10. Stranger

“I’ll probably be back in a week or so.  I’ve been volunteered to take a neighbour of my parents around a bit.  She’s supposed to be arriving, uh…  next week, I think, anyways, soon.  I guess I should check.”

“What’s that all about?”

“I don’t know, man.  My dad is a friendly guy, and a woman in the neighbourhood mentioned that she was going to take a vacation, somewhere hot.  He started talking about going around down here.  He convinced her to come here for a vacation.  It’s, sort of, random.  I’m working on working with randomness.  I’m finding the benefits of shaking up the whole situation.  Maybe there’s trouble.”  I grin over at him.  “I’m hoping she is beautiful and horny.”

“What is she like?”

“That’s what I’m saying, dude, I don’t know.  I’ve never met her.  I asked, but the old man got canny about it.  I’m not getting my hopes up.  I’m tryin’ to keep an open mind.”

* * *

So, I went to get her at the airport.  The plane was late, but when they finally came into the arrival hall, I figured out who she was.  She was the big one with short blond hair.

I took her up to the place in Palmira.  First, she unpacked about thirty pounds of presents for me; like the bottle of 14 year old Oban[i]; somebody must have told her it was my favorite.  So, we had a little party, just the two of us.

In the morning, while smoking on the front porch, I looked at the ATV parked, where it usually was, next to the front door.  I hardly even notice it, anymore.  Richard had told me to take it out, any time I wanted.

Just then, Richard walked out, and suggested again that I should take it out.

The big blond had downed three quarters of a bottle of rye, by 2 in the morning.  I knocked gently on the door.  Eventually, she came out, all bundled up against the menacing cold.

She looked green, I was surprised she could even get up.

I made her espressos and she drank it on the warm patio; it got a little bit of pink into her cheeks.  I was still a little surprised that she was all for taking a ride on the ATV.

The machine revved right up right away.  I launched it up the steep road, just past the house.

We rode around the hills, finding a few dead ends before coming to a small puebla.  I thought it was some hidden place, but it turned out it was the same Laguna that the highway passes, just north of Zarcero.

I felt a strange ambiguity about Nancy, and I didn’t want to be isolated with it at my home in Palmira; so I marshalled loading the car, and we drove to Montalba, with no more plan than that.

* * *

“04 February 2000 – a Friday, Punta Anclaje, Costa Rica

I haven’t really slept a night since arriving here a couple of days ago.

The day after the big blond arrived, the two of us left the mountain cloud town for Montalba, with a vague plan.

I couldn’t get us on a river trip; so we left for Puerto Antigua at 9:30.  It was a pretty smooth trip.  We stopped at a few places trying to get a place to stay, without success.  At the bar of one place we tried, the Dutch woman who ran the place recommended a place in a small pueblo just past Puerto Antigua, Punta Anclaje.  A guy at the bar interrupted her, speaking in Cajun French, he said I should go to ‘Regulus’, run by Marie-Antoinette.  He said, <<You will find what you are looking for, there.>>

I felt the world revolving around, and coming to a stop like tumblers aligning, punctuated by a melodic harmony of clicks.

Nonetheless, in rational mind, I was not, at all, convinced by the junky at the last place, I continued along, still looking for another hotel.  I knew we were well past Puerto Antigua, when we passed by a restaurant.  I had a sudden urge to take a look at it.  I stopped the car and backed up, and into a drive.

It was a very idyllic scene in the yard; several children ran around, dogs barked, as if just to hear the sound of their own barking.

There was a sign, carved out of wood, ‘Albergue Regulus’.

As soon as I saw her, my focus was locked on her, like a tunnel vision.  Though vaguely aware of other things going on around us, I couldn’t really tell you with any sincerity what they were.

She had a half full glass of wine in front of her, and a fresh cigarette between her fingers, near her face.  She was looking straight into my eyes, as if she had been waiting for me to appear.

I said nothing, watching her look me up and down, slowly.  I waited for her to eyes to come back into mine.  “Buenos dias.  ¿Ay uno quart…”

Suddenly, her eyes flew off me, alertly focusing on a new subject.

I heard Nancy stomping up, and glanced at her sideways, reluctant to relinquish my gaze.  But the spell was broken… for a time.  Now she was looking Nancy up and down slowly, sipping wine.

I looked around.  A couple sat at a table, lingering over coffee and drinks.  The kitchen was organized around a fire pit, built into a stone and mortar structure.  The thatched canopy, attached to a small two-story building, covered the kitchen and some of the dining area.  There was a small courtyard leading to an L-shaped two-story structure, made of wood.  There were two sets of stairs leading up to open walkways, along which at various intervals were doors.

“You can speak in English.  I think it will be better that way.”

She had an accent that I couldn’t quite place.  It sounded more like French.

I looked her straight in the eyes, now directly across the table from her.  She didn’t flinch; she looked bored; but it was more like a bland façade, fronting a temple of… sin, or sanctity, or perhaps both.

It was a feral femaleness that held my attention.  Her roughly shorn hair, contempt of convention, I admired immediately.  But her eyes, wells of profound depth betrayed… something else, some kind of a tristesse, perhaps… regret?

“Would you like a drink?”

“Do you have Steinbrau?”

“Yes”, she said curtly, placing the cigarette on the shell ashtray, and returning the full weight of her focus back upon me.  “Would you like one?”

“Yes.”

For a moment she sat, unmoving, just looking at me.

Completed immersed in intrigued, I didn’t flinch.  I didn’t even think at the time, beyond wondering what kind of creature she could be?

She picked up the cigarette and took a long draw, then blew the smoke out, slowly.  She replaced the cigarette in the ashtray, and looked over my right shoulder, tempering her more severe gaze with a slightly welcoming look, “and can I get you anything?  What would you like?”

I’d completely forgotten about Nancy, again, “beer?”

“Do you like Steinbrau too, or would you like something else?  I’ve got Bavaria and Imperial.”

“The coldest one.”

I’d been looking right at her, but I hadn’t noticed her getting up and moving towards the bar, her movement so like a woman, without apology, fear, or pretention.

“Have a seat anywhere.”  She said, addressing Nancy.

Momentarily she ducked below the bar.  She came up with a Steinbrau, a Bavaria and an Imperial.  I watched as she felt each bottle, yet unwilling to take my eyes from her.  She put the Bavaria back in the fridge, and selected two glasses.  She walked around the table to where Nancy sat, at the end, and placed the Imperial next to her, “do you like a glass?”

