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The Inner Nobles


A good education is more important than anything, at least that’s what my family believed, although it’s a little curious why we thought that way, because we didn’t see it as a means to make money, and that seems to be the consensus point of it. My mom felt there was an inner superiority to being cultured, a superiority that the garish rich with their personal trainer-wrought bodies and eco-shredding fetish for new things could not even imagine. 

            We had a special animus for the neighborhood behind us, which had been heretofore a woodland scruff populated by smoking teens, like any self-respecting suburban scruff would be, but which was pulverized over the course of two years to enable the emergence of hulks of beige stonework edged by fading green carpets of sod. A tall cedar fence, which my mom called the royal codpiece, shielded the wealthy’s views from our neighborhood’s degraded trash-lawns and sloughing siding. Yet from our house’s second-story windows I could espy these mini-mansions belching out careening moms in sedans, Ken-doll dads wearing aviator caps and running with ecstatic purebreds. Sure, they had money. Sure, they were beautiful with lush hair. But my mom, as a social worker with an affinity for Shakespeare, had inner nobility. She, my four sisters, and our three cats were actually better than these easefully living dipshits and their “riches.”

            I didn’t want the money, either, money defined as towers of gold coins that one counted with papery wrinkled fingers. But then again, I sure hated being a penniless loser.

            Because I was born on an auspicious day, the first day of the new millennium, every new year also happened to usher in my matching age. Just recently, the millennium and I entered our teens. For this reason, sometimes I thought the world took too much of an interest in me, the way in Shakespeare events in a king’s life are augured by crows and comets. Case in point, this fall who should drop into my life but a girl named Jezzie, short for Jezebel, sharing a name with an Old Testament apostate/harlot (?) and/or women’s blog. As you can see, these were heightened times, portent was everywhere. (Though she went by Jezzie, her real name was Jane, but that doesn’t enter the story.) Were Jezzie and I star-crossed lovers? A question worth posing, as I did try to save her and myself from the troublesome situation in which we found ourselves, and in the end neither she nor I saved each other, and yet saving-actions were had, powerful acts of revenge were on display. 

            Jezzie lived on the wrong side of the fence, i.e. my side. All of us lower-middle-class sad sacks with our wrong-sized electronics. She had ways of dealing, of course, we all did. For instance, she took solace in voodoo dolls, had a bunch of them representing bullies in school and would flick their heads when they’d wronged her or squeeze their willy-areas, etc. If they threw a spitball at her, she would save it and sew it onto the doll. I at times became irritated at the inanity of this enterprise—none of it had practical effects in the reality in which we were forced to live and breathe—but, it gave her solace. I could see that much. Solace was needed. She had zits and frizzy hair, the works. The first time she showed up on the school bus, my initial response was scorn. I’ll admit it. There are moments I forget myself. I take on the Eye of Society and forget that said Eye does not look kindly on the likes of yours truly, either. So I kicked said Eye in the nuts and said hello to Jezzie, who smiled at me with her mossy teeth and we fell into our opinions of Space Mayhem and things only got better from there. She also, despite other visual deficits, had a surprisingly solid shelf of titties. Like, adult titties, bigger than my mom’s. I have since confirmed various other qualities of said titties, and she seemed to enjoy my confirmatory activities.

            In fact, I was engaged in one such ecstatic confirmation when we heard the blunderings of Scott in the hallway. She moved away, and I detached my phalanges from their probing. 

            Scott knocked on the door and then he opened it. 

            Scott was older. Who knows how old, maybe three centuries. The Eye of Society was very fond of Scott. It actually melted a tad at the sight of him, shed a single tear from which a million flowers grew. Scott is tall and he has a curl of hair over his eye that he shakes away at casual intervals. He has hair all over, curly blond thick hair on his legs, which have a lot of musculature. His arms also have musculature, and also a lot of hair. Women would probably like his face, which is dazzling. His smile is dazzling, although he wasn’t smiling at that very moment. He wasn’t trying to act charming with the likes of us. He was wearing a t-shirt with the sleeves cut off, which gave an unimpeded vista of the good arm musculature, as he demanded to know if Jezzie had moved his [something unmemorable but direly not to be moved]. Jezzie denied said move, debate ensued, during which Scott moved his body in various authoritative and casual ways. 

