down to a couple of leeched sacs. I didn’t open my hand for some time, imagining they had made their home in my palm and would continue to berate me with kindness and understanding.

I sat back down, wondering what it all meant now that I knew I had been telling the truth but that the truth had changed. It was then that I picked up the cup of tea I had made when my supervisor had been there and realised I had already drunk it.

I had no recollection of the experience of drinking it, no sensation-memory of the cup pressing lip-to-lip as it came it’s tannin load in my suckling mouth, no after-taste of milk curdling or sugar at my gums. Nothing whatsoever.

I made another cup and another and another until I eventually filled my house with anything that I could pour hot water into but did not recall drinking any of them. There were dregs of tea in the bath, the washing-up bowl, the cereal bowls, the cups and their saucers. I was still thirsty and yet according to every usable surface in my home I had had tea aplenty.

The next day I tried coffee. The next fresh orange, then diluted orange, then milk of all varieties until the air was rancid and I had nothing to wash myself, or my meal things in. So I put the dirty plates in a bin bag and carried them to a local park that was loud with children and dogs, and where I knew there was a duck pond. It was several miles on foot and probably the same by car, and while I earnestly wanted my plates clean I also couldn’t be arsed to bring them back so I threw them one by one into the water, causing ducks and onlookers to squawk and flap. I could always come back for them when I felt better inclined.

I looked at the face that glanced hopefully up from the paperwork, the eyes cloudy and grey as though his head were filled with smoke. He put down a retractable pencil and picked up a pen, which I took as evidence of his sudden sobriety.

Doctor Randles was a professional, of course, and he looked at me as though he saw nothing of me except a compendium of possible symptoms. I wondered if he was thinking that I was ambitiously overweight or pock-marked - more likely, it dawned upon him that now I had made his acquaintance he would be seeing me on and off as my body deteriorated into heart disease, blood pressure, piles, varicose veins. Then, one day, he would simply see me no more, having signed me off to a funeral home whose pallbearers he would soon thereafter be treating for lumbago.

It was impersonal, actually. He probably wouldn’t recognise my face if I were sat right in front of him, I thought sullenly. Faces were not his problem unless they were hanging off, going alarming colours or wore a barrister’s wig.

“What seems to be the problem, Mr Mayall?”

That pat opening remark, as though we all conjure our ailments from the stuff of fancy, irked me. Yet on this occasion I was more alarmed that he must already know why I was there. It was no coincidence. He had been asking that question of everyone who visited him, knowing that one day its relevance would become clear to someone eventually.

“I fucked Tricia from Accounts Receivable”, I said, covering my nose.

He did not hit me so perhaps he knew it was true. My trust was growing. I wanted to hug him and was getting up to do so when he said, “I see”, which proved my theory.

“She says it didn’t happen for her”.

Doctor Randles pensively stroked his stethoscope, which hung from his neck like an artery he had grown too fond of to put back.

He asked me if my inquiry was related to impotence, physicians always wanting to try and touch you where they think it must hurt. Perhaps he did not really grasp my problem after all, or was talking obliquely. Conceptually, I did feel a kind of powerlessness – as one who would wish to kick in the ribs of a loud and persistent drunk but is put off by society’s mores, morality and video cameras.

I explained in as much detail as I could what had happened and what had also happened, because I wasn’t sure which version had happened and whether the other had not.

He gave it some thought before turning his attention to his desktop computer. I asked him if he was still interested in talking to me or if he might feel better if I went now, but he went on to explain what he was doing.

“You see, we have on our database your entire patient history, records of all your visits, results of every test you’ve had. All entered, written-up and documented as we go along”.

I knew what he was trying to tell me. I was nothing more than words and dates that could be summoned up, entered, deleted, re-entered, rewritten, amended.

“What I find more interesting, Mr Mayall, is that if we assume that hard physical evidence does not support what you experienced and duly remember, then what might you have actually been doing during those periods?”

I got up and walked out, past the neatly dressed facsimile dummies that they used to make the surgery look busy. Most people never noticed them because, given the choice, the English could always be counted on to manfully select scatological sex with an entire curry club than eye-contact with their fellow man. I simply enjoyed their conversation.

Although downhearted, the Doctor had given me some food for thought, and decided that I had to determine exactly what was happening in my life and what, if any, bearing it had upon the world around me.

Experiment Number One – hard, physical evidence.

I examined my cock, rubbed it till it began to stir and could be sure I had it’s scent on my fingers but found there was nothing of Tricia about the tart aroma. I pulled up my trousers, briefly returned the stern gaze of the other book-browsers and took my couple of chosen volumes on metaphysics and alternate universes to be stamped by the librarian who promptly refused to let me have them because I could present her with nothing but some bus tickets and the lint from my desk that I had taken to carrying. However, I found that she would let me have them if I stowed them under my jacket and walked swiftly out. Ignorance was bliss, so I left her joyous.

I read only the chapter headings and indexes, because I was in a hurry and one-word prompts might save time, but there was little that made any sense to my situation. There was one that I skimmed briefly that had upon its flyleaf the picture of a man in a wheelchair with a small computer sticking out from him but it wasn’t clear to me which of them had written the words I battled to decipher. Reading between the lines I began to see patterns forming so I concentrated on reading those instead until I felt an idea forming in my head like cold, wet wool.

Experiment Number Two – interactivity.

That morning I took a bus and waited until it was almost entirely full before squatting at the back of the upper deck and squeezing out a series of turds. They made little noise as they struck the grimy floor in copious volume, but I knew that the sight and smell of a man expelling waste must surely count as an unusual and unexpected act in the known Universe. I waited, half-way to deciding to pick some of it up and hurl it randomly.

