1. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Contest Winner! Sal Boxford wins the November contest!

    Discussion in 'Monthly Short Story Contest' started by Tenderiser, Dec 2, 2017.

    Well done @Sal Boxford for your victory with Banana, Rosa, a touching and beautiful story. I'm sure I'm not the only one who inexplicably had dust in my eyes while I was reading.

    In second place was @Michael R. Kage with Black Desert, a story jam packed with action.

    Well done to all the authors.

    I expect the December contest to be even quieter as we're all so busy with Christmas, but hopefully fewer entries will mean more people have time to read and vote!
     
  2. Sal Boxford

    Sal Boxford Senior Member

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    Banana, Rosa [3,468]


    It’s not right for an animal to be caged. You can’t keep a creature in captivity just so a bunch of kids can be disappointed to find it isn’t the anthropomorphic best bud Disney/Pixar has trained them to expect. But Rosa had read a book about the conservation work zoos do, and persuaded me to go with her to Hanning Grove Wildlife Park.

    Rosa loves to read and she always gets carried away. Five years before, she read a book about algorithms, and the next week enrolled on a computing degree.

    “You have a degree,” I told her.

    “Well, I only studied English Lit because I was good at it in school,” she said.

    “So you’re going to become a computer programmer or something?”

    She looked puzzled. “No.”

    After she graduated with her baseless BSc she did an aimless MSc – not in computing, that would make too much sense, or even in literature – in South American History. She read an article somewhere about Peruvian archaeology. That was all it took. Reading is rocket fuel to her. She learns a little and instantly wants to know it all.

    Her new thing was conservation. I had more sense than to check the statement from our joint account to see how much she’d spent on the slabs of academic endeavour that had landed on our doormat almost daily for a month.

    “So, where first?” Rosa scanned the map handed to her by a teenager dressed as an emperor penguin.

    “I don’t know. I’d kinda like to see a bear rubbing its muzzle against the bars until all its fur has come off and it’s covered in festering sores.”

    “Yeah, well they don’t have that here, so try again, smart arse.”

    “I could go for some big insects. Insects in a glass box doesn’t seem so bad.”

    “So we’ll start off easy?”

    We walked along the cutesy, winding paths separating one ‘zone’ from another. The verges were dotted with four-foot wooden cartoon animals offering facts about the species they represented. “Did you know that cuttlefish can change the colour of their skin to hide or to communicate?” “At night time you can hear the kookaburras ‘laughing’ – they’re actually shouting to other birds to mark out their territory!” “How do bats find each other in the dark? They can’t use their eyes so they use echoes and calls to tell each other where they are!”

    “Did you know: a shed in the West Midlands isn’t the natural habitat of the giraffe?” I said, stretching out my neck as we approached the enclosure.

    “Did you know, firstly,” Rosa said, “that they’ve come into the shed voluntarily to meet the humans, and that they have access to a large field at the back of the shed which allows them both freedom and privacy, and secondly that without opportunities for children to interact with wild animals we will be unable to train the next generation of conservationists, who are very badly needed as we head deeper into the anthropocene with its associated mass extinctions?”

    I decided to dial it back a bit. Rosa doesn’t get angry easily, so I knew I’d crossed a line. She’s almost pathologically sunny, which is just as well. I guess I’m a bit of a cynic. She keeps me from dismissing most of what the world has to offer.

    We ambled through the rest of Africa: the zebras, the rhinos, the lions. Even I wanted to poke the lions with a stick to make them more entertaining. They were behaving exactly the way a cat would if you put it on display: sitting sullenly, very deliberately not looking at you: “Fuck you. I won’t acknowledge you. Get out of my house.”

    “Ooh, great apes!” Rosa thrilled, jabbing a finger at the map. “Literally around this corner.”

    “No,” I said. “No, I can’t.”

    “But they’re so human!” she said.

    “Well, that’s the point. I’m going to look at them and think it could as easily be you or me behind those bars. Would you want to be a zoo exhibit?”

    “Have you seen any bars since we got here?”

    “I’ve seen some mesh,” I said. “That’s basically the same thing.”

    “Ugh,” Rosa rolled her eyes and ploughed on to the ape enclosure.

    “Ha!”

    “What?” Rosa stopped and turned to see what I was laughing at.

    I nodded towards to the cartoon chimpanzee who pointed the way. The speech bubble where its species fact should have been was covered over with a laminated sheet that read, “Today is the 57th birthday of our oldest mountain gorilla, Rosa. Join us from 2pm to sample our special gorilla cake and see the birthday girl open her presents!”

    “Happy Birthday!” I said. “You know, you don’t look a day over 40.”

