Girlfriends are the best. They commiserate with you over bad boyfriend choices and believe that good cuisine is the key to emotional recovery.
Torie was putting dishes away and looked over her shoulder at me. "What do you mean?"
"Just look at it. " I stared at the spotless shiny floor. "It's freakin' amazing. This linoleum's got to be over 10 years old, and it looks better than the new stuff in my place! How do you DO that?"
My best friend grinned. "Trade secret."
"Aww, come on. You know I'm no good at this stuff."
Torie is a domestic diva, and my source for information on anything home-related, from roasting a turkey to getting grass stains off jeans. She's just gifted that way.
She laughed. "Okay. But you have to promise not to tell the kids." She put away the last dish and closed the cupboard door. "Right now they will do ANYTHING not to have to deal with the kitchen, so I have them doing everything else--cleaning the living room, bathroom, catbox, taking out the trash--all the stuff I hate. If they find out about this I'm dead meat."
"I promise."I told her. "Witch's honor."
The next thing I knew she was yanking my sneakers off my feet and carrying them over to the counter. Reaching under the sink, she pulled out a package of Scotch Brite scrubbies and an industrial stapler.
"Now wait a minute," I protested. "I just bought those sneakers!"
Expertly she stapled scrubbies to the bottoms of my New Balance sneakers then did the same to her own.
"Here," she said handing over my sneaks. "Put these on. I'll be right back."
Slipping my sneakers back on, I ran my fingers thoughtfully over their new scrubbie soles. I heard the stereo start up, and a few minutes later Joan Jett was singing about how she loved rock and roll. Sweet.
Torie danced through the kitchen door and over to the sink. Grabbing a gallon jug of bleach, she poured a large puddle in the middle of the floor then added a small bucket of water.
"Come on," she grinned at me, holding out her hand.
I hesitated. "This isn't going to be like that time you tried to teach me how to roller skate and kept pushing me into the wall is it?"
"I did NOT push you into the wall silly. You were just so nervous you kept trying to hug it. " She took my hand. "Now do what I do. Slide your feet back and forth through the bleach like you 're skating."
I obediently slid my feet back and forth. I really can skate--just not with wheels.
"Good. Now slide even bigger--like this."
I followed her lead, stretching as far as I could. I was starting to get into it.
"Now DANCE!" Torie let go of my hand and did a little slide dance across the floor.
I did three quick scrubby slides and then one long glide into the wall.
"Again with the wall thing?" she yelled over the music.
"I MEANT to do that!"
"Right," she laughed and did a row of twisty side-steps.
The stereo cranked up a notch as the Stones came on with "Satisfaction," and we skated and slid and rocked our way all over the kitchen floor.
Twenty minutes later we collapsed, breathless and laughing, in the dining room.
We looked at each other and grinned.
"Is that really all there is to it?" I asked
"Pretty much. After it dries I'll mop it down with Pine Sol to make it smell nice, but that's pretty much it."
I looked at her doubtfully. "Is it smart to mix chemicals like that?"
I once had a vey bad experience with bleach, a bottle of Mr. Clean, and a gas stove. It was weeks before the cats would come near the kitchen again.
"If you let it dry first, it's ok."
The front door opened and Torie's son Matt came running in the room. He gave his mom a kiss and grabbed a cookie. "What are you guys doing?"
"I was just helping your mom scrub the kitchen floor. You missed all the fun. "
"I bet." Matt looked relieved.
"Which reminds me young man," Tori added. "The cat box needs to be changed and the garbage taken out. "
"I'll do it later tonight." The teen prepared to make his escape.
"Nope, you're going to do it now," his mom said firmly.
"Look at it this way Matt," I said brightly. "At least you didn't have to scrub the kitchen floor."
"Yeah," he admitted. "that's true. It beats spending an hour with a scrub brush and a bucket of bleach."
Matt went off to change the catbox, while across the table the two scrubbie goddesses gave each other a high five.
A roar erupted from the hall. "I'm going to KILL that dog!"
A small furry figure suddenly dashed into my room and ran under the bed.
My 17-year old son came storming in, his older sister close behind. "WHERE IS SHE?"
I looked up innocently from my computer chair. "I have no idea. What's wrong?"
"She POOPED in my room!" Brian yelled, his face turning an unhealthy shade of red.
"She did NOT!" Amber jumped in defensively. "You don't know that! You didn't see her do it."
Brian looked increduously at his sister. "Who else would it have been?"
Amber crossed her arms over her chest and lifted her chin. "Maybe it was me."
Brian stared at her. "You pooped in my room?"
"Maybe. Or maybe it was one of the cats. Or Mom."
Now there was a thought.
A tiny snout poked out from under the dust ruffle, and I casually nudged it back under the bed.
I tried a diplomatic approach. "Brian, did you actually see Reyna poop in your room?"
"NO I didn't actually see her, but --"
"So," I continued smoothly, "basically what we've established here is that we have a stealth pooper."
"Mom!! You know that dog hates me."
"She doesn't hate you."
A little growl came from under the bed, and my son looked around wildly.
"She doesn't poop in anyone else's room. You probably did something to her!" Amber looked at her brother accusingly. "THAT's why she doesn't like you!"
"I DID NOT!" Brian yelled. "She just hates me!"
"Just calm down," I said soothingly. "The point it is you just don't know for sure. Like your sister said, it could have been anybody--Tiggy, for example"
Startled, the cat looked up from where she was cleaning herself in the corner.
Tiggy is my husband's Bengal Tiger cat. She was in heat and had spent the past three nights yowling under our bed. I had no compunction whatsoever about framing this one on her. Besides, Brian would never be able to catch her anyway.
My son shot me a look. "It wasn't Tiggy. She's been in here all day."
Oh well. It had been worth a try.
"I tell you what," I offered. "I promise that if you catch Reyna in the act, I'll punish her, okay? But, for right now, let's just clean up the poop and see if it happens again."
Brian gave up in complete frustration. His shoulders slumped forward as he looked from his sister to me. "She's going to do it again. You know she will," he muttered.
I grabbed a plastic bag and removed the offending pellets from my son's room. A little disinfectant and some apple cinnamon spray foam later, and the room smelled fresh.
"See?" I said brightly. "Good as new."
Amber sniffed. "Actually it smells better than Brian's room usually does."