            When he left, forelock borne aloft, I attempted to discuss him in covert manner with Jezzie.

            “So…that’s your brother.”

            “Total asshole. My parents say he’s ‘hanging out with the wrong crowd.’”

            “Oh man. What’s that look like?” Motorcycles and leather jackets and gelled male up-dos...

            “Shitty. It looks shitty. Razzing people and stuff. And Cleo’s the worst, his little girlfriend.”

            I’d seen Cleo at school, and by “seen” I mean helplessly ogled. She was God’s gift to guys, and by “guys” I mean specific guys, like Scott. The conjuring of Cleo and Scott together in my imagination prompted a kind of rapture. I threw myself on my back, words dribbling from my mouth: “A rebellious phase. A phase of rebellion. Misfits. Girlfriend. The wrong crowd.” 

            Jezzie didn’t seem to think these comments merited response. After a long pause, I prodded her, “So what does the wrong crowd do, exactly?” I suspected it was something very intensely right.

            “You’re such a dumbass.” She then gave me a look of vulnerability. This was a look we rarely gave each other, because the Eye might catch it, and make us pay. We liked to run under the radar of the Eye. But she gave it to me nonetheless, and it operated as ice water on my simmering state: “Sometimes they razz me.”

            Dear reader, please be it known that this info did destroy me. But what could I do? Sure, I would have loved to pound Scott to smithereens, but then there were the limitations of the known universe. For instance: in fresh living memory, some meathead calling me “King Kong of cum.” I was not in a position to protect myself, much less my lady love, from life and its slings and arrows and spitballs. I yearned to return to earlier times, just moments before, when I was ignorant of their razzing. “But what other things do they do? The rebellious stuff?” 

            Jezzie slid off her bed and went back to Space Mayhem. I realized she was not deigning to respond. My phalanges were unable to probe for the remainder of my visit, and I left shortly thereafter.

 

            People don’t bully at my school because teachers are very vigilant and interventionist and the parents are hovering. But you can tell the bullies want to. They really, really want to, and they do sometimes, hovering notwithstanding. There’s no beating up against the school fence in jeering crowds, of course, not in these enlightened times, but there are comments and errant tripping and curled lips and not being chosen although you’re right there—those kinds of things. After one such “accidental” milk-spilled-on-jeans episode by thug with high-end leather backpack, I went home discouraged. I didn’t tell Jezzie because I wanted her to maintain some sense of my desirability. Yet, I think she sensed my pain, because she already had a doll for this specific thug and she showed it what’s what with a knitting needle. When I smiled, she grinned back at me, and we started doing this humping thing we sometimes do. Then, in a miraculous series of events which I won’t overnarrate, the citadel of her mammary found its way into my open and wanting mouth. Later, her mom invited me to supper. I did not usually sup with the household due to my household’s strict dietary regimen, but her parents had learned of said requirements and arranged a low FODMAP meal, which was kindly of them. 

            Scott was also called down to sup. He began pacing around the den looking for [yet another inane object not to be moved] and accusing Jezzie of its relocation. “Why would I want your dumbass [moved object]?” she retorted, and they were off to the races.

            Parents intervened, we sat down at the table where tensions thrummed high. It only further displeased Scott to discover the lack of Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides And Polyols on offer. He did not seem to understand that a low FODMAP diet could improve his “bowel habit,” as advertised in the low FODMAP materials. Attempts to explain in allusive language said intestinal benefits were quickly shut down by all present. Subsiding, I continued to know nothing of Scott’s bowel habit, except that it was gargantuan, manfully explosive, definitive. 

            Through course of exchange at table, which lingered past point of decency on all topics baseball (a Scott obsession), it became clear that Scott was struggling in his coursework. His parents were inquiring in a parental casual-invasive way about his studies, and no one was having a good time of it, not Scott and not the parentals. Parents razz Scott, Scott razzes sister, no one wins. There had to be a better way. 

            That night, I went home and found some wine bottles. No, dear reader, I did not imbibe. I lifted. I lifted until I burned. I got on the floor and did twenty. I jogged up and down the stairs, and no one in my household cared because we’re all morbidly loud people in our own festive ways. I put on a t-shirt, and I got a pair of scissors, and then I took off the t-shirt and cut off the sleeves.