    “Oh bloody hell, really? I wonder whether if I tell them I’m Rosa too they’ll give me a present?” she smiled. “You coming to meet her?”

    In the ape enclosure it felt more like we were the exhibit – surrounded on all sides by habitats looking in on our darkened viewing bay through towering glass partitions topped off with mesh that met the ceiling.

    “Which one is she?” Rosa wondered aloud. She followed the lead of a nearby eight-year-old and pressed her nose to the glass to get a better view.

    Parents and children, some wearing party hats, milled about - waiting for the gorilla cake, I guessed.

    “Are you looking for the birthday girl?” a zoo keeper asked.

    “My girlfriend’s name is Rosa,” I wasted no time in telling him.

    “Another Rosa! Your girl is the one over by the boulder there,” he pointed.

    Gorilla Rosa sat on her haunches hitting a small shrub with a leafy twig. Between whacks she stared intently at the plant. After a while she scratched her belly.

    “The dead spit,” I said.

    “Rosa!” Rosa – my Rosa – approached the glass. “Do they respond to their names?”

    “We don’t think so. But if she’s interested, she’ll come over,” said the zoo keeper.

    “Rosa!” Human Rosa squatted on the floor right by the glass and put her head on one side. She made a sort of tutting sound, not far off the noise she would make to call her mum’s cat. She patiently waited.

    “Hey, Rosa!” I shouted, and rapped on the wall of the enclosure.

    “Jesus, Doug! ‘How would you like be kept in a zoo?’” she mimicked my earlier question. “How would you like some idiot banging on the wall of your house?”

    “Here,” the zoo keeper held out a banana. “You tie it on there,” he said, indicating a piece of string that hung down either side of the glass through part of the mesh at the top of the enclosure, “and, er, she’ll come and get it – well, one of them will come and get it.”

    Rosa took the banana and tied it to the string. She waved it at the gorilla.

    Catching sight of the movement – or so I suppose – the animal cast a glance in Rosa’s direction. Turning back to her entertainment, she raised the twig to her mouth, wrapped her lips around it, and stripped the leaves at a stroke. She chewed slowly, still holding the twig in front of her.

    “Rosa!”

    The gorilla turned to look again. She dropped the twig and got up onto her fists.

    “Rosa!” My Rosa waggled the banana again.

    “Oh! That was a grunt,” said the keeper.

    “Mum! He’s coming!” a kid behind us shouted, running up to the glass.

    Gorilla Rosa pulled back a little as the child ran forward, then ambled towards us, hips and shoulders swaying powerfully. She stopped a few feet away and regarded human Rosa and the banana. She lowered her haunches and shuffled on her behind until she was almost up against the glass. She grunted again.

    A child roared in the gorilla’s direction before her father pulled her away. “Now that’s not nice, is it? You’ve got to be friendly with the animals, Lottie.” The animal was intrigued but not troubled.

    “Give the string a pull,” the keeper told my Rosa.

    When the string on her side of the glass moved, the gorilla seemed to remember her mission. She reached out a hand and took hold.

    “Aah!” The kids behind us screamed in delight as the ape quickly and skilfully reeled in her prize. The banana got stuck in the mesh on the first couple of attempts but gorilla Rosa persisted until she had dragged it through and it fell by her side in the grass. She grabbed the fruit and freed it from its skin faster than I’ve ever seen any human do it, crammed the peel into her mouth with one hand and then began to break off chunks of flesh.

    “Did you see that? Dad, did you see what he did with the skin?”

    “I did.”

    “He ate it.”

    “I saw.”

    Rosa the ape shuffled round to face us more directly. She searched the gallery of human faces until she lighted on her namesake, giver of the banana. She grunted and pressed her knuckles to the glass. Without hesitation her new human friend brought her hand up to do the same. I thought, “If she looks at me with half as much joy and affection on our wedding day, I’ll be a very happy man.”

    + + + + + + + + + + + +

    “Doug, hi. It’s Karen. Rosa’s alright but she’s in the hospital. The doctors say it isn’t serious but they aren’t too sure exactly what it is yet. They’re going to run some tests. She’s on ward 9 right now. She’s having a little trouble speaking – just to warn you. But they said she will be alright. Give me a call when you get this.”

    + + + + + + + + + + + +

    “Which entrance do you want?” asks the taxi driver.

    “She said ward 9. I don’t know which one is nearest.”

    “Ward 9 is the stroke unit, right?”

    I lose my breath. “I don’t know.”

    “That’s Senwright Street entrance, is stroke.”

    “Okay.”

    “I’ll go in Senwright Street, drop you at reception.”

    “Thank you.”

