Victoria sat outside on the deck under an umbrella waiting for Derek to return with their drinks. They had lost touch for a while now and she was glad they had an opportunity to catch up.
Derek returned with a beer for himself and wine for Victoria. He handed her the drink and she thanked him. Suddenly, she jumped in her seat to check the fly of her jeans. She settled back in her chair with a sense of relief.
“What was that?” Derek asked Victoria.
“All of a sudden I felt a swift breeze.” She replied.
“A swift breeze?”
“Yeah, I guess I could have checked more discretely, but I got surprised.”
“Shut up! So what brought this on? It’s so out of the blue.”
“Well, I was reading Bukowski a few weeks ago and you popped in my head.”
“Really? I’m so flattered. You read Charles Bukowski and thought of me, which book?”
“Ham on Rye.”
“Was that his first one? I forget. It’s been awhile since I’ve read his work.”
“It’s the first one chronologically in the Henry Chinaski series.”
“Right, right. So what did you think?”
“I liked it, kind of reminded me of Holden Caulfied in Catcher in the Rye.”
“I’m going to read Factotum next. Then continue on as Chinaski ages. I’m going to wind it all up with Hollywood.”
“Be careful of what?”
“Too much Bukowski could fry your brain.”
“I’m not following.”
“You’ll need to break in between books. I find that there is a deep-rooted sense of cynicism in his writing.”
“As you read his work, a part of you might say, ‘Fuck it.’ and simply not care anymore.”
“I can see that.”
“That could be good and bad. Good, for the fact that you’re released from a self-inflicted prison of fear. Bad because, well, you just stop giving a shit about everything. Becoming anti-social in the process”
“And don’t forget about the drinking Victoria. My god. The drinking.”
“Yes, that too. It’s funny and then sad and then funny again.”
“I’ll keep your advice in mind whilst reading.”
“Maybe something a little cheery in between. Like a comic book or something.”
“Or I could just develop the ideal of write, drink fuck.”
“Oh no. It’s starting already. Time to put down Hank and pick up something else in the meantime.”
“Hank? Henry is the alter ego though.”
“His real name was Heinrich… I like to call him Hank or ‘The Buk’. Whichever you prefer, but you’re better off with Batman for the time being.”
The waitress walks over to their table and starts to clear off the empty glasses. She looks tired but not unhappy. She’s having a rough night, but nothing she couldn’t handle. Her manager has been keeping a close eye on her, waiting for an opportunity to make her feel not so good about herself. Some people just enjoy the misery of others in order to forget about their own pathetic existence.
She smiles at Victoria and Derek and then takes a deep breath, ready to recite her dinner pitch once again. Hoping not to screw it up.
“Would you guys like another round of drinks?” She asked them. They both nodded their head yes. “Are you eating as well, can I tell you tonight’s specials?”
“Nothing for me thanks. Derek did you want to order something?” Victoria asked.
“Well I’m not hungry and will not be eating but you definitely can tell me what the specials are tonight.” Derek replied.
“Don’t be a dick. She looks like she’s had a hard day.”
“It’s okay I don’t mind.” The waitress said to her and then almost at whisper, “I actually can use the practice. I’m kind of new here and trying to get used to the way they do things.”
“See? She doesn’t think I’m being a dick. Go ahead. Give us the specials.” Derek said.
“Tonight we have Shrimp Marinara served over a bed of linguine with Broccoli-Rabe. We also have a Rib Eye steak with a rosemary balsamic glaze served with a side of purple fingerling potatoes and roasted garlic asparagus spears. Finally a triple fried chicken, your choice of breast or thighs with French fries.”
“You did very well, Lady.”
“I did? Thank you.” The waitress blushed.
“Like I said I’m not going to be eating but the ‘scrimp’ dish sounds delicious. My friend Victoria doesn’t like the ‘scrimps’, any seafood really, but if she was eating she would probably get the steak.”
“Okay we’re done here. Just another wine and beer please.” Victoria said to the waitress.
“Sure thing.” The waitress said as she walked back inside Slappy’s Bar to get their drinks.
“What?” Derek said to Victoria.
“Where to start?” She replied.
“Beginning is always good unless you’re Tarantino. Then the middle or the end is where you should start.”
“Okay, let’s start near the end. ‘You did good, lady?”
