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Fiction Sad Contemporary

Jayce is sprinting across the yard towards me, waving his arm high, triumphantly. “I found a feather, Mom! Look, it’s blue! It must be from a blue jay.”


I squat down to inspect it. “I think you’re right. Excellent job, sweetheart. Let’s put it in the jar.”


Jayce wastes no time, uncorking the tiny plastic jar before jamming the feather into it.


“Is that our last thing?” Jayce asks, still stuffing the feather with his index finger. Once it’s mostly in, a few stray strands of the feather are popping up out of the mouth of the container, Jayce pushes the cork into the mouth and holds it up to his eyes for a closer look at his collection of things, amazed.


I pull out the kit’s instructions. Running a finger across the paper, I read from our list. “We’ve got: a feather, something dry, a blade of grass, a pinch of your shadow, and… Looks like we still need a flower petal.”


“Oh, I know!” Jayce bolts across the yard, bee-lining for the bushes. “Come on, Mom, follow me.”


I trail behind him, my stride matching at least two of his. We found this potion-making scavenger hunt at the toy store downtown. It is the last thing on our end-of-summer list of activities, but it’s the one Jayce seems the most excited about. I watch him intently, my heart warming at his belief in the magic of nature. At least he still has that.


“I got it!” he exclaims, already working his jar open. Jayce plucks a rose bud from the bush, careful around the thorns. He holds it up to me as he peels a single red petal off, then rubs it between his fingers. I can feel its velvety texture just by watching him. I think of the flower shop back home, think of the charges on the bank account statements. A dozen roses I never received. My insides turn.


“Now what? It is done?”


“Yes! This one is done,” I tell him. “Oh, but don’t forget the most important part.” Jayce is briefly confused, then his face lights up.


“The magic star!” He reaches into his basket to retrieve a plastic bag full of tiny yellow plastic stars. As he works it into his jar, he asks, “What does this one do?”


I check the instructions again. “This is the….”


“ – Dewdrop Potion!”


“Right, yes, the Dewdrop Potion… This says it will bring more wildlife to our yard. But first you have to find a sunny patch, spin around three times, and whisper the name of the kind of animal you wish to come here,” I tell him, reading off the description. “What animal do you want to visit us?”


Jayce considers for a moment, then darts off towards one of the last remaining sunny patches in our yard. I watch him spin in circles before bringing the tiny jar up to his lips and whispering softly to it. “I can’t tell you my wish or it won’t come true,” he announces.


“Ah, smart boy,” I say, patting his head once he returns to my side.


“What potion can we make next?” Jayce tucks his jar into his basket and starts bouncing up and down, ready for more magic.


“I think we’ve made them all, sweetie.” I review the list. “We’ve made the Sunshine Potion, the Flower Potion, the Rain Potion, the Greener Grass Potion,” – my favorite, because we could certainly use the extra financial fortune – “and the Birdsong Potion. I think that’s all of them, dear. It’s getting pretty late. You’ve got a big day tomorrow. We ought to start thinking about getting ready for dinner and jammies.”


Jayce looks close to pouting. “But there’s one more jar!” He pulls out an empty, unlabeled container as proof. “See! Please, can we do one more, Mom? Please!”


I study his face, his freckled cheeks, his green eyes, his blonde hair hovering over his eyebrows. He looks so much like his father, something I used to love about him.


“OK, fine. One more,” I surrender. I open up the pamphlet to its full length. “It says here that the extra jar is so you can create your own magic potion. You get to pick out your own ingredients and determine what your potion can do. It says, ‘Don’t forget to add your magic star before making your wish.’”


Jayce’s eyes light up when I read that to him. It feels like forever since I’ve seen them do that. Since the day before I told him we had to leave. I feel the ache in my chest soften, though my stomach tightens a little.


“I know exactly what I need,” he says, grabbing his last jar and running off towards the perimeter of bushes in our yard. I love how sure of himself he is, despite everything. Children really are the most resilient creatures on the planet.


I watch him as he collects odd-shaped rocks, twigs, and flower petals and shoves them into his jar. I snap some photos of him catching sunrays, admiring the back drop that is our new landscape, at least for now. We’ve been in the new house for just two weeks, but as for how long we will stay here depends on how soon I can secure a job. And how the school year goes for Jayce. At least tomorrow will offer a glimpse of that, I hope.


