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As soon as got to the car, he checked off Communicate, Listen, Compliment, and Make Her Feel Valued.

February 25



anky scanned his e-mails. Wilson was ready to close a deal on twenty hospital beds, Moscowitz wanted another estimate, this time without the IV poles, and then there was Lewis. Thank you for your visit. We appreciated hearing about the various options your company could offer our nursing home. I just wanted to let you know that we found a supplier whom we feel would be a better fit for our needs. All the best, Nate L.

Yanky narrowed his eyes as he mentally went through the list of competitors Lewis could be using. It wasn’t Med Supplies Unlimited — they didn’t have the special wheelchairs he needed. And Lewis was too cheap to go for Graceful Aging’s high-end products. Your Health, it was probably Fisher from Your Health who was undercutting him. He always swooped in just when Yanky was about to close a deal and tried to pluck the carcass from his mouth. He’d been working on Lewis for two months. He wasn’t going to let this happen. No one stole Yanky Kurland’s prospective clients.

He thought for a moment, trying to recall what products Lewis needed most, which prices he’d fussed about, what questions he’d asked. Then he sent a carefully worded e-mail addressing every one of the man’s concerns. He hit send and sat back with a smile. There, Fisher, I can play this game, too.

A quick glance at his watch. Five to five. Yanky worked hard, but he never left the office later than five; daf yomi was at six thirty and that was immutable. He sent two more e-mails, then switched off the computer, grabbed his coat, and left the small office.

As he slid the keys into the ignition of his car he debated which route to take home. Tried and true option: a left onto Maple and through back streets until he reached his neighborhood. Barring accidents or stormy weather, he’d be home in 27 minutes.

But Friedberg from shul kept telling him about this shortcut he’d discovered. He claimed if you took the highway to exit 37 and then circled back, you shaved at least five minutes off the ride.

Yanky liked being able to drive without having to think, his body getting him home while he reviewed the day and figured out how to snag new deals. But it would nice to come home five minutes early to Shaindy’s steaming soup. There’d be roast chicken and potatoes, or meatloaf, or stir-fry, or maybe even pepper steak, his favorite. The house would smell like pine — Shaindy cleaned the furniture on Wednesday — and he’d get an update on who she invited for Shabbos.

At the end of the street he paused. Then he swung right onto the highway. He squinted at the signs in the gathering gloom of dusk. There it was — exit 37. He turned off the highway and was soon pulling up to his sprawling brick home. It was only 5:21. He’d have to thank Friedberg at Maariv; this was a great shortcut. He parked in the garage and took the stairs leading up to the back entrance two at a time. He paused for a moment outside the door, inhaling the aroma of split pea soup. He could hear Shaindy chattering on the phone — she must be dealing with the endless arrangements for Rena’s wedding.

“It’s such an intense time, Malkie,” he heard her say. “I find myself getting so emotional.” A pause. “Well, for sure it’s partly because my baby is getting married. But it’s more. I’m finally going to take that leap.” Shaindy’s normally chipper voice sounded strained.

“You’re the only one I ever discussed this with. And I know you think I’ll never do it. But just you wait and see.” Yanky leaned closer to catch her next words.

“The day after that last sheva brachos I’ll ask Yanky for a get. I’ve made it work all these years, I did it for the kids. Well, the kids will all be married and settled once we marry Rena off. I can finally leave this miserable marriage.” A long pause.

“I’ve thought about it, Malkie.” A brittle laugh. “I’ve had 32 years to think about it. I’d rather be alone than continue this way. He’s overbearing. Insensitive. It’s not— oh, gosh, Malkie, it’s 5:27. He’ll be home any second. Talk to you later. Thanks for listening, you’re the best.”

The metallic click of the cordless being slid back into the base.

Yanky slid down the stairs, sagged against the wall of the garage. His breathing came rapidly, and he could feel his heartbeat in his ears. Shaindy, his cheerful, pleasant, nondemanding wife, wanted to leave him.

How could she betray him like this? He was such a good husband, had provided for her and the kids all these years, paid full tuition, gotten them this beautiful house, given them summers in the bungalow colony and even a few winter vacations in Florida. He financed Shaindy’s custom sheitels and balabatish jewelry and always gave generously to whatever fundraiser she was chairing. He had taken the two boys to shul and Avos U’banim — whenever they were willing to go with him, that was — and sent each of his four daughters to seminary in Israel. Did she have any idea, any idea at all, how hard that had been? How many deals he’d needed to close to give her this dream life? And now this?! How dare she!

