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Maple by Amy Allen

        (a Tanka)

You run your finger
through the deep crevasses in
the ancient tree’s bark
recall your dying father—
the lines by his open mouth.

The Fury of Garlic by Ruth Mota


Bring a bulb into my kitchen.
Rub your thumb over its bearded belly.
Let your finger caress its papery old-man skin
as it sloughs off in your palm
to reveal a ring of ivory teeth
agape like the jaw of a tiger,
its feral breath warding off curses and plagues.

Curses and plagues,
as in the Middle Ages, have come again
afloat in air or seeping out of silver screens,
drooling from our politicians’ mouths.
We summoned them in ignorance.
If only a garlic wreath wrapped in wool
could help protect us now.

But you, my friend, believe in science.
You relish garlic for its allicin
its antibiotic, antifungal attributes
that lower your pressure and your LDL.
Imagine instead, fires along our street tonight -
garlic thrown in flames as it was in ancient Borneo
with pleas to conjure souls we lost so long ago.


Requiem by Nick Currass


Perhaps I shouldn’t have said anything. Kept the blue nightshade to myself; a little pill of my own to blur our shared secret. Everyone is happy, unaware. You are dead. You cannot hurt me anymore. But you are there, burning in my blood. My father waxes about how great you were, grief-blind, but you are and will be here forever; you and your shed; the dry sawdust air; the calendar of naked women; the old vhs porn tape you
tried to get me to watch; the white bones of a rat gnawed clean under a forgotten slab; the time you asked me to enter you

And I tried, because I trusted you

Broken boy; whelp; never fully understanding, never brave enough to speak out in front of people; cuts himself while shaving; you would tell me to stand closer to the razor. I imagine my inner chest, my pirate hoard of memories; dark sand-worn wood and gold gilt strips, the padlock cobwebbed and chunky. I turn the key and bring you squirming into the light. I hope you burn in hell.


Going to Med School by Lenora Steele
            For my brother, Reg


These days I don’t think of
what happened to you after; at the school.
Well... I do but as soon as I realize I’m at it, I stop;
think of what I’ll make for supper,
try to remember if I paid the taxes, the name
of that flowering bush on Granville.

The day the letter came you were full of mirth and
thinking it still a good ways off you had fun telling
us all you’d been accepted.
           I’m going to college, you said and so you did.
Sooner than you thought too. Sooner than any of us
thought. A week or so later an administrator

from the school rang; called to say you
arrived with a feather pillow; did we want it back?
             We didn’t.
But I keep wondering about it, that pillow, wondering
if anyone noticed the stains from the popsicles we
shared at the end. And I prayed too,
I prayed that when they lifted your head to take
it away their hands were gentle.


Truth by Tom Schmidt


Truth lying next to me, dying mouth agape, never more to belittle, to sneer, only gasps now, swallowing the last air in his world, air smelling of soiled diapers, air dragged halting over the snaggle stump of one tooth gifted with cruel irony to dislodge itself from his cosmetically enhanced smile, a fortune wasted after all unless slick Dr. Li shows up in time with the super glue to allay the unconscious horror of entering eternity ugly. And yet. Here are the mottled, limp arms that taught me to throw a curveball, the dwindled stick shins that showed me how to weave on a fast break, the stinking, shrunken gland that stood at attention long enough to salute me into the world. Dad, as I watch you die, I tell no one that you were the worst person I have ever known, that learning who not to be is still a worthy lesson, that no amount of pain in two hearts, one congested, one conflicted, can make the little boy that I always am not adore you, not hope to prove myself, at last, good enough.


Pity by Joan Mazza

On the second day of the safari, our guide
takes us to the home he bought for his mother
in Tanzania, eager to show us the new
flush toilet outside the house. The white bowl

stands out at the edge of the encroaching jungle,
without privacy or shelter. Inside, the house
is newly painted in a shocking neon blue,
with small squares in the walls meant

for light switches and electrical outlets
where there is no electricity. The kitchen
is outside—a firepit of rocks in a circle cleared
of foliage. A table set for us, buffet

of unrecognizable fruit, a bowl of manioc. We sit
on threadbare chairs with his mother, who lassos
a few English words as she tries to engage
us in traditional conversation. Your cattle?