            Here is where we fast-forward. Perhaps a montage. Transition wine bottles to actual weights, actual weights to bigger actual weights. Stairs to running. Accutane pills in cupboard. I still had my undervalued personality and unfortunate facial arrangement, but my heretofore wiry arms had definition, and my stomach, while lacking definition, had at least flatness. Even my skin, though currently peeling like a mofo (cf. Accutane), suggested an incipient glow. In the mornings, I took my sisters’ curling iron and curled a single lock over my eyes. I sometimes practiced tossing my head carelessly. The secret, I learned over time, and which I will share with you, is to toss as minimally as possible. Toss the minimum required to agitate the follicle, and no more. More is not better in forelock-tossing.

            With muscles, and non-pizza skin, and curated forelock, I knew I could not adjust facial features or acquire the latest gadgets, but also the Eye of Society was definitely now more of a softened gaze. 

            Scott went on his runs in the a.m. I would see him running before school, which is like 5:30 a.m. This is commitment. It was an unfortunate choice but so it was. I rolled with it. We ran into each other quite a few times—initially a “hey,” but over time, more. Scott and his family could not afford a tutor, I learned, but boy, did Scottie need one. 

            “I’m doing okay, passing—barely—in my other classes, but Mrs. Smyth is f[redacted]ing me,” he said, referring to Winona Smyth, known English teacher. I was scurrying to keep up with his ungulate strides. “If I get an F, I’m f[redacted] screwed.” With further delicate probing into the exact varietal of screwed, I learned that baseball would be cut from his life, the equivalent of a fate worse than death, as well as nixing chances of scholarship, which nixed chances of college, which meant he would die of a sad poor-white-man fate of which we hear many statistics. There was a real domino effect of doom to be had. “You – know,” I gasped, “I – received – highest – marks –  in –  honors – Eng – lish.” Scott turned his shaggy-haired face toward me, looking at me the way guys like Scott look at guys like me. Nerdboy, said Scott’s humidly curling forelock to Scott’s peanut-sized brain, can be good for us. We like nerdboy for narrow-cast role in our hunky lifestyle. And so the tutoring was conceived.

            I didn’t tell Jezzie about my quality time with Scott because Jezzie wouldn’t understand its practical genius. Unlike her doll sadism, I was making change in the realm of reality, wherein we live. I was just waiting for the reveal, that fateful day when Scott would enter the room and declare, “I see my [direly important something] has been moved, but I know you did not move it, or even if you did, I will ask you civilly, as a peer, as to its whereabouts.” He would be speaking to Jezzie but he would be looking squarely at me, as man contemplates man in primordial equality.

            But Jezzie, and this is where things get a little sad, was not keeping up with my transformation. She was not lifting or running or anything that might keep her and me in right relation. Although I ignored it, I knew that Eye of Society started to raise an eyebrow, suggest that Jezzie was not all I could do or be. 

            Attempts to jumpstart her awareness were not warmly received. 

            “Hey, my sister uses this,” I said one time, bringing out of my backpack a crusty red bottle. 

            She took it from me and read it silently. Her face became a little hard. “So?”

            “So, if you use it, you could”—I took it back from her, checking the fine print—“‘transform frizzy nests into glossy curls with a quarter-sized dollop.’”

Jezzie stared at me, then said evenly, “F[redacted] off.” 

            As can be witnessed, our heroine wasn’t giving me much to work with. And things started to compound when Jezzie brought over Abe, then Ellie, presenting them to me like a cat with dead-mouse gifts. I knew Abe and Ellie well, they lived two streets over in selfsame sadsack neighborhood—fartier denizens of loser underworld did not exist. That they were killer at Space Mayhem moderated not my damnatory opinions. 