    We drive past the crumbling staff housing, past car park G, F, E, past signs for Area 7, Areas 5 & 6, around mini-roundabouts and over speed bumps every ten yards. The complex goes on and on: a suburb I don’t know though I’ve lived in this town my whole life. I think I did come once when I was small, when my aunt gave birth to my youngest cousin, but nothing looks familiar.

    We pull up by a set of automatic doors. The driver turns on the light, reaches up and presses a button on the meter. “£6.20,” he says.

    I dig around in my wallet for change, give up, hand him a tenner and get out. I walk through the doors.

    Inside the hospital, everything smells wrong. And everything looks wrong: the high seating, the large, simple letters on the signs, the plastic floors and the wipe-clean fabrics. It screams of challenges and struggles, of anything pleasant forcibly sacrificed to utility. I do remember from my previous visit how bedraggled and sweaty my usually immaculate and business-like aunt looked, sitting up in her metal-framed bed with hospital sheets, a blue balloon floating from the bar at her feet. People aren’t themselves in hospitals: they’re actors behind the scenes, sitting in the make-up chair, out of costume. I wonder how Rosa will look.

    I follow the signs to ward 9. I’m about to approach the nurses’ station when I hear Karen call, “Doug!” She is sitting in a high-backed, vinyl-covered armchair by the side of a hospital bed, partially obscured by a curtain. She looks calm. “We’re here,” she says. “It’s Doug,” she tells the occupant of the bed.

    I get closer. At last I can see her: weak and pale but otherwise my Rosa. She smiles at me, and I know it will all be okay.

    A doctor barges past me and stands at the end of the bed. “Miss Henshall, we know the drill now don’t we?”

    Rosa rolls her eyes, and I smile. It is good to see. That’s my Rosa.

    “Right arm,” says the doctor. Rosa raises her right arm. “Good. Left arm. Smile for me. Good.” He holds up his biro. “And what’s this?”

    “Line,” says Rosa with great certainty and clarity. “Argh!” She thumps the bed with her hand and tries again, “Line. Gah!”

    Karen looks at me. “Doctor, this is Doug, he’s Rosa’s partner.”

    “Doug,” the doctor holds out his hand to shake. “She’s going to be fine. We think it’s a stroke but it’s only a mild one. There looks to be a little weakness on the left side, but barely any really, and we’re having a little trouble with some of our words, but it will be fine. We’re just waiting for a scan now. When we have that we’ll know more.”

    “When will she be able to come home?”

    “Let’s see what we learn from the scan,” he says and moves on to the next bed.

    As he leaves, Rosa glares after him and says, “He’s underbucket.” Hearing her words, she adds, “Damn!”

    “We still have most of the swear words,” Karen says. “We’ve been through them all in the last few hours.”

    “Fucking rope shirt,” says Rosa, still looking at the doctor.

    “He is a total fucking rope shirt,” I agree. Rosa looks furious. I move to kiss her, which goes down equally badly. I put my hand on hers and tell her, “It’s only for a little while. He said you’re going to be fine.”

    “You don’t tell me how I’m America,” she says angrily.

    “Sorry,” I say.

    “It was just a bit annoying at first wasn’t it?” Karen says, for my benefit but addressing her daughter. “But it’s getting more frustrating as it goes on.”

    Rosa doesn’t reply.

    “I’m going to go and make a call,” says Karen. “Will you be okay here?”

    “Yes,” I say. “Thank you for looking after her. Did you call the ambulance?”

    “No, she did that. They heard her…” she searches for the word, “babbling and they knew what had happened. Paramedics found my number in her phone. Oh, and they couldn’t find keys to lock up so... you might want to look at that.” Karen leaves the ward.

    I sit by Rosa and hold her hand. After a few minutes she turns to look at me. Her face has softened slightly, her anger abated. “Banana,” she says softly.

    I smile at her.

    “Banana,” she repeats more insistently.

    “You want something to eat?” I ask.

    She sighed. “Banana,” she says again.

    “Water? I’m sorry I don’t know what you mean.”

    “Arrgh!”

    “I know, I know. It’ll get better. Just be patient. How about you write it?” I hand her my phone. Rosa stares at the keyboard for a few seconds and starts to cry. “Hey,” I say, trying as best I can to hug her in her awkward half-lying position.

    “Marble! All bloody marble!” she screams and throws the phone across the ward.

    + + + + + + + + + + + +

    When Rosa comes home from the hospital, I will make up a bed in the spare room. Her mobility still won’t be great and that room is closer to the bathroom. It will be strange, her being up there – always up there – the living room without her, the kitchen without her, her coat never moving from the hook in the hall, her shoes never missing from the shoe rack.