“I need a strand of your hair, Mom,” Jayce holds his hand out.


“What?” I laugh. “My hair? What for?”


“It’s for my potion. It won’t work without it, Mom, I need it! Pleeease,” Jayce wiggles his fingers.


I don’t have it in me to deny him much of anything anymore, but with the stress of everything recently, my hair’s been coming out in locks. “Go grab my hairbrush from the bathroom,” I relent with a playful sigh. I catch a glint of a smile before he’s gone, darting to the house. When he comes back, he’s sprinting, his potion bottle high above his head.


“It’s ready!” he cries, but he doesn’t stop when he gets to me. Instead, he runs past me, towards the large oak tree that marks the end of our property. I snap more pictures of him as he hops on one foot, then another, does one jumping jack, and then spins around in more circles, the sunset splashing orange, red, and yellow through the branches behind him. When I look at the photo I’ve captured, I’m stunned by its beauty. I know I’ll remember this moment as the first time I’ve felt any sense of appreciation for being here in this new town. It’s the first time I feel like we might actually be OK.


The thought brings me back to reality. The reason I’ve had to spend so much time worrying we ever wouldn’t be OK again. I open my text messages and prepare to send the photo to Andrew. I promised him I would send him frequent photos and keep him updated on our daily life as long as he didn’t fight for custody. It was part of our deal, the deal that included not telling Jayce just how close his father and his kindergarten teacher really are.


I type: Potion-making before dinner. School starts tomorrow.


I hate how texting him now feels both familiar and foreign. I hit send, then tuck my phone in my back pocket.


Jayce whines the whole two minutes it takes us to get inside from the yard, and barely touches his dinner. I try to ask him how he is feeling about starting his new school tomorrow, but he just shrugs while scooping up his green peas one by one with his spoon and watching them drop back onto his plate.


“I don’t want to go to school tomorrow,” he finally voices once he’s showered and tucked into bed, one story already read.


I stroke my hand over his hair. “I know, baby. It’s hard to start a new school. But I’m sure you’ll make new friends in no time. Plus, did I ever tell you that first grade was my favorite grade ever?” I grin, tickling his chin.


He giggles because he can’t help it. “Mom, you said that about kindergarten.”


I laugh. “But this time, I mean it.”


This doesn’t elicit the smile I hope for. Instead, Jayce presses his chin into his chest and wraps his fingers around mine, holding them in place. “I wished for bunnies to visit us,” he says.


The sadness looming in his eyes has become normal these days, but it still worries me. I try to redirect. Faking horror, I gasp. “You’re not supposed to tell me!”


My joke doesn’t faze him. “It’s the only animal I never got to see back home.” He’s twiddling with my fingers, careful not to look me in the eyes when he continues. “And I wished for you and Daddy to get back together.”


Those are the words I’ve known I would hear sooner or later, but the expectation of them does nothing for the pain they unload. I feel like the bowling ball in my chest finally dropped into my stomach. I have to catch my breath.


Jayce finally meets my eyes, but this time, I turn my head away. “Is that why you asked for a strand of my hair?”


I feel him nodding, scraping his nail slowly against mine. “Dad always said how much he loved your hair,” he whispers.


Tears roll past my eyelids, streaming down my cheeks. I close my eyes in an attempt to catch them, but it's a failed attempt. All I see are Andrew’s hands, Ms. Kelly’s red hair clutched between his fingers. I have to bite my lower lip to keep the dam from breaking. Like I teach Jayce, I count to ten and then swallow hard before inhaling.


“You’ve got a big day tomorrow, sweetie. Better get some sleep.” I rub his tummy then plant a kiss on his forehead.


“I’m sorry for making you sad, Mommy,” Jayce says as I am closing his door. I am too choked up to tell him that he did nothing wrong. I don't make it to my room before I'm pressed against a wall, sliding down it as the tears unleash, wishing there were enough magic in the world to make them stop.


In the morning, before the rush of breakfast-making and getting ready for school, Jayce and I watch silently through my bedroom window as squirrels and blue jays and a single cottontail bunny scurry across the yard, thankful that at least one of his potions worked.

September 06, 2023 02:01

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40 comments

15:11 Sep 06, 2023

ahhhh this is sweet and also sad when the history is revealed. "Jayce’s eyes light up when I read that to him. It feels like forever since I’ve seen them do that." I know exactly what you mean. That look. That they lose when they grow up. I miss it too!! Thanks for sharing this!

