Category Archives: Books and Short Stories

Fiacre’s Fork

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We visited the garden last week to look again at the plot and think about what would have to be done to get it ready for planting. Margie said we needed a pitchfork. Then we got to talking about the patron saint of gardeners, St. Fiacre. He’s also the patron saint of taxi drivers from an odd twist of fate having to do with where taxis used to come from in Paris, near the Church of St. Fiacre. Fiacre was born in Ireland in the 9th century, and his brother and he both became saints. So we began joking about St. Fiacre, as if he might be listening.

Jokingly about divine intervention we hit a few thrifts but didn’t see one pitchfork, although I did see an alpine ice axe. As we left I noticed a man buying it. No serious mountaineer would trust his life to a used ice axe; that I am certain of, as I am also certain the man was therefore no serious mountaineer. That made me wonder what he was going to do with it. Maybe he had a garden and planned to use the cutting end to hoe at the earth? Was he too seeking a pitchfork?

We checked out two stores where they sold new pitchforks. The first was $25, but M thought it was very heavy. I held it in my hands and had a look at it. On the fork part was stamped the word ‘Austria’. The handle was oak, and very thick. It was heavy duty, for sure. Next door a garden shop had one for $60. The handle was oak, but stained. I looked at the fork and there was the word ‘Austria’ stamped into the steel. This is the same tool with some more varnish, I said, hanging it back on the wall. They’re both too heavy, Margie said. I want one that’s lighter, the sort I remember from long ago. We came home with a bag of seed potatoes and a garden gnome. Later, Margie went to another garden supplier that had another heavy pitchfork for $100.

She went off to sing with friends and I went out to do errands. I decided to go down to the big thrift shop that’s always open. I hadn’t been there in a week due to the snow we had here, so it was time for a look see anyhow. I walked down to the back and saw a large cardboard barrel in which there were some shovels. Then I saw a cultivator. Thinking that might do for turning up dirt I lifted it out of the barrel, and saw that it was $5. Not bad, I had one useful gardening tool. There were several shovels too, nice ones, but we didn’t need any, so I resisted purchasing a cheap shovel.

Then I had one last look, and saw a red D handle of something that I assumed was probably an edger. I grabbed that and lifted it up when to my delight I recognized the prongs of a pitchfork, just like the one that stood in the corner of my parents’ garage 50 years ago. True Temper was stamped on the shaft, which was oak, but much thinner than those we’d already seen and rejected. The fork itself was lighter, too, with tines chamfered to reduce weight and make it easier to plunge into soil. The whole thing was half the weight of the modern ones we’d seen. It was $6. I decided to look where the others had been stamped, and there I saw the word ‘Eire’. Ireland, birthplace of St. Fiacre. In honour of our good fortune we named the new gnome Fiacre.

Bienstock, Einstein & Fiacre

Bienstock, Einstein & Fiacre

By the way, it’s not really a pitchfork, it’s a garden fork. The devil carries a pitchfork. It’s probably stamped ‘Austria’.

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Irish potato fork

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Detective Story

True detective brings you a tale of mistaken identity…

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The Community Garden Plot

We live in a town house with a tiny yard, if you can call it a yard, with a grand total of twelve square feet of garden, in which we have three hosta plants. Other gardening happens in a few pots of herbs and annuals that Margie takes care of every summer. Seeing as how Margie is thinking ahead to the day when she’ll have more time for gardening, in other words – the day she retires from her job – she’s been thinking about getting a plot at a community garden. Terry has had one of these for five years, and every summer we go over a few times to have a look and a picnic on occasion. It’s close by, a five minute drive at most, and is one of hundreds of plots that form a large farm like garden nestled in a lovely vale through which the creek that flows out of our lake here runs on its way to the ocean.

Thinking it would be a good idea to get her name on the waiting list, which she knew to be long enough that it usually took some years to get a plot, Margie called them two years ago and put her name down. She expected it might be up to five years before a plot came up, so she was surprised when a friend told her that they got a plot not long after they signed up. Then several days ago she got a call that there were two plots available. She contacted the man who takes care of new members, and arranged to go select a plot after work. He told her his address and added that he lived across from the gardens.

