The Fire Next Time: For James and Octavia

 

 As a writer, and moonlighting teacher, I reflected on If Beale Street Could Talk after the hubs took me to see the movie. I was 6 when he died in 1987 of stomach cancer. And through my middle school and high school reading, I cannot remember him ever being mentioned. Either him, Octavia Butler, Alice Walker or Richard Wright. I think Toni Morrison would call that ‘the colonization of your canon.’  I mean, my Junior year of high school is when I got introduced to Toni Morrison. That was 1997!

I get incredibly pissed off when I think about that now!

Now, do I know, did I know, that Black writers existed? Yes. Most of my books are composed to authors whom I fell in love with on my own. I needed, wanted more than the smattering of Black writers we go in February. I remember being so tired of just reading Knoxville, Tenneessee by Nikki Giovanni! In wanted more of her work. But I’m aware that certain school districts like the safety of Maya Angelou and Lorriane Hansberry’s Raisin In The Sun. I get that Baldwin is confrontational to those whom govern these curriculum spaces; the people that can and do say ‘Yes’ to Washington Irving and ‘No’ to Octavia Estelle Butler. The people that think James Baldwin asking with audiacious sincerity why the country ‘needs to have a n–gger?’ is too much for White teacher in a predominately Black school, whose bosses and administrators are all White. I get that no one wants to have these conversations regarding race and writing. Perhaps, this is the folcrum that Wynton Marsalis talk about when he said this during the Ken Burns documentary Jazz:

“The more we run from race in this country, the more we run towards it.”

Perhaps this is why up until the birth of my parents, and a little after that educating a Black person in Mississippi was seen as punitive and would be punished as such! There is a power in control a narrative in such a way that the people you brutalize cannot even tell what happened to them in a first hand account. That kind of power the oppressor will never give up, be reasoned for or given away without it being identified and overthrown!

A friend of my husband graduated from seminary last week. As all college students do, she was cleaning out her apartment to move. In these three Rubbermaid totes, she just had books. Copious, delicious, incredible amount of books! She called it her Harlem Renaissance collection. I thumbed through them and almost cried. My legacy, my footsteps as a writer in this colonized, thieving nation was in these bins. I almost wept. I couldn’t take them all with me, and I couldn’t just take one.

My mission as I move through this space of writer-teacher is two-fold.

One. I vow to write constantly. bell hooks said that no woman has ever written enough. I agree.

Two. I vow to decolonize my canon. This means that I have to step up my reading to where it was before. This means I have to be willing to talk up other Black writers. Recommend their work as casually as I would any other writer. To quote them, read more of them, and–in the case of the marvelous Tananarive Due–follow them on social media!

For those of you IRL that know me, it is no secret that my passion has been and is words. The dream was–still is–to teach at the university level. Whereas before I wanted to be a professor at NYU, teaching English Literature. I think we can say that I’m passed that. The most amazing way to honor my Blackness, my gifting, my call–all of me that is Oracle–would be to teach African-American studies. I mean, I already got my thesis! No, I’m not telling you, but it’ll be dope I assure you.

In earnest, if I didn’t see folk that look like me setting the world on fire, I would never have believed I could. For that, I am grateful.

 

“The goal of the artist is to disturb the peace.” – James Baldwin

[images from azquotes.com and goalcoast.com]

 

 

Love & Possession: The Dark Set (Week 1)

img_0403I told him I would answer when he called. He told me to shower, using the vanilla scented soap.

He told me to stay home until he called. I had rearranged my work day to be available for him. This was a test I knew. I sat in bed, the warmth from the down blanket soothing my nerves. I kept thinking about our conversation three nights before.

In the three years we’d been dating, I had always felt safe and comfortable with him. I mean, it wasn’t anything outrageous, but our sex life was great! Mason was attentive, sweet and had what I thought were lycan-like tendencies. He was possessive of me. Not the smothering type of possession you need the law for. But he was super aware of what was going on with me, some times without me saying anything.

I believe love has levels, and I more than loved Mason. Whatever level there is beyond love, we were there. I thought I could hear his thoughts. We were that close. “This is the next step, Kyla.” he had whispered in the receiver. “Let me in, babe. Let me in.” I closed my eyes, remembering his voice and the last time he touched me. “You know you belong to me right?” I had smiled when he said that, holding the cell phone close to my ear.