Horror and bewilderment morphed into anger, and the indignation pounded through his veins. He twisted the doorknob, about to charge into the kitchen to set her straight, when his cell phone buzzed. He looked down at the screen. Lewis, Nate. He could not miss this call. He took a deep breath and pressed the receive button.

Ten minutes later, he had an appointment with Lewis set up for Monday — and he was considerably calmer. He’d knock Fisher out of the way. That concern was taken care of. And now he wondered about this next worry. Perhaps he shouldn’t say anything to Shaindy about the conversation he’d overheard just yet. He’d have to find the right setting in which to bring it up. Every good businessman knows that timing is everything.

He walked in, called out a hello, and tossed his briefcase into the front closet. The kitchen table was beautifully set, as it was every night. Nice flatware, carefully folded napkins. “An elegant table makes everything taste better,” Yanky often said. And Shaindy honored that belief. His bowl of split pea soup was slid in front him a moment after he sat down. Then Shaindy ladled out a bowl for herself and sat opposite him.

“So, how was your day?” she said with a smile.

“Fine, it was fine,” he responded, looking at her sharply, studying her face for some glimmer of the resentment and disgust that had dripped from her words just a few minutes ago. He couldn’t find any.

“I met with the caterer this morning,” she told him, “and he said that everyone has carving stations at the smorg. It will cost a little extra — we can either pay per person or he’ll give it to us for a flat rate — but he says it will make the whole affair classier.”

“Don’t listen to those caterers,” Yanky snorted, “they just want our money. We don’t need no carving station. We didn’t have it by any of the other kids, and those weddings were plenty classy.”

Shaindy opened her mouth and started to say something, then shut down. “I hear you,” she said quietly. “I’ll tell him we don’t want it.” He was glad she agreed with him but wished she looked more certain about it.

She cleared the soup bowls and served the main course — it was pepper steak, but he could barely enjoy it — and moved on to discussing flights for the marrieds to come in for the wedding (Yanky insisted they fly out on Tuesday even if they’d miss the last sheva brachos because that’s when the miles flights were available), and whether they should ask Hershkowitz across the street to host one of the kids in his basement, or if they should put up Shaindy’s mother there. (Yanky told Shaindy to put her mother up there. He did not want her in the same house as him. And no, it wouldn’t be too hard for her to walk. They were across the street for goodness’ sake, not across town.)

Yanky kept looking for an opening, a weak spot in the conversation where he could bring up he’d just heard, but no pause seemed to invite “Why are you going to leave me once Rena gets married?” And then it was six o’clock and time for daf yomi and Maariv.

“You barely ate,” Shaindy said, clearing off his heaping plate.

“Wasn’t so hungry,” he responded, trying to ignore on the leaden feeling in his stomach. “Maybe I’ll have a snack later.”

They both knew those were his code words when he wanted her to bake something fresh and fragrant. Shaindy gave a tiny sigh, and walked toward the cabinet where she kept her baking supplies. Yanky walked out into the night.

He was finishing a distracted Maariv when he noticed David Berson two rows ahead. Wasn’t David a shrink? Even better, he realized as he searched his mind, someone had told him that David did marital therapy and was tops in his field. When David started walking toward the exit, Yanky rushed toward the heavy oak door.

“Hey, David, how are you?”

“Baruch Hashem, and yourself?”

“Good, everything’s good,” he waited a moment. “So, how’s business?” he asked in what he hoped was a tone of nonchalance.

“Busy, very busy.”

“Lots of bad marriages out there, huh?” Yanky forced a laugh.

“Well, I wouldn’t necessarily call all of them bad, although some of them definitely are,” David said thoughtfully. “I think of them as troubled.”

“So what do you do? How do you make a troubled marriage good?”

David gave him a funny look. “Look, there are no shortcuts. It’s lots of work.”

Was this all the man would leave him with? Yanky felt desperate. “What kind of work?”

“Well, we work on communication, on listening, really listening, to each other. On giving unconditionally and offering compliments. Honestly, a lot of it boils down to good middos. A woman wants to feel valued and appreciated. A man wants to feel respected. When that’s in place, the rest usually works out.”