I picked Margie up at 3 pm and we set off for the gardens. When we got to the corner of the street where we always turned to visit Terry’s plot, Margie said this wasn’t the name of the street on which the man lived. Thinking it must be the next street over we drove down to the parking lot and took out our map, hoping to find said street close by. The name of the street was familiar but we couldn’t remember where it was exactly. Then we saw that it was not close by at all. Yet the man had said he lived across from the gardens, hadn’t he? Yes, he said that, Margie reiterated. Off we went up the main road about a half mile to the street. We were looking at numbers now, watching for his house when we noticed that on the right side of this street there was what looked to be a community garden, judging by a multitude of small plots.

Thinking this was a satellite segment of the gardens Terry’s plot belonged to, we parked and went to the door. We were expected, and the man got his coat on as we made small talk. Margie said that she had no idea this section of the garden existed, recounting how we thought the plot was to have been back at the site where we’d just been. He looked at us quizzically and informed us they were unrelated, distinct organizations. I looked at Margie, who looked at me, and we both laughed, but not too loud. Her name had been on the wrong list for two years. That explained how it was the person she knew had got a plot at the other garden before Margie, but now it was too late to do anything about that.

We inspected the two plots and selected one further from the road. It had a water spigot close by, and the plot gets full sun all day long in summer, good for a vegetable garden. Back at the house Margie duly signed forms, and then it was time to pay. The cost turned out to be less than one third of the other, and the plot to be only half as large; both facts to our advantage. Terry’s plot, at 1200 square feet, has always been too large to fully utilize, and this one will be more than enough at 500. The setting is not quite as idyllic as expected, but the purpose is more about growing vegetables, less about admiring scenery.

There is a compost bin and a worn out storage box on site. Vestiges of Swiss chard are here and there, waiting to be pulled out come spring, along with a variety of other green things left over from last summer. On the parking lot is a large pile of leaves left by the city for use as mulch and future compost. Off to one side are several small sheds, inside of which are lawnmowers and various tools. Beside one shed a number of wheelbarrows are stacked up and wrapped in a chain. The chain has no lock, but serves to deter casual theft of wheelbarrows by pranksters. The entire hillside is deserted now in winter, a patchwork of rectangles covered with dirt, tarps, box frames and dead plants.

Membership in the garden cost $10, and is for life. This entitles members to discounts at local garden supply houses. In a few months we will be selecting seeds and preparing the ground. Margie has already declared her intention to have peas, for which I will be required to build a trellis or two. However, we will not be able to transplant any of the grape vines that Terry has. He transferred his plot to a friend, since he will no longer be using it. We gave him some grape plants a few years ago, and they are just now beginning to spread and establish themselves. Perhaps cuttings from those will root and we will have our own grapevines one day. The good thing is the garden is no further from home than the one we were expecting, so we can drop in and give the plants water in a matter of minutes. Amazingly, we were informed that this garden hasn’t got a deer problem. Like us, the deer had no idea there was a garden here, which is why they all go to the other community garden, where for two years Margie mistakenly thought her name was on the waiting list.

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Ice

Today’s post is a short story by Margaret Reilly, who still misses the rink…

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ICE

Margaret E. Reilly

The blue-gray light of a winter afternoon came in through the windows that lined one wall of the 4th grade classroom: windows that started waist high and went up to the ceiling in rectangular panes; windows for displaying the children’s art on; windows to gaze out of with endless longing. Martha looked out at the snow and then at the clock at the front of the room, up high beside the poster of John XXIII. She read the words beside John Kennedy’s portrait again, for the thousandth time, “Ask not what your school can do for you, but what you can do for your school.” Ten minutes to go. Three-thirty. Three-thirty-one. She watched the seconds tick by and filled in the blanks in a grammar sheet handed out by the teacher.