There was a click in my soul when he said it. There was no ounce of jest, no doubt. I shuddered when he repeated it. All I could manage was a simple, “I  know.”  We were silent then, content to hear each other breathing. “You are my jewel and my greatest possession.” he said.

I opened my eyes, feeling the phone ring next to me. I looked at the glowing rectangle, feeling anxious and thrilled. I picked it up, hands trembling. His voice anchored me to the bed as he answered. “What color?” My mouth was dry. “Blue.”

“Good girl.” He said.

He’d never called me that before. His tone was different. More sure and hungry. I felt my body flourish and open, as a small puddle gathered between my legs. “My Kyla, my pretty, pretty girl.” I laid back on my pillows, closing my eyes.

I counted my breaths, willing the thudding in my ears to cease. I hung on his every word. “My pretty, pretty girl.” I heard this voice lower to almost a growl. It was a growl. “My delicious Kyla. I am going to have so much fun with you. I’m going to devour you, as succulent fruit.” My inner walls clenched, and I placed my left hand between my thighs, feeling how warm and slick I was. And I moaned. “You are mine.”

He Put His Hands On Me

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I don’t know if there could be a region deeper than the soul. But, if there were, since there is, he found it.

I laid there in this bed he and I had both filled, and been filled by, and every thought ran back to him. I laid there, wrapped in blankets, rich with his scent. The tears came because I was too weak to stop them this time.

My breasts heaved, still with a sheen over them–a mixture of our sweat, and the saliva from his hunger and kisses. I felt that mixture wick into the sheet, as I ran my free left hand through my hair. The thickness of the tresses made my body clench. I remembered how he pulled my hair. How he commanded me, handled me as he made my body an extension of his own.

Kisses on the nape of my neck, the slaps on my ass. I needed that power. I needed that breaking, and was afraid to admit that. I was his. I rolled in the sheets. This tangled, blessed mess was evidence that what we had was real. It was a fulfillment of every promised whispered.

He broke me open. He he did. He told me that he would. With his body snug and sure inside all of me which was waiting and woman, he found the fortress of my thick, dark hair and growled into my left ear as he took all of me. “All of you is mine. There has never been a time when you were not mine.” He pulled my hair with a force that only someone whom could own all of you could. Not vicious, not hard, but knowing.

My breath was caught until I saw stars, felt the world slow and shift with the melody  of his melding of body to mine. I opened my mouth, remembering to breathe, feeling as if–knowing as if–I was breathing for both of us. I couldn’t be apart from him. Not again, not ever.

It was deeper than this, we both knew it would be more than this. There was a chord within me strum, plucked and unknown, that could only had been found by someone on who knew where it was. I found my eyes, open in the dark, only seeing his.

And I felt it.

This, this, fire that coursed through me. With that latching, I felt my body bloom. My hands moved from the comfort of the slick flesh of his shoulders to the chill of the headboard. I breathed again, eyes glassy and pulse in my ears. His hands found mine, interlacing our fingers.

He kissed me, lingering on my bottom lip. I moved my head towards him, needing to taste him, committing him to memory. His taste. His form. His scent. My eyes closed again, and I fell into an ocean. My body became light, and pull into him–and he into me.

I tossed and turned, haunted by his body and memory. My thighs tingled remembering his hands as he pulled them apart to feast on their meeting. My inner walls still watered as if he were inside me. I gripped the sheets on my bed, and came again. Thought of him, and I, and me and this, and could only howl.

My eyes closed again, needing to pull him back to me. Remember the need in him that called to me, held for me, and I needed that back. On my back, I closed my eyes. I bit my bottom lip, remembering the growl that came from him. More wolf than man. And I loved that.

I found him.

My Alpha marked me.

And I could not wait until I could feel his teeth in my flesh again.

[image from abc.net.au]

RUBY Epilogue

 

*This is short addendum to my 2018 novel RUBY. You can purchase that by clicking here.)

 

New Year’s Eve-2005

 

It’s right that I watch her sleep. Back from the Honeymoon, I had done that alot. My head was clear. It was finally clear. I sat in the Master bedroom that we had done to her liking. I refused to bring my girl home to a house that Katherine’s claws had been all in. I remembered what my mother said about her once before she died. “Katherine wants everything so damn perfect. She doesn’t know how to make a life without sucking it out of other people.”