“She did very good. Like her nerves suddenly went away due to my calming nature.”
“She has a name.”
“I don’t know it yet though.”
“Instead of saying lady how about saying, ‘Excuse me but what is your name?”
“I can do that.”
“Why would you make her say the specials knowing full well you’re not going to eat?”
“Simply because I saw her having trouble at the other table. I saw Manger Mike giving her the evil eye and I knew that even though we weren’t eating, she could use a stress-free break, even if it was just for a moment, to stand here and not be bothered by some ill-mannered drunkard that would more than likely say something rude to her or get brow-beaten by Manager Mike.”
“Yeah, now you want to talk about someone being a dick. He’s it.”
“Okay, fair enough. One last thing”
“How did you remember I don’t like seafood?”
“Well you see that is my gift and unfortunately my curse. I remember things.”
“Wow, what else can you remember?”
He pretends to think for a moment, but he already knows what his answer will be. “You quit the TV show Lost because it was giving you funky dreams. I don’t know what the dreams were about, but it freaked you out enough to make you quit with only a season or so left to go.”
“Yes, I did quit because I would have these fucked up dreams of myself on the island and all these things would happen to me and then the next episode, the same thing would happen to one of the characters on the show.”
“Wow, that is freaky. Didn’t you teach me that all of the character’s names were of real people?”
“That’s right. They were named after philosophers, scientists, and from literature. I can’t believe you remember that.”
“I also remember that you’re fascinated by magic. Can’t get enough of the stuff.”
“Like I said, it’s my gift. And my curse.”
“So I want to tell you about something that happened to me the other day.”
“I’m all ears.”
“You ever have a Hershey’s Kiss?”
“A Hershey’s Kiss? Yes, I’ve had them. Not in a while but I have had them.”
“Did you know they have a strip of paper that says Hershey’s that they put in the foil?”
“I think I vaguely remember that.”
“Well I either forgot or thought they stopped doing it.”
“Oh yes. I ate about 15 of them before realizing I was eating the paper strip as well as the candy.”
The waitress arrives back to their table and hands them their drinks. She’s brought another wine for the lady and one beer for the gentleman. Her mood has taken a turn since the last time she visited their table.
Clearly upset, the waitress returns to Derek and Victoria’s table. Her hands slightly tremble as she placed the drinks onto the table in front of their respective recipients.
“Excuse me ma’am, what’s your name?” Derek asked the waitress.
“My name?” She asked.
“Yes, your name.”
“My name is Nicole.”
“Nicole, I couldn’t help but notice you’re upset. Is there anything I can do?”
“No, I’ll be okay. Thanks for asking though.”
“Does it have anything to do with Manager Mike?” He asked her.
“It’s nothing really.”
He could tell she was not being truthful and said, “I know how he can be sometimes.”
“No really it’s okay.”
“Will you both excuse me for a moment?”
Derek walks past the bouncer that is guarding the door that leads back inside Slappy’s Bar and heads straight to the bar where Manager Mike is sitting. They exchange words for a few moments and Derek returns to the table.
“What was that all about?” Victoria asked Derek.
“That? It was nothing. By the way Nicole, you won’t have anymore trouble with your boss any longer and our next round is on him.”
“You didn’t have to do that.” The waitress said to him. “I don’t want things to get worse.
“I’m telling you, you have nothing to worry about.”
The waitress thanked him and left their table to tend to another group at a neighboring table.
“A couple of things.” Victoria said.
“Very nice with the ‘Excuse me ma’am what is your name?’ bit.”
“Secondly and thirdly, what and why did you say something to the manager?”
“I know what it’s like to have a shit day and having a shit person shitting all over you.”
“Wow, that’s a lot of shit.”
“I know right? Anyways, I just reminded Manager Mike of Karma and how he should really ease up on the staff lest he want the effects of Karma to reign down upon him in furious anger.”
“Lest he? Furious anger?”
“Sounded good and channeled Tarantino for a minute. I also reminded him that I’m pretty close with the owner. Hey did I ever tell you about the time –“
“Stop right there.” Victoria interrupted.
“Stop right what?”
“I haven’t seen you in forever. I’m pretty sure that you’ve never told me about the time of whatever it is you were going to say.”
“Maybe, maybe not. I talk a lot. I repeat a lot of stories. Can’t remember to who and if any of it ever sticks.”