A man, in both his fifties and a raincoat, opened a window.

That wasn’t nearly enough to convince me.

The man lit up a cigarette.

Four people glared and an elderly woman nursing a plastic bag piped up that this was a no smoking vehicle.

I shouted that I had just taken a shit if anyone was interested, then sat quietly to wait for my stop.

Experiment Number Three – documentary evidence.

I bought the camcorder and tripod from a High Street electrical store, paying for it with the only credit card I had that a bank hadn’t required me to return in pieces like a kidnap victim. Someone had told me that shop assistants never check what you put on the debit slip so I spat on it instead. I told him that, unlike handwriting, DNA could not be forged.

I read the manual fully before setting the camcorder up on the frail legs of a tripod in the corner of my lounge, and set its gaze upon my favourite chair, the iris regarding me dully. I read the whole text of the instructions, including those in Arabic and Dutch in case I had missed something in the English section. The Arabic was especially helpful because the patterns relaxed me in such a way that I knew somehow I had understood every curlicue.

That night I was restless, going out to walk the hollow streets and listening to the echoes of my own footfalls. I was certain that they precluded rather than followed my steps. Perhaps if I listened hard to where the reverberations came from I could determine where I was meant to be heading.

It took me some time to wake when I did eventually sleep because I had been dreaming that I was dreaming that I was dreaming that I was dreaming that I was dreaming. I went to the bathroom and watched myself pull both sets of eyelids open as far as I they would go until one snapped partially back into place, leaving a tiny flap of skin between my fingers. It would have been around that moment that I awoke one final time and lay listening to the sound of the camcorder’s insect whine.

I plugged the output leads into my television set and started the tape rewinding, settling back with the remote to watch what it could remember of the previous night. I knew that if I had not truly unleashed my gonads into Tricia every evening for a month, then I had to have been elsewhere doing something or nowhere doing nothing and was trying not to get too excited by the opportunity of discovering which.

I couldn’t have been out for the walk, that much was certain, since my shoes I had watched burn in the microwave only hours before and even with my bunions and corns I couldn’t imagine that they had been hard enough to effect the solid footsteps I had followed.

By the time the tape clicked back to its point of origin I knew that I was not going to be able to operate the remote, not now that it was a packet of Viscount biscuits, and the sudden eerie silence told me I didn’t really have a camcorder.

I went barefoot to the store, demanding that my card be credited for the camcorder that no longer existed but by this time my receipt had become a slice of smoked ham that hadn’t seen refrigeration in some months and I left before the Police were called about my language. I had been trying to recite lines of the Arabic section of the manual to prove ownership but it came out as bnahdutt – my Arabic word for wanker.

The next few days led me to question everything but everything declined to answer. My position became clear to me. I was being governed by non-specificity, neither dreaming nor living, if I was there at all. Except, of course, that I was alive, so perhaps everything would be fine so long as I held on to something, even if that something wasn’t there.

I remembered the words I had seen in a book I had cooked the night before – watching my shoes burn had made me hungry.

Life, it said, was determined by concepts of matter and anti-matter. Opposing surfaces upon which our lives and diverse realities could be cast. However, I theorised, was there a third way?

What if the absolute factions of matter and anti-matter had some anteroom, an annexe between that was composed of something less than anything.

I christened this Doesn’t Matter.

A manifestation of Doesn’t Matter had no bearing on conventional reality, no cause or effect and only a hollow between. A dimension to which there was no rule of law, accessible only to those journeymen who were so utterly without meaning that they would find their lives dipping in and out of actuality as a needle crests and ducks in fabric.

I was a focal point of Doesn’t Matter, an anomaly of neither here nor there. I always knew that I had been somewhat different so the crashing revelation that I was unique in my unutterable redundance made more sense than it made me indignant or wronged against.

Taking my car keys, I drove to Blackpool, paying for a hotel room with a credit card that I could plainly see required only a sesame bun and mayonnaise to make it complete. I could hear the rollercoaster from my window.

Feigning cramp, I let everyone into the cars first, leaving the rear to myself because nobody would sit next to a man who loudly professed that he had last bathed some fortnight before.

I had never been on a rollercoaster, but my new sense of absence, my absolute lack of purpose made all trepidation futile. When the rattling train of screams and whoops plummeted it felt less than shifting in sleep.

As we rounded the sharpest corner, abbreviated by a violent drop, I reached for the man sat in front of me and strangled him to death.

It required very little effort. His respiration and heart rate heightened, only the merest squeeze succeeded in his slumping forward. I spent the last few seconds of the ride watching him slung this way and that, his neck snapping loudly at one violent revolution, before finally settling back in his seat as we slowed to a stop and a bored youth in a tee-shirt as bright as he was not explained the procedure for extricating ourselves as one would explain using lavatories to the infirm.

I returned to the hotel and walked through the door into my living room at home. This metaphysical non sequitur didn’t even register as I resumed my seat and lowered my head to dream of sleeping.

The Police released a photograph, such as you can buy at the end of any theme park ride, and it aired on televisions throughout the country. To me, it just looks like another screaming face among many, but of course it is the image of the man at his back that concerned everyone. Yet months later, and despite the clarity of the still, no one has come forward to say they recognise him. I certainly don’t.

Copyright Russell Flinn 2004

Russ Flinn has appeared in Dark Dreams, Phenix and Mustard - a collection of three of his pieces was published by the BFS under the title Stirring Within and the tale Subway Story was selected from it by Ramsey Campbell and Steve Jones for Best New Horror 3 ...
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