“Yes, please.”

She placed the glass down.

“Thank you.”

She came towards me, “a glass for you?”

“No.”

She placed the beer on the table in front of me, casually, as if an afterthought on the way to retrieve her cigarette from the ashtray.  She sat in the chair next to me and took a drag, slowly.  She blew the smoke, and picked up the half-full wine glass.

“Thanks for the beer.”

I gently knocked my untouched bottle on her glass of red wine.  She said something in a language I couldn’t recognize, and took a drink.  I took a modest mouthful of the beer then threw back a satisfying haul on the icy coldness of it.

Now so close, the only thing I was aware of was her extreme femaleness, and my desire to get with it.

“I’m Dean.”

“Marie-Ann.”

* * *

When we got up to take a look at the room.  I was surprised when the large woman with short blond hair got up and accompanied us.  I remembered in a rush that I’d come here, bringing her, as an ad hoc tour guide.

She showed us a room downstairs.  But then she abruptly pulled the sheets from the bed, and declared that the room wasn’t good enough.  She grumbled under her breath about saving it for someone who might not show up.

She led me up the narrow stairs to the second floor, to a room in the corner.  It was beautiful and airy with the two windows, both facing forest.  Nancy exclaimed about it, and Marie-Ann grunted approval, with a tone that suggested that it was decided.  She was looking at me.  I looked at the one bed, and knew that I wouldn’t be staying in there.

“And you?!”  She pointed to a shelf outside the room; she said she could put an air-mattress there, and it would need a mosquito net, but she said it would be the best place to sleep in the entire hotel because of the breeze.

I watched her eyes as she described it, and was nodding before I even knew it.

She wasn’t sure if there was an intact mosquito net.  As we walked down the stairs to the lobby dining room, she gave me directions to the store, down the street.  In the dining room, she wrote a list and gave it to me.  At the last moment she sent her small son with me, to show me the way.

I remember only an absence of concern.

We walked along the road, he and I, not talking, just going along.  It had rained very recently, though I didn’t remember it happening.  I smelled the living rain forest, and the sea salt, and felt an intense well-being.

We passed a soccer field, carved into a woods.  I could hear the surf, beyond the trees at the far end of the pitch.

There was no mosquito net, ‘mosquitero’, at the store.  I gave them the list and they handed me a couple bags of groceries, and two cases of beer.

We walked back to the hotel.  Marco asked me about the ‘frio’ in Canada; so I gave him the whole cold and hot description of the weather, <<in the summer, it can be much hotter than this>>, before telling him, <<yes>>, the land is probably covered in a foot of snow right now, and <<they are skating on the ice; I think you would like that>>, and <<skiing down mountains>>.

Wide-eyed he listened.

I was alerted to the sun having burned through the cloud, by the burning sensation on my skin.

I dropped the beer and groceries at the bar.  A man there working there, whom I hadn’t seen before, thanked me.  He told me to call him Pablo.  I could tell by his accent that he wasn’t from around here; I asked, and he told me he was a native Peruvian.  He directed his full attention at me while I spoke, and considered what I said, for a few moments, before responding.

A few people were hanging out at the bar, drinking and smoking.

I heard Marie-Ann call Marco, and he took off.  I followed.  She was up at the place where I was to sleep, pumping up an air-mattress with a foot pump.  She seemed bored with the pumping; she just dropped it, and spoke to Marco, in what sounded like a Slavic language.  The two of them walked off.  I pumped up the mattress and put it up on the shelf.  I got onto it, to try it out; it was surprisingly comfortable.

Nancy was back at the bar, sharing a table with a couple of guys.  Jack was a Californian surfer-dude, down to surf, but he’d injured his eye while surfing, that morning.  He wore a thickly-padded patch over it.  He insisted on taking off the covering and showing it.  It didn’t look too good.  He seemed alarmingly nonchalant about it.  He admitted that he couldn’t see out of it; he couldn’t even tell when the light was on it.  I offered to drive him to the hospital in Limón, but he said no.

“Alright”, I said, “if you change your mind…”; I meant it.  As discreetly as I could, I took long, slow breaths, calming my strong empathetic response to seeing his eye.

Jack was sitting and talking with a guy named Teddy.  Teddy said he was from Maine.  He was really charged up.  He rapped on about whatever point he was making at the moment.  He wanted to make a living, fame and fortune, writing screenplays.  He told me that he was convinced that he’d get his breakthrough within a year or so.

Pablo came over and brought some food.  I was gratefully surprised when I realized he was serving me too, for I was hungry.  I hadn’t been paying attention to it.

When I came up for air, I observed Jack and Teddy at the far end of the dining area, chatting with Marie-Ann.  Shortly, they got up and walked out.

Eating made me feel a little bit high, everything glowed a bit.  I took my book, and walked out, deciding I wanted to take another look at the store, on my own.  But when I got to the soccer pitch, I changed my mind, walked across it, and through a shallow coniferous woods on the far side.  I emerged onto the broad white-sand beach.  Though the sky was heavily overcast, it was excruciatingly bright, and blinding through weak spots in the cloud cover.  I could feel the sharpness of the heat.  Then the sky would momentarily darken and a fine mist drifted down, in the absence of any breeze.

About half a mile around the curve of the beach I could see young women jumping in the waves.  I walked towards this vision.  But I ran into Teddy from the restaurant, offering to share a shaggy “Columbian cigar” with me.

While we smoked it, I talked about the film school in Havana; he knew of it.  But, it was complicated for him to go to Cuba.

I thanked him for the smoke, and continued along the shore.  But, the women playing Frisbee had disappeared.  I kept walking, hoping somehow they might reappear.  But they didn’t.

I lied down in the shade of a palm tree, and continued with the ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’, that I’d brought along.

* * *

I awoke with the book on my face.  I could feel it was cooler.  The shadow of the palm tree was long.  Nobody was near, so I took off my shorts and shirt and took a quick dive in the ocean.

The sting of light foliage brushing my skin, as I walked back to the hotel, alerted me to the burn.  How long had I been lying there, in partial shade, to get burnt like that?

I got a beer at the bar, and sat down, alone besides Pablo, working away in the kitchen.