“Fair enough, continue.”
“Did I ever tell you about the time I was practicing karate kicks?”
“Ummm, no. I can safely say that you haven’t. Were you channeling your inner David Lee Roth at the time?”
“No, more like my inner Bruce Lee. Anyways, it was back when I was working for the butcher shop. I had to clean up and just finished hosing down the room.”
“Hosing down the room?”
“Yeah, you hose all the blood and stuff off the saw and tables and it goes down the drain in the floor.”
“Tell me about it. So I finished that up and after that you have to squeegee the excess water down the drain so the floor isn’t as slippery.”
“What does that have to do with practicing karate kicks?”
“I’m getting there. So I’m done with all the cleaning, the squeegee is completed and I look at the clock and I have some time before punching out for the day. I decided that right then and there was a good time for karate kicks.”
“Seems as good a time as any.”
“So I kick up my one leg high into the air. I think to myself, I can do better than that so do it again. The second kick was so much higher than the first one. Only problem was in doing it, my second leg decided that it no longer wanted to remain on the floor and wanted to join my other leg.”
“Oh yes. Before I could realize what was happening both legs are now up in the air, parallel to each other. As fast as they went up, they came down. I landed flat on my back.”
“Were you okay, did you get hurt?”
“I was fine. I was more embarrassed than hurt. I think it’s pretty needless to say I never practiced karate kicks again.”
“It’s all for the best. You should really leave that to David Lee Roth.”
“And the Kung Fu experts.”
The White Stripes’ Black Math is playing on the outdoor speakers of Slappy’s Bar. Victoria jumps in excitement at the song playing and says, “I love this song.” to Derek. He starts to reply, “You know, The White Stripes always – “
“Shhhhhhhh. This is the best part of the song,” Victoria interrupts. The song plays on for a moment before she continues, “I’m sorry for interrupting. You were saying?”
“I was just saying The White Stripes remind me of you.”
“That’s cool, dude. Can I ask you something that I’ve wanted to ask you all night?”
“Sure, go right ahead.”
Nicole, the waitress, returns to the table with drinks. “Hi guys. These drinks are with Mike the manager. Your next round is on me.” She said to both of them.”
“That’s really nice of you.” Victoria said. “Yes it is. Thank you Nicole.”
“No, thank you.” She replies. “It’s because of you that I don’t have to worry about getting called a ‘Froot Loop Dingus’ anymore.”
“I’m sorry. A what?” Victoria asked.
“He called me a ‘Froot Loop Dingus’. He apologized and told me he wouldn’t do it anymore.”
“Sounds like a victory to me.” Derek said.
“Just let me know when you’re ready for your next one.”
“Will do. Thanks again.” Victoria said.
“Now what were you saying?” Derek asked Victoria
“I have to know. What’s with the beard?”
“The beard? I don’t know. I think it looks zippy.”
“Zippy? No, you look like a racist.”
“Yes, a big fat racist.”
“Great, another fat joke?”
“No, no, no. Not another fat joke. It’s the same one over and over again.”
“I’m just teasing you. You’re not fat. So really, the beard?”
“Yes, I like it.”
“Even though it makes you look like a racist?”
“I can’t be a racist.”
“Oh really? How is that?”
“Because I hate everybody equally.”
“Fair enough, but it is what you look like.”
“I don’t want to be a racist.”
“I’m not saying you ARE a racist. I’m saying you look like one is all.”
“I’ll shave it tomorrow.”
“Don’t do it on my account.”
“It’s not your account. I don’t want the perception to be out there. I’m shaving it.”
“Yes, if the racist comment didn’t work. I was going to say you look like a dirty old goat.”
“Dirty old goat?”
“Whatever would have worked to get you to shave that hideous thing off of your face.”
The drinks and the evening continued on and they were both having a good time. Listening to music, reconnecting, and genuinely enjoying each other’s company.
“It’s my turn to ask you something.” Derek said.
“Go ahead, as long as it doesn’t make me mad.” Victoria replied.
“Mad? Why would you get mad?”
“I don’t know. I’m just saying.”
“I’m pretty sure it’s not going to make you mad.”
“Then ask away.”
“Have you ever had a hot dog?”
“I’m sorry. A hot dog?”
“Yes, a hot dog.”
“Do you mean like a special kind of hot dog?”