"Shut UP!" My son shoved his sister out the door, closing it behind her. "And keep that stupid dog out of here."
I walked back into my room. Reyna was sitting in my computer chair waiting for me. She cocked her head at me.
"I just saved your butt, you know." I told her.
Reyna wagged her tail and rolled over for me to pet her stomach.
She'd always known she was my favorite.
Reyna is half teacup poodle and half chihuahua, and so unusual looking that people frequently don't know WHAT sort of animal she is. Only about seven inches tall and four pounds soaking wet, she's even smaller than our cats. And yes, she is full grown.
More Reyna pictures will be posted to my photo album soon!
"Yep," With one sneakered foot I pushed off from the filing cabinet, rolled smoothly across the little office to my desk, and swiveled to grab the phone.
"Hi, this is Juno. How can I help you?" I asked brightly, leaning back in my seat and putting my feet on the desk.
A man's voice came over the line. He was an up-talker--one of those people that makes the end of every sentence sound like a question.
"I was in your store the other d-d-day? And I b-b-bought this book on p-p-personal p-p-power?"
"Yes?" I said politely. I picked up the rubber band ball from my desk and began playing with it.
"Well, I have a q-q-question?"
Immediately I knew this was not going to be one of those straight questions like they get over at Barnes and Noble. New Age book store customers are a unique species. They don't just buy books--they hold you personally accountable for the information inside.
"Say someone takes all their p-p-personal p-p-power and p-p-puts it in a glass of water?"
I knew it. This was not going to a happy place.
"And say that a d-d-dog came along and d-d-drank all the water?"
I could hear the terror in his voice and wondered what sort of dog he had. A great dane? A german shepard? Or maybe it was a little chuhuahua that had gotten all full of his big bad self and developed an attitude.
"Is that b-b-bad?" You could tell he expected the worst.
Now there are two ways to answer a call like this. One of them appealed to my sense of humor, while the other appealed to my need for job security.
"Was it tap water or spring water, sir?"
"T-t-tap water," he said and the panic rose in his voice. "Is that b-b-bad?"
I started to feel a little sorry for him. And I'm a wuss when it comes to this sort of thing. I have evil intentions but am too softhearted to follow through.
"No, no--it's fine," I reassured him. "I just wondered."
I took a deep breath, "Now, about your question. . ."
I looked at the rubber band ball in my hand, suddenly inspired.
"Listen, you've heard people talk about there being a silver cord that attached your soul to your body, right?"
"Yes?" his voice quavered.
"Well . . . there is a sort of red rubber band thing that attaches you to your personal power. You can never really lose your power because if it gets too far away from your body it just snaps back into place."
"Absolutely," I replied firmly. ""Don't worry about a thing."
I could feel his relief.
"Th-thank you. Th-thank you so much!"
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I always got stuck with the weird calls no one quite knew how to handle. My training as a single mother of two made me perfectly equipped to deal with just about any situtation.
"We have poltergeist activity at our house. Things are blowing around everywhere, and we hear strange voices. It's really starting to scare the children."
"Have you asked it to leave?" I offered.
"Ummmm. . . well . . . no . . . not exactly. I meaned we tried doing protection spells and stuff, but we didn't just tell it to go away."
"Well there you go."
Another satisfied customer.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
"There's a ghost in our home,"a woman whispered into the receiver. "We keep seeing this white figure move through the hallway and into the family room. We think it's the ghost of the old woman who died here. She's very angry."
Okay, I'll bite.
"How do you know she's angry?"
"She keeps knocking things over and moving stuff around. And she makes this eerie howling sound."
I thought for a minute. "What's your family room like, if you don't mind my asking?"
"Well right now it's a mess." The woman laughed a little self consciously. "We're using it as a storage area for all the stuff we don't have room for. Mainly laundry, newspapers, old furniture and electronic equipment--things like that."
I identified with the ghost. I could be driven to the brink of insanity just by looking at my kids' messy rooms. Maybe if we had a ghost it would unnerve them enough that they would keep them clean.
I decided to give the poor ghost a little help. "I think you should clean the room."
"What?" the woman sounded offended.
"If you want the problem to stop, you will have to do a cleansing of the room."
"How do I do that?"
"Well you begin by cleaning the room, making it nice. You have to shift the energy, so to speak. Then light some candles and scent the room with some cinnamon incense or oil."
I am very fond of candlelight and nice smells.
"That's it?" the woman sounded supsicious.
"Of course not," I said with dignity. "After you're done you need to say a blessing on the room asking that it be a place of love and joy and peace. Trust me, it will work."
"Okay," the woman said doubtfully. "I'll try it."
I smiled to myself as I hung up the phone. True, I had just frustrated a customer who was now going to have to spend her whole weekend cleaning.
But I was willing to bet I had just made some tidy little ghost very happy.
“I just feel a little bit sad right now, sweetheart. That’s all.”
Worried blue eyes searched my face. “Why are you sad?”
I opened my arms, and Brian climbed into my lap, snuggling close. I rested my chin against his blonde hair and watched as he traced the lines on my palms with his tiny fingers.
“Do you have a tummy ache?” he asked, playing with my moonstone ring.
I smiled. “No—no tummy ache.”
“Then why are you sad?” he persisted.
I thought for a minute, unsure how to answer.
“Remember when your friend Mike started hanging out with Danny and didn’t want to play with you as much anymore?” I asked finally.
“Yes.” He pushed against the arm of the chair with one foot.
“And remember how bad that made you feel that he liked someone else better?”
I took a deep breath. “Well it’s sort of like that for me right now. John has found a friend he likes better than me, and it makes me feel a little lonely.”
He frowned up at me. “That’s not very nice.”
“No it isn’t,” I agreed. “But you know what’s worse?”
Brian shook his head. “What?”
“Getting caught by the Tickle Monster!” I grabbed him under the arms and tickled him while he squealed in delight. We chased each other around the room, hiccupping with laughter until we collapsed into a happy breathless heap on the floor.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I was curled up in the old wingback, reading a novel I had picked up from the used bookstore, when Brian dragged a kitchen chair into the room.
“What in the world are you doing?” I asked, putting down my book.
He laughed and ran out of the room. A moment later he reappeared, this time with the little radio I kept in the kitchen. He plugged it into the wall and turned it on.
The DJ’s voice came over the radio. “This next song goes out from Brian to his mom to help her not be sad today.”
