Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 74

“Last time I saw her, we went to a concert. It was winter, freezing cold, and the concert was outside. Guess what band was playing! I envy you, you’re still at that age, when you can bear the cold of a winter day in the mountains just to be close to a particular person, because that’s all you need to make your blood boil.”

“I am? Was I ever at that kind of an age?”

He wasn’t listening to her.

“Then we went back to her place. Her parents were home, but they were sleeping, so we could easily sneak in. We sat next to the heaters and drank hot tea to warm up, then we made love. For the last time, as it turned out. She was quiet, which left room to start telling her how I wanted to leave my wife and have her live with me. The only thing she did was point to a ring on her finger. She was engaged, she said. She was engaged, after having given me this speech about not believing in marriage; she was engaged, and he had only proposed to her once; the very same woman who had turned me down so many times…”

If you want to read Parallel Lives, click on any of the following links: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/parallel-lives-ana-linden/1118140770?ean=2940045563567

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/parallel-lives-7

…. and iBooks, of course. 🙂

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 73

“My daughter saw me crying. For the first time. I don’t know if she was scared or just disoriented.”

Robert turned up the volume. The sound of old rock music, songs of his youth, songs of her early childhood, covered everything else, the noise of the street, the noise of her thoughts, the noise of his sadness.

“He died, did you hear about it?”

Yes, Amalia had heard. She nodded her head, as in a moment of silence for the departed. It’s strange how silent sound can be, she thought. Yes, she had heard, but she hadn’t paid too much attention to the piece of news until he seemed to make such a great deal of it. The lead singer of an old, local group had died the previous evening. All the news programmes were featuring their greatest hits, people were sending flowers to unknown places and to strange persons, trying to express their regret; but the fact that he died a natural death was probably what shocked everybody the most. She liked their music, but not enough to see the point in a nation dramatically mourning his death. He wasn’t exactly in his prime, she was about to reply sarcastically, but she bit her tongue and stopped just in time. It wasn’t about the death of the old rocker. Robert was mourning his own death, his own mortality, and this had brought it all to surface.

If you want to read Parallel Lives, click on any of the following links: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/parallel-lives-ana-linden/1118140770?ean=2940045563567

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/parallel-lives-7

…. and iBooks, of course. 🙂

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 72

She relished having sex with him, it was always an escape, a brief pause from the world. For the first time, she could have sex with a man just for the sake of the satisfaction it would offer both of them, without any emotional drama, without any feelings, frustration or guilt. She liked having sex with him, because he wouldn’t judge, because he wanted sex to be nothing more than pleasure, the same way she did, and because he was able to offer her more pleasure than the ones before him had managed to.

If you want to read Parallel Lives, click on any of the following links: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/parallel-lives-ana-linden/1118140770?ean=2940045563567

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/parallel-lives-7

…. and iBooks, of course. 🙂

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 71

“I’m so sorry… I know how important she was to you.”

The words and their emptiness reverberated against the white walls. White noise… That’s the best I can do. Because I can’t understand, I can’t feel anything like that. She finally tried to look him in the eyes. My words are false, I know that, but I can at least have enough respect for him and look at him while regurgitating empty words. He hadn’t moved, he was still staring at the written pages. Amalia looked at him carefully trying to penetrate the blank stare, and that’s when she noticed – tears were quietly and slowly rolling on his pale cheeks and dropping on the copybook, smudging off the ink. Without looking up, he reached his right hand and strongly gripped hers, as though he had to hold on to something, so he wouldn’t collapse on the floor.

“She just died.”

If you want to read Parallel Lives, click on any of the following links: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/parallel-lives-ana-linden/1118140770?ean=2940045563567

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/parallel-lives-7

…. and iBooks, of course. 🙂

Carol Balawyder’s “Mourning Has Broken”

Instead of sharing an image of a spectacularly dangerous corner of nature or of anything else around us that might suggest great peril, I’m stepping outside the confines of this week’s challenge. In fact, I’m dropping the “photo” part of the challenge altogether, and I’m focusing on the topic alone. Thus I would like to share a few thoughts on a book I’ve read recently, a book written by somebody you might already know from the blogging world. And yes, there is a connection… As I see it, one of the relevant dangers of being human and of allowing ourselves to experience the greatest joys of our nature is loss. Death is part of it – an unavoidable part of it. So we are all confronted with it and we have no choice but to learn how to deal it.

“Death is messy and often is accompanied with unfinished business. The leaving behind of everything and everyone you could possibly imagine. There is no way out of it.”

Carol BalawyderMourning Has Broken

Putting pain into words is one thing; putting those words in writing is another. But putting that writing out there, for everyone to access and interpret is an act of bravery. After reading Mourning Has Broken, one can only admire Carol Balawyder’s courage to share her experience with grief and loss.

I’ve read other books written by her, but this one touched me the most. Perhaps it’s the disarming honesty with which Carol writes about the pitfalls of dealing with death, loss and grief. Perhaps it’s the fact that everyone who has ever dealt with such issues can relate to the tone of the book and the emotions shared, if not also to some of the exact manifestations. Either way, a sense of gratefulness and respect builds up as one keeps reading – gratefulness for sharing and respect for the woman who has managed not only to work through incredible loss, but to also find hope and meaning in her experiences.

Grief is personal and there is no sure “recipe” for surviving it, and Carol’s book doesn’t try to give advice; but in trying to make sense of pointless, heart-breaking events, she does manage to cleverly insert a sense of hope. Somewhere, underneath all the pain, guilt and regret, there is strength – strength to move on, strength to remember, strength to hurt and fall apart, yet somehow continue living. The dead survive through the memories and feelings of the living, and allowing this connection to manifest itself once in a while is not only natural, but it can also be helpful, we are reminded. Memories of the past find embodiment in the present – a recipe, a book or a clothing item are not only a reminder, but a way to reconnect, to understand, to find peace.

There are numerous kinds of death and they never really find us prepared. What we know may seem useless, so we despair, but we also try and create our tools to help us deal with such situations. If nothing else, Carol’s book is a ray of hope from somebody who has survived and wakes up every day knowing she has to keep working at surviving. This is something that had to be said, Carol Balawyder’s fluent style convinces the reader – the same reader who gets a distinct feeling that the writer not only knows what she’s talking about, but has also thoroughly researched the matter, to facilitate the mourning process. The answers she found, she shares with us… and for that, we can only be thankful.

“Mourning, I realize, must come in small parcels. To realize the immensity of the loss at once would be too overwhelming and unbearable. It must be done in bits and pieces of dreams disappearing one sliver at a time.”

Carol Balawyder – Mourning Has Broken

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 69

Paul had indeed been very appropriate in all his actions towards her, but she knew what Robert meant about the way he looked at her. He was inclined to feel more than lust towards her, it was more than the attraction the married man feels towards the pretty woman next to him. He looked up to her and perceived her as his intellectual superior and the desire to be controlled and subjugated by such a person had a powerful effect on the inexperienced man. She instinctively avoided sharing such details with Robert; although all his questions had no bothering effect on her, knowing he was neither jealous, nor possessive, just merely perversely curious.

If you want to read Parallel Lives, click on any of the following links: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/parallel-lives-ana-linden/1118140770?ean=2940045563567

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/parallel-lives-7

…. and iBooks, of course. 🙂

On This Day of Ours

She spent all the time admiring herself in the mirror… she went on and on about her perfect body and her toned abs, lifting her shirt to show me. Could she be vainer?

I knew the girl who had been getting on my friend’s last nerve. She was attractive. She was beautiful. But most importantly, she knew it and she loved flaunting it. Personally, I admired her fashion sense – she was one of those women who instinctively know what suits them best and could create astonishing outfits from unremarkable items – and I found her lack of false modesty refreshing.

I also knew what that story was about… Equally beautiful, equally vain, my friend was more subtle about showing off her best physical features. It wasn’t difficult to know when she was truly happy with her body. She’d emerge from dressing rooms half naked or she wouldn’t mind undressing in front of other women. We’d pretend to go to the gym only so we’d have a good excuse for sauna and massages.

On the other hand, whenever she put on some weight or she obsessed over imaginary cellulite, shopping with her was a nightmare. My needing a size smaller than the one she was trying on generally resulted in a variety of mood swings and was often met with a particular grimace – the one she was saving for those special cases when someone’s actions were perceived as purposely directed against her. Our guilty pleasure – a nice meal and sharing a large slice of chocolate cake at our favourite restaurant – would be replaced by a blend salad and a lecture on the dangers of sugar and carbs.

All of the sudden, she’d show up wrapped in an oversized towel, the kind she always made fun of when seeing other women wear when taking a sauna. Like I said, I knew what it was about – she had cancelled our sauna and gossip sessions entirely for several weeks, when our acquaintance was showing off her perfect body.