The windows were hung with Valentine hearts and cupids made in last Friday’s art period. Art was not treated as a subject like all the others. It was a reward given grudgingly and sporadically. Martha loved art class and would be filled with a hopeless rage when it was swept aside for extra math or some other more “important” subject. Father O’Whalen came in one Friday afternoon when they were painting life-size figures on huge sheets of craft paper, almost the best art project they’d ever done. The children had to stand up beside their desks, abandon their paints, and say, “Good afternoon, Father.” They had to pretend to be glad to see him when they were all thinking, “How could he come now when we’re having so much fun? Why didn’t he come during math class?” Father O’Whalen had a poor sense of timing. He didn’t understand children. When Martha heard the scriptural text “Suffer the little children to come unto me,” she knew it must refer to Father O’Whalen.

Finally the bell rang. Miss Beamish told them to put away their books and get their homework ready. Martha thought this was completely unfair. Once the bell rang she thought they should be dressed and ready to fly out the door. Now the torture really began. They went one row at a time to put on their coats and boots, with the teacher choosing the quietest row to go first. Martha sat so still she barely breathed. Malcolm Edwards, the worst boy in the class, sat at the end of her row. Every day he would fidget and drop things or start some kind of trouble and hers would be the last row to get dressed and leave. It wasn’t fair. How could Miss Beamish judge the whole row by the behaviour of the worst boy in the class? If a kid made up rules like that she wouldn’t have any friends to play with, but adults got away with this stuff all the time.

Martha’s skates were hanging on the peg underneath her coat. She hung them over her shoulder by the laces and hurried out with her book bag tucked under her arm and her coat half done, up. She headed for the skating rink in the park beside the public library. The shadows on the snow had already turned from blue to deep grey and it would soon be too dark for her to be out alone. She put on her skates in the hut and hid her book bag under the seat. Sometimes the big girls would come along and throw her bag in a snowbank, scattering her books and papers all over the field beside the rink. They only did this if they were bored, when there were no boys around to flirt with. It wasn’t anything personal.

Martha glided onto the ice and started her methodical circling. A light snow fell and gathered on her white toque and green plaid coat. She kept her hands in her pockets as she skated round and round, picking up speed on the straight stretches and losing it on each corner. A few boys played hockey, shooting the puck from one end to the other and calling out in the still coldness, but they didn’t interfere with Martha’s steady rounds. With each turn her mind became freer, nothing existed but the circle of ice in front of her and her gliding skates. Her thoughts grew still and came to a stop until there was no Martha – only a sensation of movement and cold and the grey-white ice. This is what Martha came for, although she never could have put it into words. If asked, she would have said, “I skate because it’s fun.” This freedom from self-consciousness was too important to talk about with just anyone. It was pleasurable enough to be a sin. If it was a sin she didn’t want to hear about it. Martha called this secret state the “funny feeling”. She wished she had a best friend to discuss this with, someone she could really trust, someone who wouldn’t laugh or talk behind her back. When spring came and the ice melted Martha could get this feeling on the swings at the park, but it wasn’t as good as skating because swinging made her dizzy after a few minutes. Skating was something Martha could do endlessly, tirelessly.

The street lights came on, Martha’s signal that she had to head for home. The sidewalks were covered with snow so she walked the four blocks on the tops of the snow banks, falling through now and then and filling her boots with crusty snow. From the porch she could smell supper cooking. One of her older sisters, likely Rose, would be getting supper ready since their mother wouldn’t be home from work until at least five-thirty. Every room in the house was lit up. Martha slowly hung her coat on the hall tree and stowed her boots in the cupboard. She savoured the last few moments of anonymity before becoming Martha again: cheerful Martha; good-natured Martha; bookish Martha. She went into the kitchen where Rose was standing at the sink, peeling potatoes.

“Could you grab that pot for me, Martha?” No one ever said hello or good-bye in her family. One just came in and rejoined life in progress.

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The Hat Trick

I published this one back in 2012 but then removed it when I submitted it to a short story contest. Needless to say I should have won but didn’t, so here it is again, in the spirit of a real Quebec winter.

Proulx at the bus stop

Proulx at the bus stop

 

Saturday afternoon Mr. Proulx took up his usual spot at the outdoor rink to watch his local church team, St. Joseph’s play their archrivals, St. Patrick’s Irish. By the time he arrived the Pats were up a goal. The wind was blowing so hard towards the net of the Joes that they were having a difficult time trying to bring the puck to the Pats zone. The Pats on the other hand, with the wind at their backs, flew down the ice at the hapless Joes. No sooner had Proulx arrived when the Pats scored again.