            And then, cataclysm. Scott barged in to Jezzie’s room during a Space Mayhem throwdown, viewing the four of us grimly with his rolling mastodon eyes, intoning, “Hey dumbass, where’d you put my [yet another misplaced something, how many are there, why can’t he keep track of his stuff]?” Jezzie, defiant, majestic, rejected all knowledge, which only enraged Scott. The titans were battling, and the scene was awesome. In a frenzy of activation, I decided to show Jezzie wherefore all my effort and what she could reap if she too put in a little effort as previously prodded. So I exclaimed: “Hey Scott, did you check where you left it last?” This parry, giant in my mind, did admittedly sound less commanding upon utterance. Scott’s rolling eyes rolled onto my diplomatic mien and from his mouth issued a weird non-sequitur, “Why are you even here, you call Jezz a splitface. He calls you splitsie.” Now, this was a reference to Jezzie’s cleft palate, moderated via surgery but still very much there. The claim of aforementioned moniker was true and not-true. True in that to ingratiate myself with Scott, I had made references to Jezzie that did not reflect my true heart. Not-true because I knew them to be a betrayal, not just of her but of my own adoring of her. Still, couldn’t the surgery have gone better? Why the still-mangled mouth? 

            Jezzie turned to me for expected denial, at which point I gave her a telltale look. It was as if on the moon of Gorthon, she had reached for her scabbard and pulled out a noodle. There I was in her hand, a hand I had sometimes imagined clasping other noodley things, holding my limp and cold deceit. Scott, sociopath, was enjoying the real-time murdering of our bond. He was a real buttwipe.

            Time with and on Jezzie ceased, stat. The absence of which did leave me sad. Lonely and bereft, technically. But, as I coached my proto-glowing visage in the mirror, why shouldn’t life be lonely and bereft? Bigger sacrifices have been made for the purposes of honest, decent climbing out of social pits. It was just disorienting that the damsel wasn’t in my arms as I scaled the walls. But I saw it thus: I would establish a kingdom, and then come back to get her. She would honor my sacrifices, forgive my lapses, and maybe also have tried Accutane, too, plus the hair gel. Without a few efforts on her side, I reckoned, the damsel was in danger of being a deadweight and dragging us both back down tower walls to social pits. That was true. But I also missed her. It was a real stew of complex emotion, as anybody can see.

            At my next tutoring session with Scott, we did not mention the scene of humiliation. One-on-one, he could be nigh agreeable. In fact, he wanted Cleo to join us, expand access to my services. As has been mentioned, Cleo was his girlfriend, and let the reader recall she was really hot. Like stinking hot. Legs, tits, butt, she had them all. She was stinking rich, too. Stinktastically. As herein demonstrated, there’s a level of sublimity wherein language falls short, and that’s where Cleo lived all the livelong day. It was kindhearted of Scott to include her in our burgeoning friendship, and also strategic—as I learned. After all, Scott didn’t know what she was up to while he was getting tutored, but it couldn’t be good, right? Like, how many other muscley jocks of jagged forelock wanted to bang her, let’s be safe and assume many! And, also, she needed the help, that too. Granted, her below-mediocre grades wouldn’t lead to the exact same spiral of doom ending in chemical dependency as did Scott’s spiral (see above, “stinking rich”), but we all need to graduate, right? 

            Scott told me Cleo’s dad was a fat cat of some hotshot company employing the fat cat parents of other classmates—a king among princes. Scott had even been to this king’s house/palace. “The old man doesn’t know how to relax,” Scott said. “On a Saturday he looks like a corporate superhero in bad disguise. Like he’s prepared to rip off his sweatpants at any moment and be in a full suit underneath, barging out the front door and hollering about shareholder value.” We were sure it drove Mr. Big Bucks loony for his baby-girl to be hanging out with the likes of Scottie. Heh, we snickered together. Then we snickered together some more. We were snickering our brains out at rich dads, royally.

            And so a few days later Cleo bustled in, carrying a mysterious proliferation of bags, filling my room with the scent of summertime fun. She leaned against my desk, feline in her vacant blinking and tawny colors and adorableness. Then she laughed with seven-plus rows of pearly teeth and declared it smelled like a “bunch of socks and a butt crack!” I marveled that Scott, fellow plebe, had scored such a glittersome prize, but on the other hand I wasn’t surprised. Let the scions in their boat shoes protest, the magnetism on this side of the fence was more virile, gristled, than anything said scions could eke out of their lavender-lotioned loins. And plus, as I got to know Cleo, I saw there was more to her than a vast and oily sheen of privilege bedazzled with emoji. She had a way about her. When she and Scott laughed about some loser trying to act cool on social media platform of choice, I could tell beneath it all she had a heart of gold. 