Somewhere, someone talked like a machine gun, never letting up; it was an irritating buzz.  The sound got louder, and louder, and then someone sat down at my table, and I could no longer overlook the fact that the noise was coming from him.  I took a breathe, and tried to understand what he was saying.  He talked about his association with the motorcycle gang.  He talked about his days playing in the Dutch premier soccer league.  Eventually he paused, mid-sentence, and took a large slurp from his bottle of beer, like a breath.

I seized the opportunity to mention that I’d been wanting to live in the Netherlands, for a while.  He launched into details of his opinion of where I needed to go to.  He was quite adamant that I should go and live in Gouda.  He drew a map of the central square, and indicated the bar that I should go and ask for employment at.  He told me to tell them that I was a friend of Ot, and he pointed at himself.

Just then, Marie-Ann joined us; she introduced us.

I said Amsterdam was so civilized.  He abruptly interrupted me to tell me that he could take me to his friend’s place, and I’d be able to get some… he raised his eyebrows… whatever I wanted.

I said I’d go anytime.  He wanted to go right away; so we went to the car and I drove, as per his direction, towards Puerto Antigua.

We stopped at the gates to a compound extending to the beach.  We sat there for a while.  I turned the car off.  Eventually, a guy wearing a jacket with no shirt on, underneath it, came over.  He recognized Ot, with a nod, and opened the gate.

A young guy comes in.  A beautiful young tica, in pyjamas, wanders by.  They both look like they’ve just woken up.

I got an ounce of compressed marijuana.  He’s a little surprised when I confirm that is all I want.  I’m happy, it was inexpensive, and I’m ready to roll at that point.  But I wait through the typical socialization between the customer and the drug dealer, as Ot negotiated to get what he was after.  At times he was mumbling, leaning in close to the young tico.  Eventually, the deal was done.

I dropped off Ot, about half way back to the hostel, at a small cluster of cabinas.

It was dark when I pulled into the drive at the Regulus.  As I was getting out of the car, Marie-Ann told me to meet her at her truck, at ten, if I wanted to go to a party in Puerto Antigua; she’d drive.

I was not going to be able to sleep early, after the long afternoon nap, and I was restless, and I wanted to go with her.

After changing clothes, I found Nancy in the bar, talking with two young guys, whom I’d not yet met.  After a couple rounds shooting the shit, we all got into Marie-Ann’s truck, and she drove into town.

The road closest to the water was full of people.  There was a bonfire, and a large stage set up in the lot on the west side of the road, across the street from a large bar.  The band played reggae.  People danced on the street and onto the sand leading down to the beach.

It was really busy, closer to the bar.  We waded through it, bumping, jostling, and pausing.  I got two beers, because it would take me a beer’s worth of time to back to the bar, and three would be too much to carry.

Everybody else seemed content to hang out in the melee.  I felt disoriented in the frenetic crowd.  I drifted casually from the group.  I found an eddy in the flow of people, from which vantage, I watched the stage show for a few songs.

People danced, swayed, sang, and watched.  I could feel the amplified rhythm and melody vibrating inside my chest.  I could feel it as I inhaled.

I downed the second beer.

The idea of fighting my way back to the bar didn’t seem like a good one.  I floated through and past the crowd, into the darkness on the sand, to the slightly different shade of blackness of the sea.  I looked back at the lights and the people, like a single creature, writhing and swarming.

I lit the joint, breathing in the smoke slowly and steadily.

Somewhere in that throng was Marie-Ann.  I was hoping to be with her, getting momentum towards… what I somehow knew to be certain.

It’s a strange feeling, knowing something will happen, without any tangible facts, without even the most basic indicators.  Yet, I had no doubt.

I enjoyed the thick musky smoke, looking out across the blackness that was the water.  I took off my boots and stood in the gently lapping tide.

I looked back again at the people, “la gente”.  The noise and colour swirled around in ecstasy, drawing me back to the chaos of it.  On the outskirts of the crowd.  I sat, rubbed the sand from my feet, and put my boots back on.

My approach to the bar was less direct this time.  Instead of moving in the shortest line, I followed the flow of the crowd.  It worked much better; in fact, I was surprised to be at the bar so soon, “dos, por favour.”

I drifted.  As I came out, onto the street, Marie-Ann stood facing me, wordlessly.

I put the beers down.  We danced…

* * *

At four o’clock, back at the Regulus, I stumbled up the wooden stairs and towards the air mattress.  Someone was knocking, repetitively, on a door.  As I moved along the walkway, I could here an intermittent whining murmur.  Worst of all, the young man responsible was standing at Nancy’s door, persistently knocking and calling, almost mournfully.

I assumed that she wasn’t there, and that the boy would tire of the fruitlessness of it.

I lay down, trying to ignore the wounded, whining, French-accented nasal persistence; but it continued, on and on, grating on my well-anaesthetized nerves.

I addressed the boy in French.  <<She’s not in there.  Go away.>>  “Vas-y!”

I couldn’t tell for sure if he noticed me; for the monotone wailing continued without interruption.

But, I heard Nancy.  She was calling, to me!  Her voice was hoarse.  In a strangled plea, she asked me to ‘get rid of’ the guy.  I recognized him, now, he’d been in the truck on the way to the party.  Upon hearing her, his wailing intensified.

My first reaction was to move him away, as fast as possible.  Such a shame it would be; I sighed, and took a slow breath.  As unthreateningly as I could, I gently took him by the arm, and led him away slowly, down the stairs, and out to the bar.  I put him on to a chair.  He was still quietly saying her name.

“Ça y est.  Vas, dormir!”

As I walked back up the stairs, I noticed lightening in the eastern sky

I knocked quietly on Nancy’s door, and told her that Sebastian was gone.

She grunted an exhausted “thanks”.  She’d be okay.

I got onto the air mattress, but I was restless.  After twenty minutes of watching the sky lighten, I got up.  I walked down the stairs.  It was quiet except for the occasional groans and the soft symphony of ceiling fans, squeaking their individual rhythm, around and around.

I went down to the beach, and lay down in the sand.  The sound of the gently lapping waves soothed me; I dozed for a while.  The brightness of the sun braking horizon defeated my sleep.

I sat there looking at the water with the sun rising from it.  I could feel it on my face, hot right away.  I pulled my clothes off.

I swam out, under water, surfacing only for air.  With gravity neutralized, I flexed my entire body, free to move in the three dimensions.

Looking up at the ceiling of the ocean, the bright orange orb stung my eyes, pleasantly.

Surfaced, the orange off blue blinding me, I turned back to the shore.  The sand glowed bright orange.  But the green behind it soaked-in most of the light, sequestering it to the guarded darkness.