Strains of Eric Clapton’s Wonderful Tonight filled the room.
A lump rose in my throat. "What? " I began. “How in the world did you figure out how to . . .”
Brian took my hand and pulled me out of the chair. “Come on mama, dance with me.”
Leading me over to the middle of the room, he climbed up onto the kitchen chair. “So we’re the same size,” he explained.
Solemnly, he put one hand on my left shoulder and took my right hand in his.
And we danced.
I circled the chair slowly as we swayed back and forth to the music.
I remembered . . .
the time I had made John get out of the car and dance with me . . .
the rain pouring down, drenching us both. . .
my children's laughing faces pressed against the rear windows . . .
Clapton singing on the car stereo. . .
Suddenly I was overcome with a fierce and overwhelming love for this child who watched me now with shining eyes, so proud of his gift to me. My son had given me the one thing he felt was most precious—a single moment in time.
Leaning forward, I kissed him on the forehead, breathing in his little boy scent of grass, sweat, Play-dough, cookies, and baby shampoo. "Thank you," I whispered.
He grinned. "You're welcome," he said, and stood on his toes to make himself a little taller.
I closed my eyes, smiling . . .
And we danced.
Victor lay beside me in bed, his tall lean body draped carelessly by the white sheets.
I laughed. "If I changed my 'pagan ways' I wouldn't be me, now would I?"
He sighed, running his fingers through my red hair. "I mean it Juno. I'll be finished with the seminary soon. Greek Orthodox priests are allowed to be married, and it would be good for me to have a wife who could help me in my work. "
Victor had recently left his job of many years in city government to become a seminary student. We had been friends for a long time and used to have long debates on history, philosophy and religion, gleefully playing devil's advocate with each other. Then one night he brought over a bottle of Grand Mariner and . . . well . . . let's just say that the relationship took an interesting turn.
I had never been naughty with a man who was about to be a priest before, and my 'pagan ways,' as he put it, made me forbidden territory to him. The sex was intense.
I made a face at him. "I would make a terrible pastor's wife, and you know it. I'd turn them all into a bunch of Gnostics."
A breeze blew in from the window, and we watched as the sheer white curtains transformed into dancing ghosts.
"Sometimes I think I was born in the wrong century," Victor said thoughtfully. "I might have been a monk, working on illuminating a religious manuscript in some old abbey."
"What would I have been?" I wondered.
"You," he sniffed disapprovingly, "would have been one of those poor peasants who kissed their hand to the moon."
I lifted my hand and blew a kiss.
He shook his head. "Not like that. They used to kiss the back of their hand like this while they reached for the moon at the same time."
I sat up, fascinated. "That's beautiful!"
"What?" Victor looked startled. His history lesson was not going as planned.
"That's beautiful. There's a passion and sweetness and a kind of longing to it. It's sort of like making love to the moon, reaching to pull it close and kiss it at the same time."
He groaned. "Here we go!"
I ignored him. I had returned to my first love.
I gently kissed the back of my hand and reached out to the full moon.
Way back in my late twenties and early thirties I managed a large New Age bookstore, and during that time I met some of the most insane and wonderfully eccentric people I have ever known in my life.
A motherly hereditary witch who brewed an amazing protection potion according to an ancient family recipe. She shared it only with a handful of close friends because it required several drops of her own blood. According to legend, the potion protected against any attack be it spiritual, emotional or physical. (Some found it had the added benefit of persuading police officers not to issue you a speeding ticket.)
A family whose guest bedroom was possessed by a demonic dresser. It seemed a horned grinning face in the natural grain of the dresser's top drawer made folks a bit uneasy and interfered with their sleep. It was later bought by an enterprising man who aspired to sell this unique furniture item and its haunting history on Ebay.
A slender Romanian girl who bit a male co-worker when he teased her. The agitated young man became further alarmed upon learning that her hometown was actually Transylvania.
The gorgeous male stripper who had two 10-foot long boa constrictors, drove a gold jaguar, and carried huge chunks of quartz crystal in his trouser pockets. He later became a born-again Christian minister.
A man who desperately wanted to learn the secrets of shamanic shape shifting, so that he could transform himself into a bug and be crushed to death under a woman's red high heel shoe.
A group of magicians who manifested Pan in their living room, invoking his protection against evil people who were kidnapping pets off front porches in the neighborhood. The goat-foot god was a mite bit pissed about THAT, and the kidnappings quickly came to an end.
A self-proclaimed spiritual teacher who believed he had been taken up into an alien Mother Ship and was heavily into S&M, Betty Page, and Jesus Christ.
A tiny old lady with thick horn rimmed glasses who believed that terrorist Buddhist monks were bent on destroying Earth.
A hard-working single mom who could:
--light a candle for a new fridge and find it waiting for her the next day at the side of the road.
--ask if an opportunity is as good as gold and look down to find an $800 gold chain lying in a deserted snow bank.
A author who writes popular books about monsters and aliens and magic. He keeps a rubber brain in a bubble tank in his office, a "farting fairy" statue on his bookshelf, and believes that peanut butter is one of the five main food groups.
Sooooooo. . . what unusual people have you known in your life?
Anyway, thanks for the kind comments. I've loved exploring all your blogs and reading about your own lives. Isn't the internet grand?
The concrete was scattered with dead caterpillars.
"Ewwwwww. Gross." I shuddered. I was never a big fan of spiders, worms or crawly things. I picked my way across the patio and began sweeping the fuzzy bodies into the grass.
I turned around to see Iris carefully pushing one of the dead caterpillars onto a leaf.
"Come here and help me."
I looked at her doubtfully. "What are you doing?"
My sister walked over and placed the leaf on the patio wall. "I think we should give them a funeral."
"A funeral for worms?" She was clearly out of her mind.
"They're not worms--they're caterpillars."
"I know but come on!" I didn't get it. "Why do you want to do that?"
Iris looked up at me, suddenly serious. "Because they didn't make it. They tried to get away, to be free, to be something beautiful. But they didn't make it. They died and they never became butterflies. And now they're just lying here like they never mattered."
"Nothing should ever feel like it didn't matter," she added quietly.
I knew she wasn't just talking about caterpillars.
I sighed. "Ok. We'll have a funeral."