“Come on boys, let’s get one,” shouted Proulx.

He gesticulated towards the Irish net as if they didn’t know where it was. He pulled out a flask and took a long swig. A few of the players looked over and laughed. It was a familiar routine; Proulx shouting encouragement, and getting tipsy. Sometimes when Proulx leaned over to thump on the boards his fedora would fall on the ice. The first player to go by would flip it up and over the boards with his stick, barely missing a stride. The deftness with which one could flip a hat or a lump of hard snow off the rink was a matter of common pride.

At the end of the first half the score was 2-0 for the Irish. The referee blew his whistle and the players scrambled half frozen from their boxes, heading for the warmth of the shack. Proulx thumped their backs as they went in and again as they came out for the next period, reminding them that the game was not over yet.

With the wind now at their backs the Joes came on with fury, soon tying the score. Then the wind moved, and both teams rushed from end to end with equal speed, passion and precision. But there were no more goals, and with only two minutes left Proulx cheered and pounded vigorously on the boards, calling for his boys to score the winner. It was then that his hat fell off.

A gust of wind blew Proulx’s black fedora into centre ice right in the path of one of the Irish players. He slashed the hat on his backhand sending it sailing out of the rink. Like a kite it soared into the air, where the blustering wind carried it far away across a snowy field.

Swiveling his head to watch the hat, while his body was halfway through a quick turn in the opposite direction, a St. Pat defenseman tripped and fell. His pathway cleared, a St. Joe winger cruised in with the puck and scored.

Out in the field some youngsters were playing with Proulx’s hat when he walked up to them. One dutifully returned it as Proulx said to him, “That’s my lucky hat, you know”.

Monday afternoon Mr. Proulx was walking down St. Catherine St. smoking his pipe, his head held high. He had a satisfied look on his face, as if he had just heard some pleasing news. Only he hadn’t heard anything of the sort. This was merely his usual way of walking and pipe smoking.

He was thinking about how, his hat having fallen off at the opportune moment, he had inadvertently assisted his team to defeat the Pats. It seemed like it was nothing more than a lucky coincidence, although the rude treatment of his hat by the Pats player served to make it a case of just desserts for the Irish. Such is the randomness of hockey he concluded. It could have gone either way.

Passing by a liquor store he went in and purchased a hip flask of his favorite whiskey. Back on the street he continued his walk, pausing to look in shop windows full of Christmas goods.  He stopped at the corner newsstand, perusing the daily papers for anything of interest. He was about to move on when he noticed a small headline in the left hand corner of one paper.

One Goal Hat Trick it said. Proulx picked it up and handed over a few coins to the newsy. The paper tucked under his arm he continued his stroll. A few blocks west and round a corner he reached his tavern, where he took his usual table. No sooner had he sat down when the waiter arrived with the customary order of two draft beers.

Leaving his hat on, Proulx slung his coat on the back of the chair, relit his pipe and opened the paper. He peered at the little article in the bottom corner. To his surprise it was a brief account of the game at which he had lost his hat, and the subsequent events leading to the winning goal. The writer concluded with the observation that St. Catherine must have interceded on behalf of the team which the hat owner supported, her being the patron saint of hat makers. An affront to a good hat must have caused her divine intercession.

Mr. Proulx had emptied one glass. He reached behind himself to pull his flask from the inside pocket of his coat. He poured a little shot into the empty glass and drank it down in one gulp, followed by a swig from beer number two. Then he went back to reading. Here was a story about panic in the markets, here another about the divorce rate in Russia. He turned to the editorial page to see what the issue of the day would be. Now here was yet another shock: it was about miracles, the hat he’d dropped on the ice, and St. Catherine, patron saint of hat makers, lace makers and so on.

“Now that’s a strange coincidence,” thought Proulx. “Me sitting in a tavern on St. Catherine Street, reading about the very hat that sits on top of my head.”