No cattle. I wonder if I should say
I have two dogs and pause too long.
How is your husband? Children?
No husband. No children
, I say happily.

She looks from me to my friend, who says
the same. No husband or children. The mother
turns back to me with a look of complete pity,
an expression of horror at our poor lives.


Sugar Baby by Sara Pauff

    An oily, acne-dotted face loomed over her. Dried mucus crusted his sleepy eyes, and crumbs from last night’s dinner clung to his mouth. Griselda sighed with a mix of revulsion and grief.
    “Oh Hansel. Didn’t you wash today?” Was that stain above his upper lip gravy, or a mustache sprouting? She hoped it was the former.
Hansel grunted, the only response she ever got from him these days.
    “At least wipe your face.” Griselda rummaged through her carpetbag until she found a nubby gray cloth and handed it to the troll who, once upon a time, had been her son.
    Her delicious baby boy, her Hansel, who used to follow her everywhere. He helped her in the kitchen, licked the spoons after she baked zimtsterne, and begged for one more slice of apfelstrudel after dinner. Griselda always gave in because he was so sweet.
    But then Hansel grew up. Now, his head touched the top of the cottage door. His long limbs knocked crockery off shelves. His cherubic face broke out in pustules, his voice warbled like an out-of-tune cuckoo clock, and he no longer smelled as sweet as Christmas stollen. He reeked like rotten dirty socks.
    Worst of all, Hansel didn’t want to spend time with Griselda anymore.
    “Leave me alone, Ma,” he’d grumble, slamming his bedroom door.
    Griselda’s salvation came in the form of the annual carnival. Wizards often sold their wares at carnivals and Griselda hoped to find a tonic to return Hansel’s childhood sweetness. Hansel agreed to come when she mentioned spun sugar; even trolls have a sweet tooth. So far, Griselda had only collected enchanted free samples, but the day was young; she had hope.
    Her son cleaned his face and handed the cloth back. The dark patch above his lip had disappeared, along with the leftover food and crusted snot. His complexion had improved too, his angry red acne fading to smooth pinkness. Griselda felt as if she were looking at her child again.
    Until she handed Hansel coins for ice cream, and he lumbered away without a thank you. Once upon a time, he needed her for more than just cash.
    Griselda folded the cloth to tuck it away, then paused. Her age spots had faded, and the knuckles of her right hand, which held the cloth, were no longer swollen with arthritis.
    She read the cloth’s tag.
    NoSoap! The magic dishcloth that wipes clean. Your life will sparkle like new with our patented NoSoap formula.
    Warning: Do not scrub.
    Perhaps the free samples weren’t all junk.
    Hansel returned, his mouth smeared with chocolate ice cream. “Could I have another, please?”
    Griselda held out the dishcloth. “Wipe your face first. And your hands.”
    Hansel wiped, and Griselda watched with wonder and delight as the boy’s greasy brown hair lightened to the blonde curls she remembered. His broad shoulders thinned, and Griselda swore he shrank three inches before he returned the dishcloth.
    She passed it over her knees and stood, her joints smooth and silent for the first time in years. “Why don’t we both get ice cream?”
    “Okay, Mama,” Hansel squeaked and reached for her hand.