"But I'm not touching those things," I added quickly. "No matter what you say. It's too gross"
For the next hour, we gathered leaves from the maple trees next to our house that we used to hold the bodies. I found two twigs in the backyard that we could use to push the caterpillars onto the leaves. After about an hour, we had about forty little caterpillars laid out side by side on the patio wall.
"They look sort of bare," I offered. "Maybe we should add some flowers or something?"
My sister nodded. "Good idea."
We went over to the ladybug bush in the backyard. It was really just a big bush covered with tiny white blossoms, but there were always tons of ladybugs living there. Sometimes they would fly onto our arms, which meant good luck.
Sister Mary Reginald said that back in Europe during the Middle Ages, insects were detroying the crops, so the farmers prayed to the Virgin Mary to protect them. The ladybugs came and ate all the pests and saved the crops. The people called them 'Beetles of Our Lady'. Their red wings were supposed to represent her cloak and the black spots, her sorrows and joys.
I liked the ladybugs and always took special care to knock down any spider webs I found on the bush so they woulndn't get stuck in them.
We pinched off a few of the white flowers and carried them back to the patio. Iris placed a tiny blossom on each leaf. "That's better."
I looked at her. "Now what?"
"I think we should sing something."
"How about that John Denver song? Goodbye Again?"
Iris shook her head. "Too sad."
"How about Close to You?" I secretly wanted to sing like Karen Carpenter one day.
"No. I think it should be a church song. Something religious."
We sat silently for a minute, thinking.
"Hail Mary?" Iris offered.
"I don't know. That one doesn't make sense really. I don't think caterpillars are big on sin. Maybe something with animals in it?"
Finally we decided on a song we had learned for the folk mass a couple of weeks before.
We stood together solemnly holding hands:
"I heard the sound of the year that lay dying
Hurt by lament of a lone whipperwill.
Spirit of God, see that cloud crying,
Fill the earth, bring it to birth, and flow where you will.
Flow, flow, flow till I be
The breath of the Spirit blowing in me. . ."
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
"Mmmmmm?" I was digging a hole with Aunt Fran's hand spade that I had stolen out of the storage room.
"Do you think animals go to heaven when they die?"
"I don't know." I scooped out another mound of dirt. "In religion class they say no, that animals just sort of disappear because they have no souls. But I don't think that's really fair. I like animals a lot better than most people I know."
Iris nodded. "Me too."
"Besides, grownups believe a lot of stupid things. They think dead babies that aren't baptized go to Limbo. If things really worked that way, God would have to hang out in heaven with a bunch of dumb adults instead of cute babies and animals. I don't think he'd like that very much."
We carefully placed the caterpillars in the hole and gently covered them up with dirt.
"Let's make a promise," I said suddenly.
"What kind of promise?"
"Let's promise each other that if there's an animal heaven we'll go there instead of the people one. It'll be easier to find each other, and we won't have to float around all day and pray and stuff.
"Maybe we could even rescue the Limbo babies?" Iris had that glint in her eye.
I grinned. "Maybe we could."
Iris crooked her pinkie. "Promise?"
I hooked my little finger around hers. "Promise."
When she was in fourth grade she decided to skip Catholic school for the day and just stay home. She told our aunt it was a Holy Day of Obligation. Unfortunately she was busted when one of her classmates who lived on our street dropped off her homework to her.
I was appalled.
"What were you thinking telling her it was a Holy Day? Are you crazy?"
Iris grinned. "You know, she bought it too until Eric showed up at the door. I don't know whether she was more mad that I skipped school or that she was caught not knowing the Holy Days."
"Still you should plan it better than that." I shook my head. "Next time you should just pretend to go to school and then hang out in the woods all day or something."
She cocked her head to one side. "But I didn't want to hang out in the woods. I wanted to stay in my room and listen to the radio and write."
Unlike my sister, I was a master planner. I kept sheets of paper hidden in my notebook filled with line after line of "I will not misbehave in class" just in case of emergencies. Sometimes I would sell them to other students at a dollar per page.
I was big on contingency plans and always had a Plan A and Plan B in case I got caught. And I always tried to stay as close to the truth as I could.
When I wriggled out of yardwork:
"I did rake the yard. But then the wind kicked up and blew them all over the place again."
Or when I wanted to read The Count of Monte Cristo instead of doing chores:
"I have so much homework to do. My teacher wants me turn in a book report on this by Wednesday."
Iris, on the other hand, enjoyed making up fantastic lies and wild stories and really didn't care if she got caught.
Once my aunt and cousins freaked out because she never came home after school. They called the school and some of her classmates and even drove around town looking for her. It was getting dark out, and they were about to call the police when she finally walked in the door.
She was purple.
My aunt was furious "Where have you been, young lady?! Do you realize we have been all over town looking for you? "
"Where have you been? And what's that all over your clothes?" My aunt was so mad she was staring to turn a little purple herself.
Iris explained that she and her friend Angie had taken a bus after school to go to the downtown library to study. On the way back they had taken the wrong bus but didn't realize it until they were way out on the edge of town. They had finally gotten off and had to wait forever for another bus to come by to take them back.
I watched my sister closely, trying to figure out if she was lying or not. Iris was notorious for being easily distracted and having no sense of direction. I knew our aunt was probably going through the same mental debate.
"What is that purple stuff all over you? It's in your hair and clothes and all over your face! What did you do!"
Iris wrapped a lock of hair around one purple finger. "Well, while we were waiting for the other bus to take us back, Angie and I found some blackberry bushes at the side of the road. I thought that maybe if I gathered a bunch of them and brought them home you could make a pie with them. I had a good armful but then I tripped over a root and slid down the embankment. The berries got squashed and went everywhere."
Aunt Fran grabbed Iris by the shirt. "What were you thinking? Just look at this mess! This is never going to come out! I can't afford to keep buying you and Juno nice things if you keep ruining them!"
She shoved Iris toward the hall, disgusted. "I want you to go to your room and take those things off right now and throw them away. You are going to be grounded for two weeks, young lady. do you hear me? No friends, no TV, no phone--nothing! And you will do extra chores around the house to help pay for those clothes."
I followed Iris into her room and closed the door.
"Ok, spill it."
She looked at herself in the mirror and laughed. "What a mess!"
"Did you really catch the wrong bus?" I was curious.
"Nah." Iris pulled her shirt over her head and tossed it on the floor. "Angie and I just got bored and decided to go exploring. We went downtown and walked around the shops and stuff and bought ice cream."
