This is a selection taken from the stories I wrote between 2003 and 2011. Nearly all of them have been previously published, many in publications no longer extant. Where they are still available in existing books or magazines, sufficient time has elapsed to permit their re-publication without fear of ethical impropriety or breach of contractual terms. Check the Blog Archive at the bottom of the page for individual titles.

Please be aware that each story was written by the person I was at the time. In a sense, therefore, each one was written by somebody different. None of them was written by the person I am now.

Anybody wanting to view my novel Odyssey can do so here. I’ve set the price very low because I’m more interested in the story being read than in making money out of it. It’s about a goddess and her rabbit companion taking a mortal man on a journey to teach him a few lessons about the nature of reality and higher consciousness, and it's probably more entertaining than I make it sound. I never was any good at selling myself. The Gift Horse, a story of reincarnation and karmic balancing, is also now available at the same place.

September 18, 2010

The Seeing of Sheona McCormack.

This is a true story. Every detail is related exactly as I remember it. It was first published under the guise of fiction by Writers’ Bloc, the literary journal of Rutgers-Camden University, New Jersey, in 2009.

Approximate reading time: 25 minutes.

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I have been close to a lot of women in my life, and I have had romantic relationships with quite a few of them. Sheona McCormack should be listed prominently among the latter, but she isn’t.

Sheona McCormack was the one that got away. Or perhaps the metaphor should be a little more explicit. She was the one who lured me up the familiar ladder of mad infatuation – against my better judgment it has to be said – until I got to the point of resigning my heart to her completely. At that point I plunged rapidly to the unyielding ground below, and the landing hurt. Whether I had missed my footing, whether I had been pushed, or whether the ladder had proved to be an illusion of my own creation I shall probably never know. In any event, I was some way short of being myself for about six weeks afterwards.

I first met her at the theatre where we both worked, she as a props maker and I doing various front-of-house duties. She came out of the rehearsal room as I was sitting around waiting to meet somebody. The sight of her arrested my breathing for a moment. It was like taking the first mouthful of a hot curry.

She was in her mid-twenties, of medium height and slight of frame. Her face was pale, small and elfin-like, with bright, powder-blue eyes that looked at me briefly before turning away again. She was exquisitely pretty. Her most remarkable feature, though, was her hair. It was the purest and most lustrous blonde I had ever seen, and hung dead straight all the way down her back as far as the lower part of her waist. As she walked back to the workshop it swung slightly and glistened.

I thought I recognised her, but the memory was hopelessly vague. It seemed long-distant, like some hidden resonance from early childhood. That was impossible; she was twenty years younger than me. Yet still I developed an immediate, almost mystical fascination with her.

The feeling passed quickly. Even though I was unattached at the time, I put any prospect of a relationship out of my head. Apart from the obvious difficulties inherent in the age difference, there was the question of my romantic nature to be considered. True romantics are dangerous people, and I had been forced to consider the ramifications of those dangers through successive failed relationships. They never stop looking for an ideal that doesn’t exist. Even when they think they’ve found it, they simply adjust the definition and carry on searching. To the true romantic, the search is everything. I had decided that enough was enough, both for my own sake and for the sake of the unfortunate women involved.

I didn’t see Sheona McCormack again for three weeks, three whole weeks of sublime ignorance in which she was just a half remembered, mystical vision passing through the line of my sight and psyche for all of thirty seconds.

It was early September and the start of the new season at the theatre. It was a Wednesday night. It’s odd how everything of note that happened with Sheona happened on a Wednesday. They say the universe weaves patterns. Maybe.

There was a first night party and I was invited. The venue was a house about fifteen minutes walk away, where four of the actors were lodging. I knew most of the people there and did what we all do at parties: drank a few drinks, danced a few dances, joked a few jokes, and then went to rest up in the quiet backwater of the capacious, kitchen bay window. There was a refectory table parked self-consciously in the recess. I was sitting at it, sipping my solitary beer, when the vision with the long blonde hair suddenly became manifest again. She sat on a chair opposite. It was one o’clock in the morning, or thereabouts.

“Hi,” she said. “I’m Sheona.”

I wasn’t sure how to reply. Her impromptu appearance shocked me more than I would have predicted. I felt the hot curry sensation again. I managed an awkward “hello.”

