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The Transfiguration of Consumption

The transfiguration of consumption


Estimated reading time — 16 minutes

When she first brought home the iron skillet, no one questioned her sudden culinary
skills. Except for maybe, her mother. “Honestly Katrina, I don’t understand what’s gotten into you. I’ve never seen you express one wit of interest in food.”

It was also her mother who commented on her weight. “Honestly Katrina, with these
fancy meals you effortlessly whip up, I don’t know how you stay so skinny. Do I need to
worry about an eating disorder?” She patted her stomach. “I swear, these extra five pounds
are all on you.”

And her mother, who months later lamented, “Honestly Katrina, you look downright
skeletal. It’s like your weight is sloughing off on me. Frankly…” she paused lowering her
voice, “it’s like you are plumping us up like chickens. Maybe, consider lightening the feed?”
She winked. “In the meantime, be a dear and warm us up a little of the bourguignon from last night?”

Katrina stared down at the overly rouged cheeks. Her mother too still to be sleeping.
This coffin, the third she’d bowed over in as many months. Her eyes too numb for tears, her
heart too hollowed out for pain. The doors of the cathedral opened, liberating a breeze that
whispered against her cheek.

Her mother’s voice caressed. “Honestly Katrina, I think you fed me to death.”

Six Months Earlier

When her grandmother died, it fell to Katrina to clean out her house so it could be put
up for sale. With her part-time job as a waitress and full-time job as an aspiring illustrator,
everyone in her family assumed she had the free time to make it happen.

It was a rainy Tuesday afternoon, and the closets under the eaves smelled like cedar
and wet leaves. Her back ached from ducking around tight spaces, and her nose ran from the dust and crumbling carcasses of insects.

Rubbing her back, she scooted out of the closet and fell on the nearest twin bed. Kat
cocked her head as she studied her progress. As sole worker in this establishment, she
determined that anything deemed worthy of selling was her profit to keep. An assortment of
personal items caught her fancy. Her favorite, a paperback book of photographs of women
from the sixties fishing topless. A gag for her brother’s stocking come Christmas.

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The sky deepened as she took load after load down the narrow staircase, frequently knocking her knuckles against the walls as she navigated the precarious incline. She forced
herself to do one last sweep to make sure she hadn’t missed anything. Flashlight in hand, she commenced an inspection of the upstairs attic room. The temperature had dropped, and she shivered. Although she’d never admit it to her siblings, Kat always felt a bit creeped out by the closets with their gaping orifices, open on either side of the twin beds. The two halves of a mouth, about to close and swallow its inhabitants. Without her grandmother’s presence, the house felt starved.

With a sigh of determination, Kat entered the room, flipping a switch that didn’t light.
She stomped over to the first closet shining her beam. Empty.

Kat pushed the tapestry of the other closet aside, mind contemplating take-out
options. When she swept the light along the dark recessed corner, a patch of shadow
glimmered.

Frowning, she scurried under the flap to take a closer look. She crouched down. The
light stuttered off an object she’d missed. Positioning the flashlight to shine into the corner,
she crawled to the spot. Reaching out, she touched cool metal. She wrapped her hands around the outstretched length and tugged. It clanged against the boards as it bounced over to her.

The heft, too much for one arm, had her dragging it while she collected her flashlight and fell back onto the carpet of the room.

She took a breath, studying the object on her lap. A cast iron skillet. Light from her
torch absorbed into the flat black surface and reflected back a kaleidoscope of color. When
she turned over the skillet, “Property of KOOC” appeared stamped into the metal. An odd
name, she looked forward to looking it up on the internet when she got home. Hunger
gnawed.

Could she cook tonight? Her mouth watered as her mind rifled through various concoctions. Then she laughed, remembering the failed romantic dinner she’d burned for her ex.

She cradled the cold metal to her chest. An idea was forming around a simple grilled
cheese. Her belly gurgled, and she hauled her find down the stairs. As she locked up, she
planned her list for the store.

#

When she got home, she knocked on Barry’s door. He lived a couple of units over.

“Well, this is a surprise.” He grinned.