    Griselda bought double-scoop cones, which they ate while they explored the carnival. Sugar and fried dough perfumed the air, and the jaunty carousel music made Griselda’s aching feet feel light again. She pointed to the painted horses.
    “Let’s ride the carousel, and I’ll buy you a funnel cake.”
    Hansel stuck out his tongue. “Carousels are for babies.”
    Brandishing the dishcloth, Griselda wiped away his disgust. Minutes later, from the saddle of a bucking bronco, Hansel laughed, flashing pearly baby teeth.
    After the carousel, they ate funnel cakes and played ring toss. After ring toss, Griselda bought soft pretzels, and they watched the pig racing. Then the Punch and Judy show began, and Griselda couldn’t say no to the man selling caramel popcorn.
    With each meal, Griselda passed the dishcloth over Hansel. His body shortened and plumped, and his cheeks grew round with baby fat.
    “Tanks Mama,” Hansel lisped, gazing at her with pure love as he licked a candied apple.
    By the time they reached the man selling spun sugar, tiny Hansel was exhausted, so Griselda hoisted him onto her hip and wiped his face again. Such an adorable toddler, with fat sausage legs and a sweet-smelling head. He would always be her baby now.
She cuddled him close, but he squirmed and whined.
    "What’s wrong, baby? Want a treat?”
    Griselda waved a cone of spun sugar, but instead of giggling, Hansel opened his toothless mouth and wailed.
    “Oh baby, it’s all right.” She popped candy floss between his gums, but Hansel only cried louder.
    “No want it!”
    Griselda had forgotten about the terrible twos. No matter. A quick swipe with the dishcloth and he’d be a gurgling baby, ready to nap. She’d swaddle him to her chest and rock him all the way home.
    Setting aside the spun sugar, Griselda wiped Hansel’s tears with the dishcloth. He shrieked louder, wriggling his face away.
    What was that brown stain under his nose? Chocolate? Griselda swiped harder, but the smudge didn’t budge.
    A mustache, dark hairs as fine as candy floss.
    Griselda spat into the dishcloth and rubbed Hansel’s face raw, but the mustache remained. Running to a rain barrel, she dunked Hansel in feet first and scoured his body with the dishcloth.
    Clean. She had to clean him, or Hansel would grow up and leave her.
    Griselda scrubbed and scrubbed, until Hansel’s sobs turned to mewling, his body scrunching into a newborn ball. Her baby boy, so small, she could hold him in her palm.
    She kissed his head, sniffed his cotton candy hair. One more speck of dirt under his chin. Griselda wiped, then wrung the dishcloth over him for good measure.
    With a sigh, Hansel melted away to nothing. Sticky scum floated in the water. Her sweet boy, her sugar baby, no more.

Royce Genital Protection Fund by Sean Nishi

    Hello and welcome to Royce’s Corner. This is the only place where we dare to discuss the hard topics, like “why making white children learn Spanish is racist.” I apologize for being gone for so long. You might remember I was incarcerated a few years ago for defending a Container Store from Antifa forces trying to loot it under the guise of “social justice.” I was able to get the charges dropped from “first degree murder” to “second degree manslaughter” to “reckless endangerment with a deadly weapon,” until finally my lawyers rightly proved that I was acting in self-defense. Now there are twelve less anarchists in the world and I am a free man again.

    But somehow things have gotten worse. All these states are attempting to pass gun laws and I worry for their safety. Because think about it: If I was some depraved maniac and I wanted to shoot up a school or a movie theater, where would I go? Where guns are banned? Or where every law-abiding citizen can carry whatever weapon reflects their commitment to freedom?

    I know where I would commit mass murder.
    To test this, I stood outside my local synagogue with an AR-15 holstered over my shoulder. I did so because I am a friend of the Jews and wanted to protect them from any Jihadists who might try to blow them up. But then the rabbi there called the police on me and said I was making them feel threatened. Apparently it’s illegal to open-carry now in this state, which is insane. There’s no way to hide a rifle that big.

    So as I’m leaving I see this lady on a street corner with a shaved head and a clipboard. Probably a lesbian. Do I have a problem with that? Of course not! I don’t care if you’re gay or lesbian or both. But there are limits. Just because you’re a lesbian doesn’t mean you have to show it. You can still put on some makeup and a low-cut blouse. Nothing kills the vibe like seeing a woman wearing overalls with an American History X haircut.
    So I ask this lesbian what she’s doing. Turns out she’s gathering signatures to ban guns in the entire state! I try to warn her how guns protect women like her from getting murdered by hobos and junkies. But then she tells me that she’s actually a guy (!?). So I ask “him” to show me
“his” penis to prove it. Except this so-called guy refuses, saying that he’s a “trans man.”
    Now your boy Royce has heard about the “trans” before (and no, I’m not taking about a Trans-Am Pontiac). Trans people are men who become women so they can use the ladies bathroom at Target. It’s asinine. Can you imagine anything worse than being a woman? Getting paid less? Getting abducted? Buying pants with no pockets?
    I don’t know why anyone would choose to be a woman.
    Likewise ladies shouldn’t bother trying to become guys. It takes a lot of origami to turn a vagina into a penis. And woman are biologically and emotionally incapable of being hunter/gatherers (unless they’re “hunting” for deals at a Sephora). That’s a hard fact. Just look at our ancestors. They weren’t sitting around bitching about the “glass ceiling” (they didn’t even have glass back then!).
    So I went to see my buddy Todd over at American Gun World. You might Remember Todd from my column “Reverse Sexism: Why We Need More Male Gynecologists.” Todd suggested that women are impersonating guys and committing horrible atrocities as some conspiracy to take guns away from honest American men. It’s not surprising. First they bitch their way into our sports teams even though they don’t know how to dribble. Then they watch their older brothers play Call of Duty and suddenly want to join our military. What do they want to be next? Walruses?