As I looked at it, I could see the mist rolling in.  The haze made the view seem even more like a dream.

‘Am I dreaming’, I wondered?

I swam back slowly.  I shook, and rubbed my body with my hands, spreading it, so the sun could dry it faster.

Then I walked north.

There was scant activity in Puerto Antigua, when I arrived.  A few people still trying to get down, but none reviving that I could see.  The mist came up, erupting from every place the sun struck; it was tranquil.  I walked the streets; nothing was open; I met no one.

I walked back along the road, wanting good coffee, but finding nothing along the way.

When I got back to the Regulus, I was tired from walking, so lied down.  I dozed, noticing the clear blue sky become overcast, like time-lapse photography.  I dozed on.  When I surfaced again, there was the noise and smell of rain.

Restlessness dragged me out of sleep.  I lounged, not feeling particularly well.  I didn’t feel like doing much of anything.

But eventually, I walked back into Puerto Antigua.  I remembered that the Dutch bar, the one where the woman had suggested the Regulus, had an espresso machine.  I looked for it, and found it directly.

I got the espresso.  Then chased it with an ice-cold Imperial, when I couldn’t get any Dutch beer.

Without having been introduced, a sixty-something guy started talking to me.  In his thick Dutch accent, he concurred that Dutch beer was the best.  I mentioned the cigar smoke.  ‘Oh yes’, they were Dutch too; he showed me the package, as if to prove it.  He gave me two of them.  I lighted one and bought him, and myself, another beer.  After drinking the beer down, I thanked him again, and left the place, still smoking the first cigar.

The light was already fading while I walked towards Anclaje.  Once clear of Puerto Antigua, I went to the beach.  There was nobody around.  I lit a joint from the end of the cigar.  I smoke half of it, and then place it on a flat stone.  I took off my clothes and dove into the ocean.  It seemed surreal that no one else was around.

Catching the last rays from two hundred meters out, I wondered how the entire day passed me, so stealthily, by.

It was completely dark before I arrived at Albergue Regulus.

I lay down.

* * *

I was startled upon awakening, not having noticed falling asleep.  Once over the shock of having arrived at waking consciousness, I realized that I felt refreshed and good generally.  I could hear the sound of people in conversation and mirth over dishes and glasses chiming.  I lay there listening for a moment, the optimism of the hope in the sound further restoring my spirit.

I took a shower, and felt even more refreshed.

I could hear distinct voices in conversation.  I could smell the aroma of food above the salt of the sea.  Above, I could see the stars.  I walked down and joined into the party.

The restaurant was full of people eating, drinking, smoking, snorting and carrying on in rapturous abandon.

I leaned on the bar.  Marie-Ann looked at me; without taking her eyes from mine, she pointed, then turned back to her work in the kitchen.  I turned, but there was no place that seemed the obvious spot that she had directed me to; at first I couldn’t see any empty seat.  Then I spotted one, at a table for four, where sat three.  I walked over, nodding at them agreeably, and sat down.

Marie-Ann came over with two glasses of wine, and a stool.  She set the wine down and sat on the stool, facing me.  She handed me a glass.  I held it aloft.  She clinked her glass against it, never taking her eyes from mine, until we’d both drank and set the glasses down.

She introduced me to her friends at the table.

When she had finished her wine, she took the stool backs, towards the bar.  Half way there, she turned, catching me staring admirably at her back side.  I grinned uncontrollably at being cleanly busted, and scoffed at her raised eyebrow.  She smiled a certain smile.

She brought me a plate of food and refilled my glass with more Argentinean red, leaving the bottle on the table when she went.

My focus shifted exclusively to the food.  Before the first taste, I realized, for the first time that I had neglected to eat, all day.  The hunger came upon me like tidal wave; and I dove in, head first.  It was a little bit like sex, violent and soothing at the same time.

After eating it felt as if a weight, which I hadn’t even been aware of, was lifted off my chest.  My frequency shifted.  I mellowed into a tacit contentedness, able to talk with my table-mates, even listen attentively to them.  I’d long since forgotten their names, nor was I absorbing much of what they said.  Yet, it was enjoyable.

She came again, with another bottle and asked how I was doing?  I looked at her, wordlessly confident of breaching the veil between this mundane world and entering her intimacy.  She moved her head from side to side, keeping her eyes upon me, smiling while reprimanding.  She started clearing the table, and smiled seeing my eyes prepared to follow her ass all the way back to behind the bar.

I rejoined the table in conversation, completely on auto-pilot.

At this level of detachment from the conversation, I felt almost completely free of the gravity of judgement, or any kind valuation on my companions, or anything that they said.  It was a very pleasant feeling.  I relaxed pleasantly into the groove.

The evening rolled entertainingly along for me, in a peculiar double vision; I interpreted everything that was said as if it was referring to the sexual act.

The crowd thinned.  My dining companions were the last to leave, finally.

She joined me at the table.  I lit a joint, and smoked while she poured from another bottle.

The lights went down.  Pablo said good-night to us.

I had her all alone.  I was eager to get to the end game.

She brought two glasses of tequila and another bottle of wine.  We meandered.

Then there was a ruckus!  A tall blond boy comes in with a coloured girl.  He came straight over to Marie-Ann, speaking rapidly in Italian.  I could see, without any doubt, the familiar in their exchange; aggressive though it was, they’d been lovers.  She spoke, practically spitting, back at him, also in Italian, calling him an asshole for bringing the girl.

The woman listened intently, as if riding the mounting tension, then explodes in a rapid-fire Spanish-Caribbean brogue, arms and hips undulating.

It was a showdown!

Enemy drawn out, Marie-Ann moved to the offensive, violent and sexual.  The blond boy stood back, grinning sardonically, smoking a cigarette.  He looked over at me, as if noticing me for the first time.  His bloodshot violet eyes narrowed on me.

I looked on, detached.

He sauntered the two steps towards me, holding out his hand, “Stefano”.

I gripped it, firmly, yet not aggressively, “Dean.  Gusto.”

He paused, as if not knowing what to say.  Then he grinned goofily, and turned back to the woman, still in a standoff.  <<Let’s take a moment, take some powder.>>

I could feel the tension break, like magic.  They both liked the idea, and recognized one another, likewise.