    I’ll bring Rosa breakfast first thing and head off to work. Karen will come by late morning, make them both lunch and stay with her till mid-afternoon. She’ll try to run through the verbal and physical exercises the doctors have set, but Rosa will always resist.

    The most difficult part of my day will be coming home. I’ll open the door and there’ll be no one there. I’ll shout “hello” up the stairs so she’ll know it’s me. I’ll be aware that she’s heard the door, and I’ll think how scary it must be to lie alone up there above the world, disconnected. I’ll think how it must frighten her that if it isn’t me at the door, it will take her minutes to cross the room, and how if she calls the police, all she’ll be able to do is shout incomprehensible panic at the operator.

    Every day will become the same: I’ll feed and water her, help her to the toilet, learn a little of her language – “paper” for “toast”, or “curtains”, depending on context – and fight about her exercises.

    “The language therapist is coming on Thursday,” I’ll say. “Do you want me to tell her you haven’t even tried any of it?”

    “Fucking rope shirt. I don’t have to be heaving the mango.”

    “No, you don’t but wouldn’t it be good if you did? Don’t you want to communicate ever again? Don’t you want me to know what you’re trying to say? Don’t you want to read? All you ever wanted to do was read! Do you want to be stuck in this room forever watching fucking daytime television?”

    “Rope shirt.”

    “I’m out at a work thing tonight, so your mum will be by around eight to make sure you’re okay,” I’ll say. “Do you need to use the loo before I go?”

    “Fuck you.”

    “Is that a ‘no’?”

    She’ll look at me like she wants me dead.

    “It’s a ‘no’?”

    There’ll be no response.

    “It’s a ‘no’.”

    When I get back, Karen will be there, in the living room, crying. “That’s not my daughter,” she’ll tell me.

    “She has bad days,” I’ll say.

    Karen will snort at that. “Does she have good ones?” She’ll stroke her hair and look at the floor like it knows the answers. She’ll dry her face. “Do you never look into her eyes and wonder if she’s even in there any more?”

    “Do you want a coffee?” I’ll ask.

    “You know what I mean.”

    “It’s going to be instant,” I’ll say. “It’s too late to put a pot of proper stuff on.”

    “It looks like her, it sounds like her, and sometimes – just once in a while – you see some combination of gesture, tone of voice… I don’t know, and it’s Rosa. But most of the time…”

    “You don’t want coffee?” I’ll look her very directly and confidently in the eye.

    “I’m going home.” Karen will pick up her bag. “You take care.”

    Rosa will only be able to keep up that initial level of fury for a while. As the months pass, the rage will subside and a profound melancholy will take hold. We won’t fight about the exercises anymore. We won’t fight about anything anymore. The closest we will get is when she soils the bed and, as I help her to clean up, she whimpers, “It’s rude! It’s rude!”

    “It’s me!” I’ll tell her.

    Karen will suggest a couple more times that the woman lying in my spare room isn’t our Rosa. I’ll understood what she means but I’ll always be given pause by those flashes of something familiar, and know that if there is any small chance my girl is still there I would not be able to forgive myself for not treating the stranger the way I would the woman I love. In the stranger’s most tender moments – her most ‘Rosa’ moments – she will often repeat the word “banana”, and I will decide I know what it means.

    “I love you too,” I’ll tell her: a response that will never result in me being called a rope shirt or having anything thrown at me. I’ll know I’m on to something.

    “Banana.”

    “I love you too.”

    One day, Rosa will grab my hand and, in the clearest phrase I’ve heard since the morning of the day that ended on ward 9, she’ll tell me, “I want to be dead.”

    I’ll go back to the zoo and wander along the enchanted pathways, past the cheerful painted characters, that share information that makes children shout, “Wow, Dad, have you read this?” and run ahead, even though the rules say they shouldn’t, to see the animals.

    Gorilla Rosa will be in her enclosure, and the keeper will point her out for me. “My girlfriend is called Rosa,” I’ll tell him. The ape will come over to take the banana from the string, and when she’s done eating, she’ll press her knuckles to the glass, and I’ll do the same.

    And when I get home, and open the door to the empty ground floor, I’ll shout “hello” and climb the stairs, sit by the bedside, take the stranger’s hand and tell her, “I love you, Rosa.”
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 10, 2017 at 12:59 PM
  3. Night Herald

    Night Herald Member Supporter

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    Congratulations, @Sal Boxford , you had my vote.
    Good job, everyone else.
     
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  4. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, @Sal Boxford, you had mine as well. I thought the way you started out with what appeared to be a lightweight story, but twisted it into quite a moving one—and one that is more universal and realistic than I would have expected from the start—was excellent. And the dialogue all the way through was convincing, captivating, and actually a bit heartbreaking. Extremely well done.