I sat in the mahogany recliner Michelle got for me for Christmas. I sat there, watching her sleep. I watched the sheet on her rise and fall with her breath. All those years out of my arms and she still was utterly damn beautiful. I sat there in my Washington University shirt and boxers, smoothing my face in my hands. I thought about the New Years Eve Party we had hours before.

I thought about how good she smelled, how sweet her mouth was. I thought how I could have ever thought living without her was an option. I saw her counting down the end of 2004 with Babs–as if no time had passed. I saw the balloons and streamers from Maeghan, Brian and Carolyn. I went to the kitchen, now warmer with her presence. She wrapped her arms around my back, squeezing me. “Happy New Year, babe.”

I moved her hands from around me, and looked at her. Radiant, slightly drunk, red hair shimmering almost. That same smile from our wedding day on her pretty mouth. I gave in and kissed her. Then kissed her again, cupping her face. I opened my eyes, relieved once more that I hadn’t dreamed her. She giggled. “Why they call you Keys?” I chuckled, kissed the top of her head. “Because I get in an out of anywhere I want. Just like a set of keys.” We laughed, and kissed again. Forgetting the company we had in the house. Ethylene always had the ability to make the world stop and start. A raucous chorus of ‘happy new years’ from the living room, before I heard cameras clicking.  “Happy New Year!” Babs came in with her new blonde hair and new left knee, as she took our picture. I kissed Ethylene again, and saw the flash of light with my eyes closed.

Katherine could never be what she is to me.

I had one more year with her. I prayed the night before to give me thirty years with her to at least match the amount of years I had without her. My father told me that my mother was the only woman for him. I sat there and thought how I could ever have fallen for Katherine. I thought about how sweet she was and could be. I thought about the Washington University mixer I met her at through a friend of a friend of Babs. I thought about how I tried to forget Ethylene, my girl. Always my girl. I remember my first time with Katherine, I whispered Ruby’s name. I was grateful to God that the lights were off. It was bad enough I was with this strict Catholic girl, the last thing I needed was for her to know I wasn’t even thinking of her.

I shook my head free of those thoughts. I went over to the King sized bed that Babs had gotten for us, that Brian and Maurice had put together while we were in Hawaii. While I was showing her the ocean, they were redoing the house for us. I laid next to her, touching her chin, her eyelids and her left ear. I kissed her shoulders, feeling her warmth, needing it. The fire, she called it. This connection sustained by whatever magic God gave us, this second chance to be hers. For her to be mine. I wanted more of her, I had to have more of her.

I pulled the white sheets back, finding her as God made her all caramel and perfect. I let kisses trace from the right side of her neck that always made her whisper my name, to roll her on her back. “Babe.” I whispered, almost a growl. Her eyes opened, blinking fast as if she couldn’t see me at first. “Hey babe.” she grinned and wrapped her arms around me, and I felt her thighs shift to open under me. “Happy New Year, Mrs. Lewis.” She kissed me, her tongue finding mine. “Happy New Year, Mr. Lewis.” I smirked, feeling her hands pull at my shirt. With some quick shifting, I was just as she was. “Let me stay where life is, Ruby. Let me come home.”

I pushed into her, sweeter than ever before. My hands were everywhere, drinking all of her skin and body and the beauty of all of it. I had my girl back, I had her all to myself. How could I have thought I would or could forget her? Life was here with her, and all that we had together.

She was home.

At The Bottom Of A Barrel

He was in the driveway.

This was supposed to be done now. Bags were in his car. Money untraced and in that same glove box. I watched him on the couch, asleep and oblivious. Hmph. Just like he was for our entire dating relationship and subsequent, sorry marriage. I stood in the foyer, opening the curtains twice to let him know I was still in the house and to kill the lights.

That’s what we called this, killing the lights.

I stood in the archway of the great room, looked at my husband of almost a decade sleeping on the couch. Oblivious. I stood there, in all black to cover face and shape. I counted his breaths, and adjusted the 9mm in my left hand. It felt unnatural, and heavy. Ceasar had said one of the ways to get away with this was to become ambidextrous. I remember his hand and how it felt over my left hand. How he guided it, silencing my tears with his lips to my cheek. “Brianna, you can do it. You know he’s never going to let you go–and may not care if you leave.” I adjusted my hand around the weapon, feeling more deadly than I thought I should. Shooting him would be easier than aiming at the cans and bottles in Ceasar’s brother’s backyard.