It looks like all that time she spends exercising is paying off… Well, some of us don’t have the time for that, some of us have to work…

The time for feigning acceptance had passed. I could envision their afternoon… after all, I had witnessed such displays so many times. Both of them beautiful, both of them competitive, both of them frustrated in different ways. One would brag about her career and stable future, the other about her looks and her obscenely wealthy boyfriend… one of them relying on her education and her supportive family; the other one relying on nothing else but her beauty and survival instincts, her family offering her nothing but a bedroom in their home… both of them sharing one common goal, in spite of their temporary independence and rebellion – meeting a man they’d marry, the way it was expected of them…

I think of that conversation once in a while… particularly when I notice people shaking their heads and rolling their eyes disapprovingly if I make it clear that I feel good about the way I look… particularly when I notice people sigh with exasperation if I’m displeased with my appearance. So get ready to roll your eyes, because I’m going to say it. We were in our twenties back then and all three of us were beautiful, in conventional and non-conventional ways.

What is so wrong in saying that, anyway? No matter what we look like, we are constantly bombarded with clichés on the importance of self-love… so much so, that it’s really easy to end up hating ourselves for not loving to bits all those perfect imperfections we abhor. Yet the very moment we actually find a way to accept and appreciate our individual beauty, no matter what that might look like, countless brows frown and condemning whispers point out how such deluded vanity is unacceptable. What is the crime in it, that we have to tare each other apart this way? Everything in moderation, one might say. But moderation isn’t always an option… Much like beauty, moderation is subjective, defined by the eye of the beholder. Call me crazy, but I’d rather err on the side of deluded vanity/self-love…

Yes, we are can be wonderfully generous and we can be frightfully mean; we can be insecure and we can be arrogant, even at the same time; we laugh, we cry, we hurt and get hurt. We are only human. We live. So perhaps – once in a while – we can just live and let live… especially on this day of ours. Rather than trying to set new patterns that “need” to be followed, we might consider respecting each other’s choices, even if we may not always agree with them. Rather than trying to define, rule and regulate what a woman “should” be, let’s take a break and appreciate who we actually are.

This is supposed to be our day, so first and foremost, we should celebrate ourselves. Then we might want to think of all those other wonderful women in our lives. Then we might want to take a moment and think of those special people in our lives, the patient and loving ones, the ones who make us feel like ladies each and every day, and thank them. We all know who they are 😉

Happy Women’s Day, ladies!

Valentine’s Day…

1

Sometimes, it’s “Swan Lake” and dinner at a nice, romantic restaurant… sometimes, it’s beautiful red roses and phone calls, because everyday life doesn’t take a break for special occasions… and other times, it’s nothing but disappointment and frustration. Like many other socially branded times of celebration, the controversial Valentine’s Day will do that to us. Or… really… let’s be honest… we do that to ourselves.

It may not be my favourite holiday, but I’ve made peace with Valentine’s Day many years ago. Call me jaded, call me old, but I couldn’t have a meltdown because of it, even if I tried. And that’s mostly because I am who I am, I like what I like, and I honestly don’t care if those around me approve of it or not. I no longer try to adjust my expectations in order to fit their needs, nor do I feel guilty when I’m labelled as “spoilt” just because I want to be treated in a certain way. I get to choose who is close to me. We all do. We all should. Part of this choice is being aware that there are persons willing to offer me what I want, people who wish to make me feel special… people for whom I want to do the same.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again many times – celebrating a loved one, a relationship, showing them how important they are, can be so fulfilling. Perhaps some people are able to do that each and every day. Personally, I often drown in everyday nonsense and I generally need those pre-set occasions to shake everything up. I like thinking ahead, I look forward to birthdays, anniversaries and holidays and I have great fun getting and preparing all sorts of things for the ones I love, even months before any of these occasions. I once had two years’ worth of gifts for my mother, that should say it all. That’s also part of who I am, together with my expectations.

Yes, I like flowers – no heart shaped knickknacks, no cutsy teddy bears or other plush toys, no, thank you. It’s not that I need someone to buy them for me; I don’t mind getting them myself, if I need some cheering up. But I want somebody who cares enough to offer me flowers, just to make me smile, just because that’s what I like, and that’s important to them, even when it might not be their favourite activity. It’s about being offered what I want, not what somebody thinks I should want. I’ve learnt that such people exist. I’ve learnt that I’m also willing to compromise and make these people happy. These are the persons I want in my life, not the ones I need to change, not the ones who want to change me. They are the ones I think of when it comes to celebrating love.

Undeniably, I like the romantic side of the holiday. There’s something so adorable about watching a man get all dressed up for a date with me (even after being together for years), struggling to pick the right tie, the same way I struggle with choosing the perfect shoes. It’s fun to see him happy and elegant, impatiently waiting for a compliment, inevitably choosing to wear one of the ties and the cologne I gave him on some previous occasion. I know that at some point, he’s going to move his wrist just to make me notice he’s wearing my favourite watch as well. All these are small, irrelevant matters in the grand scheme of things. Yet it’s small, happy, fun moments together that make up the good part of life, the one that keeps one going through all the murky, unbearable times.

But this scenario is not always an option, and it’s nobody’s fault. It’s also not the end of the world when it doesn’t happen. As I’m listening to Bon Jovi, enjoying the red roses I received earlier and the delicious pralines I offered myself (first and foremost, I love myself), I’m thinking that a nice dose of realism is absolutely necessary on Valentine’s Day. A date on Valentine’s Day doesn’t guarantee love, nor does it reflect a person’s worth. Knowing what we need from others and from ourselves, seeing the value of who we are, celebrating it and those we love (be they a partner, a friend, a relative, the self) might be more important.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! Find a little something that gives you pleasure and treat yourselves to it… or share it with somebody important to you.

Glass Slippers and Stilettos – …Or For Worse (Fragment)

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The woman in the mirror wasn’t the one she remembered. No matter how hard she struggled, she would never see that reflection again. Time had a perverted way of leaving scars on her body in spite of all her best efforts. Turning slowly, analysing every particle projected in the horridly honest mirror, she felt her spirits lifted by the image of a still beautiful, mature woman. Her thighs were almost cellulite free… and her stomach, almost flat again… her behind was no longer as firm, but the right pair of jeans made it look just as luscious… her breasts had definitely seen better days, but she would do something about that as soon as possible. It was a game of make-believe these days, she thought to herself.

[…]

“Babe… I don’t know what I would’ve done tonight without you… After the day I’ve had… you wouldn’t believe it if I told you!”

True enough, Lover would find it unbelievable, were he to find out. His image of her just wouldn’t allow it. The thought alone made her feel better. So did his wild passionate kisses. The man in the restaurant may have been her unfulfilled future, but the one in the car with her, whose strong arms were wrapped around her, whose luscious lips were going lower and lower on her neck… he was certainly her sexual present.

[…]

Hours of drinking and dancing with Lover and his friends, followed by hours alone with Lover between the sheets in the five star hotel proved to be just what she needed. The credit card wouldn’t be cancelled so soon, she knew that much and she deserved one more luxurious night courtesy of the one she believed to be the man of her dreams up until the previous evening. In fact, a morning of mindless, senseless shopping seemed appropriate as well. She needed to make herself feel better only because he shattered her dreams the night before, Regina reasoned.

[…]

She was waiting for years to see the old hag gone, years in which all King ever did was put his mother on a pedestal and point out all the ways in which she, his wife, was unlike her, his mother. The now defunct mother became less of a strain on their marriage after his father’s death, when she finally managed to convince King to put her in a nursing home in a different town. Regina no longer had to put up with inopinate visits and unbearable family functions, but the crone still cast a long, heavy shadow, often suffocating those few pleasures left from her shattered illusion of marital bliss. But she could feel the taste of victory. Regina was winning by default, she managed to outlive her nemesis and even if she couldn’t voice out her true feelings, she found that childish enjoyment coursing through her veins absolutely marvelous

[…]

He looked at her and after all those dark days, walking behind the closed coffin, King felt he finally had his wife back. The woman he thought was the love of his life was finally back, replacing the apparently heartless creature from the past few years. He squeezed her hand in his.

She looked at him in a comforting manner, the way only she could. Walking behind the coffin, Regina felt she could be generous. Seeing the remains of the woman she hated, envied and dreaded approaching the burial plot sparked a barely containable sense of power mixed with mischievous joy. She was alive and she was not going to let it go to waste. She looked at her husband again and her heart sank. How the hell did she end up there, next to that sorry excuse for a man?

*

You can find the full version of “Glass Slippers and Stilettos” on iBooks, Kobo, Barnes&Noble and Smashwords – and you can download it for free until February 15. I hope you enjoy it!