“No, not special. Just a regular hot dog.”
“I don’t think I’m understanding, but yes I’ve had a hot dog.”
“You are a strange, strange man.”
“Not the first time I’ve heard that, but really no different than you asking me if I’ve ever had Hershey’s Kisses.”
Victoria looks over at the bouncer that’s guarding the door to the patio area of Slappy’s. She had been here several times and he has never uttered a single word to her, which slightly aggravated her. A few drinks in, she decides to say something.
“Do you know the bouncer?” She asks.
“Who Donny at the door?” Derek replied.
“Is that his name? He’s never said two words to me/”
“Yeah, that’s Donny. I’m surprised. He’s very friendly, unless you’re a sloppy drunk, then he’s all no-nonsense.”
“I’ve never even been drunk in front of him. I’m going to see what his problem is with me.”
“I don’t think he has a problem with you.”
“We’ll see about that. She said as she got up from the table and walked over to Donny.
“So what’s your deal?” She asked Donny.
“Excuse me?” Donny asked.
“I’ve been coming here a while now. You never smile. You never talk. You’ll give a head nod to Derek, yet you won’t even acknowledge me. What am I chopped liver?”
Donny looks over to the table where Derek is sitting. Derek gives him the thumbs up sign. Donny nods at him.
“I needed to know if you would commit.”
“I’m sorry. What?”
“I said I needed to know if you would commit.”
“I’m not following.”
“Do you know how many people come and go here? They’ll come in once or twice then are never seen or heard from again. Now I know.”
Somewhat confused by the exchange she said, “I’m Victoria.”
“I know.” He said. “Derek told me.”
“This would be the part where you tell me your name.”
“Not all at once Victoria. Not all at once.”
They both shared a laugh for a moment before she walked back to the table where she and Derek were sitting. Fresh drinks were there at the table waiting for both of them.
The wine and beer flowed steadily as the evening progressed. Both of them were starting to feel the effects of the alcohol. Victoria looked at Donny and asked, “Can I tell you something?”
“Sure.” Came his reply. “Otherwise we would just be sitting here in an awkward silence.”
“Nothing. Please, tell me something.”
“Before this night is over. I’m going to dance with you.”
“You’re going to dance with me?”
“Well, this place isn’t really cut out for dancing.”
“I don’t care.”
“Well if I can speak honestly here.”
“I wouldn’t be opposed to it.”
“Awww, how cute.”
“What, what’s cute?”
“A little. What gave it away?”
“You said you would dance with me.”
“I never came out and said I would. I just said I wasn’t opposed to it.”
“Yup, you and I are going to dance.”
“Ok. We’ll see.”
Nicole clears the glasses from the table and brings over another round.
“Hey.” Victoria said.
“No you hey.” Derek replied.
“What? What does that even mean?”
“I really don’t know.”
“Anyway, remember the last time we saw each other?”
“You’re asking me?”
“Yes, I am asking you.”
“I do, because I have the memory and stature of a baby elephant, but please refresh my memory.”
“I remember it clearly, we were hungry and wanted something to eat. I remembered that Italian place wasn’t that far away and took you there.”
“The pasta there is so good. Was it not?”
“Yes, it was very good as I recall.”
“I was trying so hard to beat the clock.”
“I don’t even know what that means. What does ‘beat the clock’ mean?”
“Well, basically it means that when you know the food is so good you eat as much as you possibly can before that feeling of fullness kicks in.”
“Okay so you do what again exactly?”
“I shovel as much of the tortellini and gnocchi that I can in my mouth. Nom nom nom.”
Derek lets out a big laugh that results in a very loud snort.
“Oh my God. You totally just snorted.” She said to him.
“Yes, I did, but can I say something?”
“You have never been hotter than you are right now telling the beat-the-clock story.”
“I know sexy, right?”
“Oh yes definitely. I remember that night. I just thought you were really hungry.”
“Nope, totally trying to beat the clock.”
“I also remember having a difficult time trying to keep up with you walking to the place.”
“Yes, I was on a mission. I was wondering why you were so slow.”
“I was just pacing myself.”
“Bill Murray? Stripes?”
“Yup that’s the one. Hey, speaking of Bill Murray.”
“Did I ever tell you about the time – “ Victoria shoots Derek a look. “What? Old habits.”
“Continue.” She said to him.