I thought about how mean he was. How he didn’t want children. I thought about how he thought money fixed everything. I thought about he couldn’t even fuck me right in the last eight months. I walked to the end of the couch, looked at his dirty black sneakers on my gray couch I picked out with my best friend.

Oblivious.

Rude.

Aloof.

 

I thought about when I met Cesar at the company party. How sweet he was when he found me by the elevator when I started at his law firm. I thought about his eyes, his mouth and how he always held me after making love to me. I loved him. For two years, we waited. We thought. We planned. Cesar had him followed, mapped his days. We had sex in the martial bed. I moved out of our bedroom, and he seemed to not to notice. What helped was be finding panties in his car. Pink. Lacey. And three sizes to small. I left them there.

Oblivious, cheating aloof husband.

I made it to his torso, the icy feeling over my chest and flowed to my armed left hand. I thought about how perfect he tried to make me. I thought about how he made fun of my family whenever we would leave a visit with them. I thought about how I felt when I found the underwear. I thought about the sexy text message from the naked woman named Candy the PI Ceasar hired. He cloaked his phone to make sure when I left, his life would be over.

I stood over him, thinking of out last fight. I thought about how mean he was. How he stormed out, probably to go to Candy. I remembered I called Ceasar in tears. I told him how I was ready. “I can’t be here anymore!”

“You ready?” he asked, no levity in his voice.

“Definitely.” I answered.

I flexed my hand around the gun. Untraced. My gloves would be thrown away when we were far enough away. I cut hair a month ago, and it fit under the skull cap I wore. I left hand itched. I just had to be brave one more time. Just be in his face one more time.I raised my hand, just like Cesar taught me. “When you raise your arm, level your hand. Close your eyes. It helps sometimes. Squeeze and walk away.”

The cat and mouse game was about to be over. It was all about to end. I steadied my breathing, and watched his walnut brown face slack with sleep. I remembered the silencer in my pocket, felt my eyes water as I looked down to assemble it.

Just be brave one more time, Brianna. Just one more time.

He stirred and I didn’t move. I put the gun in my left hand again. All I could see was the newness. All I could see what was world without him in it. I closed my eyes, felt the barrel against his forehead and pulled the trigger.

I opened my eyes and walked towards the front door.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[image from Window World]

Never As It Will Be

“The sun is bright this morning,” Nia sat sipping coffee slowly in her long lavender robe on her white elm front porch. With feet bare, and her long dark brown curls, framing her pecan colored face, she looked towards the direction out towards sun. Nia sipped, wondering if he was doing the same thing, suddenly happy the front Georgia porch was left open and not enclosed as her mother suggested. At this exact moment, could he be drinking coffee, watching the sun, thinking of her? She smiled at the justice of that thought. Nia wondered if what the saying of the old women she knew was true. The heart wants who it wants, it will never listens to your head. She smiled, the light of the thought warmed her better than the sun.

The habit of being awake early began with the carrying of her first child, Candace, almost five years ago. Insomnia made her nights into days; the sun becoming her signal to sleep. Nia rocked in the beige porch swing, happy the house was quiet enough to hear her own thoughts and see them through. Married life suited her, yes. Nia knew to be faithful, forsaking every other to cleave to her husband, Vander, so the two of them could be one flesh. She knew how to do that. Their life was supposed to have a cadence, a loved rhythm, which they planned aside from what could be found writhing on bedsheets. The passion would be cyclic, she knew. She knew how to be a wife, knowledge of that position didn’t push her to the front porch in her robe, with the matching lavender chemise underneath. He did.

This angel of her own making, this man-made god of her youth and imaginations. He whom she saw when she heard music or closed her eyes. Even his name was angelic when she breathed it in showers or alone with her thoughts for too long. James. The heat produced at the christening of his name over her tongue was unlike anything she had. Of course, she he knew to have him would be to forfeit her responsibility, her children and her faith. James would take all she built, all she promised herself to become and withstand. Being with him would be to change the course of her life’s path in the worst and most incredible way. Nia held on to the blue coffee cup, her head resting on the back of her thumbs and didn’t fight the tears this time. Nia recited the same prayer she had for the last few days.
“Father, either remove him or give me whom my heart wants. Either way, Father this must change. I cannot bear to be his and be here where he is not. Make him go away or make me his. In Your grace I stand, In Your love I am complete. I thank you. Amen.”