I was fascinated. "What about the blackberries?"
"That actually happened when we got back." Stepping out of her shorts, she rubbed her legs. "Look at all these scratches! I forget how prickly those bushes are."
"Anyway," she continued, "We got off the bus and started walking home and there were these blackberry bushes at the side of the road. Angie picked one and threw it at me, then I threw one back at her, and before we knew it we were both covered in blackberry juice."
"You had a blackberry fight?"
"Uh huh." She grinned. "It was a blast."
"I don't think Aunt Fran believed you."
"She never knows what to think. She's either going to be mad at me because I did something wrong or because she thinks I'm stupid, so I might as well make up a good story. I'm going to be punished either way."
She had a point.
Besides it there was something satisfying about keeping Aunt Fran guessing.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Yes, there really was a Sister Mary Reginald.
The nuns at our school were Dominican sisters and always wore these full habits. Whenever a good wind kicked up, their white bibs would blow up and cover their faces. If you look closely ,you can see the rosary hanging from her waist.
One of the older nuns, Sister Marie Louise, used to grab her rosary really tight and start praying loudly if we were trying her patience in class. If that didn't help, she'd resort to swatting us with the rosary until we settled down.
Sister Mary Reginald preferred an old trick she'd learned in her softball days. She'd grab a blackboard eraser and throw a smooth pitch right at the head of the unwary offender.
Iris and I were, of course, fascinated. We were never quite sure what Susan was going to do next--only that it was bound to upset the adults. In our world of meatloaf, polyester school uniforms, and Bobby Sherman, she was like some exotic bird. And she didn't seem to care one bit what people thought of her.
Once she took us out with her to the local Red Food grocery store, and the manager made us leave because she wasn't wearing any shoes. Susan argued with him about it while Iris and I watched, wide-eyed. When he insisted that her feet had to be covered, she grabbed two paper bags, stuck a foot in each one, and defied him to say another word. He finally backed down, and we bought our groceries and left. ("Like there is really that much difference between going barefoot and wearing flip-flops or something!"Susan told us in the car.)
Susan's gifts to us always made Aunt Fran crazy--like the time she gave us a coloring book that was filled with drawings of nude people surrounded by rainbows and flowers and words like love and peace. Once she gave me a copy of Malcom X, which I got about halfway through before our aunt confiscated it. Susan was pretty mad when she found out about that.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Susan loved to sing and taught us songs like "the Erie Canal" and "The Water Is Wide" and "He's My Groovy Guru." Iris and I loved performing for her, and sometimes I would sing her songs I had learned in Catholic School.
"If you give your life to him
He'll forgive you of your sins,
He'll help you find your way
Cause you've heard of Christ before
And you know that life is more
Than just holding on."
Susan stared at me dumbfounded. "That's a Beatles song!"
I paused. "What?"
"That song--it's 'If I Fell' by the Beatles! Only they've changed the words."
I shrugged. "I dunno, Sister Mary Reginald taught it to us in religion class"
I adored Sister Mary Reginald. I was going to be a nun like her when I grew up.
Susan freaked. "She can't DO that! That's got to be copyright infringement or something! She taught you that?"
"Yeah. She played a record of it and gave us handouts with the words."
"A record!" Susan was incredulous. "There's an actual recording of that stuff?"
"There is no way the Beatles would let them do that. No way!"
"Why not?" I asked cocking my head to one side."They just wouldn't. " She looked at me with a pained expression on her face. "Trust me on this one."
She paced the floor muttering something under her breath about contacting record labels and breaking copyright laws and illegal recordings. When Susan got worked up about something, she usually did something about it. I had visions of the police surrounding our school telling Sister Mary Reginald to come out with her hands up.
I wondered if they would let Sister wear her habit in jail or if they would make her wear a prison uniform . . .
Iris scooted against the bed and watched with round blue eyes as I slowly got up from the floor where we had been playing Barbies. Getting called into the kitchen by Aunt Fran always meant trouble, and the fact that she used my full name meant there was probably going to be a belt or a paddle involved.
"Juno! Right now!"
I walked slowly towards the kitchen, trying to figure out what I had done this time. I knew she had just come back from an open house at our school, but my grades were actually ok and my second grade teacher seemed to like me.
My aunt was sitting at the kitchen table, one leg crossed over the other, her foot bouncing fast back and forth. She was taking long drags on a cigarette, and her hand shook as she tapped the ashes into the silver ashtray she kept on the table. I felt my stomach drop, and I licked my lips nervously. This was serious.
She watched me with narrowed eyes. "Do you know where I was just now? Do you!?"
I knew better than to answer.
"I was at the school talking to your teacher--that's where I was! ALL the parents were there as a matter of fact, which makes this all the more embarrassing!"
I stood perfectly still. I still had no idea where this was heading.
"All the children had their work laid out on their desks for all the parents to look at--to see the progress you had made, the teacher said." Her voice took on a sarcastic edge.
I knew this, of course. My teacher, Mrs. King, had given each of us a manila folder to display some of our tests and class projects and had us place them on our desks along with our workbooks. Each of us had drawn a picture for our parents that we set on top. Mine was of a deer in the woods. It was pretty good if I said so myself. Brian Johnson had offered to buy it from me for fifty cents if I would let him sign his name and pass it off as his. I wouldn't do it.
"Of course when I got to your desk all I could see was your filth! Everybody saw your filth!"her voice had risen to a shrill scream.
"What?" I was so startled I broke the cardinal rule and actually spoke.
Aunt Fran angrily stubbed out her cigarette. "Don't you dare try to play innocent with me young lady! I will beat the truth out of you if I have to! Anne is a teacher at that school--people there know this family! What do you think they're going to be saying about us now? Do you know how embarrassing this is going to be for all of us? Now you had better explain to me right now why you have naked women drawn all over your math workbook!"
"I was just d-drawing," I stammered.
"Really. Just drawing. " My aunt jumped from her chair and stormed over to the corner where I stood staring at the floor. She bent down until she was just inches from my face, and her voice became dangerously soft.
"Are you a little pervert? Is that why you were drawing nasty pictures of women? Is that it? Do you think it's funny to make filthy pictures in class?"
"They are NOT filthy pictures!" I yelled , looking her right in the eye. "They're ART!"