“I’m making dinner. You interested?”

His smile deepened. “Kit-Kat, I’ve never known you to cook. Is this a euphemism for
something more nefarious?”

Kat rolled her eyes. “Maybe, if you’re lucky. But I’m serious about the food. You in?”

“How can I refuse?” He ran a hand down his thick braid. “What can I bring to drink?”

At the deli, she’d picked up a loaf of uncut multigrain bread, blue cheese, smoked
uncured bacon, beefsteak tomato, basil and a sweet onion she planned on caramelizing in
honey and butter.

“You wouldn’t by any chance have a Pale Ale or IPA would you?”

“My, you are full of surprises this evening. I’ll see what I can do and be right over.”

Table of Contents

#

Kat became enchanted with the thrill of something new. Elements of spice, herb, and
ingredient called to her much like a mysterious aubergine door or a persimmon rose birthing
a fairy princess. Rufescent threads of saffron, pearlescent sheets of spring onion, or the
transfiguration of gray meat to bronzed perfection lured her like a sailor to the sea. She
started with easy meals like exotic scrambles but soon found herself crafting soups and
complex sauces.

With increasing frequency, her table was full of friends eager to share her creations.
Barry was the first to offer up his belly as official taste tester, but he certainly wasn’t the only one. Her mind processed ingredients, diet preferences, and allergies with the efficiency of a calculator computing algebraic equations. She conspired with three different bakers, knew a local butcher by name, and became friends with the owners of her favorite farmer’s market stalls. All found their way to her table.

#

Katrina worked in a frenzy, painting, cooking, and hosting, so much so, that regardless of how decadent her meals, weight started to melt off her frame. She found herself digging through her closet for items that hadn’t fit in years.

One night as Kat fell into her nest of a bed, in that delicious in-between place before
falling asleep, she found herself concocting a muffin recipe. A couple of her co-workers from
the restaurant had been over for a meal and bragged her cooking rivaled Damien’s, the head
chef at their five-star establishment. Ever since he’d heard the rumors, he’d been harassing her to bring something in. The problem was her real inspiration revolved around things that could be cooked with the black pan. Yet, as she fell asleep, a breakfast muffin evoking the seasons percolated. Dissipating into an endless abyss of night, she floated in darkness without time, until sweat bathed, she awoke.

She stumbled into the kitchen to make coffee, and discovered a strange item sitting on
top of her stove. A muffin tin. The shade so dark it sucked the sunlight from the room. She
ran her fingers around the smooth, opalescent surface. Lifting it took two hands, and on the
bottom, she read the same strange imprint. “Property of KOOC.”

Upon bringing the frying pan home, she did a brief search on her computer, but
couldn’t trace any company information about the brand name. She’d lost interest. Now
though, somehow, she’d inherited a companion piece. Probably, a gift from Barry. He had a
key to her place and the wherewithal in both time and resources to find other pieces from the set.

She grinned and threw on her coat and shoes, eager to rush to the store. Her Seasons
of Change muffin wouldn’t make itself.

#


When she’d mentioned to Jenna, she was bringing a treat for Damien, she hadn’t
expected people who weren’t on shift to show up. Topiary animals crawled up the walls
trailing tails of ivy. Branches intertwined overhead concealing tiny spotlights illuminating
each table while leaving the surrounding space in shadow. The décor was crafted to create the illusion of picnicking in a forest. The intimate space only had room for thirty guests and it felt like she had an audience.

“You all aren’t here because of me, are you? I certainly didn’t bring enough to feed the
horde of you.”

Jenna stepped forward. “We can’t wait to witness Damien’s reaction. We’re dying to
see what you brought.”

Damien stood in the open doorway leading to the kitchen. His pristine chef whites,
crisp and starched. “Am I smelling something for me?” He waved her forward. “I don’t have
all day.”

Kat sat her bag down on a verdant velvet settee and carried her basket over to him.
She peeled off the kitchen towel revealing the still warm muffins. “I think it’s best if you take
a bite incorporating the top of the muffin to the very bottom.” The crown had a slight pink
color, enhanced with a speckled blush glaze.