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/645454

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/glass-slippers-and-stilettos

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/glass-slippers-and-stilettos-ana-linden/1123982690?ean=2940153093093

February Traditions

In the early days of this blog, I also started an early Valentine’s Day tradition. As my little gift to you (it isn’t much, but that’s the best I can do to show my appreciation during what many consider to be the month of love), you can download my books, Parallel Lives and Glass Slippers and Stilettos, for free. Given that neither one of them is a typical “they lived happily ever after” romance and they portray rather unconventional, uncomfortable twists and turns of relationships, they might also be a good choice for those of you not really in the mood for celebrating this year. Whether you get them for yourself or as a gift for somebody else, I hope you enjoy my small token of appreciation 🙂 . Feel free to download as many copies as you want form iBooks, Smashwords.com, Barnes&Noble, Kobo or Inktera, and share them with your friends.

 https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/parallel-lives-ana-linden/1118140770?ean=2940045563567

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/parallel-lives-7

http://www.inktera.com/store/title/1ac546fe-cc7e-480c-bba7-8c7f34c72830

 

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/645454

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/glass-slippers-and-stilettos

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/glass-slippers-and-stilettos-ana-linden/1123982690?ean=2940153093093

http://www.inktera.com/store/title/f3a2bcb9-41e8-4ee0-9b12-ad42b3e9771f

Glass Slippers and Stilettos – For Better… (Fragment)

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The frantic scrolling stops abruptly as the busy fingers’ and blue eyes’ attention is now required by the buzzing phone. A large smile lights up Regina’s face, a languorous sigh accompanying her reply. She had spent the entire morning trying not to think that the text might never arrive and now her patience was finally being rewarded.

The picture on the desk caught her eye in spite of all her rushed gestures. It had been such a wonderful day! Everything she had ever dreamt of, really… look how beautiful she was, she had the most expensive dress and most extravagant wedding anyone in her group of friends and acquaintances had ever seen… and on top of everything, the man she was marrying was so wealthy and handsome… A real prince had come to finally rescue her from an average existence and she would not let this one get away.

[…]

“I needed this so much… you have no idea how I missed you, Lover…” the woman purred into the young man’s ear.

Regina wasn’t lying; his absence had occupied most of her thoughts. Her recreational drug, as she liked to call him, was losing his interest, she could feel it. There was no incontestable proof to it, but a woman knows such things… he seemed somewhat aloof, guarded and atypically quiet during the last couple of weeks. Letting him hold her silently while waiting for the rest of the story about her day, the woman started scrutinizing his features with a knowing eye. There was more than satisfaction altering that kind smile. It wasn’t the look of a man who had just made a conquest and satisfied his sexual urges; that spark in his eyes belonged to a man who still cared deeply about the woman he had just enjoyed, the same woman tracing little hearts with her long nails all over his toned chest and abdomen… the same woman he was holding so tightly, having felt her absence during the previous days…

[…]

With a fake, conventionally happy expression suiting the occasion, Regina was singing Happy Birthday. But her mind was working fast, all the pieces of the puzzle having fallen into place. She and her husband hand in hand, doting on their son, were the beautiful image of the ideal family. King only had eyes for her and their wonderful son, the child was truly happy, especially since he got to spend so much time with his mother planning the party, but Regina was focusing on the woman on the other side of the table. For one moment only, her feelings were written on her face, in that loving look she let wash over King and the little boy. But one moment was all it took for Regina to understand. She knew that look so well…

*

You can find the full version of “Glass Slippers and Stilettos” on iBooks, Kobo, Barnes&Noble and Smashwords. I hope you enjoy it!

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/645454

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/glass-slippers-and-stilettos

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/glass-slippers-and-stilettos-ana-linden/1123982690?ean=2940153093093

Glass Slippers and Stilettos – Regina and the Engagement Rings (Fragment)

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The key didn’t turn and she opened the unlocked door without giving it any thought. She often forgot to lock it, so… Clickety-clack, clickety-clack on the hardwood floor and then the high heels flew in a corner, preceded only by the laptop case, which landed with a thud. Oh well, it’s just the work computer – what are they going to do if it breaks anyway, give her a newer and better one?… Her personal mobile phone was another story though, that one found a nice, cosy resting place when carefully placed on the hall table. Curling and stretching her toes happy to have escaped the restrictive pumps, her feet started blindly feeling around the cold floor, reaching for the comfort of those favourite slippers. They weren’t there.

[…]

Her heart was throbbing faster and faster. Could it have been with admiration for that man some would call disturbed, who had put such passion in finding out what she had been up to of late? Or was it just fear that he might have discovered it all, thus making it impossible for her to pose as the innocent, shy, heartbroken victim next time they inevitably got back together?…

[…]

She liked it enough, she decided. And she was as good as engaged. Another container covered in velvet made its appearance from the depths of a large box filled with shiny, fashionable costume jewellery. Smaller and more modest looking, set carefully on the bed next to the other one, it shed a brighter, more optimistic light on Boyfriend’s choice… on her choice.

With a gentle, elegant movement, the young woman extracted what had once been another engagement ring from the older box and placed it on her finger, on the other hand. Then and now… that one and this one… and as past and present merged in one emotional instant, the big blue eyes filled with tears again… tears of regret… tears of frustration… Alone in her room, in one of the happiest moments of her life, Regina couldn’t fight the tears and for one ephemeral moment she couldn’t fight the truth either.

*

You can find the full version of “Glass Slippers and Stilettos” on iBooks, Kobo, Barnes&Noble and Smashwords. I hope you enjoy it!

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/645454

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/glass-slippers-and-stilettos

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/glass-slippers-and-stilettos-ana-linden/1123982690?ean=2940153093093

Blind Date on Christmas – Part 2

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Part 1

I had to admire their stubbornness, resourcefulness and shamelessness – once I had refused to meet any of these so-called suitors, they found a loophole and came up with one I had already met before… moreover, they actually snuck him into the living room when I literally wasn’t looking. Who was I not to appreciate the humour in it?

To be fair, they had done worse in the past… This one might actually make for a fun fling. A good sense of humour, not hard on the eyes… She was right, we did get along well, there was some chemistry there, from the moment we had met a couple of years earlier; it never went beyond innocent flirting, we had never been single at the same time… until then.

So much for being comfortable around each-other… they’re singing my praises. Isn’t that a nice tree? She decorated it, you know… here, have some more cake, she baked it. She’ll make somebody a great wife someday. I chocked on my food instantaneously – they’d gone too far with that one. Oddly, our guest didn’t even flinch.

Poor thing… how he suffered after the break-up… But I know you’ll find someone right for you, you’re such a great guy. So my mother was in charge with talking him up. If only I didn’t know what she really thought of him, the disposable boy toy… I knew that if I wanted to get back at her, all I had to do was to seriously get involved with him… or any other guy like him. Hmmm… she would deserve that, wouldn’t she? Let’s see how the night goes…

Strike one – he’s all of the sudden intimidated by my mother; he’s even afraid of her! A man in his thirties, who’s been friends with her husband for about a decade… that’s simply unacceptable. Oh well…

On the bright side, at least this one wasn’t gay, like the one they had in store for me the previous year. Casual dinner with some friends, they said. Yes, a married couple and their son… their clearly gay son (clear to everybody but his parents and my stepfather). And playing the part of the jealous party crasher, none other than the son’s “best friend”… Come to think of it, this was actually an improvement.

Somehow, dinner crawled to an end and we, young folk, were sent out in the world to have some fun. The guy thought we’d go see a movie, he had already gotten the tickets. I rolled my eyes – strike two. Predictable and boring. I hate going to the movies on a first date. I would rather spend that time getting to know the person, not in a movie theatre where we can’t talk. Family holiday, that’s what Christmas is, how could you not come and spend it with us? Of course it is… I had flown thousands of kilometres the day before so I could spend Christmas Eve in a cinema, watching a movie I didn’t feel like seeing with a guy I barely knew, surrounded by strangers. Merry Christmas to me!

It was all too ridiculous and harmless to be angry, really… And I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the innocent victim he was in our family antics. I could just see him as he was approached earlier that day and told I would really like to spend the evening with him, but I was just too shy to ask him out… so the date might come as a surprise to me, a really pleasant surprise… he hadn’t thought they wouldn’t tell me… but he couldn’t waste such an opportunity, could he?… Poor, poor, poor guy – he’s expecting who knows what sexy vision of a woman and instead he gets me in all my messy, domestic glory. Yet, he’s still happy to go out with me, even after that charming appearance and my parents’ behaviour. That says a lot (most likely, that he’s crazy and/or desperate)…

But he’s slowly becoming the guy I used to find quite attractive, so the walk to the cinema turns out to be just what we needed. After all, an outlet, a refuge from my family during my stay with them is always beneficial. And we are both consenting adults, perhaps later – if things go well – we could openly discuss the rules and limitations of short term dating. Aren’t I the romantic one?…

Let’s see what he suggests we do after the movie and how he behaves. Dancing the night away in a club was the perfect antidote to that evening (if fun I was supposed to have, fun I would have, and they would end up regretting it). But introducing me to his friends as his girlfriend halfway into our first date… well… strike three! That’s not to say he didn’t make for a fun escape that holiday season… But best of all, the way I simply – and apparently insensitively – said goodbye to him when leaving, according to the initially set rules, hurt his little boy toy heart, becoming a great source of gossip for their entire group of friends and acquaintances, thus insuring the end of all attempts to set me up with various individuals.