He made it sound so simple. Yanky had to write this down. He was ready to bolt to the refuge of his car when he realized that David was still looking at him curiously. “Sounds like quite a job,” he said with a strained smile. “I’m sure you’re doing wonderful work.” And with that, he hurried away.

As soon as he got to his car, he reached for his laptop and opened an Excel Chart that he hastily labeled “Make Shaindy Happy.” He created five categories:

  • Communicate
  • Listen
  • Compliment
  • Give Unconditionally
  • Make Her Feel Valued

He slotted each item into a vertical column and then slid the dates into the horizontal columns. How long did he have? When was Rena’s wedding? He consulted his phone. Right after Pesach, April 15th. And today was February 25th. He had exactly seven weeks to win over his wife. He’d get the deal from Lewis and he’d get back his wife.

Yanky Kurland never lost.


February 26

As soon as he got back from Shacharis the next day, Yanky glanced at the sheet. Best to do something in the morning, so he wouldn’t have too much to do at night. What was the first thing? Oh, right, communicate. “What are your plans for today?” he asked Shaindy as he put coffee beans in the coffeemaker.

She looked up, startled. “Why? Do you want something?”

“No, not at all,” he stammered. “Just wanted to hear what’s going on.”

So she told him about the gown-fitting appointment, and the invitations that still needed to be addressed and stamped, and how she was hoping Rena’s friends would help her but they were all so busy with work and dating they couldn’t be relied upon, and she didn’t want to ask the neighbors because their kids were too young and would probably put on the stamps backwards and how on earth would that look?

By the time he finished his coffee and babka, Shaindy had been talking for eight minutes straight. He’d never heard that much from her in the morning. It was as though someone had uncorked a wine bottle and the ruby liquid was pouring out. He was afraid it would drown him. So many petty details, who really cared? But he kept smiling and nodding, so he could check off the box.

“Great babka,” he said as he finally stood up and escaped. “You’re an amazing baker.” Shaindy flushed with pleasure, and Yanky was surprised at how just six words could make his wife so happy. He could swing this for the next seven weeks.

As soon as got to the car, he checked off Communicate, Listen, Compliment, and Make Her Feel Valued. He wasn’t sure if he could give himself double credit for the same sentence, but then decided since this was his project, he could set the rules.

All he had left for today was Giving Unconditionally. He frowned slightly when he saw that. Didn’t he give to her all day at the office? Wasn’t every phone call and e-mail and exhausting half hour being nice to a nasty client a form of giving? He gave to her at work, she gave to him at home — it was fair and square. Why didn’t she see things that way?

He sighed, and pulled out of the garage. She clearly didn’t see things like that, so he’d have to find another way to give to her. But how? What did Shaindy want?

He mulled over this as he swung onto the highway — he used the shortcut every day now. If she wanted a particular item, she could just buy it. He gave her plenty of cash. But maybe she wanted something from him personally.

He started reviewing all he knew about gifts. You give your kallah flowers and a diamond, you give your wife jewelry for her birthday, a fancy night out for an anniversary, and chocolates and balloons for a baby. What on earth do you give a wife to prove to her you’re not an ogre?

He was nearing the office, and suddenly noticed a novelty store on the corner a block from his office. Normally he wouldn’t have passed it, but his new route took him through the shopping district that ran parallel to his building. He’d stop by there after work, he promised himself.

But it was a grueling day, and by the time Yanky stumbled out of the office at 5:01, all he wanted was a hot supper and a good night’s sleep. He was not going to pick up some tchotchke for Shaindy. He was going home. Four checks out of five was good enough.


March 3

Yanky had hoped to take care of his Make Shaindy Happy duties at breakfast yet again, but that didn’t work since Shaindy was gone by the time he came home. There was a slab of fresh brownies sitting on the table, next to a note: Had an early dentist appointment. If you want anything specific for supper, let me know.

He grabbed a pen and scrawled sesame chicken.

He was making his coffee when he suddenly envisioned David Berson standing beside him. He took the steaming brew to the table, grabbed a fresh paper and wrote: Hi, Shaindy. Hope things went OK at dentist. Thanks for the supper offer. I’d love your sesame chicken. Have a great day, Yanky. He tried not to wince as he slid the note under the napkin holder. He was too old for this newlywed nonsense. But hey, at least he could get one check in this morning. What category did this go into? he wondered. Must be a Communicate check.