The tears where hot, flowing faster than the white painted porch could absorb them. The sobs came, deep and loud, but the release not complete. Nia thought about her last night with James two months before in August, right before her birthday in the first week of September. Nia remembered the cologne he wore. Savauge by Dior. She remembered his hair. His dreadlocks where redone and pulled back and his skin was deep ebony. His football player build inviting and marked often during their tryst with her nails in his back. He wore this cream collared shirt. He caressed her cheek, kissed her as he told happy birthday. “I have loved you since I was seventeen, Nia Hamilton. A decade later, it’s still like high school. I told you then you were mine. A husband ain’t ever gone change that.” He had kissed her pulled her towards him to cup her face, moaned into his mouth.
From his favorite restaurant, Malone’s for a an early birthday lunch lead them to the Lattimore Hotel soon after. Nia remembered the lovemaking, as she felt the heat from her cup. She remembered how he mastered her, made her pleasure and passion a priority. She smiled remembering how she yielded to how his body mastered and matched her own, along with its hunger. James was determined to sear himself into her memory. She bit her lip remembering how he had mastered her, anticipated her body, her open mouth and held her close after. Nia, after a decade and more after their first meeting in a Wyatt Senior High School Junior year in, after him being her first at that year’s prom, could not shake him.
Even now, Nia he wanted to run to him, full speed. She wanted to take nothing her love for him and sprint towards him. Through the fields before her, towards the sun, and not stop until he was in arm’s length of her own hands. “Dear God.” She began to will herself back to composure. Nia remembered what her mother told her, how she found out. How her mother kept everything from Vander. James had written a letter and let the gift she now wore at her mother’s house. On the phone her mother, Elizabeth, told her with the grace mothers have, she needed to end her relationship. “I don’t know what is going on, I don’t need to know. But James is not your husband, and you know what kind of man he is. Let James alone, Nia. Soon. Vander is who needs your attention. Give that man this robe and stuff back!”
Nia shoulders began to shake from sobbing. The sobbing let the coffee and its contents to spill over onto the porch and her feet. The heat from the coffee was a relief to pain in she had. That burning was understood, could be explained, even treated This burning had no explanation. She couldn’t pray fast enough to keep ahead of it. James haunted her. When she was driving. At work. Even with her husband of six years. This pain of being without him was unbearable. Being with James was impossible, but James thought she would return to him, just like always. Every time she would dream and saw him, she felt safe, loved. The cruelty came when she opened her, and he was gone.
Even the night before, sleep evaded her. Thoughts of him soothed and tempted. Her body relaxed and opened where he had touched. Nia left the bed she shared with her husband to work off the energy. She wore the pretty lavender chemise to bed, hoping Vander would touch her, kiss her, make love to her like he used to. She decided to do laundry, to make her day easier when she did wake up. While washing clothes, his ghost followed. She went to the office on the first floor and made sure checks were signed, four white envelopes stacked neat to take to the post office in the morning. She heard James call her name, low and hungry.
Nia washed dishes instead of running them through the dishwasher, praying the hot water would make her focus. She wished his hands were around her, his chin in the meeting of her neck and collarbone. “Relief, Lord. Send it.” She loved him. She wanted him. She couldn’t have him. The screen door closed with a bang. “Mama, are you okay? You look so pretty this morning, Mama. Daddy wanted me to find you.” Candance asked, her four-year-old wisdom and dark hair pulled in a ponytail on display. Nia sat up straight in the swing, making no attempt to dry her face. “I’ll be okay, baby.” She smiled. Her daughter’s eyes seemed to search her own as Candace walked over to her. Nia believed her daughter saw the lie she told, but didn’t know what it was.
She rose from her perch on her porch swing, picking up her coffee cup from the porch among the puddle of coffee. Nia ushered Candance through the screen door, hand on her back. “Daddy wanted to know if you were going to drink coffee with him this morning. He has his cup already, Mama.” She shook her head behind her daughter. “No, I don’t think I will, baby. I already had some.” She swallowed hard, let the door slam behind her. “I have other stuff I have to do this morning.”