Her eyes widened in surprise, and her hand flew out and slapped me across the face. "Don't you ever raise your voice to me again--do you hear me?" She shoved me hard against the wall. "DO YOU HEAR ME?"
I held my hand against my sore cheek. "Yes, m'am." I whispered. I hated her.
She grabbed me by the hair and dragged me down the hall towards her room. "You are not going to speak to me that way--EVER! I'm going to teach you a lesson you will never forget. Do you understand me? DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?"
"Yes! I understand you!" I tried not to struggle despite the sudden panic welling up inside me. It was always a lot worse if you struggled.
My aunt slammed open her closet door and grabbed the thick black belt that had belonged to her husband. She shoved me face down against the bed and and began to strike my back with the black leather. I had long ago learned not to move or to try to block the blows with my hands. Instead I pressed my face hard into my hands and curled forward, trying to make myself as small as possible.
"You will NOT . . .EVER . . . backtalk me AGAIN . . . "
Each phrase was punctuated by the sharp crack of the belt, and I clenched my jaw tight as hot tears ran down my face.
I hated her. I wanted her to die. I wanted to take my sister and run away.
"You are going to STOP . . . drawing that FILTH . . .DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME!"
Iris and I could leave that night. We could pack my little red suitcase and go to an orphange. There had to be somebody who wanted two little redheaded girls. But then what if they didn't? What if they only wanted one? I bit my cheek hard as the belt cracked against my leg.
Finally, her fury spent, my aunt dropped her hand to her side and stepped back. Breathing raggedly, she returned the belt to the closet, while I cautiously got to my feet. My body felt like it was on fire.
"I hate that you make me do these things but it's for your own good." she said over one shoulder. " Believe me, it hurts me more than you. But I have to teach you a lesson or you'll never learn.
She shut the closet door and turned to face me, her eyes narrowing. "You're just lucky I don't tell your father about this. He thinks you and Iris are little angels because you put on such a good act for him. I wonder what he would say if he knew how disrespectful you really are?"
I idolized my daddy, and she knew that my biggest fear was he would disappear the way our mom had.
"You girls are just lucky I took you in when your mother died. Your father certainly didn't want to deal with you. Nobody wanted you--not even his own sister!"
I said nothing and roughly wiped away the tears from my eyes. I wanted to scream. I didn't want to hear anymore. I wanted her to stop. I wanted her to shut up!
"Now promise me you will never draw dirty pictures again."
I felt something within me crack. "No."
She froze. "WHAT did you say?"
"I said no."
I was as surprised as she was at my sudden bravery. But I couldn't stop myself. All the thoughts and feelings I had held inside slammed out of me in a tidal wave of emotion.
"They aren't dirty pictures--they're art. I'm an artist like my daddy. He draws naked women all the time, and people think it's good. They pay him a lot of money for it. I'm good. I'm one of the best drawers in school! I don't care how much you hit me--I'm not going to stop!"
Aunt Fran stared at me in disbelief. "Your father is an artist and YOU are not! You will NEVER be an artist. Do you hear me? He's a grown man. You're a child, and you are going to do what I tell you to do! It is not appropriate for a child to draw naked women! Do you understand?"
"I won't stop." My voice shook, but I held my ground.
"Really? We'll just see about that, young lady." Grabbing my shoulder she marched me down the hall and shoved me into my room. She snatched up a stack of paper and some pencils and forced me to sit at my desk.
She put her hands on her hips. "Now then. If you want to draw dirty pictures so much , you sit here and draw them until you get them out of your system. You will not leave this room until you fill up every sheet of paper. No food, no drink, no TV--nothing."
She slammed the door and left.
I wiped my eyes and, biting down on my lip, began to draw. I was going to draw the most beautiful women in the world. She would not break me. I was going to show her. I was an artist--I was!
The door cracked open, and Iris snuck into the room. I could tell she'd been crying. At four years old she was still just a baby and was terrified of everything. For a long time the adults thought she was retarded because she refused to speak to them. She talked to me though. She was just shy and didn't trust a lot of people.
"It's ok, Iris. Look--I'm alright. See?"
She came over and put her head on my shoulder. We stayed like that for a while, heads touching, leaning into each other. She smelled like baby shampoo.
"You better go," I said finally. "Aunt Fran will have a fit if she catches you in here." Sliding back the chair, I went over to my plaid bookbag and pulled out a book I'd checked out for her that day at the library.
"Look, here's a story I got you today--it's about those bears you like. You can go look at that, and I can can read it to you later tonight if you want."
"Ok," she whispered, tucking the book under one arm, and hugging me with the other. I suddenly felt like crying.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I didn't get to read to my sister that night and I never got my dinner. I did, however, draw pages upon pages of women--faeries, mermaids, goddesses, princesses--all gloriously naked with long flowing hair.
Every hour or so my aunt would peek around the door and demand to know if I was done.
The first three times I said no.
The fourth time I asked for more paper.
Finally it was bedtime, and the next day was school, then after school there was homework, and so on. My aunt and I never said another word to each other about my drawings, and the matter dropped.
But for me it was a new beginning. I had stood up to my aunt and won a small victory. I still don't know what possessed me to say those things to her, but for the first time I felt there was a piece of me she could never touch, a part of me that was mine alone.
Iris and I never did run away together. At least not literally. Instead we created a magical world we could escape to--a world where we were goddesses who played with lightening storms, sang mermaid songs to beach crabs, danced with the king of cats, and rode away at night on the back of a snowy owl.
Even now we smile when we think about the fairy offerings we wrapped in leaves or the gowns we created for ourselves out of rose petals and irridescent raindrops. In some ways those memories are more real to us than the woman who dominated our lives for all those many years.
Maybe that's why we slipped so easily into the imaginary worlds of our own children. Maybe that's why as adult women we love to write. For Iris and I, magic is not just some abstact fairy tale. For us, magic is coming home.
I was on the phone with my sister Iris who was telling me about her latest boyfriend.
"Well that's good. At least he doesn't call you his little 'hamhock' like that other guy you were with."
"Oh shut up. Howard adored me. It was just his way of showing affection."
"By calling you a slab of meat?"
"He was sweet!" Iris laughed.
"That's not sweet--it's just plain weird. Anyway, if he was so sweet why aren't you still with him?"
"Turned out he was an alcoholic."
"Jesus, Iris! Where do you find these guys? An alcoholic with a fetish for bacon!"