    That night I spent almost an hour googling everything about the trans. What I found was shocking: So-called “progressive” parents are forcing their kids to become trans so that they can get free healthcare. So-called doctors are even encouraging parents to poison their babies with
“puberty blockers” that’ll shrink their penises. I don’t have the exact numbers, but last year it’s estimated that over a million parents* mutilated their kids genitals without their permission while they were sleeping like some sadistic Tooth Fairies! I can only imagine them waking up with
their genitals stuck in some Saw trap.

    Every year these gender-fascists are recruiting more and more children to their death cult.
It’s estimated by 2030 that the trans will out number normal “cis” children 100 to 1. The only way to stop this is by nipping it in the bud. Which is why I’ve started the Royce Genital Protection Fund. Our goal is to protect the genitals of our nation’s young. We will accomplish this by installing stainless steel chastity belts around their penises and vaginas. These will remain until they are eighteen and capable of protecting themselves. Only the RGPF will have access to 
their genitals. In this way we can protect them from their parents, doctors, and even the federal government, who have clearly proven themselves on the pro-mutilation side by allowing trans people to join the military.

    Simultaneously the RGPF will combat abortions which are being forced onto our nation’s nubile women. It is morally wrong to kill a baby (or at least until the baby is old enough to do something deserving to be killed). Additionally It is proven that pregnancy by rape is impossible as the female body has highly advanced self-defense mechanisms to differentiate between actual 1 Matt Walsh, The Joe Rogan Experience rape and just slutting it up. The RGPF is already fast at work on banning birth control and pornography, as they delude women into doing reckless things like having sex.
    None of this will be easy. Together we can fight the Hollywood elite who think Barbie should've won an Oscar. We can imprison the gender-changelings who stalk our women’s restrooms. We can rescue our youth from being shipped off to Tijuana where back-alley Mexican doctors can steal their gonads.
    It’s up to you, our valued readers, to support the RGPF with regular contributions. I would be out on the frontlines too but I’ve been told by my parole officer that I should lay low for the foreseeable future.
    Good night and good luck.


* Matt Walsh, The Joe Rogan Experience

Good Manners by David Larsen


    I ain’t never really believed in much of anything, nothin’ more than the human heart, and even that I’ve got more than a doubt or two about. I guess I’ve just lived too damned long, eighty-three years, and I’m just plumb worn out from all I’ve witnessed: so-called righteous folks doin’, then denyin’ that they ever done what they done. You might say I’ve become a bit jaded in my old age. Perhaps. Who’s to say? Maybe I have. Maybe I haven’t. Though I’d venture to tell you that I’ve always been this way, in spite of my ma wishin’ that I’d turned out different.

    So, when I opened my front door that afternoon and found a young man, Bible in hand, grinnin’ ear to ear like only a preacher can, his dark blue suit hangin’ loose from his narrow shoulders like some Memphis gigolo at midnight, his hand out to shake mine, my first thought was to shut the goddamned door in his goofy face. But I hadn’t been raised that way, no siree; I couldn’t be rude, no matter what. My ma, if she was alive today, would skin my hide if I was to forget my manners.

    “Good afternoon,” the eager beaver in his Sunday getup said, “I’m going door to door in your neighborhood to invite you to join us on Sunday morning at the Church of the Redeemer, just two blocks down the street. I’m Randolph Crane, Pastor Crane, the assistant minister.” He reached out and took my hand then shook it like some shyster used car salesman, a little loose and fishy, a bit on the creepy side, if you ask me.

    “Son,” I told him. “I’m afraid you’re barkin’ up the wrong tree.” I shook my head. “You’d be better off with some of my neighbors. To tell ya the truth, I ain’t got no use for no church. But you’re welcome to come in for a cold drink...and I think I’ve still got some Fig Newtons in the
cupboard. If I ain’t ate ‘em all up, and if they ain’t gone stale.”