The room fell silent as Damien picked one up, inhaling deeply. He opened his mouth
wide and took a bite. His eyes closed.

Kat laughed. “I know, right?”

“What is this?” Damien asked after he swallowed.

“An idea I had before I fell asleep last night. I wanted all four seasons in one solitary
bite.”

“It starts with summer, a strawberry basil glaze?” he asked.

“Yes, and I used almond flour and paste to make the first half of the base, to
illustrate the nutty warmth of fall.”

“And,” he continued for her. “The traditional bite of sour apple pieces rolled in
cinnamon to represent winter in the center.”

“Followed by coconut flour infused with rhubarb to symbolize spring.”
He appraised her. “I have to have the recipe. Did you use a particular pan?”

You have no idea how particular, she thought as she remembered the mysterious
delivery left on her counter. “I did.”

“Any chance I could borrow it for our Mother’s Day brunch? These would be a
highlight.”

Kat flushed with pleasure at the compliment. “Sure. But I want my name on the menu
and a table for me and my mom.”

“Done.” He moved to go, but turned back to gently pry the basket from her arm before
making his escape back into his lair.

#

They sat in a window seat framed in fresh flowers, her mother elegant in pearls and a
cream sheath. Kat observed her closely as she bit into the muffin. For a brief moment, her
mother’s gold-flecked eyes widened. Kat couldn’t wait any longer. “And?”

“Magical.” Her mother licked her lips. “It’s as if I traveled the globe in one bite.
Damien is quite the catch, have you considered dating him?”

“Damien didn’t come up with the recipe. I did.” Kat pointed at the menu. “Look, I
even have a chef credit to prove it.” She ground her teeth in an effort to keep a neutral
expression on her face.

“Honestly Katrina, you’re telling me you’re a chef now? What happened to illustrating?” Her mom smiled as she said it, but there was an undercurrent of mirth below her words.

Kat willed her eyes not to roll. “I’m still an artist, only my subject matter has
metamorphosed.”

“Why am I not surprised?” Her mother kept picking at the pastry, tearing bits and
eating them. “So, what is it now?”

“Portraits of food. You should come over and I’ll show you.” Kat wished her mother
would join her for a meal and look at her work.

Her mother gazed at her candidly. “Katrina, should I be concerned about your fixation
on food when you look skinnier than I’ve seen you in quite some time. Are you eating?”

“Obviously, Mom. I couldn’t create recipes without tasting them. I think I finally
found my passion.”

“I’m glad to hear that.” She glanced down at her plate the muffin gone. “I can’t believe
I ate the whole thing. What has gotten into me? You came up with that?”

Kat grinned. “Yes, and it’s all thanks to grandma’s skillet.”

Her mother’s eyes narrowed. “Your grandmother wasn’t known for her cooking
skills.”

“Huh. Well, maybe it was a family heirloom. It’s definitely old. I found it hidden away
in the back of a closet.”

“Hmmm,” her mom’s considering stare smoothed into a smirk. “When can I be
invited over for dinner?”

#

Over the months, Kat’s inspiration grew. One of her friends brought an acquaintance
who worked at an art gallery and insisted on showing her work to his boss. She was going to
have her very first art exhibition, in a small but well-respected gallery.

Damien horded the baking pan, always making excuses as to why he couldn’t return
it. He incorporated muffins, cupcakes, and popovers into his daily mix of menu offerings.

Her life flowed like a movie. And, if she was a little tired each morning from being
consumed by carmine ribbons of fire, well, it was the price of an overly imaginative mind.
Now, her mom was a frequent visitor and often stayed late helping to clean up. Their
relationship grew in the way she always yearned.

Everything in her world was perfect, until Josie came to town.

#

Banging on her door brought Kat out of a fugue state. She’d been trying to mix the
right intensity of indigo for the garlic spear she was painting.

“I’m coming,” she yelled. It sounded like someone had brought a battering ram.
Kat wiped paint on her pants before grasping the handle. On the other side stood
Josie. They both stared at each other for a full minute before she spoke.
“Jesus Christ, Kat. Are you on a new diet?”