            A week or so after Scott and Cleo submitted the essays we’d been working on, they came over back-slapping and giddy, and Scott even grabbed my buttcheek in that fraternal way of the jock. They’d both gotten a B, they were thanking me with genuine ardor. 

            Settling down, Scott made an immodest proposal: “Hey, I had an idea. Rather than me sitting around watching you do my homework, I could skip out and then return later for the goods.”

            I hesitated. “Well, that doesn’t sound like tutoring exactly. That sounds like something else—something nigh illegal.” I made additional high moral points on this theme, but fact is, I didn’t mind him and Cleo pal’ing around and pooching their lips like village idiots as I explained things to them. 

            “Ok, but look at it this way. Me skipping out would in fact be a better arrangement, because then I wouldn’t have to be here. But I could get the grades. See what I mean?”

            The logic couldn’t be denied. Cleo was nodding her cake-scented head, but then she piped up, “I kinda like coming here. I’m learning a lot. I can come by myself, and then Scott, you can pick me up afterward.” Scott, mystified at first, shrugged. I knew his thinking by then: as long as Cleo wasn’t in danger of being boinked by any number of hot and/or rich oversexed studs, he was ok with her going solo. 

            In the world of nerds, there is a mythical character, a hot girl who is impressed with a nerdboy’s intellectual prowess. Being of the real world and decidedly subject to its realities, I try to maintain awareness of reality v. myth. And yet. It became increasingly clear that my prowess on the page was provoking Cleo to acts and gestures of the flirtatious variety. At first, she let slip some disappointments about Scott, that he couldn’t hold her gaze during ehm, that he had a basic lack of attentiveness. “Only one thing gets his attention—and it’s not my face,” she said significantly. I nodded with full eyeball-to-eyeball gazing. Then we’d return to working, and as her twice-weekly visits proceeded, I felt her leaning closer and closer with her mouth and its associated berry breath, pouting with her signature stupidity at my next-level diction. Sometimes she would cry out, “I don’t even know what that means! Put it in plain English!” in a way that sounded climactic. At this point I thought I was losing it—surely not me, surely not Cleo. But one day, after a series of dazzling exchanges about plot structure and rising action, she bit her lip and lifted her shirt. I saw her bra, a gauzy thing with panels and lace and threaded sparkles. I saw this extravagance en route to the emergence of a small but jelly nipple, which forthwith shuttled into my rapturous mouth. Oddly enough, I had thoughts of Jezzie in this moment, the way she and I would lock eyes during my tongue-tiddling. I thought about this as Cleo kept correcting my technique—too hard, too soft, faster, slower—as my tongue fatigued, began to lock up. I broke into a sweat. In the midst, I saw her phone buzz with Scott’s name on the screen. That’s when our eyes connected, Cleo and me. When we rushed downstairs to open the front door, I was a man who had low-key boinked his girl. Low-key because it was just the nipple, nothing more. Nothing less.

            It was not guaranteed that Scott would find out. In fact, it was extremely gratuitous that he would. Being that the only involved participants were myself and also Cleo, the source of the leak lacked an element of mystery. When Cleo and Scott pulled up again that night, uninvited, Cleo was clinging to Scott’s muscley arm with some kind of look. Scott stood under my window, texting unprintable epithets about me and my person, suggesting activities like “come out c[redacted] and let’s do this.” I demurred. A few rocks were lobbed. I endured these attacks with equipoise. Sitting on the floor under my window, I sent Jezzie a text, a rapprochement, if you will. Her response was brief but to the point, “You’re both assholes. Enjoy.” At some point, I heard my family rustling downstairs and then, thrillingly, barging outside. My mom and sisters are trolls, weirdest denizens of Planet Earth, and by trolls I mean in the best sense. Scott did not know what he had coming, and from their low FODMAP fonts of energy, they ripped Scott and Cleo several new ones. 

            The next day, my mom dialed every administrator and accused Scott and Cleo of orchestrating a homework cheating con. She pointed out that such a nerd as myself could only be a pawn, that Scott and Cleo were older than me, way cooler and thus obviously coercive. Scott and Cleo’s insistence on my complicity went unheeded. Interestingly, Cleo never brought forth the most damnatory evidence—that of the nipple, soft as petals, that had bewitched my twitching tongue. Evidence of our peership and complicity. I would not have denied it, I even told her so in text, I would come forth willingly as co-conspirator and could detail exactly what her bra looked like, down to the specifics of the embroidery—but lo, the nipple defense was never brought out, as it were. There are some fates, it appears, worse than school discipline.