“We haven’t actually met, have we?” she continued, already taking the upper hand. “I had to ask one of the actors who the guy in the check shirt was.”

Her smile was engaging. So was her voice. It was a little thin, but it had a childlike, open quality about it. I watched her as she talked trivia for a few minutes. I decided she was beautiful. I was old enough to know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but it didn’t take me long to learn that most other men thought her beautiful too.

I returned the verbal correspondence with some trivia of my own. It was largely manufactured, but I was good at that. It’s what true romantics do at the start of a relationship; it comes naturally. And yet I felt inadequate. If I might put it this way: Sheona was some way beyond what I had become accustomed to expect over my thirty years of wooing and winning. She really was something else. What that something consisted of I wasn’t quite sure yet. I assumed it had something to do with personal magnetism.

“Fancy a dance?” she said suddenly.

Did I feel honoured? In retrospect, yes. At the time I just felt a mighty thrill accompanied by an uncharacteristic uncertainty. My hesitation in agreeing was too brief to be apparent, however, and we moved into the living room where the music was playing.

The atmosphere was typical - low key lighting, smulchy music, the heat of bodies, the smell of alcohol and cannabis. We faced each other and began to dance. Over the next few minutes she continued to talk trivia, and she moved ever closer until her lips were brushing mine as they moved. How could any virile, unattached forty-something, let alone an incurable romantic, be expected to resist such transparent overtures? But resist them I did. The lessons of previous encounters stood firm. I held her, but only briefly and no more than I considered decent. When the music finished she moved away to the far side of the room and I went back to the kitchen to get my drink. I didn’t see her again for three hours. More patterns: threes and Wednesdays.

I have no idea where she went during those three hours, and that mystery was to find an echo later too. Twice during our troubled liaison time ceased to function normally. This was Alpha; Omega was to be six months down the line.

At four o’clock in the morning I decided it was time I went home. I finished the last of my drinks and walked out into the hall. Sheona had materialised again. She was there saying goodbye to somebody, and then she left without so much as acknowledging my presence. The sense of deflation I felt was soon overcome and I moved among my friends, taking my leave of them with the usual pleasantries. I left at 4.15.

My house was only ten minutes walk away and I felt surprisingly sober. I maintained a brisk pace around the maze of deserted side streets until I reached the equally deserted main road on which my house was located. There is something dreamlike about a deserted main road at 4.15 am. I savoured the surreal quality as I walked, and was slightly startled when I saw a movement some way ahead of me, in the shadow of a wall on the other side of the road. This was an inner city neighbourhood, and so I slowed my pace while I identified the cause.

The cause was Sheona McCormack. She was struggling to control a bicycle which she was trying to push along the pavement. She was having little success and I realised it had taken her more than fifteen minutes to manage a distance of about four hundred yards. I also knew that she had intended to cycle the two miles or more to her home on the other side of the city centre. She had obviously been unable to balance on the machine, and seemed unable to push it in a straight line either. What else would an incurable romantic perceive in such a situation but a damsel in distress?

I went over and took control of the bike. It was my turn to do the talking as we continued to a junction where our ways would, in normal circumstances, have parted. These were not normal circumstances. Sheona was clearly in no condition to make her own way home and I set about trying to persuade her to spend what was left of the night on my sofa.

She resisted valiantly. We’d only just met, she said. How could she know I was trustworthy? I understood, of course, but still felt irritated. She’d drawn me in with her seductive charms, and now she was questioning my character. I told her she could try to walk home if that was what she wanted, but I would walk with her to see that she got there safely. I would have done, too.

It did the trick. She relented, but only partially. She would come and have a coffee to sober up, she said, and then she would go home. Five minutes later she started to drink a cup of black coffee, sitting on my sofa. Five minutes after that she lay down and went to sleep. Most of the coffee stayed undrunk. I covered her with a spare blanket and went to bed.

She was in a hurry to leave at nine o’clock the next morning. She had an interview to attend in connection with a freelance design job for another theatre company. The post was offered on the spot apparently, and the company was located fifty miles away. It was to last for three months. I think I could have predicted that. For three months she disappeared from my life, in a physical sense at least.