“Josie. This is unexpected.” Her ex traveled for work. Enough, that it had impacted
their relationship, and after two years of dating, they broke it off.

Josie reached out and touched her collar bone. “Seriously, Kat. It looks like you are
going for heroin chic.”

She tamped down the warmth that trickled from that touch. Kat pulled back. “I’m
fine.”

“I’m only in town for a few days. May I come in?”

Kat opened the door wider and gestured for her to enter.

Josie stood in the middle of the room, looking at the paintings stacked against the
wall. “What happened to your furniture?”

“I moved it. I needed the space.”

“I can see that.” Josie frowned, her perk nose twitching in a way that made Kat always
think of soft-fluffy rabbits.

“I stopped by the restaurant last night. I’d read about Damien’s pastries in the paper. It
didn’t sound like his style, so naturally I had to see for myself. The crab center with the aioli
glaze was enough to make me come. Jenna told me that it was you who got him started.”

“Me, or possibly one of the pans I found when cleaning out my grandma’s house.”

“I was sorry to hear she passed.”

“Yeah, me too. Can I offer you something to drink?”

“Sure.”

Once they’d settled at the table, both with infused ice-teas of nectarine and fresh mint,
Kat chose to speak her mind.

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“So, what brings you by?” It hurt to see Josie and know she wasn’t hers anymore.

“After talking to Jenna last night, it seems like a lot has changed. I tried calling but…”
Kat chuckled. “Yeah, I’m constantly misplacing my phone. And I’ve turned off the
ringer, so I’m not interrupted during a creative spell.”

A key sounded in the lock and they both jumped. The door opened and Barry strolled
in, arms full of groceries. Kat went to help him.

Barry glanced from Kat to Josie. “Sorry, I wasn’t aware you had company. I didn’t
want to disturb your work.” He tilted his head. “Josie.”

“Hey Barry.” Josie’s tone cooled.

“I’ll leave you to it then. Dinner at eight tonight?”

“Perfect.” Kat could cut the awkward tension in the room with her pallet knife.

“Thanks for shopping for me today.” She gave him a peck on the cheek to annoy Josie.
He shot the peace sign to Josie before heading out.

“What is going on here?” Josie demanded.

“What do you mean? You don’t get to walk out of my life and then walk back in and
be all judgmental.”

“Kat, are you blind? The man looks morbidly ill.”

Kat shook her head in confusion.

“You should be buying him groceries, not the other way around. Is he sick? Taking
too many drugs?”

“You know he’s in recovery.”

“Are you sure about that?”

“Of course, I’m sure. He’s my friend. I see him every day. He helps me with dinner.
He’s been present in my life. Unlike some people.”

Josie studied Kat. “Okay. I guess I deserved that. But this has been hard on me too.”
She reached out her hand to touch the tips of Kat’s fingers.

Kat wanted to relent, to take Josie in her arms, to show her what she’d been up to, how
she’d spent the time after their break-up. But she wasn’t sure her heart could take the
rejection.

“Are you doing anything tonight? Why don’t you come over, get here early and you
can help me prep, say six? I’ve got to finish this…” She paused indicating the giant vegetable before continuing. “I have an art exhibit coming up.”

Josie’s face lit up. “Oh, Kat. That’s wonderful. I always knew you were bat-shit
talented.”

Their eyes locked, but Kat glanced away first and walked over to the door.

“So, tonight?”

Josie nodded. “I can’t wait.”

#

Kat watched Josie pace about the room. Throughout the dinner, Josie became increasingly antsy. Why couldn’t she enjoy herself like everyone else? When Barry left, Josie practically slammed the door behind him. She took a deep breath and scrutinized Kat.

“What did you think of dinner?” Kat asked. She’d made a seafood cassoulet with fresh
mussels, clams, and Copper River Salmon which had been caught that morning.

Josie walked to the table and pulled out a chair for Kat before taking a seat herself.
“Kat, we’ve got to talk.”

“Okay. But you could come right out and just say you hated the meal.”