    If your story hadn't been there, however, I'd have unhesitatingly voted for Black Desert. That was also a moving, although maybe less surprising story, with political clout. And very well written. I am always drawn to stories that are not frivolous, so this one really hit home. I'm sure this reflects the reality in many parts of Africa at the moment. Very well done, @Michael R. Kage . I look forward to seeing more of your work.
     
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  5. Sal Boxford

    Sal Boxford Senior Member

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    Ooh, yay! Looking forward to my shiny medal!

    I voted for Black Desert @Michael R. Kage. I could definitely see that working as a much longer piece: it felt like we were getting one little corner of a massively involved story. I liked that it was about a place I don't really know much (anything) about. I'd never heard of the Himba until this. I googled them to see if they're real or made up for the story! (Spoiler: real.)

    I almost voted for The Great Return @srwilson. I'm a bit of a Lovecraft fan girl and was hoping someone would do something like this off the back of the 'lost continent' prompt. If I could've I certainly would've. Thrilled a little bit at "L P Livercroft". Nice.
     
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  6. Rosacrvx

    Rosacrvx Senior Member

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    A mystery!!! o_O

    I voted for Black Desert by @Michael R. Kage who has zero posts? What happened here? :confused:

    And congratulations @Sal Boxford! :)
     
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  7. dbesim

    dbesim Senior Member

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    Congratulations @Sal Boxford! At last you got a medal! You totally deserve it. Most of your stories are good quality. Banana Rosa was a great favourite of mine. I was so touched by the story, her affection for the gorilla and then the sad thing that happened to Rosa while her partner stood by her. I also wondered if the fact that the gorilla’s name was Rosa was a curse or had something to do with why she lost herself? Is that true or just my reading?

    I voted for Black Desert in the end although I was torn between the two stories. There was an air of adventure and a sense of mystery about Black Desert and those repeating lines ‘what the fuck does Black Sky want here?’ I was wondering that myself. I thought the reason was because of prompt option two: ‘3 billion year old lost continent lurking under African island.’ I know they were in Africa but I think the reason was implied not stated and I enjoyed that the writer let us work this out for ourself.

    Two great prompts, one great contest. Thank you writers!
     
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  8. Sal Boxford

    Sal Boxford Senior Member

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    That could be the case. I hadn't really thought that out well enough. It was just a heavy-handed, 'Hey, there's a connection between these two characters! Maybe one Rosa will end up like the other Rosa: losing part of her humanity through an inability to communicate! Let's see...' Also a slightly ropey way of making the gorilla the most important part of their visit to the zoo.

    Ugh. All the things you see after you think you've finished a story! :)

    I'm surprised the weird past, present, future tense thing didn't turn people off completely. Not really sure what that was about.
     
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  9. dbesim

    dbesim Senior Member

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    I think you achieved that rather well!
     
  10. srwilson

    srwilson Member

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    Well done to Sal.

    Yeah, I couldn't resist a bit of Lovecraft with that prompt. Maybe not everyone's cup of tea though.

    Can't help wondering what the score was (nudge nudge).
     
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  11. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    He posted as the anonymiser so it doesn't appear in his post count. :)
     
  12. Stormburn

    Stormburn Senior Member

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    Congrats, @Sal Boxford. I consider us both winners because your story is the first one I voted for that has won. I really liked Black Desert and The Great Return, but yours won my vote. Again, congrats. Also, well done all participants!
     
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  13. GB reader

    GB reader Active Member

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    Impressive win, well done @Sal Boxford

    I had three that I could have voted for so I thought it would be a close fight between them. I am not surprised that Banana Rosa got the medal, but I was sure the devil dinosaur would be in the fight.

    This was the first time I submitted to the short story contest. Most of the stories here are in another literary class than what I can do. I use the contest as a whip. Without the deadline I never finish my stories.

    I was very, very pleased with @izzybot telling us that she even considered my little story. That alone was enough for me to try again.

    Then I actually got two votes.

    Thanks to @Lifeline and @newjerseyrunner
     
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  14. Michael R. Kage

    Michael R. Kage New Member

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    Thank you for the votes. I've especially enjoyed The Great Return and Banana Rosa.

    I read the forum a lot but I don’t post besides entering the contests.
     
  15. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner Contributor Contributor

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    Awesome job. I much enjoyed your story even though it didn’t get my vote. Definitely a unique story.
     
  16. Rosacrvx

    Rosacrvx Senior Member

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    Oh, ok. I get it now. It was bit of a mystery there for a while. :)
     
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