    Well, he sat on my sofa, the ornate one I took from my ma’s house more than forty years ago—when she passed—and he told me all about Jesus and God and heaven and about the “wonderful” seniors’ group at his church (he must’ve thought I’d be interested...I wasn’t, not in the least, especially not the old-folks gatherin’, a bunch of geezers prayin’ and titterin’ about this and that), all while he was eatin’ my Fig Newtons like there weren’t no tomorrow and gulpin’ down iced tea like a man who’d just outrun the devil himself. I listened and pretended to be in agreement with him on the religion stuff, but, to tell the truth, I was more’n a little annoyed at havin’ to put up with it all. And about the cookies.

    Finally, when I could get a word in edgewise, which, I’m tellin’ ya, wasn’t easy, not in the least, I said, “My ma was a Hard Shell Baptist, up in Meredith County, up until she married my pa. Pa...he didn’t hold to no creed. So, I know all about Jesus and that sorta thing from my ma.”
I didn’t tell him how I felt about what I thought of as a bunch of hooey, folderol. He was a nice enough fella. I didn’t want to rile him none. Or insult him. I suspect he mighta guessed I was havin’ none of it, but that didn’t stop him, not one bit.


    I let him speak his piece...and then some. Like all preachers, he was a long-winded son of a gun. I was downright embarrassed for him, his goin’ on and on, and bein’ so young and naïve
and unaware that he was bein’ a pain in the ass. Besides, what in the dickens could I do? He was my guest, uninvited though he might be.


    Shucks, when he asked me to lower my head and join him in prayer, I shoulda said, “Hell no”, and put my foot down right then and there. A man can only go so far at bein’ polite. But I went along with it, just to be neighborly. And, in spite of all his zeal and blab, he was likeable enough...for a preacher. So, what the heck. What did I have to lose? But geez, that fella could pray longer’n anyone I ever come across. Jesus this, Jesus that. You tell me, what was I to do, but sit and listen? I did my best. I sat and pretended like I was interested. But I wasn’t. I was too pissed off.

    When he run out of breath and Fig Newtons he got up to leave...but not without givin’ me that dead-fish handshake of his, and, out of nowhere, he put his arms around me and gave me a goddamned hug. And I mean a hug, not just placin’ his hand on my shoulder, like preachers do,
but a goddamned chest-crunchin’ embrace.


    Up where I come from, up in Meredith County, strangers don’t do nothin’ like that. Not women, and for damn sure, not men. Now, you just might be thinkin’ I got some kinda problem with men bein’ different—if you know what I mean—but, nope, I got no problem with that kinda thing. Not in the least. I got a cousin, Bill. He’s got a friend, Dwayne, and he and Dwayne are that way. Don’t matter none to me. Not in the least. My ma taught me to live and let live. So’s I do just that. For a Baptist, she had a way about her, my ma, a gentle way. It weren’t that another man touched me, not at all. It was just that I didn’t know that fella from Adam. No siree.

    Alone, my knees a-shakin’ from what he’d done, my cupboard outta cookies, I thought about my pa. Hell, he mighta shot that fella. Pa was a backwoodsman. And that sort don’t put up with much. But Ma had taught me to be polite. No matter what. I was just bein’ neighborly.

    I walked by that blasted church on my way to Spencer’s Grocery. I was out of cookies and in no mood to talk to no one. The sign outside of that damned church had his name on it, sure enough. Randolph Crane. Assistant Minister.