Marie-Ann called over her shoulder to me, as the tica bent down to take a sniff.  I declined with a mild, disinterested grunting decline.  But she pressed it, with increasing insistence, or irritation; I couldn’t tell which.

Since I was just about completely indifferent about it, I seemed easier to give it a single snort, and be done with it.

The brown tica was grinning and spitting out the words so fast, I couldn’t understand a thing she was saying.  The three of them laughed, as she rapped on, in a saucy tone.

Marie-Ann exclaimed she could take the tica, in bed.

There was a pause.

But the tica broke out laughing, and the last of the tension was gone.  Everything was relaxed.

So I took a single snort.

It was like an ice explosion!  My floating, fuzzy, warm, glowing world became stone-cold, crisp, sharp, and altogether too grounded.  I felt mildly resentful for losing such a successful investment in eating, drinking, smoking and romancing.  I was stone-cold sober, and not liking it very much.

Then I was overcome by an irresistible urge, which delivered me from the company of the three of them.  I sat sullenly, mourning the loss of my warm fuzzy world, as my bowels churned, and launched everything in them out, in successive spasms, for over twenty minutes.

Feeling exhausted from my efforts, I walked out.  The unsettled feeling of my gut echoed in my mind, unhappy at being so awake.  I rejoined them, tentatively, at the table.  As if on cue, Stefano and his tica got up and went to a room.

I began talking; I don’t know why.  I asked questions and became increasingly anxious.  She told me how she had moved from Croatia as a child to France, and arrived in Costa Rica six years earlier, to stay for a while.  She told me she was ready for bed.

When I talked more, she told me to shut up.  She came up to me and kissed my face angrily and took my hand.  She led me up to her apartment.  We navigated carefully between Marco and Pablo, asleep on mats on the floor.

We worked our way towards the goal, in a too-patterned way.  I felt as if it was a ceremonial performance.  As I became less at ease, my arousal waned.  Despite it, I yet pushed on, determined to get my prize.  But like a man chasing mirages in the desert, I found only dry dust.

I laid back, trying to sleep.  Within minutes, Marie-Ann was snoring softly.  All of my senses were heightened.  I heard everything.  I heard Pablo and Marco breathing slowly and steadily.  I heard the early birds’ stirrings, and singing in the jungle.  I heard people in the cabinas.  I heard grunts and gasps.  I saw every detail on the ceiling of the room.  The fan, revolved slowly, endlessly.

I felt… wrong.  I thought of the line in the book, “One sees clearly only with the heart.  Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.”[ii]

I got up and left, hoping to somehow burn off my restlessness.  I wandered around looking for the dawn.  When I realized that the sunrise was imminent, I hurried down to the water.

A thin blazing orange line breached the horizon.  It shone out to me, balefully through the morning mist on the sea.

I shed my clothes and walked straight out and dove in.  The waves rolled in, gentle but indomitable.  The orange light came on as I floated on my back, rolling along, drifting, fate abandoned to the sea.

For a brief moment I thought, ‘why here?’  Why am I here?  But the gentle rocking of the ocean, the womb from which all terrestrial life once emerged, lulled concern out of me.  For a time the ‘whys’, and ‘wherefores’, became much, much less relevant.  I became calmly and certainly aware of the extreme pleasantness of the ‘now’, and felt connected peacefully to the mother of all life, here on our little blue planet.

So I drifted, unconcerned also with time.  When I came out, the full disc of the orange sun was well above the horizon.  Behind layers of mist and cloud it cast an orange-pink glow.

I didn’t want to be at the cabinas.  But, I returned stealthily, and got a pen and this notebook, in which I now write.  I also got some grass and rolling paper, before leaving the compound as quietly as I could.  I heard no stirring as I went.

I walked past the grocery store, and came upon this bench, at which I now sit, amongst the trees, through which I see the ocean.

It’s been three hours since I began writing this.  Now the sun is well up.  I’m tired, and my hand is cramping up, a sign to stop putting it down, and move on to the next thing.”

 

I read over the pages of writing.

I’ve never written anything like this, before.  It’ll likely need quite a bit of chopping for a web entry, but, that’s not as hard as remembering it, later.

I feel purged.  I don’t care about anything, now.  I’ve left it all behind.  I just want to lie down.

I walk back to the cabinas and up the stairs to the landing.  I hear Marie-Ann’s truck start up.  I turn and I can see her pull out with Jack, the surfer with the injured eye.  She looks sad.

I get on to the air mattress.

* * *

There’s a noise!   Slowly, it comes into focus; it sounds like Nancy talking.  “Uh?”

“It’s eleven o’clock.”

“Ugh?”  She looks rough.  “Are you alright?”

“I’m a little hung over.”

I am awake, unfortunately.

“What do yuh wanna do?”

“I’m hung over.”

“I’m gonna go get something to eat, and pay up.”

“I paid already.  Marie-Ann took Jack to the hospital in Limón; Pablo told me.”

“I hope he’s alright.”

“I’m going to pack my stuff.”

I move my hand to a hard spot between the wall of the mattress and the framing.  There it is, the espresso maker, and a small bag of coffee.  I take them down to the restaurant.  I take a seat at a table close to the end of the counter.  I load the bucket and walk up, around the counter to the stove.  Pablo nods at me.  <<¿Do you want casada?>>

<<Yeah, if I could; that would be great.>>

I cook up the espresso.

<<¿Do you want some?>>

<<Not if it is any trouble.>>

The maker blows.  I pour it into the cup I’d heated, and hand it to him.  <<No trouble at all.  There it is.>>  It makes me feel a bit happier.

I reload and make another.  I pull it a bit shorter, catching it before it blows.  I clean the espresso maker in the sink.  I take it back to the table.  He follows me, and puts the plate down, “enjoy your meal.”

“Pura vida.”

I eat fast.  I’m hungry, but more than that I am eager to hit the road.  I get up, passing my plate and cutlery onto the counter close to the sink.

“Quanto, hombre?

“No hombre”.  He move his head to one side, then across the other, casually.  “No, we’re even.”

I thank him and hug him.

I go back to the air mattress, and knock on the closed door to Nancy’s room, “ready to roll?”

“Ugh.  Come in.”

She’s lying on the bed.  “Yeah, I’m ready.”  She gets up with a groan.  I grab the towel and the notebook from the air mattress; it’s all I have there.

Just before Puerto Antigua, we pass Marie-Ann, in her truck.  She is alone.  She looks sad.  It’s the same stoic look she had when I first saw her.