Underneath the Tinsel or Making My Own Christmas Traditions – Part Three

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Part One – The Illusion

Part Two – The Reality

Part Three – My Own Christmas

I didn’t know it then, but that Christmas Eve would stay with me for as long as I would have memories to hold on to… not because it was fabulous, but because it was the first time I felt and understood what it was all about – what I needed it to be all about.

It was just the three of us listening to Christmas songs and staring at the flickering lights in the Christmas tree… my Christmas tree, as I felt the need to point out several times that year. We were 16 or 17 and it was the year that my grandmother had decreed that I was too old to have a tree. Well, if I was too old for a tree, then I was certainly old enough to do things however I saw fit when it came to Christmas in general. Faced with a minor family drama and a harsh blow to her perfectly loving grandmother image, she gave in and allowed the tree. That concession, however, would cost me all my Christmas gifts, I was warned. I didn’t mind, a few pairs of socks and another ugly scarf were definitely worth giving up.

It may not have been the most beautiful Christmas tree that I ever had growing up, but to this day it remains the one I treasured the most. We were all somewhat sad and ashamed sitting around that tree, my best friend, my boyfriend and I, that year… Yet we were also so very happy, so very content, finally so very peaceful. My best friend and I had gone shopping for the tree the day before and then he helped me get it home, spending hours and hours in the December cold and snow, trying to find the greatest one I could afford. That was as fun and pleasant as it should have been, the way both of us had forgotten it could be.

Once I finished decorating it, once my home was finally calm and quiet after my grandparents went to visit some of their acquaintances, the three of us had the unbelievable, unexpected chance to simply feel it was Christmas. Presents – small, thoughtful and amusing tokens of appreciation – discretely found their way under the tree, when the others weren’t looking. Between the carols, the smell of the tree and the Christmas wrapping paper torn open and spread all over the floor, we could laugh and be light-hearted, we could forget that uncomfortable sadness; we felt relieved, because somebody had thought of and cared about each and every one of us that year. We had each other, and that was all that mattered. We understood each other, we knew each other’s stories and we supported each other. It was as safe, calm and blissful a moment as any of us could have. We shared hopes and dreams; we shared painful stories of Christmases past and present and for once they didn’t hurt. We didn’t know it back then, but we were already forging our own traditions, we were deciding what we would never become, because our families had taught us what we hated most about human beings.

That’s how my grandmother found us, lying on the Persian rug near the tree, wrapping paper spread everywhere. Were we drunk, she wanted to know. No, we were not. Well, good, then it was time for us to clean up and go to wherever we were heading that evening, because she was expecting guests and we were in the way. But not before she opened her own Christmas present from me. I don’t remember what I got her that year, but after making a face and muttering a thankful ‘I suppose it’ll have to do’, the gift was deemed worthy to be seen by her friends. I adjusted my extremely short dress, I put on my extremely high heel boots and my nice coat and off we went, to wherever we were going to go. Apparently we were the cool kids, so we were going to attend a fun party and/or go dancing with our equally cool friends and acquaintances, whose parents weren’t particularly interested to know where and how their children spent Christmas, as long as they weren’t in the way.

We cannot chose the family we are born in, but we can chose the family we make for ourselves, the people who are closest to us, with whom we share the most intimate moments, memories and experiences. Yes, I believe that Christmas is a family holiday; but what I have learnt is that family is not always determined by DNA, not for all of us. My family are those very few people who have always accepted and appreciated me for who I am, those people who have always been there for me, offering their support in hard times and sharing my happiness in joyful ones, those people who have appreciated my doing the same for them. As it happens, none of them are related to me. And it’s all right.

Like I said, I make my own traditions. I choose when and how I decorate the Christmas tree. I choose to bake those delightfully delicious goodies every year – in spite of her countless flaws, my grandmother did manage to teach me some of her baking secrets. I choose to get nice, meaningful gifts for my dear ones, and sometimes I will buy them months before Christmas. I also choose not to judge or appreciate people and measure their affection only based on the presents they offer me. And for the past few years, I have also chosen to spend Christmas at home, nowhere near any relatives.

For years I have frantically chased all sorts of unattainable holiday goals, only to end up being disappointed, only to end up thinking of that bittersweet Christmas Eve, wishing for that sort of peace and acceptance. I decorate my home early in December and for years I’ve left this cosy place in order to try and gain acceptance and appreciation from people unable to accept or appreciate anybody. I refused to be alone on holidays, fearing I would be unhappy, only to learn the same lesson, time and time again – the worst kind of loneliness is the one you feel when you’re surrounded by people you don’t like. For years I left behind the people who cared about me so I could be with my… family. No more.

I have people who love me. In spite of my cynicism, I have reasons to be thankful and celebrate on Christmas, and I will do it my own way. I am not perfect and I have long ago given up trying to be, so I have accepted that there are people I will never be able to forgive, just as I will never be able to be nice and good to everybody. But once in a while I need to try to be especially nice to those I hold dear; I have to appreciate myself and the beautiful parts of my life. For me, Christmas is such a time… because I get lost in my own life and I need a reminder to stop and offer all these small pleasures to myself and those close to me. I will not apologize for who I am. I will not deny my own values, no matter what others may believe. And I will feel and celebrate Christmas the way I find it appropriate, allowing for bittersweet happiness and relinquishing all guilt and disapproval. You see, I no longer care about what the world or my family expect from me.

Have a nice December, everyone! Whether your celebrate Christmas or not, make sure it’s your own choice and not one forced on you by family or society.

Glass Slippers and Stilettos – Regina Gets Engaged (Fragment)

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Like any other long-term couple, they had discussed marriage. The fact that they had spent more time apart than together, bickering and disparaging each other was generally an irrelevant matter to both of them. They’d swear to never reconcile again, professing their mutual loathing and would occasionally yell out their indifference in hurtful, offending words. But everything would be forgiven and forgotten in a few weeks, when they’d be back together again. Behaving as though nothing had happened came naturally to both of them.

[…]

A fresh breeze of confidence carries her dreams and hopes even further, as Regina receives the most pleasing news from the jeweller’s where she has her ring appraised first thing the following morning – for insurance purposes only, of course, material matters are inconsequential… But who could ever suspect her of anything remotely resembling greed? She even manages to make it back home before sweet, dear Future Husband gets a chance to arrive – he insisted on taking that beautiful token of affection and have it resized for her delicate finger. It’s his mistake, after all… so why should she waste any time and effort because of his carelessness? As soon as the jeweller provides her with the pleasing information, Regina can finally give in to her engagement bliss and share the happy news with anybody willing to listen.

[…]

Just thinking of trying on weeding gowns makes her giddy with excitement, her heart beating faster, her cheeks blushing with anticipation. She already knows what she’s going to choose, what her heart is set on, but what’s the point in getting married if you’re not going to make the best of all the fun that comes with these preparations and bask in your friends’ jealousy? Torturing these women with her remarkable beauty, reducing their self-esteem to nothing and having them take care of the more exhausting parts of planning a wedding is something Regina has been dreaming of for years… And now the time has come for her to live her fairy tale.

Yes, that is the endpoint and she will not lose sight of it – after all, she already knows even how she’s going to redecorate Future Husband’s beautiful house. Regina will do everything and anything necessary for the accomplishment of this vision of marital bliss. Isn’t marriage all about compromise? Well, at least until both parties sign the marriage license… She is, after all, one to think about her man’s needs first. She will still smile while reluctantly agreeing to the number of guests he wants. She will wear the dress he chose for her, even if she would have preferred another; and if he wants to wear that hideous suit… well, what can a woman do but love him with all his flaws?

You can find the full version of “Glass Slippers and Stilettos” on iBooks, Kobo, Barnes&Noble and Smashwords. I hope you enjoy it!

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/645454

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/glass-slippers-and-stilettos

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/glass-slippers-and-stilettos-ana-linden/1123982690?ean=2940153093093

Glass Slippers and Stilettos – Regina and the Nice Guy (Fragment)

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It was a particularly beautiful summer when they met, one filled with sweet poetry of hope and unrequited dreams, when the remains of old loves become the seeds of new ones and the magic of a sunset can make everything seem possible… even for a beautiful, intelligent and independent young woman like Regina to fall in love with a Nice Guy like him. Tall, with deep, dreaming blue eyes and a kind smile, elegant in his middle management suit, he couldn’t resist consoling Regina right after she presented her resignation two days into the trial period for a new job. Who could have resisted those beautiful doe eyes of hers, mystified by tears of despair she was trying so hard to stop from rolling down her pale, silky cheeks?

[…]

True to form, Regina promptly fell in love – so she said – with her new leading man, not one week after proclaiming her undying affection for Bad Boy, who so carelessly and unjustly shattered her dreams of a happily ever after. Yes, Nice Guy is the way to go, the key to open the door to that much sought after realm of marriage. He is that reliable shoulder a real woman like her needs to cry on, he is the sweet puppy she thinks she wanted as a child, forgetting for a moment how much she really hates dogs and how these loving, loyal creatures cannot stand the sight of her either.