He got a Listen check at supper. That was the easy. Shaindy had a lot to share about her preparation for the upcoming simchah, particularly since Rena was in school in New York and would arrive home just before the wedding. He let the words wash over him as she chatted about linen, and seating plans, and Shabbos sheva brachos.

He told Shaindy how much he liked the new snood she was wearing. Check. And he thanked her for addressing all the envelopes. Make Her Feel Valued. Check. And then he took out the garbage. He was tempted to check the Unconditional Giving column upon return but was honest enough to admit that the sole chore he did in the house probably didn’t feel like unconditional giving to his wife.


March 16

Yanky had fallen into a routine pretty quickly.

He made sure to get at least one check each morning. He’d compliment Shaindy on whatever she’d baked, or on the lunch she’d packed, or even on how clean the kitchen was (and now that he started looking, he realized the house was awfully clean, something he really appreciated — even if some of that had to do with Trisha, not Shaindy). Or he’d let her ramble on about her upcoming day. It was interesting to hear what she had planned for the day, and her chatter had glints of droll humor that made him chuckle. He’d thank her for running the errands, or let her know how well she cooked or cleaned. Some mornings, he managed all three, and got three of his checks in before he even got out the door.

On one such day he left the house whistling, feeling very accomplished. All that was left was supper and then he’d Communicate. (He’d let Unconditional Giving slip; it seemed too difficult.)

Supper was spinach lasagna. He liked lasagna. He didn’t like spinach. And Shaindy knew that.

“What’s with the spinach?” he said. He had aimed for a jocular tone, but it came out gruff.

“Spinach is good for you,” Shaindy said. “I try to make food you like, but I also want you to be healthy. This achieves both.”

“Once you put in the spinach, I don’t like it anymore.”

“I hear,” she said, in a way that infuriated him.

“Do you really? Because you keep doing it.”

Shaindy put down her drinking glass. “And I keep telling you how much I want a carving station at the wedding, and you keep ignoring me.”

“What on earth?!” he sputtered. “You never, not once, said you want the carving station.” He banged the table for emphasis and the bits of spinach flew upward. “You keep talking about it. I’ve heard what the caterer said about it, what your aerobics instructor said about it, what Malkie and Dina and the future mechuteneste have to say about it. But you never, ever, said, ‘Yanky, I really want a carving station.’ ”

“And what would have happened if I had said that?” Her voice was so low he had to lean forward to hear her.

The old Yanky would have blustered or blamed. But for the past 19 days, he’d heard her discuss the mechutanim and the gifts, the marrieds and the new couple. She was an astute woman, he’d come to realize. He sat very still. “I don’t know,” he finally said in small voice.

“Well, I do.” Her voice was a sharp blade. “You would have told me what you’ve been saying all along. That it’s a ridiculous waste of money and no one will remember it and there are a million better ways to spend your money.”

“And then what? What if I had said that after you were straight with me?” Suddenly, it was terribly important to him to figure out this puzzle, to understand the slight, blonde woman who had sat across him at the supper table for the past 32 years. Why was she afraid to be honest with her own husband? What was it about her, or him, or both of them, that had created this wall only she seemed to see?

“Well…” Shaindy flushed as she tried to articulate her feelings. “It would have felt much worse if you had told me that something that was important to me meant nothing to you. It’s easier if you just bash the caterer.”

Yanky took a long, deep breath. “So you mean it’s better not to be direct because then there’s less of a chance that I’ll… that I’ll hurt you?”

“Uh, I guess so. You’re always… you’re so sure of yourself, so sure there’s only one right way. And sometimes…” She stared at the spinach lasagna, at the cheese that was congealing on her plate.

“Sometimes what?” Yanky asked.

“Nothing,” she said, with an emphatic shake of her head. “How about some salad? I made your favorite dressing.”

As soon as supper was over, Shaindy put on her coat and strode to the door. He knew where she was headed.