It’s drizzling.  Nancy snores, loudly.  The rain gets steadier, and heavier.  I feel drained.

I can’t see the sun, but I can see that the light is starting to go.

I pull off the highway through Siquirres, and begin charging up the long easy grade of the first climb into the mountains.

It’s pouring rain and pitch black going through the pass.  Nancy is awake and tense.  I am tense.  The rain is pounding down; even with the windshield wipers on maximum, I can hardly see.  I hit several pot holes, hard; the car rattles and shakes.  The road is worse than I remember it.

I pull into one of the two parking spots at the hotel with a bitter taste in my mouth.  I’m really glad to be finished with the driving.

I take a long, hot shower in the little room behind the kitchen.

I lie on the bed and read, “Guns, Germs and Steel”.

* * *

I wake up and lounge, reading for a while.  I get some clothes on and walk over to Casa Gringo.

Nancy and Linda are lounging on the front porch.  Jane chops fruit and puts it into a large bucket.  “Pour those bottles in, will you?”

Jane pours a round of drinks, and leaves me pouring bottles of rum and guaro into the bucket.

I walk out to the porch with guaro, tequila, lime and ice in a tall glass.

“You’re coming aren’t you?”

“I look at her, straight into the cleavage, and take a sip of my drink.  “I’m not even breathing hard yet, Jane.”  I try to keep my smile down as I look up into her eyes.

“This was supposed to be your party.”

“My party?”

“Yeah.  Dave left you a note, asking you to get the stuff for a party and make punch.”

“Did I do a good job?  Thanks”, I think.  I down my drink and get up.  “Where’s the party, officer?”[iii]

“Oh yeah,” it’s Nancy, “you have to dress as a super hero.”

I place my glass by their empties.  “What’s that?”

Linda says, “you have to dress in a costume.”

“Okay.  See yuh.”  Maybe I’ll feel like coming over.

I pick up the book and the notebook at the hotel.  I wander along a streets that I haven’t taken before.  I find a café with an espresso machine.  I go in and order an espresso.  I sit by a window and read.

* * *

At nine p.m., I get up from the bed at the hotel.  I take a cold shower.  I walk down and past casa gringos, to Julia’s Bar, kitty-corner to the house, and get six cold cans.

Jelly greets me at the door of casa gringo.  “I’ll take one of those.”

I can see people milling around in the front room.  “You have to down a cup of punch to get in.” He’s dressed in one piece body underwear, red, with a white towel cape.

“Okay.”

He takes a glass from several on a table and scoops out a measure to the brim from the bucket. “Wait ‘till you try this.”

I drain the fluid.

“Yuh gotta eat that fruit.”

“Okay.  Can yuh reload me, first?”

“Sure.”  He refills the glass.

I take a few mouthfuls from the top before I can walk around without spilling any.  Jelly laughs aloud at me.  Arturo is nodding at me, “everybody got that, too.”

“I’m batting a hundred percent.  Got any cigars?”  Jelly puts his arm around my shoulders.

“I forgot, buddy.”

“No prob…”  He turns, because someone else has arrived.  It’s Goldie.  “Hey, you gotta chug a glass of punch to get in.  What’s your costume?”

“Chugging Man, this is my costume.”

I hear a distinctive gurgling noise and follow it around a corner.  Dave hauls back on the Destroyer, the three-foot high plastic bong.  He hands it to me, voicelessly, holding his breath.  “Did you make that with your engineering degree?”  I put down the beer and the glass, and I gurgle back a lung-full of smoke.

He talks through expelling smoke, “came with the house.  But I know the guy who built it.  He was, uh, like, four residents ago, something like that.”

I take another haul and hand it back to him.  I can feel it going into my brain as I breathe it out.  “Oh yeah, it’s working.”

Dave takes a tentative haul.  “Done.”  He reloads it.

Goldie joins us.  Dave sparks up the fresh bucket, takes a lung-full, and then hands it to Goldie.

“Thanks”

He hauls back for twenty seconds and holds it.

I look at him as I take it.  “Iron lung.”  I chuff out a laugh then try to emulate his long drag.  I have to take my eyes from him because I can feel the laughter trying to erupt from me, and I don’t want to waste the lungful of smoke.

I hand it to Dave.

“Iron lung?”

Goldie is still holding his breath, he nods lightly, smiling foolishly.

I start laughing; and lose my smoke.  I look at Dave, and then over to Goldie, poking my head in his direction.  “Ironlung”, I say definitively.

A couple, whom I don’t recognize, join us at the bong.

Dave passes the thing to the guy.  I look at her.  She’s beautiful and throwing off her sex in every direction.  Every man knows that she is in the room.  “What’s yer thang?”

“I’m just a guy.”

She, “Is that raily the wah yuh tawk?”

I laugh.  I can feel the booze coming into my body, loosening it.  She looks good.  Maybe she’s just friends with the guy.  I’m having a difficult time taking my eyes from her.  “Where are you from?”

In chorus the two of them reply, “Louisiana.”

She takes a haul on the offered bong.

He says, “Where ‘you from?”

The bong is burnt out.  I reload it with my own supply.  “Toronto, Canada.”

Someone coming down the hallway says, “Is Dean Cassady in the building?”

It’s Andy.  He laughs and slaps me on the shoulder.

“Hey buddy.”

“Eh?”, he says to me.

I laugh at that.  I hold the bong for the girl, and spark at the bowl, as she sucks.  She moves closer to me.  So does her friend.  Goldie is laughing at us, holding up his arms at the closing of the circle.

Andy starts laughing, he says, “smoke two joints.”

She hands me the bong and I hand it to Andy.  “Smoke two joints?”

Andy takes a quick haul, and hands the bong to Dave, who smiles at receiving it.

“I smoke two joints in the morning, I smoke to joints at night.  I smoke two joints in the afternoon, it make me feel alright…”[iv]

“Oh yeah.  I got it.  Nancy brought the CD for me.  Did you meet her?”  I wave in the direction of the kitchen; I thought I’d heard her voice.

He shakes his head.

“Hey, I’m trying to line up a ride down the river, for tomorrow.”

“Are you…?”  He speaks quietly, nodding towards the kitchen.

“No, no, nothing like that.  I got some stories, but there’s no story in that.”

He backs a bit and the circle loosens.  He focuses on the guy.  “Robs-Pierre, Brettangna,” he shakes the guy’s hand, and embraces her, “wicked paddling.  Dean, Robs and Tangna won the mixed-tandem at the rodeo today.”