[…]

In a matter of minutes, Regina glues back together all her shattered dreams involving Bad. Nice Guy may be nice, but does that make him right as well? After all, he seems stuck in a dead end job, he has no money and no ambitions, he might very possibly be the most boring man alive and sex with him is… let’s just say it, a yawn. Honestly, the dullest date or sexual endeavour with Bad Boy are far more interesting than the best moments with Nice Guy. Besides, how can she pursue her career as a victim next to him? Anyway, whenever things go wrong with any of those she considers real men, Regina can always go back to Nice Guy. He will always be there, waiting quietly for her return, hoping she would not leave yet again. What better match could there be?

[…]

In his elegant expensive Italian suit, the tall, athletic man is the epitome of calm and self-control, his blue eyes focused on the couple checking into the five star hotel. The woman adjusting the shoulder strap of her designer bag hasn’t seen him yet, and Nice Guy is happy he can chase away that wave of emotion building inside him, that strange vulnerability he hasn’t felt in years. But Regina’s big, bored eyes wonder around the hotel lobby, looking for something entertaining to annihilate her ennui, so when he meets his gaze and inexpressive smile, surprise, hopes and memories jolt her back to a present full of unexpected possibilities. The man accompanying her doesn’t notice the exchanged glances, but the truth is, he hardly ever notices anything besides his reflexion in the mirror.

You can find the full version of “Glass Slippers and Stilettos” on iBooks, Kobo, Barnes&Noble and Smashwords. I hope you enjoy it!

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/645454

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/glass-slippers-and-stilettos

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/glass-slippers-and-stilettos-ana-linden/1123982690?ean=2940153093093

Glass Slippers an Stilettos – Regina Experiments (Fragment)

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Eeeh! That hurt! The high-pitched moan escaped her lips as soon as the woman in a white uniform removed the first strip of wax. It’ll be worth it! Pain followed by pleasure, it’s always worth it, she had to remind herself. As the wax touched her skin again and again, she felt the need to congratulate herself on the wise decision of taking the day off. She needed a few hours of pampering before the big trip, a reprieve from all the stress, so she could get ready to fully enjoy the weekend’s pleasures. But time was also required to clear her mind and figure out the optimal plan, that perfect balance between delectable debauchery and worthwhile, career-oriented depravity. Experience had taught her men were more open and supportive of her cause in an intimate environment and she was relying on this opportunity to reacquaint herself with an old friend.

[…]

With her professional prospects sorted out, Regina could now focus on everything and everyone else. She knew exactly who she wanted. She had resisted him for so long, they had played such a sensual seduction game from the very beginning, but it was finally time to indulge herself. Sure, he was now pretending not to want her anymore, his tantrums making it impossible for the two of them to work together, but it was exactly this distance that made her understand how much she really wanted him. With every offending word, with each disrespectful gesture, Regina came closer and closer to the belief that he might just be her soul mate. She wasn’t about to let him become the one who got away just because of office politics…

[…]

The man’s voice betrayed feelings deeper and more conflicted than he wanted to admit even to himself. He hadn’t gotten where he was by being naïve or oblivious to human nature. He had heard all the rumours about her, of course he had; but he wanted to believe those big, innocent looking eyes. He wanted to believe that there are women like the one she appeared to be when they first met – gorgeous, intelligent, modest, selfless, loyal and honest. Knowing that he could have such a woman warmed his heart in those dull, cold business hours as well as in those moments of impaired consciousness, when he found delight in the most obscene pleasures his successful existence offered him. If he believed the rumours, that meant she wasn’t such a woman. Then he wouldn’t have had such a woman, he wouldn’t have been a man who could have such a woman. His ego didn’t allow for such a possibility.

You can find the full version of “Glass Slippers and Stilettos” on iBooks, Kobo, Barnes&Noble and Smashwords. I hope you enjoy it!

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/645454

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/glass-slippers-and-stilettos

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/glass-slippers-and-stilettos-ana-linden/1123982690?ean=2940153093093

A Realist’s Magic

7

“Sorry, I forgot you were born a cynic.”

We both laughed. He wasn’t far from the truth.

With Christmas only a month away and the air getting chillier every day, with seasonal decorations and gift suggestions invading every corner of our lives, some of us find it difficult to chase away a certain feeling of anticipation. That childish giddiness is almost in the air again, and personally, I have to exercise a certain kind of self-control and not succumb to that exaggerate desire of purchasing more and more Christmas decorations I won’t have where to store once the holidays are over.

The slide down memory lane is inevitable when trying to make some sort of holiday plans and my oldest, closest friend and I have our own traditions. First, we do our best to spend some time together in December, preferably over the holidays (that used to be so much easier to accomplish when we were kids…). Then, once that happens, old photos are pulled out and all sorts of memories are rehashed – bitter, sweet and bittersweet ones alike.

He was the child who refused to believe Santa wasn’t real, until he had no choice but to accept that life is harsh and its struggles sometimes have to be faced at an early age. He believed in magic and magic was suddenly taken away, to only be replaced by sadness and disappointment. I, however, never believed in Santa Claus. Christmas was my favourite time of year. I loved and enjoyed every moment of it for several years before it all became too real; yet I never believed in Santa, even if presents mysteriously materialized under the tree every Christmas morning. I couldn’t really explain why, it was a feeling more than anything else. My intuition simply didn’t allow me to believe it, even if in a way, I would have liked him to be real. Later on, the explanation crystalized in a few simple words, which apply to so many other instances of our lives: it was too good to be true. Like my friend said, I must have been born a cynic. It’s probably also true that he was a happier child before he saw the magic die in front of his innocent eyes.

Now we can make light of such memories, the ones about how we found out for sure Santa wasn’t real. Once I had decided to obtain irrefutable proof that the jolly man in red was only a lie, nothing stood in my way. Evidence once found, my plan was to wait until Christmas morning and then tell my mother I already knew what my presents were. But once I proclaimed I knew there was no Santa and I could prove it, I could clearly discern a shadow of sadness and worry on my mother’s face. I needed to prove I was right; but she needed me not to, she needed me to believe in magic. So I said nothing else aside from the usual, “I just know”. After all, I knew what the truth was and that was enough. Sometimes, parents lie to protect their children. And sometimes, children do the same to protect their parents. On that particular Christmas, the magic was all about a mother and a daughter wanting to make each other happy.

I later understood there was a different magic of Christmas in which I actually believed, and that had simply been the first time I had experienced it. It wasn’t about religion, myths, superstition or supernatural beings making dreams come true. Instead, it was about offering myself some moments of childish joy and also about creating a happy instance for somebody dear to me. What can I say, there’s magic and there’s magic… Mine just happens to be of the more realistic, non-idealized, superstition-free kind.

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Magic.

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Glass Slippers and Stilettos – Regina and Selective Memory (Fragment)

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It starts off light, little things here and there, which only make you believe she is simply a more forgetful person than others. An assignment not carried out in time leads way to an almost hysterical reaction as she is blaming everybody for not telling her she was the one supposed to do it. Nobody can possibly imagine she would react that way if indeed she had known and forgotten about it. That is, until the situation becomes a recurrent event… because she does indeed forget, she forgets she was told in the first place, then she forgets having forgotten. Therefore it never happened.

[…]

Regina is not like everybody else, she knows it and she cultivates this idea, mainly to the benefit of her own peace of mind. One of those things that make her so special – aside from her uncanny intelligence, unspeakable beauty and impeccable taste, of course – are her high moral standards. Therefore she makes for one very interesting case study, as all people may lie, but not so many of them have so helpful a subconscious that it literally deletes all unwanted and unacceptable memories.

[…]

Selective memory works in mysterious ways, you suddenly remember while she pouts and accuses you of all sorts of sins, such as betrayal, false friendship and selling her to the enemy. With all those invectives thrown at you in one angry breath, you can barely gather yourself and wonder what the hell you did wrong this time, in order to earn you such a warm welcome.

It all becomes clear when you slowly understand that if some people might forget a name, a date or a place, Regina can forget an entire relationship. Thus you are blamed for all kinds of unfriendly, treacherous behaviour, because she only remembers the first time she dated that particular man. But the second time around – the one which lasted half a year or so and even brought about the possibility of an impending wedding – is lost somewhere in the mists of Regina’s selective memory.

You can find the full version of “Glass Slippers and Stilettos” on iBooks, Kobo, Barnes&Noble and Smashwords. I hope you enjoy it!

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/645454

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/glass-slippers-and-stilettos

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/glass-slippers-and-stilettos-ana-linden/1123982690?ean=2940153093093

Unseen Numbers

3

You have 20% sight left in your right eye.