In all other senses she began to haunt me mercilessly – and probably without volition, too, if the logical contradiction might be excused for the sake of linguistic expediency. I thought about her every day, not obsessively in my opinion, but frequently and with a growing sense of need. Need is not a good thing to feel and it worried me slightly. I tried to work out why the attraction was such a big issue. Physically, she had all the right attributes. But there had to be more. Her magnetic personality? That wasn’t enough either. About a week after the party the - oh dear, dare I call them visions? Whatever they were, that was when they began.

They would usually happen when I was dozing in my armchair, and they were always the same. We were sitting together on a cliff top, overlooking the sea. I knew it was somewhere on the west coast of Scotland, and that the sea was the Atlantic Ocean. We were dressed in unfamiliar clothing – maybe eighteenth century, but I couldn’t be sure. I wanted us to be together. Maybe I was asking her to marry me. The look in her eyes was clear, and it filled me with desolation. They were sorrowful eyes. They wanted to say yes, but they had to say no – and she couldn’t, or wouldn’t, say why.

Then the dreams began, and they were always the same too. I would visit her in a dingy, dimly lit room. The walls were a dull magnolia colour and looked dirty. The only furniture was an old refectory table standing in the middle. We would face one another in silence, each looking into the other’s eyes. She would move towards me and I would step back. Then I would move forward and she would retire. Eventually she would leave by a door in the corner of the room. Dream over. I have since seen pictures of one of Jack the Ripper’s victims. The room in which her disfigured body lies looks eerily familiar. A poor, Victorian prostitute’s backstreet hovel. Why would my subconscious mind place Sheona in such a room? Maybe there was more to it, and I felt uneasy as to what it might be.

Both the dreams and the visions occurred frequently for the whole three months. Sometimes there would be slight differences in detail, but the sense of confusion and rejection was ever present.

And then, some time around the middle of December, I found a hand-delivered Christmas card lying beneath the letterbox in my front door. Sheona was back and she wanted to see me again. The card didn’t actually say as much; that wasn’t her way. The desire was more subtly expressed, as though she needed to protect herself, but the message was clear enough. It included a note of her new address, a flat situated in a large house less than a mile away. Easy walking distance, I thought. She had included her phone number, and so I rang it.

We arranged to meet for a drink – a proper drink in a proper pub that would provide safe, neutral ground. I’m fairly sure it was a Wednesday. Let’s just say I’d be very surprised if it wasn’t a Wednesday. Our conversation was very different from the previous ones. She did most of the talking and related just about every negative fact about herself that she could think of. I felt confused again. Every aspect of her earlier behaviour had suggested she was interested in pursuing a romantic relationship. Now she was giving me every reason in the book to run the other way. It didn’t take me long to realise that this was either a test of my intentions or a challenge to my staying power. That was encouraging. At least, I chose to feel encouraged. In reality I was still confused. And confused I continued to be, increasingly, for the next three months. The pattern of threes was unflinchingly reliable.

We started to see each other regularly. Often it was at the theatre where she was now working again, “on the book” this time. We sometimes had a drink in the bar and went to first and last night parties together. We also exchanged visits to our relative places of abode. She complimented me on my arrangement of furniture – said my living room functioned like an aeroplane’s cockpit and that was how she would have done it. And yet it never felt that we were really together. She seemed determined to make me feel that I was somehow surplus to requirements. It was a neat trick, and I’m still not sure how she did it. One incident, perhaps, might serve as an example.

A last night party was being held at the local “lock-in” – a pub around the corner from the theatre where the actors and production staff drank behind closed doors until 5 am or even later.

Sheona and I left the theatre together. We arrived at the pub together at about 11.30. We sat, talked and drank together. And then I went to the loo. As I came back into the bar I saw one of the male actors standing by the door in the far corner, beckoning to Sheona. She stood up and followed him outside. I pushed my way through the crowd of bodies to see what was going on. As I came out into the street I saw her riding her bike into a nearby side street with John, the actor, maintaining a brisk walking pace alongside. Where did that leave me? Depressed, that’s where it left me. I went home seething with anger, jealousy and a whole host of other hot and debilitating emotions. But the night wasn’t over yet.

The cocktail of feelings was too darkly insistent to allow for sleep. I drank several scotches and felt sorry for myself. At 4 am – yes, 4 am – I was still angry and decided to go for a walk. I trudged along my own main road until it joined the bigger road on which the theatre was situated.