Ten minutes from their home was a sprawling park. It had a rippling lake, and a wooden bridge that arched over the cobalt water. Shaindy loved that bridge. When the going got rough, when her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, when her favorite neighbor moved to Texas, when Rena had been rejected from the seminary she’d set her heart on, Shaindy had headed out and sat on the bridge, gazing at the water until she felt ready to face her life again.

She was no doubt going there now, although in the dark, all she’d see was the sliver of moon reflected off black velvet water. Yanky let her go, and then headed out to daf yomi.

Hours later, when Yanky was shutting down his computer, his hand hovered over his “Make Shaindy Happy” Excel sheet. He looked at the Listen column, at the many checks, and he flushed.


March 17

The next day Yanky finally stopped off at the novelty store on the way home. It was filled with delicate china figurines and crystal bowls and hand-painted wooden clocks that cost more than a whole tree. He moved clumsily through the aisles, trying not to destroy anything. (“You break it, you pay for it,” screamed a sign at the entrance.)

Finally a saleswoman approached. “So, who’s going to be the lucky recipient of a gift today?” she simpered. “Need help finding that perfect present?”

He wanted to glare at her and tell her he could manage just fine on his own — but he couldn’t manage. Shaindy was the one who always bought whatever gifts they needed to give. She’d even drop gentle hints before her birthday so all he had to do was go to the store she’d mentioned, pick up what she was hankering for, swipe his card, and have it gift-wrapped. Being on uncertain ground left him feeling edgy.

“I want something for my wife,” he told the saleswoman.

“Birthday? Anniversary?”

“Um, it’s, uh, it’s a just-because gift.”

“What a lucky lady,” the saleslady crooned.

A miserable combination of nausea and guilt and anger was working its way up his throat. Yanky loosened his tie and took a deep breath.

“So what does she like? Could she use something for the kitchen? A painting for the wall? Something more exotic?”

What did Shaindy like? They had lived in the same house for over three decades. He must know something about her taste. He mentally walked through his home, trying to discern her style from the tasteful way she’d decorated it.

“Well, she’s very classy. Everything is really pretty, but not in an annoying, fancy way. It’s just, like, nice, y’know?”

“Understated elegance,” she said.

“Yeah, that’s it. And she likes the color green. At least I think she does. It’s all over the house. Oh, and she has this little glass cabinet with porcelain thimbles. Kind of weird, I know, but she got the collection from her grandmother, so it’s got sentimental value.”

“How lovely! We’ve got some beautiful Caverswall thimbles. Let me show you our selection.”

He followed her to the wall on the far left. There was a set of shelves divided into tiny boxes. Every one held a thimble. He felt dizzy. Then his eyes fell upon a set of thimbles. Each one was painted in a pastel shade and sported birds in flight. There was a robin on a soft blue background, a pair of eagles soaring on a thimble of pale gold, a parrot against soft mauve. As soon as he saw them, he knew, in that place in his gut that always led him to good deals, Shaindy would love them.

“How much are those?” he asked.

“Those are original, hand-painted. It’s $160 for the set of five.”

A hundred sixty dollars? For five thimbles?! That was highway robbery. He wasn’t going to fall for that. No one overcharged Yanky Kurland. He was about to tell the saleslady exactly what he thought of her prices. But then he thought of his Excel chart and the empty Unconditional Giving column. He took a deep breath.

“No problem,” he said. “Please wrap it nicely.”

The detour at the store threw him off schedule. He arrived home at 5:53. Shaindy was peering through the curtains in the living room when he arrived, and she met him at the door. “Is everything okay? I was getting worried.”

He used to hate when she hovered like that, but now he felt warmed by her concern. “Everything is fine,” Yanky reassured her. “I just had to pick something up. It’s for you,” he added in a rush, “I thought you might like it. I mean, I hope you will.” He handed her the slim silver package with a flourish.

Shaindy carefully removed the ribbon and started unwrapping the gift, looking dazed. “Yanky, my birthday is in May, not March. And Pesach is not for another two weeks.”

“I know, I know. This is just for… just because, I, uh, wanted to tell you how much I appreciate you.”

She looked straight at him when he said that. “Yanky,” she finally said, and her voice was laced with pain, “I never thought I’d hear you say that.”

He gazed down then, unable to look at all the things her face was telling him.

He heard her pull off the last bit of paper and then lift the lid. A gasp.


He looked up.

She was crying. “This means more to me than you’ll ever know,” she finally said.