She twirled the fork in the cold pasta once more, still unable or unwilling to taste it. She closed her right eye, giving the plate a suspicious look. She’d been playing that game for a week. The doctor’s words were ringing in her ears, no matter what she did. So she started repeating them once more, not caring that the man sitting across the table, eating his dinner in silence, had heard them time and time again, first from the doctor’s mouth, than from her, doubled by a variety of emotions. Sadness, disbelief, hope, despair, resignation, acceptance… hysteria… he’d witnessed them all. For a moment, she felt relief, as though saying the words out loud made the problem evaporate into thin air.

“You’ll have surgery and everything will be fine again. You’ll see.”

He swallowed his half chewed pasta. There was a faint aftertaste of guilt, he noticed… he’d heard the story so many times, that he’d become immune. He no longer cared about her drama – real or imaginary – but nothing in his actions would betray it. After all, they were married…

20%… It was that number that got to her the most. It was all about the numbers. She hated mathematics, therefore she spent the better part of her life stubbornly trying to disregard the numbers she despised. But they’d always been there, tormenting her, challenging her, making her happy and sad alike, even if she had chosen to look the other way.

But she was too young… wasn’t she? Wasn’t it only old people who needed cataract surgery? She swallowed the tasteless pasta. Apparently not, that’s what the doctor said… either that or she really was old, and she just couldn’t see it. She swallowed her tears along with the pasta.

She looked at all her bookshelves, absentmindedly trying to count all the books she had read and all the ones left to read; and there were so many more that she would never even get to hear about. The numbers were winning once more. Did she only have 20% of her life left as well? The surgery might very well fix her eye – the numbers were in her favour there – but it wouldn’t fix much else. How much was left? And what to do with it?

She closed her right eye again, staring at her left hand. Only half a picture, yet somehow it looked clearer than the full picture. The diamond sparkled as she stretched her fingers and she tried to remember all its numbers – the size, the price, the date she said “yes” to it, to him, the years that had passed. Were they wasted years? Half a picture said “no”; the other half told another story. No eye surgery could help her see her present clearly.

The pasta was blend that evening, yet he wasn’t complaining about it. He always complained when the food wasn’t the way he liked it. Was this good or bad? Was he trying to be understanding and supportive or had he reached that point where he couldn’t be bothered to care enough in order to complain? A 50-50 chance. She knew she often felt she was approaching that point. So potentially 100% for their couple… was that how relationship maths worked?

Her eye moved up to her wrist. The numbers pointed to the fact that it was almost time for him to go out and meet his friends. It was almost time for her to be alone again. The number of minutes in the days in the months in the years they had been married could easily be calculated. But she loathed the result, because she had the feeling she’d been lonely for the better part of them. She also loathed to think whether he was lonely as well.

Perhaps that was why there were no more watches, no more jewellery, no more flowers. As the numbers of their relationship went up, the number of tokens of appreciation decreased, until it reached 0 and stagnated. Or did he think that holding her hand at the eye doctor was a sign of appreciation? Maybe he did… after all, she thought that remembering to buy his favourite socks was a sign of affection. They barely remembered each other’s birthdays or their anniversary these days, but the memories of earlier years were crystal clear. His birthday had come and gone, adding one more uncelebrated year to his number. Her birthday was coming up; so was their anniversary. She didn’t feel guilty for not celebrating his; she would resent him for ignoring hers, theirs… But she would pretend she didn’t care, the way she had for the past several years. How many years was it now? Anyway, she would pretend not to care, she would make light of it… after all, they weren’t children… after all, they were married…

“We should have dinner somewhere nice on our anniversary… or maybe on your birthday. That way, you don’t have to cook…” He pushed aside the half empty plate of pasta and left the table. It was time for after dinner drinks with his friends.

Both her eyes were widely open, silently staring the man in front of her. But she couldn’t get a clear picture. Was it because he hated her cooking? Was he trying to be nice? But if he was, why didn’t he suggest they go away for a few days, just the two of them? Could he no longer stand to be alone with her for a few days? Could she put up with him for a few days, just the two of them alone, all the time? Would this year’s celebration celebrate something? What were the chances for that to happen? Surely they could be calculated. Perhaps she didn’t want a clear picture after all…

Glass Slippers and Stilettos – Belated Introduction (Fragment)

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She is friendlier than anybody would have expected a pretty girl to know how to be. She is incredibly hardworking, even when she doesn’t really do anything right. But most importantly, she is so deliciously vulnerable. The one everybody expected to be so smug and conceited is actually so surprisingly modest and demurred, even insecure at times, her big eyes filling with tears when she does something wrong. So nobody can resist helping her, nobody can bring themselves to criticize her, thus risking to cover that delicate doll face of hers with a dark shadow of regret, insecurity and fear. It’s ok, don’t worry, we’ll fix this…. No, no, no, it’s not your fault, you’ll learn, we all make mistakes, especially early on.

Eyes humbly staring at the floor, supported on either side by a benevolent figure, Regina will find her way towards the end of her first week, understanding how everything works and what needs to be done. Not yet having found her path to confidence, she will still strive to do everything right. Incidentally, she does find her way to the hearts of her older colleagues as the perfect daughter they always wanted. She warms up the soul and phantasy of the men in the office as the embodiment of a dream, that of the perfectly sensual, yet proper woman. As for the other girls, not even the ones who don’t look up to her, wishing to emulate her in every way, can bring themselves to dispute her obvious merits and openly antagonize her, because she has already quietly established herself as the innocent face of the office.

[…]

Slowly, but surely she has evolved from doing her job and appreciating everybody else’s help to giving orders, pouting and letting her colleagues carry out her tasks, because she simply doesn’t see why somebody of her calibre should be bothered with such menial things… even though they are part of her job description and she does get paid handsomely for it. Regina has bigger and better things to do, like pout, look pretty and check out all the latest status updates, while she is waiting for everybody else to notice and understand that she is meant to be one of the leaders, not one of the cogs in the system, since she is indeed above all mere mortals. She will not verbalize any of these thoughts just yet, her education is above that after all, and Regina will make do with silently looking down on everybody and occasionally pretend not to notice her co-workers having to do her job.

You can find the full version of “Glass Slippers and Stilettos” on iBooks, Kobo, Barnes&Noble and Smashwords. I hope you enjoy it!

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/645454

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/glass-slippers-and-stilettos

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/glass-slippers-and-stilettos-ana-linden/1123982690?ean=2940153093093

Glass Slippers and Stilettos – Regina and Separate Beds (Fragment)

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Alone once more, with nobody to share her tragedy, having to face and accept the separate beds situation, Regina also has to accept taunting memories that refuse to stay selectively lost. Inconsiderate has no knowledge of it, but when initially leaving her for not being appealing enough, he became an influential factor in Regina’s evolution. Non-revealing, somewhat blend, often boring outfits used to be her signature style. That’s how you get a husband, she had been taught; she was also quite sure her mere existence would be reason enough for any man to reach ecstasy. On top of everything else, she had the upper hand, she looked the part of the moral compass she believed herself to be, thus feeling entitled to pass judgement on any other woman.

What really annoyed her at the time, she remembered, was the fact that her style had worked on several men, all enthralled by her innocent beauty and charm. She was particularly fond of one memory… After a pleasant evening together, her date was walking her home. It was a warm summer evening and she was wearing the most unassuming, somewhat outdated dress and pink flip-flops. They had had such a great time together, that she just didn’t want their date to end, so she invited him to stay for coffee. But it was only their second date, so he chose to be a perfect gentleman… yet when he held her tight and gave her a long, passionate goodbye kiss, pressing his body against hers, she could clearly feel how much he desired her. So men had to make an effort to control the wild desire she stirred up in their loins, in spite of those unrevealing outfits she used to wear. However, she failed to remember a few insignificant details… They had to run through torrential rain that beautiful summer evening and by the time they reached her door, the boring dress was nothing but a semi-transparent piece of cloth clinging to the naked body underneath. But such things rarely make a difference when it comes to a man’s desire anyway…

Meeting Inconsiderate was a revelation. He was the first real man she fell in lust with and not only did he fascinate her, but he also made her feel small and simply not good enough. Everything about him exuded power and success, she felt; and she absolutely loved how he only wore designer clothes and accessories… She was equally impressed and intimidated by his disdain for people who found it acceptable to drape their bodies in cheap, ordinary clothes and in case one didn’t manage to catch a clear glimpse of all the labels he was wearing, he would certainly find a way to work it into conversation. Women were occasionally exempt from the designer rule, if and only if the flashy outfits covering their perfect bodies left very little to the imagination and their pretty faces expressed endless awe and admiration for him. Complete with an equally extravagant car he would change at least yearly (because he kept wrecking each and every one of them), the stunning new man in Regina’s life was absolutely irresistible. Anyone saying otherwise was just too jealous to admit it!

You can find the full version of “Glass Slippers and Stilettos” on iBooks, Kobo, Barnes&Noble and Smashwords. I hope you enjoy it!

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/645454

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/glass-slippers-and-stilettos

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/glass-slippers-and-stilettos-ana-linden/1123982690?ean=2940153093093

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 57

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“Nice place… You can’t even see this entrance from the main road, how did you find it?”