            Mother dearest to the rescue, my loserdom my greatest defense, I recognized that the Eye was not pleased. Eye was red and juiced up. 

            Meanwhile, fates were meted out, as crime inexorably met punishment: Scott was suspended, Cleo got detention. My family considered the whole proceeding a morality tale exalting the inner nobles. Ranked right underneath the satisfaction of “rich people get it in the sucker” is “jocks get it in the sucker.” See also “snobs get it in the sucker.” There were whole categories of people whose suckers we inner nobles gloried to get. And bringing down Cleo and Scott had been a one-two punch. 

            My participation in their glee was at best half-hearted. Maybe it would have felt better if I’d had some bros to slap my hindquarters in the clubby way of the pack—or just a few friends, period. Or maybe it would have felt better if some of the revenged-upon looked even marginally sorry for it. But: take Cleo. Although she spent every afternoon in detention, she was still on the premises. And I would see her in the halls between classes, backed up against a locker and having dreamy, kissy giggle-talks with another scumbug whom Jezzie used to refer to as “Prince Douche.” I’d never seen Scott engage in a single kissy giggle-talk with Cleo, but it appeared to be Prince Douche’s full-time job. In further contrast to Scott, his majesty Prince Douche was stinking rich and whipsmart, too, in that jackass peacocky way. It could even be argued that in some starry lives, setbacks were just opportunities to trade up. 

 

A few weeks later, I walked into the cafeteria, still lonely, still with good muscles. Jezzie was buying soda of choice and already in line with her aforementioned posse of fart-friends. And who should be behind her but Scott, miscreant, already reinstated from suspension. I felt a tremor of fear: Scott with his coterie of cool, all ripped jeans and louche bearing and synchronized snapping. Towering over Jezz and friends, someone declared that something smelled. Scott, nastily, declared “prolly her” toward his own sister. I saw in a split-second Jezzie’s upset, although she’s a champ and quickly muttered, “f[redacted] off.” Still, in that look of upset, loyalties surged. Abe and Ellie, fart-friends, cowered, but I strode forward with menace: “Shut it, Scott.” 

            I haven’t mentioned I’m tall, but I am so, freakishly you might say. Some have said. However—muscled and of freakish height, I had some recognized tender in the world of thugs and bandits. I also had a wall-eyed look of intent. Scott’s head whipped around, then tilted back to look up at me—me, his former-acolyte-turned-destroyer. And then—he moved on. Huffily, but lo did the glorious furred legs move. Perhaps it was the threat of further suspension and stipulations related to remaining on the baseball team, but also possible it was the threat of pummeling from my wanton fists. His crew detached from the line and followed. Never in my life have I masterminded a Scott-move-on or equivalent. A rush of glory filled my muscles. I smiled shyly, and effected minimal forelock toss. I looked over at Jezzie, hopefully, and her eyes met mine. 

            Then, some days hence. I was standing in the hallway with my muscles in repose, in the midst of making a new friend, a certain “Alan” who also liked items in requisite nerd categories but who was a few rungs above my former social pits. He wore jeans with the right kind of hang, and a middling-looking girl in English class with a pig nose but captivating silhouette had an actual crush on him. Yes, he was from the neighborhood of hulking monstrosities but he wasn’t a buttmunch about it. He met me at my levels of diction, and even at times outdid me, such as the time he suggested my phraseology could be “overwrought.” It was this level of exchange that my mother would have recognized as the true end of education and the fruition of inner nobility. So I was engaging in acts of amity with said Alan when who but Jezzie should approach. Interiorly, I blanched. Exteriorly, I may have done similarly. Jezzie attended to the blanching not a whit, thrust a sloppy plastic bag toward me. The bag was affixed with an index card: “thanks re: Scott.” Inside the bag: a baseball with indecipherable signature; a sweet set of earbuds; an unopened bag of peanuts. A small male doll. And then, of course, understanding: [things not to be moved]. I felt a surge of admiration. When I looked up, she was already gone. 


 

Rebecca Behizadeh has a Master’s in Divinity from Harvard Divinity School and lives in East Arlington, MA.

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