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AnneMarie Miles
17:54 Sep 06, 2023

I'm thankful that my daughter still has that look. The story is based on our recent potion making adventure, though, thankfully, the affair is pure fiction. A notorious overwriter, my goal was to say more with less words, and hopefully get the point across. I appreciate your time in reading and commenting! Thank you!

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Amanda Lieser
04:57 Oct 06, 2023

Hi AnneMarie! You’ve crafted a beautiful story that blended childhood innocence with adult reflection beautifully! Of course she needs to shelter her beautiful child from the harsh realities of the world, but also has innocent questions and comments have a tendency to push on all the open wounds. There’s absolutely no way that he’s meant to understand all of the adult realities that she does, and of course she protects him at all costs. You had some really beautiful lines in there, including the one about the familiarity of texting a lost lo...

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AnneMarie Miles
13:32 Oct 06, 2023

Thanks so much, Amanda! This was a piece that was really enjoyable and ruminating to write. Thanks for reading and leaving your thoughts!

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Amy Bepko
17:09 Sep 14, 2023

I really enjoyed this piece. Somehow you found a way to make the piece both whimsical for the child and heartbreaking for the mother. It felt like a look into the lives of this family and from the beginning to end I could see the story play out in my mind. Really well written.

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AnneMarie Miles
18:47 Sep 14, 2023

Thank you for your kind words! It was experimental for me to write leas and try to say more so it was hard to see if the reader would be able to get enough from it, so thank you for saying that. And for taking the time to read! Appreciate it :)

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Jenni Bradshaw
18:00 Sep 11, 2023

You had me at potion making! What a creative way of entertaining a first grader while also instilling the fun/love behind magic! I still remember taking ballet for fun as a child and my teacher would place a golden star on each of our heads and tell us to tip-toe out to our parents every time we got picked up. It was something so simple yet so magical that I still cherish that creative gesture to this day! I would've loved potion making - and goodness, I feel like kids need to learn the magic of nature now, more than ever! Your story playe...

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AnneMarie Miles
21:04 Sep 11, 2023

Hey Jenni thanks for your thorough feedback and investment in this piece. I agree, kiddos do need to experience the magic of nature. I got the potion making idea from a kit I used with my daughter. She really loved it. Wow, this is probably my favorite critique/suggestion, and I am kicking myself for naming the father! Anonymity would have been much more powerful here. I didn't think much of this when I wrote it, but it's surprisingly gotten some good feedback so I might submit elsewhere... if I do I am definitely making those edits! Thank...

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Nina H
17:46 Sep 11, 2023

A heartbreaking story, yet there’s faith in the mother that she will be strong and find the positives and the two will be ok. There’s hope in that hopping bunny.

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AnneMarie Miles
20:38 Sep 11, 2023

Hey Nina, thanks for reading! I definitely think a pinch of hope was exactly what I was going for here. Glad you picked up on that. Thanks for the comment, I appreciate your time!

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Rebecca Miles
21:37 Sep 10, 2023

Liking this pared back style my dear! I love ornate finery but the plot and the message is so strong here that the understated prose really helped focus on the central imagery of the potion and the heartache and hope it inspired. Subtle too: how the mother's story played second fiddle to the child's, although of course they were all part of the same song really. This is just so poignant and you have the talent to make it just enough at the close; a little bit of magic is what even we cynical adult readers want. If I could wave my magic wand ...

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AnneMarie Miles
03:22 Sep 11, 2023

Subtly was my goal this week!! I am honestly wondering what magic helped me pull this one off ✨ perhaps it's the "magic wand" I sent my daughter to school with to help her be brave 🪄 that and the fact that this was certainly inspired by her! I'm hoarding those gold stars and keeping them close so I can pull off a monster story as gracefully grim as yours!

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Sue Hunter
21:12 Sep 10, 2023

This was a lovely read, though bittersweet. I really tried to comb through your story multiple times, looking for mistakes or things I didn't like. I do this to refine my critiquing skills, but I couldn't really find anything. The sadness and tension were clear from the first couple of lines. Jayce's sunshiney attitude acted as a perfect foil for our mother character. You built your story perfectly; as a reader, I was intrigued by the premise and was hooked all the way to the end. Your story showed both the struggles of a single mother str...