“I got lost years ago and I took this little country road by mistake, thinking it was the one which was supposed to take me to a hotel I had never stayed at before. Instead I found this place and decided to spend the night here and do some damage to their wine collection. Plus, they’re very friendly at the little inn they have, and the food is great.”

“Of course, the stuff of legends, the universally agreed upon way to find little gems and picturesque places.”

“Sure, go on, mock all you want, but it’s a very nice place, you’ll see.”

She looks absentminded, staring at the vineyard like I’m not even here… Robert couldn’t avoid acknowledging the return to her original distance and cold front. One person last night and another one now. The view of the vineyard surrounding them while having lunch didn’t fail in melting some of her indifference, but she was still restless halfway through her desert, when a small revelation cleared her mind.

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/parallel-lives-ana-linden/1118140770?ean=2940045563567

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/parallel-lives-7

…. and iBooks, of course. 🙂

Tricks and Treats of Adult Life

2

“… had a feeling… he did … found out by mistake … and now … yesterday … telling you …”

Oh yes! Gloves, gloves, gloves! Those turquois ones… They definitely have the best selection. Gloves, gloves, gloves…

“Do you mind if I have a look?”

“Help yourself! Try on everything you like.”

Next to being left to my own devices in a candy store as a child, what else could be better? Quick, let’s have a thorough look before she changes her mind and becomes a suffocating sales person again.

“And the kids… there’s the kids to consider, after all…”

And the elbow length ones… look at those beauties, they’d go great with my cape. Behave yourself, you have a pair just like them at home! Oh well… perhaps in a different colour… maybe the royal blue pair. Between the intoxicating smell of leather and all the colours and styles, how’s a girl to make up her mind? Decisions, decisions…

“The business too… Don’t you think?”

I confess, I have a weakness for leather gloves. I blame it on my childhood (isn’t that what we always do when it comes to our quirks and foibles?). I’m partial to accessories in general, like most women, but come the cold season, I can’t help thinking I just need to have at least one more pair of leather gloves… or two or three… and perhaps some new boots too… Oh no, one obsession at a time!

Anyway, as I was saying, I’m sure I can blame this one on my childhood. My grandmother used to have this pair of fur trimmed, unimaginably soft leather gloves and I remember I so wanted a pair just like that. When you grow up, she’d tell me, they’re not for children. So I eventually did what any rebellious, stubborn kid would do. If I wasn’t going to have the ones I wanted, then I would not wear any gloves. However, that did not change my grandmother’s mind, so I went a couple of winters without actually wearing gloves, even if I was offered several colourful, girly, woollen choices. (I did occasionally cheat, I had a pair hidden in my schoolbag, just in case of an impromptu snow fight; but I wouldn’t wear them otherwise.) The denouement came as a shocking surprise when my mother eventually noticed my frozen hands and she was told what the reason was. All this drama for nothing, I remember she muttered, angry with my grandmother. Here, you can have mine, I never wear them anyway. With the simplest of gestures, she took a pair of black leather gloves out of her handbag and gave them to me. See if they fit. They did, they fit almost perfectly and they smelled like leather and her perfume. I was finally an adult, I thought to myself, ignoring my grandmother’s angry, disapproving looks.

“He’s been seeing her for over a year. I have no idea what to do now, I mean, I have to make a decision, right? Do I divorce him?”

Something’s wrong with the speakers, a good part of them stopped working and now the woman’s monologue is loud and clear, I can’t miss a word if I tried. She obviously doesn’t care, she keeps pouring her story over her friend or acquaintance, the one she’s holding captive, who looks so embarrassed, so ill at ease.

Anyway, I just wanted to stop by and say hello… But the words don’t sink in and they don’t grant her an escape. She looks like a trapped animal, ready to make a run for it, wanting to be as far away from that mundane drama unfolding in front of her. To say hello to an acquaintance, maybe a hugely discounted pair of gloves, that’s all she wanted; and now that hand holding her arm in a friendly, yet desperate grip was dragging her into one of those unpleasant situations in which none of us want to find ourselves.

I can’t say I don’t understand her. I don’t want to hear the most private, embarrassingly painful details of a stranger’s marriage. I hate whoever is in charge of the sound system. Now I have to leave, because I feel so uncomfortable listening to all that. In her attempt to escape, the unwilling confident has slowly motioned towards the exit and now the two of them are blocking the small doorway, none of them letting go of the pair of gloves which had been purchased and dearly paid for.

Why should I leave? This was supposed to be my treat. I was looking forward to the leather goods fair. It’s always small family businesses that attend and there are always great deals to be found. I want my damn gloves! I wasted all that time looking for a parking spot and now I should just leave? I’m going to stomp my feet and dive right back into the plethora of colourful gloves, together with the other uncomfortable customers. That’s what I’m going to do. Look how pretty those fuchsia ones are… wait, I already have a pair of fuchsia gloves… I bought them here last year… They always have the best selection, don’t they? All sorts of colours, not just your usual black, brown and beige variety…

Right… two pairs will do, and for the first time I don’t want to spend any more time here than necessary.

“Should I leave him?”

Strangers ask me the most unexpected questions… like that lady at the supermarket, asking me what pickles she should buy – what do I know, I don’t even like pickles? But this one really takes the cake.

I looked up, making eye contact with the woman holding on to the small shopping bag. She isn’t trying to cynically punish me for having unwillingly witnessed her loud confession. She is expecting an answer. A one word answer, not an opinion, not pity or husband bashing. She needs an answer, I can see that.

“No.”

That is the only one word answer she is looking for. I know that. I know it, because much as I tried, I couldn’t help hearing everything. I couldn’t help understanding that – whether she knows it or not – her mind is already made up. All she needs now is somebody to support that decision, somebody she can blame in case it’s the wrong decision. So I’ll give her that.

She lets go of the small shopping bag we’re both holding and she smiles.

“Thank you.”

Maybe it wasn’t my place to answer. Maybe it wasn’t even the right answer. I don’t know. What I do know is that it was what she needed at that point. What I do know is that it wasn’t my place to tell her that I believe almost everybody cheats at some point or another, in some way or another, for some reason or another. It wasn’t my place to tell her that everything she was relating suggested the fact that her husband would most likely leave her before she might even get a chance to verbalise her decision.

I walked away with my nicely wrapped new gloves. There’s more to the life of an adult woman than such delightful treats. We need our armour to protect us from the tricks played on us and from the potential guilt resulting from the tricks we play on others… and on ourselves. And if some soft leather gloves or any other kind of delicious, frivolous accessories can help build and maintain that metaphorical armour, then so be it! If we need to occasionally relinquish responsibility, revert to childhood and blame the world for our misfortune for a moment or two, then so be it!

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Glass Slippers and Stilettos – …Or For Worse (Fragment)

Ana Linden

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The woman in the mirror wasn’t the one she remembered. No matter how hard she struggled, she would never see that reflection again. Time had a perverted way of leaving scars on her body in spite of all her best efforts. Turning slowly, analysing every particle projected in the horridly honest mirror, she felt her spirits lifted by the image of a still beautiful, mature woman. Her thighs were almost cellulite free… and her stomach, almost flat again… her behind was no longer as firm, but the right pair of jeans made it look just as luscious… her breasts had definitely seen better days, but she would do something about that as soon as possible. It was a game of make-believe these days, she thought to herself.

[…]

“Babe… I don’t know what I would’ve done tonight without you… After the day I’ve had… you wouldn’t believe it if I…

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Husband Or Cat?

1

She was quickly becoming a pain in the neck… literally. Holding the phone to my ear with my shoulder while ironing may have not been one of my brightest ideas. But conversations with her were generally long and boring. I needed some other dull task to focus on, so that they wouldn’t feel like a waste of time. After all, that’s what people do, right? They try to keep in touch, they make an effort to communicate and mind each other’s dull nonsense… that is, until you start feeling like throwing your phone out the window.

Apparently she was having a husband bashing night and I just had to be part of it…. Oh well… Sure, I could let her vent and throw in a yes, no or a wow once in a while. I knew the drill, she just needed to tare him apart and contradicting her would only anger the woman even more. But strongly agreeing with her while listing all his flaws without mentioning any redeeming qualities was also a faux pas. After all, she wanted some compassion and empathy, she didn’t want to hear that she had married the wrong person, that the two of them were not compatible, or – horror of horrors – that some of their marital problems might have also been her fault. But once she was done, she generally occasionally able to hear that perhaps he wasn’t all bad, that she might not always be a delight to live with and that all in all, they needed to work together on solving their problems.

Then there were the times when conversations took a twisted, shocking turn…

“I just can’t do it anymore… I have to do everything… he can’t even be trusted to take out the rubbish… you wouldn’t believe for how long he can leave the rubbish bag right there, by the door…”

Oh yes, the “who takes out the rubbish” conundrum… I heard that one before. Whenever she’s mad at him, you’ll always hear about the rubbish.

“I put it next to his shoes and he still claims he didn’t see it, that’s why he didn’t take it out. I swear, next time he’ll find it all over his beloved loafers. I’m not joking, you know. I told him that.”