I turned left to walk uphill. It was like the night when Sheona and I had first met: the unreal atmosphere of major, inner-city thoroughfares without any traffic. I thought my eyes, or the scotch maybe, must be playing tricks on me. A dark shape appeared over the crest of the hill. It seemed to be flying to the beat of small wings placed at the top of its body. And then it took the shape of a woman riding a bike. Miss 4 am was uncannily on cue. The “wings” were the flaps of her lumberjack hat that she hadn’t bothered to fasten. They were moving up and down in time with her pedalling.

I crossed the road and waited for her to come to a halt. The coincidence of us both being in the same place at such an unlikely hour still gave me half a thought that she might be a hallucination. No, she was real enough. I asked her what on earth she was doing, riding her bike at four o’clock in the morning.

“I often go for a ride in the early hours. The road’s quiet.”

I asked her what the business with John had been about.

“He had some resin - wondered if I might want to share a splif with him.”

“Was that all?”

“Yes.”

She looked and sounded indignant. I felt better. She rode off down the hill without looking back. I went home to bed.

Now, you might wonder why I didn’t broach this thorny subject openly. Just what did our relationship mean to her is what I should have been asking. The reason is simple, if a little shameful. I felt intimidated. I was twenty years older than her and, as I said, I’d had many relationships with women. Sheona was the only one who had ever intimidated me.

To be fair, I’m sure there was no such intention on her part. She looked slightly bemused now and then, as though she was wondering why I was so reticent. I really don’t know, but I think it had a lot to do with the dreams and visions. I was becoming increasingly convinced that we had known each other intimately before, and that there was something hidden in our past that had yet to be settled. Furthermore, it didn’t feel entirely wholesome.

Fortunately, or not as you choose, there wasn’t much longer to go. Matters came to a head three months after the Christmas that had been the start of our liaison. They took place over three Wednesdays in March.

On Wednesday 1st she invited me to lunch at her flat. She’d laid out the most comprehensive and sumptuous spread. I did little more than nibble at it and that seemed to trouble her. Oddly, it didn’t occur to me that she might be feeling disappointed that her efforts were not being fully recognised. I just felt intimidated - increasingly so. And yet my desire for her was becoming manic, evidently in inverse proportion to my sense of intimidation. I even began to wonder whether there might be some truly magical mischief going on behind those powder blue eyes. Maybe her unusually long hair was a power source, like Samson’s. We really do think some strange thoughts when we’re under pressure, don’t we?

That night we went to the theatre together, to watch a play this time. I don’t remember what it was, but I do remember how she behaved. I was sitting with my elbows on the arm rests. Sheona had her arms folded. The combination of postures meant that her right hand was close to my right arm. I felt the upper part of that arm being stroked gently – “caressed” would be an accurate description. Could there be a more transparent statement of intent than that? She had already offered some pretty telling bits of body language, but I saw that as the clincher. Now all I had to do was decide on my own intentions.

I still felt reticent. I still felt intimidated. I still remembered my previous bad experiences – the hurt I had caused myself and others. I still wasn’t sure that I wanted to fall into another relationship, however madly I desired what was apparently being offered. In short, I was in turmoil.

Sheona didn’t press the matter. I assumed that she was uncertain too. We didn’t see each other for a whole week. The following Wednesday I invited her to lunch at a town centre bistro. She was late. She said she’d had some work to finish before taking her break. As usual, we didn’t talk about relationships, our own or anybody else’s. Clearly, it was still a taboo subject to both of us. But the hints kept coming. Her body language continued to offer a subtle but undeniable invitation. She seemed to be reeling me in gradually, like you would a strong fish that is fighting against capture. To put it another way, she seemed to be luring me up the familiar ladder of mad infatuation...

When the lunch was over I walked back to the theatre with her. The way she breezed through the gate to go back to work was almost dismissive. I walked home feeling confused again.

Another week passed. It was Wednesday 15th March. Sheona had invited me to another lunch at her flat, and the scene was pretty much the same as before – me nibbling, she wearing a quizzical frown. I probably nibbled less that day. My feelings were coming to boiling point. A battle was raging between a heart that saw Sheona as the perfection of womankind, and a head that told me no such person existed. I saw myself teetering on the edge of the same old pit – exquisite and heady at first, but growing ever darker until it becomes unbearable. Romance is the most powerful of narcotics to a true romantic, however, and its aroma was becoming irresistible.