“I was just going to say about how I got into the effects of Karma.”
“What does Karma have to do with Bill Murray?”
“Nothing really. I just wanted to talk about Karma.”
“Holy non sequitur, Batman.”
“I’m sorry what?”
“Nothing, please go on with the Karma.”
“All I was going to say is everything that I’ve learned about Karma has been from watching TV.”
“Yes, a few years ago there was a show called My Name is Earl.”
“I remember that. It was with the guy from Mallrats, right?”
“Yes, Chasing Amy’s Jason Lee as Kevin Smith an I like to refer to him.”
“Refresh my memory. What was the show about?”
“This guy Earl who’s a life-long criminal wins the lottery but on the same day he’s hit by a car. He’s watching Carson Daly and learns about Karma from him. So he decides he’s going to change his life and putting right every wrong he’s ever made.”
“Ah yes, now I remember.”
“He makes a list and crosses the people off the list as he makes up for whatever he did.”
“Okay, but you do realize Karma is a complex structure present in Eastern Religion based on Buddhism.”
“That’s the same thing Marcia Brady said to Earl on the show.”
“Yeah, you know, Ben Stiller’s wife.”
“Okaaaaaaaaay. So you agree, there’s more to it than that.”
“I have to go with what he said to Marcia Brady. Boiling it down to its simplest form”
“What was that?”
“Do good things. Good things happen.”
“Hey, whatever works for you. Is it working for you?”
“I don’t know really.”
“Because I keep thinking negative shit about people and I think it’s fucking up my karma.”
“I’ve got the solution for that.”
“Oh yeah, what’s that?”
“You should totally start making a list.”
Another round comes to the table as the two of them continue to sit there laughing and talking as the hours pass on by.
“So tell me. How many divorces have you been through so far? Victoria asked Derek as she sipped her glass of wine.
“I don’t believe in marriage.” Derek replied.
“What? What do you mean you don’t believe in marriage?”
“I don’t believe in it.”
“It’s not like marriage is a leprechaun or the Easter bunny. We’re not talking Santa Claus here. You are aware that marriage does exist.” “I’m not doubting the validity of marriage’s existence, I’m just saying that it’s not for me.”
“So what do you do, just cheat on them, leaving them all behind and on to the next venture?”
“What? No, nothing like that is even remotely close. I just think if two people are together, be it boy/girl, girl/girl, boy/boy, that they do not need a piece of paper binding them to a law of loyalty.”
“You know the gay community fought hard to have that?”
“I know and I’m not taking it away from anyone. If they want to get married, more power to any and all that wants it. I’m just saying it’s not for me.”
“I can understand where you’re coming from. I don’t think I’m entirely on board with it but I understand. There has to be some kind of compromise.”
“Well if you can think of one, I’m all ears.”
“I’ll have to get back to you on that one. I will say this.”
“Relationships are hard work.”
“I don’t even know what that means.”
“The whole ‘hashtag’ thing.”
“All the kids do it.”
“One, I know they do.”
“And the other?”
“You’re a pretty far ways away from being a kid.”
“I’m just trying to fit in. What don’t you get about hashtags?”
“What do they mean exactly?”
“It’s like an emphasis about a specific point. For example you said, ‘Relationships are hard work’. I replied with #TrueStory indicating that I agree with you.”
“I still don’t get it, but anyway I don’t understand how all women aren’t lesbians. Your species can kind of suck at times.”
“Really? Again with the hashtags?”
“I’m sorry I’ll stop but I do agree with you. You know Louis CK once said there is no greater threat to women than men. We are the number one threat against women. Do you know what the number one threat against men is?”
“No, what is it?”
“Are you a feminist?”
“I’ve never considered myself not one but I’ve never really thought about it.”
“Okay, that’s a conversation for another time. We’re talking about relationships and how hard they are at times.”
“Communication is key.”
“If there’s no communication, there’s a breakdown.”
“A communication breakdown.”
“Exactly and when that happens, things go downhill from there.”
“If you’re looking for an argument, you won’t find one with me.”
“No, I’m just saying, once that happens the wandering eyes begin.”
“Yes, they’re might be a new co-worker that catches your eye. You might start looking elsewhere for what is lacking at home.”
“Why not you?”
“I work in a warehouse. All dudes. No women to wander my eye.”