I had to stifle a few giggles. I know how annoying such small things can be, they get to me too. But for years and years, I keep hearing all about the rubbish drama. She keeps finding amusingly creative ways to point it out and he keeps ignoring it. I wouldn’t be surprised if one morning he found potato peels in his shoes, leftover pasta in his pockets and shrivelled lettuce in his wallet.

“He’s taken it too far… I don’t know how long I can put up with this anymore. I’m all alone all day, taking care of our sick cat and what does he do?… The poor thing isn’t doing better, I’m the only one giving her the treatment and it breaks your heart seeing how she suffers…”

Goody… more cat stories now. I made a face at the phone, while picking up a pillow case from the decreasing laundry pile. I am not a cat person. She always talked about her cat the same way doting mothers talk about their babies. Much as I wanted to be open and understanding, I couldn’t help thinking there were deeper issues behind her behaviour.

“I give the cat her medicine, I try to get her to eat something, I’m the one who stays awake watching her at night…”

Why would she do that in the first place? I was pretty sure the cat wasn’t awake all night… Oh well… moving on to the next pillow case.

“… and he sleeps right through it! Then he’s at work all day, of course. And who has to take care of a sick cat every day? Not him! You know he hasn’t taken one single day off to stay home with her?”

What sane person would?

“And now, do you know where he is now? Well, do you?”

Oh, that wasn’t a rhetorical question… How am I to know?

“No…”

“I’ll tell you where he is. At the hospital, visiting his mother! Every day, after work, he goes straight to the hospital to see her. He has a sick cat at home and he goes to the hospital to see his mother every day!”

Okay… this I was not prepared for… how does one react to something like this?

“Do you know that I had to take the cat to the vet all by myself because he was too busy looking after his mommy?”

I unplugged the iron and sat down, holding the phone with one hand and massaging my neck with the other. I like animals too. I had pets too. But this was too much. This was insane. There was a woman suffering on a hospital bed. Her husband was terrified facing the possibility of losing his mother, and all she cared about was a damn cat with an ear infection.

This was a new low, and it had nothing to do with me not being a cat person or with a man too lazy to take out the rubbish. Nevertheless, I am the one labelled as uncaring and cold-hearted, because I am not moved to tears by the suffering kitty… Well, call me crazy, but I want to desperately hold on to this insane idea that people, especially the ones we choose to have in our lives, should be more important than a pet.

Ages and Stages of Watching “Dirty Dancing”

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I kept changing the channels, barely noticing what was on… nothing was interesting anyway… not the book I was reading, not the homework I knew I was never going to finish, not the outfit I was going to wear the following day, and certainly not my life that evening. A movie was about to start and I decided to give it a chance. And this is how I got to watch experience Dirty Dancing for the first time.

I would have been too young to understand or show the slightest interest in it in the 80s, but the 90s teenager was absolutely fascinated by the romance unfolding on TV. Of course, the fact that Patrick Swayze was absolutely yummy didn’t hurt; I also loved the dancing, but it was the passion between the characters that I envied. Their story wasn’t exactly what I would have imagined as the dream romance, yet it was subjugating nevertheless. I wanted to feel something like that, the kind of consuming, overwhelming, out of control love which gives you wings and the strength to defend the object of your affection, no matter what. Such an ecstatic experience was definitely one worth having, I decided. But the ending… it made me sad. Sure, he came back for her, he didn’t allow for anybody to put Baby in a corner, they had one last amazing, unforgettable dance, but then I was left with the feeling that the end of summer was also the end of their romance. Why couldn’t that sort of love motivate two beautifully passionate people to try and find a way to be together? The movie ended on a cheery note, but I was sure that was the end for Baby and Johnny. It couldn’t have been any other way, yet I didn’t want to look beneath the surface and acknowledge the obvious answers to my questions.

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I had experienced that unbelievable, unexpected, overpowering passion, I had even done some dirty dancing of my own by the next time I watched the movie, in my very early twenties. Sometimes, when we get to experience the materialization of one of our dreams, the reality doesn’t meet the expectations. That wasn’t such a case. The reality was every bit as deliciously amazing as the dream. In some instances, it might have even been better, because some sensations cannot be fully understood if only imagined and not even once perceived.

Come the end of summer, came the end of romance as well – a known, anticipated and planned ending. The truth couldn’t be denied. It was exactly that pre-established ending that increased the intensity of our passion. The awareness that our infatuation wouldn’t last forever allowed us to give everything and open our hearts, souls and bodies to each other’s desires and feelings. It was the kind of passion that would haunt us for years to come. It was the kind of passion that would make us see the other person’s features everywhere. It was the kind of passion that brought tears to our eyes when hearing a certain song, knowing we wouldn’t see the other person anymore. It was the kind of passion which even when no longer felt, but only remembered, would make us pick up our phones and send the other a text, sharing a memory or an instance which triggered a feeling. We both had our own separate lives, yet those texts never went unanswered. It was the kind of passion that needed no explanation between the two persons who had once shared it.

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I watched Dirty Dancing that second time, melancholically wondering if I would ever find that sort of passion. Experiencing it only once was never going to be enough for me, few things could compare to it, few times had I felt that alive. I had a feeling I would experience it again, just as I knew I would watch that movie over and over again. I didn’t question the ending anymore. The ending was absolutely necessary… but perhaps it could be changed in real life, under the right circumstances… or so I liked to think, even if I didn’t really believe it.

I couldn’t see past that happy ending separating the couple. Actually, I could, but I preferred not to look. I didn’t want to see a drunken, aged, frustrated Johnny, unable to cope with Baby’s successful career, incapable and unwilling to be part of her world. I didn’t want to see a sad, lonely, frustrated, prematurely aged Baby trying to make ends meet, regretting her choices, wishing she hadn’t given up her future and squandered her potential for a man she barely knew. They had made the right decision, the only smart one.

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I watched Dirty Dancing many times since. I got to experience that passion again, more than once. I don’t know if I’m luckier than others or that kind of passion is out there, available and real for everybody, as long as we allow it and accept it for what it is. What I do know – now that I’m in my thirties – is that I could live it again, if I decided it was worth it. Knowing the inevitable ending, being able to recognize the stages deprives it of some of its magic. Watching Dirty Dancing again makes me realize I’ve become more jaded and cynical than I thought I was. I no longer feel that strong wish to live such a story, and not because I don’t think it’s worth it – it definitely remains an incredibly great mixture of emotions and surprising moments – but because I now know it’s not as unattainable as it might seem. While each and every one of these stories is special in its own way, none of them is really unique… And they all die out the same way. It’s passion able to regenerate its strength that’s truly hard to find, not consuming passion that burns out with a bright, short lived flame.

So what I wish now while watching Dirty Dancing is that I hadn’t lost all my naiveté, what I dream is to occasionally forget how jaded I am. That way, next time I am presented with a Dirty Dancing kind of passion, I wouldn’t stop and wonder, Is it worth it?… even if I’m pretty sure the answer would still be Yes.

On The Edge

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“It’s like this glass of water,” and she points to the wine glass in front of her instead. “I have this full glass and I give him half. Then I give him half of what’s left. Then I take a few sips myself, I need to drink too. And so on, until the glass is empty. And when it’s empty, I have nothing else left to give. Nothing left for him. Nothing left for me. Nothing left for anybody.” She lifts the wine glass which she stubbornly calls “water” and she drinks greedily. “And it’s still not enough, he’s not happy. He says I’m selfish and self-involved and never give anything back… when all I do is give until there’s nothing left.”

The whiny voice drowns into another sip of whine, waiting for compassionate words to wash over her. I have no such words to give.

“Did he ever ask you to share that glass of water?”

“No… But that’s what I felt I had to do.”

“Was it? Or did you simply decide that’s what he should need?”

She was quiet, trying to suppress those angry words bubbling inside her. Aren’t the two one and the same? What difference did it make, she knew better… she always knew better than anyone else.

“Did you ever stop and wonder if he wanted or needed water? Maybe he wanted a slice of bread instead, maybe he asked you for it time and time again, yet you didn’t care one bit; you had already decided he should only want water.” Because water was all you were willing to offer, even if that water was make-believe and was in fact wine…

“He should have wanted water!”

Being at the receiving end of that sort of generosity makes one feel worthless. It’s degrading to see your needs, hopes and dreams swept aside like disgusting dirt that they are in somebody else’s eyes, only to be replaced with the “appropriate” ones. You will only want that which I am willing to offer, and you’d better be forever grateful, her actions always made it clear.

“He says that hurts him. That it hurts him to see what I’ve become.”

She was on the edge of realization. He was on the edge of collapse. Their relationship was on the edge too.

“But it’s his fault.”

She couldn’t help herself. Reality was swiftly pushed aside and she was about to yet again plunge into that imaginary world where she is always the victim and the hero.

“No, it’s not. Not everything is his fault. Take responsibility for who you are!”

Would she?

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