That night we went to the theatre again. It was the first night of the annual production of a Shakespeare play. It was Hamlet that year, and the part of Laertes was being played by a young Danish actor called Sven Mortensen. Sven had done a few stints there before. He was popular with everybody, but especially the women. Young, handsome, erudite, well spoken - his repertoire of natural talents read like a what’s what of attractants. He came up to the bar after the show and immediately captured Sheona’s undivided attention. She hugged him, kissed him, and spent a long time talking to him. I decided it was just the way “theatricals” behave, and fought back my growing sense of irritation.

The problem didn’t end in the bar, though. For some reason there was no first night party planned, and Sven announced that he had taken the lease to a new flat that day – ironically and unfortunately at the end of my street. He had a lot of luggage to carry to his new home at the end of the night, he said. Sheona offered our services in assistance.

It had snowed that night – quite heavily – and then it had thawed. The walk to Sven’s flat was made through deep slush. We arrived at his front door and dropped the bags. Sheona hugged him again and I forced myself to shake his hand. Then Sheona and I walked to my house about a hundred yards further along the road.

There was an uneasy atmosphere between us. I sensed that Sven had become a barrier between me and the pit of romantic addiction. Choosing not to jump was one thing. Being prevented by a rival was quite another. In retrospect I realise that I was probably wrong. The jealous heart is easily roused to unjustified assumptions. My feelings were all over the place, but I forced myself to calm down.

We drank some wine and shared a joint. In an effort to make meaningful conversation I said that I had always wanted to learn to waltz. Sheona perked up. She knew how to waltz, she said, and she would teach me. Did I have any waltz music? No, of course I didn’t. I thought again. I had recently acquired a tape of Enya’s Shepherd Moons. It included the track Caribbean Blue which I had, for some entirely inscrutable reason, come to associate with Sheona. I remembered that it was written in three/four time. That would have to do.

I found the track and we stood up. I took her left hand with my right, and placed my own left hand around her waist. She reciprocated. Strange as it seems now, that was the most intimate we had ever been physically.

Maybe that was what cracked the dam of our mutual indecision. We fell into each other’s arms. At least, that was how it seemed to me. I let go of every trace of resistance. Sheona and I were now an item. The decision was made, the matter concluded. My state of mind slipped effortlessly into a heady mixture of mania and sublime reverie. And then time and reality shifted into an unfamiliar gear.

I became aware that I was standing alone in the middle of the floor. Sheona was sitting on the sofa. The music had stopped and I had no idea what had happened or how long I had been there. I had just experienced my temporal Omega. All I knew was that I felt the most profound, gut wrenching sense of rejection. I had capitulated. I had submitted to being taken to the most rarefied heights and given a view of a new world full of sensual and emotional promise. Maybe I had even found my true love. And then I had been cast down again. The pain was unbearable. Sheona spoke.

“Do you want me to leave?”

Courage, I thought. Don’t give up yet; you might still get there. I looked at the clock. It was 1 am.

“No.”

I sat on the floor with my back against the sofa, next to her legs. I felt dizzy, and neither of us spoke.

“I’m going home now,” she said.

I looked at the clock again. 4 am. We had been sitting in silence for three hours. I insisted on walking her home. I was fighting the pain. I wasn’t giving up. I was determined to do what any attentive gentleman would be expected to do.

The weather had changed during the early hours. The sky had cleared completely and the temperature had fallen to well below freezing. The slush we had trudged through earlier had become an urban landscape of cratered ice. Every footfall resounded like the report of a shotgun. We walked slowly in the hope of minimising the inevitable disturbance to the sleeping neighbours.

As we neared the end of the road I looked across at the darkened windows of Sven’s flat. And then I glanced at Sheona. She was looking in the same direction, and the set of her eyes seemed to be aimed at the actor’s bedroom. She averted them immediately and looked down at the pavement. That one bit of body language told me what I needed to know. Her heart was now set on Sven, not me. I was probably wrong about that, too, but that was how it appeared in that awful moment. The pain I was already feeling exploded to new heights. I wanted to be anywhere but living in my own body.