Tanner's Last Wish by DM Anderson


    I love Tanner. He reminded me of my nine-year-old buddies, Steve-Teddy-Andy. The only difference between him and us was that Tanner, being a more perceptive child, knew what he would be missing should his time on Earth expire prematurely. At age nine, Steve-Teddy-Andy and
I were oblivious to such thoughts. We were naïvely invincible. Death was never an option.
    My buddies and I grew up in an era when it was okay to build forts in the woods, hustle wiffle ball games against younger kids, and play cowboys and Indians with fake guns. Tanner could have easily been one of us. Being one of the good guys, he would have made the perfect sheriff. Maybe
that’s why he always looked like a hero in his white gowns. Good guys always wore white.
    As I entered his hospital room that day, a chill hung in the air, and I found Tanner nestled in bed, tiny tremors running through him. The room smelled of sterile sheets, and the soft hum of medical equipment provided an unsettling backdrop to our conversation. He was shivering. I wrapped a blanket around his shoulders and forced a smile. “How are you doing, Tanner?” I asked.
    “Not so good,” he said.
    Of course, I knew this. That’s why I was there. To cheer him up. “Wantta play cards?” I pursued.
    “No,” he said. “I’m sad right now.”
    I understood. I knew death was always on his mind, but I refused to acknowledge it and tried shifting the conversation. “Have you decided yet? You know, a wish. Something you’ve always wanted to do or see,” I pressed, refusing to use the word “last” as part of the question.
    “No,” he responded, turning away from me and casting his eyes at his wall clock. It was one of those weathered Felix-the-Cat clocks muted in drab colors. The battery-powered toy's ticking 
echoed through the room, each movement of Felix's eyes and tail feeling like a metronome
counting down the precious seconds of Tanner's life. The repetitive sound became a constant companion, a melancholic symphony in the background of our conversation. One second, Felix’s eyes would dart left, and his black tail would sweep right. Then, Felix’s eyes would dart right, and his tail left. Over and over. Back and forth. Repetitive. Tick-tock-tick-tock.
    Tanner knew his life was like that clock. He worried about the batteries.
    “How about a story? You like my stories, right? My cat stories?”
    Tanner finally turned to look at me. He was grinning. “Sure. Tell me about when your Siamese cat, Bobby, ran out of the house at midnight. When you chased him down the street in boxer shorts and cowboy boots.”
    I had told him that story at least five times before, and he never tired of it. Oh, the literary patience of a nine-year-old. And so I told him the tale once again, and like clockwork, he laughed at the same lame moments when his adult buddy made a fool of himself half-naked in darkness.
    That day, I left Tanner wearing a never-ending smile. He was no longer sad.
    I returned a week later and strolled into Tanner’s 7th-floor room, but Tanner was nowhere to be found. A nurse was stripping his bed of sheets. I could still make out his body impression outlined on the foam mattress pad. “Where’s Tanner?” I asked.
    “He’s gone,” she said.
    “Gone? What do you mean he’s gone? I never got to say goodbye. I don’t even know where he lives to get in contact with him.”
    The nurse’s lips pinched a sad smile. “You’re new to the Santa Rosa Hospital family, aren’t you? When our chemo children have only twenty-four hours left, we know. And we tell them and their parents the truth. So, the tradition here is they circle the 7th floor one last time and say their
goodbyes to the staff and doctor friends. They say their last goodbyes.”

    “But I didn’t get to say my last goodbye,” I moaned.
    My hands clenched, knuckles turning white with an overpowering urge to bolt out of the hospital and run to the park across the street. I longed to scream to heaven, questioning the torment inflicted on humanity, especially innocent children. Why are they taken so soon? And just Who does God think He is, robbing mortals of a child’s immortality? Tanner, sweet as any kid could be, slipped away like the others, like my buddies Steve-Teddy-Andy years before. The loss echoed, and the memory of feeling nine again slipped through my grasp.
    I made an about-face and sulked down the hallway, ready to return home. Don’t cry, I told myself. Not here. Not on the 7th floor. Be brave for the children.

    A few seconds later, the same nurse came running after me. “Wait,” she shouted. “Are you Tanner’s cat friend?”
    “Oh, my. I’m glad I asked. Here,” she said, thrusting Felix into my hands. “Tanner wanted you to have this. It was his last wish. He said that you told him cat stories. That you made him laugh. That you deserved his cat.”
    “On the good days, I did make him laugh,” I said, agreeing with the nurse’s conjecture. I paused to stare at my friend’s prized possession and exhaled a long overdue breath. “God, I loved that kid. I’ll miss him,” I added.
    I glanced again at the clock. Felix’s eyes darted left, his tail right. Felix’s eyes darted right, his tail left. Seemingly ceaseless. Tick-tock-tick-tock....
    Wishes are simply prayers in guise. I was humbled that day, knowing a dying child selflessly offered up a prayer for me.




Dawn by Gabriela Pabon

00:00 / 03:10

Pleistocene by Annabella Gelmetti

00:00 / 04:24

Won't You Let Me Sleep by Francisco Vara

00:00 / 03:20
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