(c)JBHarris,2018

Mate For Life (short short story)

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It was raining as he watched her skip over a puddle to her front door. Her hair was wet, but he could see her pecan brown face. He watched her fumble for her keys in her red bag, before going in. He had found her, with her scent he could never forget her. How could he? She was what, what whom he had sought for and wanted. As she entered the house, he fought the urge to watch over, by watching sneaking in to watch her sleep. He would announce himself to her soon enough. “Soon, dearest one.” He whispered. His mind went back to when he saw her three days ago. He was leaving work, it was just after sunset. She had with a coffee in one hand, glasses, reading a book. She sat In the back of Gill’s, smiled up at him. She had a heat that exuded from her. He sat across from her, soaking her up, taking her in. He motioned for one of the servers to come to his table.

He wasn’t hungry, just thirsty. A blue shirted red head named Callie came over. “Beer, please.” He said. “Budweiser, okay?” “That’s fine.” Callie dashed off, pencil behind her ear. He looked over at her again, noticing her eyes were brown. This scent he knew, his tribe leaders had told him and the other young men coming of age. It was a hint to whom was to be yours, they would always say. The inception, he said, will be unlike anything before and nothing since. You will know the one purposed for you. Their scent will be a clue. Legend, he thought. Fairy tales. It takes more to know someone than liking their perfume or cologne. That’s insane.

He watched her sip her coffee, her full lips wrapping around the blue mug. Her eyes closed. Her lashes were thick and dark. Her dark hair, framing her face. Her legs slender, muscles detailed under the blue pencil skirt she wore, ending in black ballet flats on her feet. He counted how many times her chest rose and fell. He sat and felt his heart all but stop. Callie dropped off this beer, asked him if he needed something else. He didn’t look up, but paid for his beer and well over with the twenty he gave. She looked over at him, smiled. Her eyes pulled him in. He held them for a moment, before she looked down again. She didn’t seem to notice or mind him staring at her. The blue wall above the brown paneling just made her stand out more. The want welled up with him, was beyond sexual. It was beyond possession. It was protection of what was his. This must have been the love the elders spoke of, that one would just know once they experienced it. She returned to her cup and her book. When the server brought her check, he watched her reach in her red bag to pay it. He watched the form of her arm and shoulder as she reached for her wallet. She got up, and he saw her full height and shape. He noticed the backs of her calves and her waist detailed by her skirt.

She tipped the server, and he watched her turn to leave. She smelled of violets and honeysuckle. His mouth began to water as he began biting his lip. She was it. He couldn’t explain it, it was too radical to talk about. He drew a ring around his Budweiser watching the foam. The heat creeping up the back of his neck, a low growl rumbled in chest. He got up to go to the bathroom, pushing past the blonde texting on her cell phone without looking up. He shut the door behind him, before going over to the sink. He gripped the front of the sink. He felt the pull in his shoulders, indicating the wolf was rising from him. “Not here. Not now.” Phasing in public was not unheard of, but with this new feeling, this unfounded inception, he was hesitant of his ability to control it. Hold it together, Michael. Hold it together. He looked up into his own changed reflection. The calm blue of his eyes, became their green-gold counterpart. He concentrated, willing to pull the wolf back in. Her I have to find her. Feeling steady, he smoothed his University of Miami shirt, smoothed his hair. His forehead glistened with new sweat, as his eyes reverted back. He had to talk to the elders. He had to have her. He would have her.

That need brought him to her apartment. He could find her in snow or desert. She was his now. His. He looked for her light to go out, remarking at the silhouette of his intended against the gold curtain of her bedroom. He remembered the shape of her hip. The rise of her breast as she turned from the window, and loved the way she shook her hair out before turning off the light. He closed his eyes, imagined her taste, her warmth underneath him. He even imagined what it would be like to phase in front of her and have her stroke his fur, or nestle her feet in it. The inception will be like no other love you will ever have. The elders spoke this to generations of young males of their pack. There would always be eye rolling along the males, the girls accepted it as medicinal gospel. “Scoff now,” the elders would say, “when you experience it? It will be impossible to explain it or pull away from.” He checked his reflection in the rearview mirror again. His eyes were phasing. “Soon.” He said. “Soon.”
(This may be the start of a novel…Stay tuned)

[originally written 9/7/2018]​