Propriety kept me going. I had insisted on walking Sheona home and that was what I intended to do. We reached the top of the same hill where I had seen her riding her bike. She stopped and looked at the radiant full moon. She waxed eloquent about its beauty. I wasn’t quite in the mood to appreciate it; neither could I understand how she could be so easily distracted from a situation that was tearing my guts out.

We walked on to her flat, where I insisted on seeing her to her own front door. I had nothing to say to her except “goodnight.” She gave me the sweetest look, smiled and threw her arms around me. Having already come to suspect that our embrace on the dance floor earlier might not have been mutual, this could well have been the only time Sheona ever hugged me. Did I say that I had felt confused occasionally? That moment was the grandfather of all confusion. What the hell was I to make of it?

I made nothing of it. I walked home across the ice, feeling wretched. I went to bed and woke up depressed every morning for the next six weeks. My connection with Sheona wasn’t quite over yet, though.

I couldn’t take any more, and so I wrote her a letter the next day saying that I didn’t want to see her again. I felt angry. I blamed her for the way things had turned out, which probably wasn’t fair. She caught up with me at the theatre a few days later. She said she wanted to talk. Her exact words were “I do care, you know.” I didn’t. I was still angry. I assailed her with such a stream of verbal aggression that she simply turned around and went away again. And still it wasn’t over.

The visions of the Scottish cliff top ceased, but there was a different one to come. It only happened once, a couple of weeks later. I saw myself walking along a path leading to the top of a set of steps. I went down them and found myself in a garden. There was an empty bench standing by a low wall to my right. I sat on it and waited. A woman walked into my view. Her form was indistinct, but I knew her to be the essence of the maternal principle. She was holding the hand of a small child standing beside her – a beautiful little girl with long blonde hair that hung down to the lower part of her back. The child looked into my eyes while the woman said

“This child is as frightened and lost as you are. You must love her unconditionally.”

It was too much to ask at the time, but I took the instruction to heart and relented as soon as I was able.

Given that Sheona and I worked in the same building, albeit it on opposite sides, it’s surprising how long it was before we saw each other again. I assumed she was avoiding the front-of-house areas, and I had no reason to go backstage. By the time I did bump into her my anger had dissipated and I offered her the kiss of peace, which she accepted. There was, however, a barrier between us that never came down. A few years later she married an actor – not Sven, I might add – and started a family.

Twelve years on and I still think about her - daily. The dreams have returned too. They happen about once a month, probably at the time of the full moon she was so fond of. The content varies a lot these days, but they always end in disappointment. I never get the girl.

I’ve moved on too, to a wholly different level of consciousness. But the magic of Sheona McCormack continues to burn. I think it is perennial. I think it transcends lifetimes. I think there is unfinished business between us. I doubt it will be resolved in this life, but I’m sure the story isn’t over yet.

3 comments:

girl-interrupted said...

oh my lord. wow.

I think I see what you mean by reincarnation now.

I really like this bit: "We were sitting together on a cliff top, overlooking the sea. I knew it was somewhere on the west coast of Scotland, and that the sea was the Atlantic Ocean. We were dressed in unfamiliar clothing – maybe eighteenth century, but I couldn’t be sure. I wanted us to be together. Maybe I was asking her to marry me. The look in her eyes was clear, and it filled me with desolation. They were sorrowful eyes. They wanted to say yes, but they had to say no – and she couldn’t, or wouldn’t, say why."

And you still think of her daily?

JJ Beazley said...

No. Every word in there is true. The dreams went on and on. That was why I wrote the story - to try and get her out of my consciousness. It worked. No dreams since. We did have a bit of e-mail correspondence, though. It was no problem at all. She'd gone, and I was subsequently able to use her in another, rather bizzare, story. That one is all fiction. It's due to be published early next year.

JJ Beazley said...

And here's a little coincidence. Today is the real Sheona's birthday. Only just realised that.

About Me

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I've never had money because I've never been driven by money. I received little formal education beyond the age of sixteen, which isn't such a bad thing since you get a different angle on life that way. Learning what you want and need to learn often reveals things that the system's road keeps hidden.
JJ Beazley asserts his ownership of copyright in all works of fiction and non-fiction contained herein unless otherwise stated. Feel free to quote anything if you want to, but please don't nick a story and claim it for your own. That would compromise my chances of getting an anthology published and I'd be a bit miffed.



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