“Way to go.”  I smile.  It doesn’t make any difference to me.  Except that they are glowing, pure positive.

It has become louder in the house.

I lean back against the wall to get a better look at the madness of the front room.  Small clusters of people talking in independent conversations forming a larger, über-conversation.

I hear Jelly, “no, you gotta chug, or you can’t go in… Yes, this is my place… I’m Gallo Pinto.”  He laughs and laughs.  “No costume, you chug twice.”

“Hey Jelly.”  It’s a voice I don’t know, raised in mock protest.

Robs kisses me at the side of my mouth, while I’m looking down the hall.  I look at him, and Brettangna licks from my ear to the corner of my mouth.  The two of them grin, impishly.  She says whimsically, “see yuh Dean.  See yuh later, Andy.”

The two of them are well-fucked on something more than grass and booze.  I laugh at them.  They laugh.  Andy starts laughing.

Robs says, “Dave, thanks for your hospitality.  See you tomorrow.”  He focuses on Goldie, ”you, you coming tomorrow?”

“I’m werkin’ again.”

“Next time.”  He shakes Goldie’s hand.

“Where you goin’?”

“We’re gonna go to the karaoke place along the park.  Then, there’s a party at Estaban’s place, or whatever?”

“You goin’ now?”

“Yeah, you gonna come?”

“Yeah, just a sec.”

Goldie turns to me, “Dean, are you goin’ with us tomorrow?”

“Yer with Phil, yeah?  Yeah, if you got sumthin’ going.”

“Yeah, there’s gonna be three or four boats.  There’s lots of room, for sure.  Yer stayin’ at the hotel, right?  He probably left you a message.”

“I’ll be up, then.  See yuh, tomorrow, or maybe later tonight, who knows?  Thanks for the heads-up.”

He holds up his knuckles.  I bounce my right knuckled hand off his.  “Peace.”

They move along the hallway.

“See yuh Robs, Tangua.”

Dave has gone.

Andy says, “I got a joint.”

“Let’s go to the back porch.  I need beer.  And I’m stoned already.  What else is in that punch?”

Passing the kitchen, I notice that Nancy has cornered a thin tico.  He doesn’t look twenty.  She sees me, and says, “we’re going to the disco.  Do yuh want to come?”

“I’ll pass.  Maybe I’ll come later.”  I don’t know which disco she intends on going to, but then again, neither does she.

By midnight, it’s thinned out a bit; I’m ready to go.  Andy left at eleven.  Phil comes into the kitchen, interrupting the story of conquest, Jelly is telling.  “Jelly.”

He pours a guaro and downs it.  “Dean.”  He nods.  “I got a really sweet party going down the Reventazón, tomorrow.  I left you a message at the hotel.  You got a friend you’re bringing?  Does she know what she’s doing?”

He’s refilling on the question mark.

“I think she mentioned a trip down the Ottawa.  She’s strong.”

“We got a nice little party going down.  It’ll be good.”

“Okay. Eight?”

He downs his drink, refills his glass, and fills another, nudging it to me.

“Can you walk over to the main road?  Manuel is picking-up in San José, he’ll be coming through at eight-thirty.  I’ll call the hotel at seven-thirty.”

I down the guaro.  “I’ll be there at eight-thirty.”

“And your friend, she’ll be there too, right?”

“Yes, she’ll be there.”

He waves off, lighting a cigarette as he turns.

Jane walks in, as he leaves.  “Dean, let’s go to the disco.  Come on, take me.”

‘Take me’, echoes in my head.  I’m going with her, wherever.  “Okay.  Let’s go.”

“See yuh Jelly.”

“I was just getting to the good part.”

“Mas tarde amigo.”

“I’m coming.  Where you going?”  He follows.  “Wait a sec…”  He steps into the bathroom.  I can hear him heaving, then laughing and heaving some more.

Jane says, “mas tarde.”

In the living room, three people, two men, one woman, lie passed out on the floor.  “Good party.”

Jane looks at me and smiles.  She pauses and turns towards me.  “Jelly, are you coming?”  She rubs against me, looking at me.

Jelly staggers out, past where we stand waiting for him on the porch, and crashes roughly on the couch.  Dave and Linda come out, “let’s go.”

They lead us out, and turn right, to go into town.  I turn right; Jane pulls me left, by the hand, noiselessly.  Neither of us utter a sound.  We walk west a block, then south two and half blocks to the street’s end, at a small tributary.

* * *

I leave her sleeping at 7:30, and walk back to the hotel.

Alura arrives as I work the lock to get in.  “Morning Alura.”  I smile at her.  “What room is Nancy in?”

I knock on her door until she opens it.  “Ugh?”

She looks rough, but I marshal her down the stairs and out.  We cross to the far side of the highway just after 8:30.  The van speeds by.  I recognize Manuel.  “Hey!”

He sees me in the rear view mirror and screeches to a halt on the shoulder.

The van is almost full.  They’re all teachers from Canada or the U.S. and their significant others, living around San José.  Three of them live in Alajuela.

Phil’s not at the river.  Manuel tells me he’s working at the rodeo.

There are three rafts.  Oliver and JuanJo are running as safety kayaks.

Nancy and I go in Kirk’s boat.

The river is high as we push off.

We stop for a break where waterfalls cascade into the river.  Mist fills the air as a thick fog.  Nothing is dry, despite that, I’m not cool.

Goldie leads a group of us up and up, into one pool after another, steps in the descending river.  It’s incredible, just like a fantasy of a rainforest, but better, because it’s real.  Goldie and I climb up to a high basin.  “You can dive from that rock up there.”  He nods up.

I climb to the rock, about four metres up.  I dive deep down in the basin.  I don’t get to the bottom; it’s so deep!  When I come up, he’s climbed up to the rock.  “Come on up.”

I climb back up.  He opens a small stainless steal container, and takes out a joint and a lighter.  He heats it up, taking several tokes, and hands it to me, “keep it going.”

He re-seals the container and puts it into a pocket.  We smoke the joint down to the last ash in two minutes.

“This is a good spot.  You know, the first time you dive into a blind pool?  It just doesn’t look like it could be so deep!”

He looks at me knowingly, smiles, and dives from the rock, straight down.