That evening he was finally able to give himself five checks. And he felt like he’d gotten a whole lot more.


March 22

It had been a long afternoon. Shaindy and Trisha had finished cleaning the bedrooms last week, but Yanky had asked Shaindy not to go through his stuff. He hated when other people sorted through his papers; he could never find anything afterward. She had pointed out that if he didn’t want her to do it, he’d have to do it himself. He had pushed it off until Sunday, but now he’d run out of excuses.

He’d just spent the past two hours sorting through a year’s worth of paid bills, canceled checks, tzedakah receipts, and warranties for items he had no recollection purchasing. The drawer was finally neat. He put his laptop on top of the dresser, and went downstairs to get a snack.

Ten minutes later, he climbed back upstairs to put in his checks for the day. He stopped short. Shaindy was peering at his laptop. Which he’d left open to his chart. He wanted to bolt. To grab the laptop and fly down the stairs and out of the house.

Shaindy looked up. Her face was white.

“Make Shaindy Happy? Make Shaindy Happy?! Is that what I am? Your latest project? An Excel chart you can check off each evening feeling smug and proud of yourself?” Her voice shook with fury and humiliation and disdain. “I thought… I thought you were actually changing. That maybe, just maybe, there was more to the man I married 32 years ago. That maybe this relationship had hope. Boy, was I a fool!”

“Shaindy, you’re not… it’s not…it’s not what you think,” he said.

“It’s not?! So what on earth is this chart all about? Isn’t this just another way to manipulate me? A more sophisticated way to keep me dancing to your tune?”

Her nostrils flared, and she blinked rapidly. He wanted to explain, to staunch the fury and prevent the edifice he’d tried so hard to build from tumbling to the ground. But his tongue felt heavy in his mouth.

Shaindy swept past him, rushed down the stairs. He heard her open the coat closet, grab her keys. Then the slam of the back door. She was gone.

He had lost her now. He was going to lose her forever. Yanky Kurland was losing.

He looked down at his laptop, at the neat columns and careful checks. He banged the screen shut. She was right. She wasn’t an Excel chart. She was his wife. The woman who had stood by his side from the moment he’d slipped that wedding band on her finger. The woman who had raised their children, nearly alone, without ever complaining. She was kind and patient and nurturing and flexible. She was in pain.

And it was all his fault.

The realization curdled in his stomach. He wanted to redo the past few minutes. Redo the past few decades. Shaindy deserved better.

He rushed down the stairs, headed straight for his car. There was another shortcut Friedberg had showed him just last week. It shaved two minutes off the drive to the park. He pressed hard on the gas, and pulled up to the lake from the other side. He sprinted toward the bridge — but then hung back when he saw Shaindy’s slight figure leaning on the railing.

He stepped behind a tree, and watched her. She gazed at the water, her face contorted with sadness. His chest felt tight. He waited a minute, five minutes. Finally, he stepped out from behind the tree and approached.

Her eyes narrowed when she saw him. “Why are you here?” she said. “Can’t you just leave me alone?”

“Shaindy, I wanted to explain. Can you give me two minutes?”

She nodded, a curt, quick gesture.

He took a deep breath, then looked her in the eye. And he told her everything. The shortcut, the overheard conversation, his frantic desperation, the discussion with Berson, the chart he’d created. “I didn’t really know how to be a good husband. I was just trying to make it work, to make sure I’d do a few things right every day.”

He fell silent. The water lapped against the wood, the setting sun cast a crimson glow on the trees. Shaindy’s eyes were focused on the distant horizon.

“Shaindy,” he said, “you’ve made me so happy. I want you to be happy too. I just—” His voice broke. And suddenly Yanky Kurland couldn’t talk. Shaindy turned to stare at him.

The wind whistled in the trees. He swallowed hard, brushed his sleeve against his eyes. “Shaindy, can you give me another chance?”

She was silent for a while. “Yes,” she finally said, “I can. Maybe we really can make it work. Although I’d like to tweak that Excel chart of yours.”

Laughter welled up inside him, then burst out of his throat. “Sure,” he said, “you can add any category you want. You can even control the checks.”

She broke into a smile.

And above her head, he thought he saw a pair of eagles in flight on a background of pale gold.


(Originally featured in Calligraphy, Pesach 5775)

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