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AnneMarie Miles
03:04 Sep 11, 2023

By golly, this just made my day! Thank you, Sue! It means so much to me that you invested so much of your time and thought into this piece. I really didn't think much of it when I was done. I just wanted to accomplish something short that had some meaning. It sounds like it worked! And I think you found my typo for me. Combed through this myself several times and could have sworn I wrote "is it done?" You're absolutely right about that sounding awkward. Thanks for being so thorough and detailed!

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Helen A Smith
12:57 Sep 10, 2023

Beautifully written and poignant. The sadness was left hanging in the air, just waiting to be fully revealed at the right moment. It was a moment worth waiting for.

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AnneMarie Miles
15:01 Sep 10, 2023

Thank you, Helen! That means a lot coming from you. :)

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Aeris Walker
17:42 Sep 09, 2023

Such a whimsical piece, with a little darkness at the edges. This was sweet and heartwarming, with the details of the parents' split masterfully woven in at just the right places. Well done :)

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AnneMarie Miles
18:29 Sep 09, 2023

Aeris! This means so much coming from your talent! It was definitely a skill-building exercise for me, dropping small but meaningful details. Thanks for taking the time to read it!

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Kevin Logue
16:17 Sep 09, 2023

Wow, how captivating. I was totally engaged, and rivetted by your prose, that the ending just appeared out of nowhere - I see that as a good thing. Beautiful melancholy displayed here along with both strength of being a parent and the resilience of children. Great story, brilliantly told. This has potential winner all over it. Good luck!

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AnneMarie Miles
17:01 Sep 09, 2023

Wow, Kevin, thank you for your kindness. I think you captured one of the major themes. Parenting through your own hardships can be so challenging. It makes the longing for childish magic that much stronger. I honestly didn't see this as a very strong piece when I published it so your comment shocks me. But it just goes to show we are our harshest critics, and to just share it anyways. Lol! The worst that can happen is an opportunity for growth. Thanks again for reading, I'll be coming around to your stories soon when I get home. :)

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Kevin Logue
18:30 Sep 09, 2023

Oh I understand that, outside perspective is sometimes just what's needed. The two stories I had shortlisted were two I was unsure of, guess we never know ha.

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Kay Smith
16:10 Sep 09, 2023

I really enjoyed reading this! You capture the fantastical mind and whimsical dreams and hopes of a child so brilliantly. But, sadly, as we know children tend to know more than we think they do. They are very perceptive I love his wish that his Mommy and Daddy would get back together! ;( And I'm glad that they were grateful that at least one of their potions worked! This is a bittersweet, sad story. It's beautiful. Great job!

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AnneMarie Miles
16:53 Sep 09, 2023

Hey Kay! Thanks for reading and commenting! Whimsical is very much what I envisioned throughout the potion -making. I'll make a point to come around to your story soon, as I'm out and about at the moment. Looking forward to it :)

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Marty B
04:03 Sep 09, 2023

Good story- I thought the interactions between the Mother and Jayce were spot on. The potion making sounds super fun, and obviously worked a little, with a cottontail coming by. That is how magic, works in my experience, you don't everything you want, just what is needed/ Thanks!

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AnneMarie Miles
14:11 Sep 09, 2023

Hey Marty, thanks for reading! I agree; we get what we need, and I suppose the magic of it is realizing that, usually in hindsight. The potion making was awesome, I highly recommend it!

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Mary Bendickson
19:53 Sep 08, 2023

Charming short story says so much. Brought back memories, too. Thanks for liking my 'Kneaded Touch'. If I forgot to send congrats on your shortlisted story please accept it now.

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AnneMarie Miles
20:22 Sep 08, 2023

Thank you kindly, Mary! Both for reading and commenting, and also the congratulations! You are a talented writer!

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Wally Schmidt
19:15 Sep 08, 2023

Anne Marie! So glad you're back story telling!!. Wondering where you'd gotten to and was hoping it was just a matter of summer activities keeping you busy. This story infused me with sadness, but I could also imagine that unique closeness that some single moms are able to forge with their kids after a breakdown in a marriage. I love how you have gone deep with the emotions that each of the mc's is experiencing and how the reader feels that melancholia too.

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AnneMarie Miles
20:25 Sep 08, 2023

Wally, hello again! I am happy to be back. Thought of this place often, but yes, I usually spend my springs writing poetry, and then summer I had lots of English classes to take as I think I'll actually go back and get that English degree I talked myself out of, ha ha! Thank you for reading this little dingy and for commenting. So looking forward to diving back into one of your masterpieces.