I look down to dive myself.  I know how deep it is.  But I feel my heart pounding.  I know I’m going to do it.  I go.  The churned water is soft.  I go deep into it, revelling grateful to still be alive, feeling joy of life with a rare intensity.  I breach the surface.  I can’t see Goldie.  Did he surface?

“Hey!”  I feel a slight panic.

“Down here.”  I can barely hear it.  I go to the edge.  He’s two pools down.  “Hurry up.  We gotta go.”

I take my time climbing down the wet moss.  It was easier going up.

We launch and continue down the river.

We enter a high level 3 rapid.  I take a brief look over at Nancy.  She looks like a little kid on a rollercoaster, almost ecstatic.  But just then, the wave takes the raft on a sharp zig!

I see her going, and I’m already moving to where she is going to be, about six inches under the surface of the water.

Without thinking, I use the momentum from her bobbing back up to the surface, to drag her all the way back over the fat gunnels and into the boat.  It could have been messy.  But she lies there, catching her breath, unaware of how dangerous it could have been.  She laughs intermittently, like it was just another part of the show.

A little further along, Goldie’s boat goes over in a high water rapid!  Everyone comes up.  Some go to a bank.  Goldie is working his boat.  He’s on top of the upside-down raft.  I’m not sure what he’s doing.  He flips it over, back to right side up, and immediately collects three swimmers; swinging a smaller woman, with one arm, up and into the boat.

Oliver cranks his paddle around like a windmill in a gale.  He pulls two swimmers to the far shore, and goes straight back up the rapids to the raft.  I watch him as he passes us by.  There is no fear in his eyes, no strain, only focus and resolve.  He passes his spare paddle to Goldie.  The raft is stuck spinning around in a hydraulic depression, otherwise known as a ‘hole’.  He’s got three crew, but only the one paddle.

Juanjo hands Goldie his spare paddle.  They stop the boat from spinning.

Oliver has retrieved two more paddles from the river and passes them to the boat.  Goldie points to where each of them needs to sit.  He barks order, “forward.”

They paddle as one.  Another woman climbs into the boat.  Goldie uses her as ballast, calling instructions for her to move around the boat.

They pull out of the worst of it and into an eddy.  Relief is palpable in the air, from everyone.

Sweat doesn’t show on the river.

* * *

“Did you have a good time?”

She laughs and shakes her head up and down like a little girl.

She hugs me and goes through security check, waving, until I can’t see her anymore.

* * *

I pull out from the airport.  I remember getting her a week ago; I guess I’d been disappointed not to have a sex kitten come down and stay with me, but I got really used to having her around.  Now, I feel lonely, again.

I get on the highway, going north from the airport.  The traffic isn’t too bad, but I’m always happy to pull off it and into Naranjo, and go onto the old highway.

I’m coming up the last hill, and I pull around the right hand corner, into Zarcero.  It is early afternoon.  I really want to get home and take a nap, but I pull over on the main street, across the road from the cavernous booze store.

I get three sixes of different brands of tico beer, and a fourth six pack of the white-labelled Mexican kind.

The grocery store is a decent march down, but I probably wouldn’t find another parking spot.  I could pull up the hill and park, but I’d have to past the tourist office on foot, and that will almost certainly slow me down.

I have enough food for now.  I turn the car on and turn right at the lights, then behind the back of the church to the road going up to Palmira.

I pass through the initial slow steady climb in a mist-shrouded coniferous forest.  After a steady bend to the left, there is another steady climb, with a forest on the left hand side, and a cultivated slope on the right.  I come across the opening along the side of the mountain; I can see Zarcero, far below.  I can see the entire valley, even over the far side of the small mountain forming the western boundary of the town.  I continue up, and into Palmira.

I get out, and open the gate to the casa, drive the car in, turn it off, and close the gate behind me.

I take just the stuff I need from the car.  The house is cold and damp.

I don’t feel like being inside.  I’m restless.

I walk out and up the hill.  Even walking up that hill is a chore; I’m breathing hard.  I can feel the thinness of the air.

I walk along the ridge.  It’s starting to drizzle, fuck!

I turn, and head back to the casa, trotting down the hill with the aid of gravity.

I go into the shower.  I want a hot shower.  The water sputters out from the suicide shower head.  I can hear the heating element go on.  But, of course, not soon enough to even take the chill from the ice-cold water that pours out onto me.  Yikes!  The stream is little more than a trickle.  Slowly, it becomes less cold, but only gets as warm as tepid.

I get out, dry off as fast as I can, and get into a couple layers of clothes.

I make espresso, and pour a solid scotch.

I grill some toast, and reload the espresso maker for a second.  I take the second espresso, the toast and an opened beer to the little television room.  I get under the pile of blankets, and surf the satellite waves.

* * *

I wake!

I get up.  I’m stiff.  The voice on the television drones on.  I turn it off.

I’m a bit refreshed.  I step outside.  Light, illuminating the baleful jagged grey, is fading.  I turn back to go into the house.

Suddenly, the house is illuminated with vivid colour!  I turn back.  On the horizon, the pure orange blaze puts purple on the fiercest jags of clouds.  It is startling!  I can’t take my eyes from it; I don’t want to let it go.

I walk out the front gate, and to the edge of the soccer field, and sit down.  As I watch, the sky clears and clears, opening up the heavens.

Now, straight overhead is a dark blue, fading to indigo as far eastward as the mountain allows me to see.  Deep orange from the western horizon yet shines off the slick, well-groomed soccer field.

It’s so beautiful here.  This moment is amazing.

As the last embers fade, I walk along the lane and past the bar.  The road is damp.  I’m barefoot.  I can feel the air drying and warming, even as the last light fades.

[i]. “Oban” – Oban is a small Scotish town, the principal seaport for the Isles and the capital of the West Highlands, famous, to some people, for single malt scotch whisky marketed by the same name.

[ii]. “Le Petit Prince”; 1943, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900–1944).

[iii]. “Where’s the party, officer?” Dean quotes the band Big Audio Dynamite song, “The Globe”, written by Mick Jones and Gary Stonadge, appearing  on the album “The Globe”, December 12, 1991, Columbia Records, 44K 74180, produced by Mick Jones and Andre Shapps

[iv]. “Smoke Two Joints” released 1983 by “the Toyes”, by Chris Kay, Michael Kay, according to Wikipedia, it was played for years., every afternoon at 5 p.m., on the San Francisco radio station KFOG, covered by the band Sublime on 1992 debut album 40oz. to Freedom.

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