Moments later Proulx’s friend Tremblay arrived, followed by two glasses of beer. Mr. Tremblay had no knowledge of the One Goal Hat Trick or of Proulx’s part in it. When he asked Proulx what was new in the paper, Proulx smirked and directed Tremblay’s attention to the first article.

“So you believe that your hat won the game?” asked Tremblay with a smile.

Mr. Proulx shrugged and pointed out the editorial page. Tremblay read on. He nodded his head saying “hmm” to himself several times as he read.

“A miracle perhaps,” he said when he was done, taking a sip from his second beer.

“Well, if it was a miracle,” asked Proulx “Then was it the hat, or was it St. Catherine?”

Tremblay was truly puzzled. Of course, it had to be something, but what, and how? He told Proulx that he would think on the matter. They drank up their beer and had a game of cribbage before they left.

It was windy and bitter cold out as they exited onto St. Catherine Street. Hard snowflakes drove into their faces and swirled up in columns like little tornadoes. Tremblay extracted a toque from his pocket and pulled it tight on his head. He looked at Proulx who was buttoning his coat when a sudden gust sent the lucky fedora flying into the street. They both turned their heads to watch it go as it hit the road and tumbled into the far lane. While Proulx watched in vain for a break in traffic a bus ran over the hat, leaving it crushed and filthy by the far curb.

Tremblay put his hand up to his head and groaned. Proulx remained silent, nodding gently as if talking to someone who wasn’t there. Then he pulled his pipe from his pocket and stuffed it between his teeth. He lit up, giving a hard puff so that it belched a small cloud of smoke.

He turned to Tremblay and gave him a pat on the back. They moved on down the street together.

“Well, it’s her street after all, isn’t it?” remarked Proulx.

Tremblay looked at him.

“You know, I had a notion that it was just the hat.”

“No, it couldn’t have been the hat,” replied Proulx. “It must have been St. Catherine.”

Tremblay looked back at the flattened fedora.

“Yes, you could be right.”

“Well, there’s no other explanation,” Proulx said with a sigh.

The hat lay on the street for a little while. Then a boy came along and picked it up. He punched it into some semblance of a shape and took it home with a mind to put it on a snowman.

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6 NANOS

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Well, I did it again. This was my 6th Nanowrimo. Six books x 50,000 words or more in 30 days. The first time it was murder. The rest were hard and every time I seemed to finish on the 30th of November. But this year I took a different approach. I didn’t exactly write a novel. I wrote about me, and my life. Again it was my son Robert who got me thinking about the subject. A few years ago he gave me a book about writing memoirs as a present, and a hint I suppose.

The novel I wrote last November I had edited down to about 47,000 words, but then spent another 7 months finishing it, which brought it to 160,000 or more. It started as a sequel but now I think it will just be one book. I was so busy writing it that I had no time to come up with a plot for a new novel for this year’s Nano. Then it occurred to me to try something different and see if it was possible to write a memoir. Turns out it was. I had some days of 4500 words and I had to stop because I got too tired to keep writing, even though my head was still full of words. I hit 50k today, but it’s not done yet, as I have a lot more I want to tell. It has been the easiest book so far, because the story is there for the telling. If I could invent fiction this quickly I’d write a book a month, a cheap best seller (in my dreams).

Here, for those of you who yearn for typewriter content, I offer my opinion on one of the best machines to write on. This after having collected over 80 or more typewriters and testing every one. The one I used most often this month and for the last part of my last novel was:

The Olympia Traveller! Yes, Traveller is misspelled in the name, maybe on purpose, who can say. But this is one great piece of engineering. I didn’t like it at first, a few years back when I got it for $20, but over the years I’ve got it out and kept testing it now and then. One day it started to feel just right and suddenly I got it, the whole feel of it and the touch and rhythm. Now I am a big fan. I’d say it beats the full size Olympias any day. The more I look at how it was made the more impressive it gets. I also have a script version but you can’t scan the pages, so I don’t use it for writing books, only letters. I also like the 11 character pitch a lot. I can get 600 or more words on a page without having to stop.

my Traveller

my Traveller

Here’s page one of my memoirs:

NOVEL #7 NOVEMBER 2016

 The idea is this, every day write a journal, and from those thoughts will flow the story of one month in my life, during which time I will have spewed out a ton of interesting crap! So, here goes:

This is November. It sucks, mostly. There is nothing good about November that I can remember. It starts the day after Halloween, which for me was once a big deal, now not so much. Now in fact, I try to hide from it. This year we drew the curtains and turned off the light outside. Even so, one poor stupid sap rang the bell in hopes of goodies. Margie said “Don’t answer” but I felt some sense of responsibility, why I can’t explain, so I went down to the door just to see why someone was dumb or desperate enough to ring a bell when there was no pumpkin in the window and all was dark. I didn’t get to ask however as the kid, dressed as a cop, had already started leaving, no doubt intent on trying his luck at every door, no matter how dark or pumpkin-less they might be. He turned my way when I opened the door and said, “sorry, I don’t have anything”, by which time he was gone.

But then there were no more trick or treaters, and soon it was over, except for the distant sound of fire crackers which went on for what seemed like hours. Firecrackers used to thrill me too, when I was ten. After that, not so much. My kids never had them, as I refused to buy them, thinking by that time that they were a stupid idea. But they didn’t seem to mind, they were mostly concerned with candy. Halloween is in October however, so it is irrelevant to a discussion of November. October is a nice month, usually. This year it wasn’t. It rained a record amount, and there were no owls about.

So, Tuesday November began with a day of rain. All day I was bothered by the thought that I had no ideas for a novel. For the past 5 years every November has created a novel, which has taken me the entire month to write. It all began when Robert told me he was going to write a novel in 30 days, and why didn’t I join him? I’d never heard of NaNoWriMo, but it seemed like a good idea, so away I went. That first book The Sexy Synesthete, was hard, I mean really tough going.

I started out with a premise that I had written in a small moleskine notebook about a month before, in which I observed a man at Swans who seemed to be nervously waiting for someone. Then a sexy woman arrived. She was ridiculously sexy in fact, which might explain why he seemed so nervous. So that became the first paragraph of my first novel. Later I moved it in the….

50,000 more words, etc….

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Cakes & Ale – a Tale

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It was the sort of night that would have kept even Sherlock Holmes from taking to the streets in search of his arch rival. But the directors had important business to discuss, and so they made their way to the boardroom through the wild wind and sheets of cold rain. More than one umbrella was destroyed that night, and its owner subsequently drenched.

The meeting convened and discussion commenced regarding the label of the new product – Director’s Superior Ale. This was to be the greatest beer launch in the history of Courage, the foremost of British Breweries.

Simultaneously, on the other side of Mayfair in the City of London, the directors of another great British enterprise, Peek Freans, were meeting to discuss a new concept in biscuits; the boxed assortment.

Both meetings went on for hours as the directors debated furiously over the respective products. Oddly enough, each meeting eventually hung on one last issue – the colours of the packaging. At both meetings there was a complete lack of agreement among the members. Some argued for blue, some for red, some for black and white.

It was then that the biggest lightening strike in history happened, electrifying half of London in one great thunderous boom. At both meetings the directors were knocked off their chairs and sent to the floor tingling with the electrical pulse that killed one hundred unfortunate horses standing outdoors in puddles.

The directors all staggered back to their tables and after a few minutes they resumed their separate discussions. It was at this moment that it became clear to all concerned that the perfect colours would be purple, red and gold. It was promptly put to vote, and unanimous consent was reached at both tables.

The following month the new products were released. It didn’t take long before cries of corporate espionage were being shouted back and forth across the city. However, both sides eventually dropped their accusations when it became abundantly clear that the general public seemed to be buying both products at exceptionally high rates.

Before long other breweries were engaging in discussions with other biscuit manufacturers with an aim to recreating the strange synergy that occurred when one consumed Peek Freans Assorted Cremes with a bottle of Directors Superior Ale, but despite great efforts, this was never to be duplicated.

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Bird Feeder

Gazing out to sea she stood alone at the rail as the ship sped down the fjord, when she became aware of a man feeding French fries to the gulls; a situation that would force a change of plan for the moment at least, or so she thought.

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