"Shall we talk about some of your choices in men?" Iris asked archly.
Sensing dangerous territory, I decided to quickly change the subject.
"Ummm. That's ok. So you've been staying at Paul's house?"
"Uh huh. It's a great place actually--he has excellent taste." I could hear my sister taking a long drag on her cigarette. "He's sort of a neat freak though. I mean I like a clean house and all, but he's a little anal about it. We got into a fight over the sponge thing."
I was curious. "The sponge thing?"
"Yeah. He has three sponges in the kitchen that are color coded for different purposes. There's a yellow one for the dishes, a blue one for counters and tables and a green one for wiping spills off the floor. Or is it the blue one for the dishes and the yellow one for the floor? Oh hell, I can't keep them straight. That's pretty much what the fight was about."
"He color codes his sponges?"
"Yes. He explained the whole system to me but I just can't keep it straight. You know how I am about remembering things like that. God. Anyway I just kept smiling and nodding like I understood what he was saying, but I think he was still suspicious. He kept testing me all weekend."
I laughed. "How did he do that?"
"We'd be standing in the kitchen, and he'd ask me to hand him the table sponge then watch to see which one I'd pick up."
"What did you do?"
"Well the first couple of times I pretended I had to suddenly go to the bathroom. It got to where I would do just about anything NOT to be in the kitchen. But he began to suspect that either something was up or I had a bladder the size of a pea. Anyway I finally just had to hand him a damn sponge.
She sighed. "You should have seen it, Juno. I kept watching his face for a reaction while I held my hand over the sponges, trying to get a clue as to which one it was. I thought I might be able to fake him out, you know? I knew the yellow one was wrong because he got this sort of smirk on his face when I touched it. So I just grabbed the green one instead."
"Yup--floor sponge. He was so frustrated that he started going off at me. 'How many times to I have to explain this to you before you get it! It's not that hard! Are you stupid?' and stuff like that."
I got mad at that one. "What an ass! Where does he get off talking to you like that! Besides you're not stupid, your special. "
"No problem. Seriously though! Does he think you're a child?"
"Evidently. Anyway, I got back at him though."
A defiant tone had crept into my sister's voice that I recognized from our childhood days.
"What did you do?"
"After he left the room, I took each sponge and wiped it on the floor and put it back in place."
"Did you tell him?" I grinned.
"Nope. It sort of makes it more evil somehow. Just knowing how crazy it would make him if he knew. Now everytime he grabs the table sponge and does his little self-rightous routine, I just smile to myself because I know it just doesn't matter. It really shouldn't matter, you know? I mean if you wash a dish or wipe down a table it's really the same thing."
"I have a separate sponge for the floor. I keep it under the sink."
"Right--that's normal. What's not normal is color coding the stupid things and making a guessing game out of them."
We sit in companionable silence for a minute.
"That's very Aunt Fran now that I think of it," I offer after a moment.
"True. God, that woman made our lives hell."
"Remember the time she made you clean the kitchen floor with a scrub brush and kept yelling at you that you weren't doing it right?"
"Yes. I must have been all of eight years old--something like that."
"I remember she kept ragging on you . You were crying and asked her what you were supposed to do, and she told you to stop being lazy and use some elbow grease. When she came back in the kitchen later she found you digging around under the kitchen sink looking for the can of elbow grease."
"Well what the heck was I supposed to think? The woman was positively evil."
My call waiting beeped, and I glanced at the phone.
"Iris, I better go. Brian's trying to call in on the other line for me to pick in up at the mall. Can I talk to you later?"
"Sure. Love you."
"You too. Bye"
"Do you ever dream about making love to a guy that's dressed in a teddy bear costume who turns you over his knee and spanks you because you forgot it was his birthday and ended up sticking a birthday candle in moon pie while you sang 'La Cucharacha' to him at the top of your lungs?"
There is a moment of stunned silence as you try to figure out how to deal with that one.
Then she shrugs and smiles brightly saying, "Me neither."
That is my sister.
Iris is very good at setting boundaries--one of my worst things. She had a boyfriend once who made the unforgivable mistake of fooling around on her. She caught him at a bar in Grundy county("You know who the richest man in Grundy county is?" Iris asked me. "The tooth fairy.")
Of course she didn't make a scene. Always the lady, she sashayed out of the bar, chin held high, drove home, and promptly began tossing his clothes out on the lawn. When everything was in a tidy pile, she lit up her Hibachi grill and proceeded to barbecue his things one at a time.
When the guy finally squealed into her driveway, spitting gravel, Iris was calmly smoking a cigarette and poking at the last pair of jeans with a set of tongs.
Her boyfriend jumped out of his car and immediately started in with excuses. "Aww baby, I'm sorry. It didn't mean anything. Honest. I love you honey. You're the only woman for me."
"You know what?" Iris took a drag on her cigarette and blew a ring of smoke into the air. "I don't believe you. Besides, you're just a little too late. I already barbecued your things."
"What?! Aww man." He ran a hand through his hair and stared at his pants smoking on the grill. "You burned everything?"
Iris nodded solemnly. "I'm afraid so."
"Dammit Iris!" He kicked at the grass and swore under his breath. Then he looked up at her again. "I still love you, you know. I do want to be with you."
"Right. That's why you decided to fool around with some 18-year-old slut in a bar." She tossed her cigarette to the dirt, grimly grinding it out with the toe of her high heeled shoe. "Nope. I'm done."
Iris turned around and walked into the house.
And that was that. ("It was completely ridiculous," she confided to me later over a glass of iced tea. "A Grundy county chick for God's sake!")
Men tend to be fascinated by Iris--probably because they are never quite sure what she is capable of. She's this kaleidoscope blend of polite southern lady, ditzy redhead, practical businesswoman, raving lunatic, clever jester and fragile waif. She loves makeup, dresses, scarves and pretty trinkets and thinks flannel pajamas are incredibly sexy. She hates to be alone and can be dangerously creative when she's bored.
Her ex-husband Rick found this out the hard way. At one point during their marriage, he was working as a sanitation engineer. Basically this meant he had to get to sleep very early at night in order to wake up at four in the morning to get to work. Like me, Iris tends to be more of a night owl, so this left her with a lot of free time on her hands.
Never a good thing with my sister.