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AnneMarie Miles
20:25 Sep 08, 2023

Wally, hello again! I am happy to be back. Thought of this place often, but yes, I usually spend my springs writing poetry, and then summer I had lots of English classes to take as I think I'll actually go back and get that English degree I talked myself out of, ha ha! Thank you for reading this little dingy and for commenting. So looking forward to diving back into one of your masterpieces.

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Tom Skye
14:02 Sep 08, 2023

Really brilliant pacing in this one. The contrast between the lad's euphoria and the inner sadness of the mum, culminating with them both meeting in the same place, emotionally. The gradual reveal of the break up worked perfectly and it ends sweetly with some hope moving forward. Nice job tying the first day at school in with a new beginning for the mum as well. Great work

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AnneMarie Miles
23:18 Sep 08, 2023

Thanks, Tom! This was a bit of an experimental piece. Trying to practice lower word counts, say more with less. It sounds like it worked. Appreciate your time and comments!

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Michał Przywara
20:38 Sep 07, 2023

Short and (bitter) sweet. I think Jayce's last wish was quite predictable, especially when he asks for her hair, but like she says, "Those are the words I’ve known I would hear sooner or later, but the expectation of them does nothing for the pain they unload." We *know* it's coming, and that knowledge heightens our dread - but it's a pain she must go through, because it's a pain he must go through. How do you explain divorce to a young child? With difficulty, I imagine, and all the while you've got your own feelings to struggle with. That...

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AnneMarie Miles
23:30 Sep 08, 2023

This comment means a lot to me, Michal, as this was an experimental piece, trying to squeeze depth into a smaller space. From your extensive and thoughtful analysis it seems I may have succeeded. :) it may not be a winning piece, but it's a growth piece for me. Glad you picked up on the hopeful note of the bunny. Jayce said his wish wouldn't come true if he told his mom, but this one did. So, perhaps, maybe miracles happen. The potion making scavenger hunt is what inspired this whole piece. My daughter still hasn't told me what animal sh...

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Delbert Griffith
12:56 Sep 07, 2023

Another fine tale from AnneMarie! I loved this coming-of-age tale disguised as a mother's heartache. Wouldn't it be great if our kids could always retain that Jayce-like enthusiasm for magic and goodness and happiness? Although this tale is sad, it's also tinged with hope, rebirth, and growth. The only constant is change, but change is never constant. Parents know this, and we all commiserate with each other as our kids grow up. Jayce is at that golden age when they still believe in magic, when they still love their parents unreservedly. ...

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AnneMarie Miles
14:16 Sep 07, 2023

Hi Delbert, thanks for taking the time to read this little dingy and leave some really kind words. It means SO much to me. I wanted something short and sweet this week. Working on lowering my word count to build up to micro-fiction. Wasn't sure if this held up enough on its own, but it sounds like you got a lot from it. Im so grateful my daughter still has this love for potion-making and magic. She inspired this story, though thankfully, the heartache is fiction. And you are right, leaving it unresolved is realistic, and hopefully contrast...

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Chris Campbell
08:48 Sep 07, 2023

AnneMarie, A tale of new beginnings, overshadowed by the sadness of a love lost. Don't we all wish we could maintain that child's level of enthusiasm for life. I liked the potion-making scavenger hunt, so went and found some on Amazon. Nicely told.

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AnneMarie Miles
14:18 Sep 07, 2023

Hey Chris! Thanks so much for taking the time here and leaving a comment. Absolutely believe the world would be a better place with a little more childish enthusiasm from the big people. Enjoy that potion-making hunt! We had a lot of fun with it over here. :) Best, AnneMarie

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Lei King
21:00 Sep 06, 2023

Hey AnneMarie! been too long for comfort! This was such a sweet story but so disconsolate when the previous life has been divulged. I wish I had this relationship between my mother and I when I was younger, I feel like life would be so much easier. I'm glad to see you're back in the writing mojo! Your friend, Lei L.

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AnneMarie Miles
03:42 Sep 07, 2023

Hey Lei! It has been awhile, but I am happy to be writing again. Thanks so much for reading this little puffball of a story. I wanted something short and sweet this week, and my daughter happened to spark a little inspiration with our potion-making adventures! Hope you are reading something exciting this week and writing more, too!

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