“I’m just saying. The communication is gone at home, there’s something missing, so you look elsewhere to replace it.”
“That shouldn’t be the case.”
“It is the case though. It’s the reason why any of us cheats.”
“Not me. I cheated once on someone in high school, got caught and never did it again.”
“You’re a rare exception.”
“The way I figured it, I wasn’t too good at it so why bother? If I’m not happy I’m not going to cheat, I’m just going to end it.”
“But people don’t end things. They avoid the break up even though they know something is broken there. That’s why I’m going to cheat on you. I don’t want to do it, but I’m going to cheat on you.”
“Cheat on me?”
“Yes, prior to breaking up something is going to happen where cheating is involved.”
“Cheat on me?” He repeated again.
“Yes, like I said I don’t want to do it, but it’s going to happen. I have to break up with you.”
Derek takes a moment before responding, sipping his beer, “There’s only one problem with that.”
“Oh yeah, what’s that?”
“We’re just friends. We’re not even dating.”
Victoria stares at Derek momentarily before she breaks out into laughter.
“So tell me about your day.” Derek said to Victoria.
“My day?” She asked.
“Yes, your day.”
“I’m a little taken aback. Nobody ever asks me how my day was.”
“Well, they really should and since they are not here I’m asking. How was your day, what did you do?”
“Not much I guess. I worked out for a little bit.”
“At the gymnasium?”
“No at my house.”
“What like jumping jacks and stuff?”
“Yeah, something like that.” She laughed at the notion of jumping jacks.
“Let me ask you this. How many jumping jacks can you do? Five?”
“What? Is the number too low?”
“Sorry I don’t know much about you work-out types.”
The lights go on inside Slappy’s Bar and the outside lights flicker on and off. Donny lets out a bellow with his deep voice. “Last call for alcohol. Last call.”
“Well I can honestly say, without a doubt, this has been fun.”
“We should definitely do this again sometime. Would you excuse me for a moment?” He asked her.
Derek walks inside Slappy’s and over towards Nicole. He asks her for the check and to his surprise the bill was relatively low for a full night of drinking. He pays the bill and gives her a large tip. He returns outside to Victoria.
“Did you ask Nicole to bring us out the bill?” She asked him.
“No, I went in to pay it.”
“How much do I owe, I must have drank 9 ½ bottles of wine myself tonight.”
“No, no, no. I got this.”
“Seriously, I want to pay.”
“It’s okay. It’s already done.”
“I feel bad. Let me pay something.”
“Don’t. I totally got this. Tonight is on me. Maybe next time I’ll let you pay.”
“Let me pay?”
“You’re right. I totally won’t.”
“Whatever. Hey, you hungry?”
“I could eat.”
“What’s with the ‘oh’?”
“That means you’re not hungry.”
“How do you figure?”
“If you were hungry you would have just come out and said yes, not ‘I could eat’. Am I right?”
“Look at me.”
“Does it look like I ever skipped a meal? I’m always hungry. What did you have in mind?”
“I know this great all-night pizza place. You want to go?”
“Sure, lead the way. I’ll grab an Uber.”
They walk past Donny who nods his head to both of them. They both say good-bye as they make their way off the patio and through the bar to the exit. Donny then lets out another bellow, “Okay let’s go people! You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here!”
Semisonic’s “Closing Time” plays on the jukebox, a Slappy’s Bar tradition, signifying to all that the end of the evening has arrived. Derek and Victoria head into the night, continuing on with their evening’s adventure.
The years pass on. Derek and Victoria are much older now.
His beard long gone, replaced with short gray stubble. Her hair is much shorter and gray as well. They’re sitting side by side in matching chairs, holding hands, on the porch of a well lived-in house. Years of the sun beating down had faded the outside paint. Victoria is drinking wine while he’s drinking bourbon. An Elijah Craig 18 year old single barrel bourbon. He takes a long sip and let’s out a sigh. He turns to her and asks, “Hey, did I ever tell you about the time –“
“Stop right there.” Victoria interrupts.
“What is it?”
“We can’t… I can’t… I can’t do this anymore.”
“I’m not following.”
“I have to break up with you.”
They both sit in an uncomfortable awkward silence staring off at the view for a moment before Derek takes a sip of his bourbon. He replies, “Okay, but we’re just friends. We’re not even dating.”