Now Rick happens to be a very sound sleeper--you could literally run a vacuum around the man and he wouldn't so much as crack an eye open. Iris was straightening up the bathroom, feeling very antsy and not sure what to do with herself, when she happened to glance at the nail polish that was sitting in the medicine cabinet.
She thought for a moment, then picked out a jar of pink pearl polish and another of scarlet red. She crept into the bedroom and carefully pulled back the sheets from the bottom of the bed so that Rick's feet were exposed. Quickly and expertly, she brushed polish onto each of his toenails until they shone with a soft pink sheen. Then, as a finishing touch, she painted tiny red hearts on each one. The contrast between those huge, hairy, tan feet and the delicate little nails was almost too much for her, and she had to hold her hand over her mouth to keep from laughing out loud.
The next morning, Rick got up for work and, as usual, pulled his socks on and dressed in the dark so as not to wake his wife. Iris went about her daily routine and forgot about her prank until her husband came home that night and greeted her with a "Dammit Iris!"
You see, it was Wednesday.
On Wednesdays all the guys at work always took their lunch break out by a creek near the office. They would pull off their shoes and socks, soak their feet in the water and talk together over sandwiches. Only this time when Rick went to pull off his socks, the boys got a good look at his delicately painted pearly pink love toes and ragged on him mercilessly the entire day.
Iris just laughed till she cried.
Savvy mom that I am (or thought I was), I spent last weekend scouring the house from top to bottom because I knew I would be too busy working this week to give it much attention. The place looked great for about a day.
Do you ever feel that you're the only one who thinks about washing a glass and putting it away when you're done? Have you ever shared a bathroom with teenagers who leave their underwear on the floor and toiletries strewn over the counter? Does your family treat the dryer like a spare closet, picking out the clothes they want and leaving the rest? Have you ever gone to answer the phone only to realize all the bases for the handsets are empty? Or how about this: ever have a cat who decides that the litter box just isn't tidy enough (although you changed it that morning) and poops three inches from the box?
The final straw for me happened yesterday afternoon when my son tried to put the milk on its side in the fridge to make it fit. As I sprinted to avert near disaster, he knocked an unopened can of Diet Coke to the floor, where it promptly exploded. Sticky soda spewed everywhere onto the floor, counters, walls,cabinets, ceilings, the clean dishes in the drain board--and all over me.Under normal circumstances I might have maintained some semblance of sanity. However I had just showered, colored my hair, fixed my make-up, put on literally the only set of clean clothes I had left in the house, and--last but by no means least--run out of hormone supplements two days ago.
It wasn't pretty.
Anyway, after vacillating between hysterical threats of kicking my kids out on the street or running away from home myself, things finally settled down again.
My husband took it all in stride. Wise man that he is, he listened to me rant without saying a word. He fed me chocolate then figured out a way to hide exposed computer router cables that had been tripping us up in the hall. Four chocolate covered cherries and a snuggle later, I was back to normal, laughing at his impersonation of our tiny dog on steroids.
This is why marriage is a good thing, I think. You balance out each other's craziness and keep each other from killing the children.
And, of course, having plenty of hormone patches on hand doesn't hurt either.
It's funny because I can remember mentally calculating that whole used book store thing in my head. Chances were good (especially if Iris was with me) that I would get caught and have the holy hell beat out of me, but I weighed that against the armful of books I would be able to get. I wasn't worried about having the books taken away from me because I would use the old standby argument that I was reading them for book reports. In my experience adults always felt vaguely uneasy about refusing to let a kid read and of course schoolwork could NEVER be denied.
They did try taking books away from me once. That lasted about a day. I drove everyone insane by sitting and just staring at them and refusing to play or move or speak until they finally caved in and gave them back to me.
Now that I think about it, I truly was consumed by this obsession with books. I hoarded lunch money and used it to order books from my Weekly Reader magazine. If Iris and I were given money to see a movie, I'd convince her that the same money could buy 4 books apiece at the drug store, and we could own them FOREVER. If that didn't convince her, I start talking about all the candy she could buy with her share. That usually did the trick.
I think one of the worst beatings I got came from my habit of sneaking books into bed with me at night. My aunt made us go to bed ridiculously early, and I never could go to sleep. I didn't have a flashlight, but I did have this tabletop ceramic owl nightlight. If I lifted off the owl part, it was just a nightlight in a stand. I worried about the light being seen under the crack of the door, so I had to hide it under the sheets while I read.
Unfortunately one night I was so engrossed in my book that I forgot to hold the sheets away from the light and burned a hole right through them. My aunt picked that moment to open the door to check on us, caught a whiff of the burning smell and found the holes. The next thing I knew I was on the floor being whacked senseless by a leather belt my aunt kept especially for that purpose, while Iris stared wide-eyed over her blankets, sobbing. I learned my lesson that night and saved up to buy a little flashlight.
God I was stubborn! I was firmly convinced I would simply die without books and felt the adults (namely my aunt) were dull and stupid and wrong for not having the same passion. I never could understand why adults had these wonderful collections of books on their shelves that they never read but wouldn't allow you to touch either. And I would completely flip out if someone cracked the spine of one of my books by bending it around itself or leaving it open faced on a table.
Then there were those blasted Reader's Digest editions grown-ups were so fond of. Why the heck would anyone want to read a story that was all chopped up and not the way the author wrote it? Disgusting. Reader's Digest books were definitely an adult concept.
Anyone who reads to children knows that if you try to shorten or change a favorite story, kids will always call you on it and make you change it back. Always. It goes against that unwritten rule that you don't mess with the magic.
While he's standing there looking at it, a gravely voice over his shoulder says, "Don't do it, son"
Rich turns around to see a man in his late sixties solemnly shaking his head. " I got myself one of those gadgets for my cats. I mean it sounded great. Five minutes after the cat poops, this rake thing comes out and scoops it into the bag."
The old man sighs heavily. "We're not really sure what happened. All we know is that little Fluffy was standing in the box pinching a loaf when the rake appeared out of nowhere. Scared the holy bejeezus out of her. She let out a yowl and jumped straight into the air before running out of the room. After that she wouldn't have anything to do with the box, and started pooping around it instead. I got rid of the thing and went back to the old box, but it took me weeks to convince her it was safe."
Rich couldn't help it. He burst out laughing. Needless to say, we're sticking with our good old-fashioned, Juno-scooping model of cat box.
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Iris, Goddess of Naughtiness
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