“Dammit, Kat. The meal was great, but you can’t see what is going on right in front of
you.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Not a SINGLE person at your table appeared healthy. Your mother was puffy with
chub, which is a far cry from the Shar I know. Barry looks like he’s close to turning sideways
to waddle through your door, not to mention his skin is sickly and sallow. The only person
who seemed remotely robust was the fisherman Barry invited. But he hasn’t been coming to
your soirees, has he?”

“What does that have to do with anything? Why can’t you be happy for me?” Kat
stood.

“Look around you. Something is seriously off. Since when do you cook like a
Michelin chef? Everyone gorging like mosquitoes ready to lay eggs. Your friends have put on
weight, yet you can’t keep any on. Don’t you wonder about your sudden obsession with
food?”

“I think you should go.”

“Kat, open your eyes. Something’s not right. It’s that pan, isn’t that what you said
earlier, you found the pan and suddenly became ‘inspired’?”

“Seriously, Josie. Leave.” Anger seethed under the surface of her skin. How dare she
try to ruin all Kat worked to build?

Josie stood, going to the coat rack for her purse. She turned suddenly and grabbed
Kat’s wrist. “If you don’t believe me, can you promise to take Barry to a doctor? Get him
checked out.”

Kat yanked her arm away. “Since when do you care about Barry?”

“Jesus Kat, I don’t. But obviously you do. Wake up to what is going on around you.
Take a break from cooking with that stupid pan you’re obsessed with. What if you are
poisoning everyone around you? Have you bothered to research your magical pan at all?”

“If it’s so bad, then why is the restaurant so popular? Why are my dinner parties so
successful?”

Josie shook her head. “I don’t know Kat. But maybe you should find out.”

#

Damien died first. A sudden cardiac arrest. When he collapsed, he was pulling her pan
out of the oven. The skin melted off his face like butter before anyone realized he was down.
His casket was closed.

Unable to stomach stepping foot into his restaurant, Damien’s sister hosted the wake
at her home. Mira was his behind-the-scenes business manager. Kat had never met her.
She found Mira sitting in her kitchen, head clutched between her palms.

“I’m so sorry about Damien.” The words fell flat. Her grief was all-encompassing, but
her expression of it felt as meaningless as sentiment written on toilet paper.
Mira glanced up. “You’re Kat, right?”

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Surprised, Kat nodded.

Mira’s vitriol hiss startled her. “You’re the one who started his ridiculous fixation.”

Kat sat back, face heating with embarrassment.

Mira stared at Kat. “Those damn baked goods he compulsively cooked in that ugly
pan of yours. He couldn’t stop talking about new recipes, concocting original flavors, always
bringing his inventions to the house, obsessing about being the best…and always sampling,
nibbling, eating…” She scowled at the table.

Kat’s eye rested on a family photo hanging on the wall. From the kids ages, it looked
like it had been taken about a year earlier, revealing a much slimmer Mira. A prickly chill
cooled her. She pulled her sweater tight.

“I don’t know your plans for the restaurant…”

“Oh…we’ll have to close. That was Damien’s dream…” She trailed off as a tear
trickled down her cheek.

“Before you sell anything off, I was hoping to grab my pan.”

Mira peered up in disbelief and Kat rushed on. “I’m not in a hurry or anything. But I
wouldn’t want to lose it. It was my grandmother’s.”

Mira studied her for a long moment before responding. “You’re welcome to your devil
pan.”

#

When she hadn’t seen Barry for a few days, Kat began to fret. She was picking up her
mail when another neighbor told her about his ambulance ride.

Kat hurried to the hospital. When she arrived in his room, she couldn’t reconcile the
figure on the bed with her Barry.

His cinnamon skin was blotchy and pallid. The long raven hair, the pride and joy of
his heritage, hung in lank greasy clumps. When he opened his eyes, rotten yolks were
revealed. Kat became afraid.

“Hey Kit-Kat.” His voice raspy, like it hadn’t been used in months, not days.

“Barry! Why didn’t you call me? I would have been here in an instant.” Kat put her
hand over his, clasping it gently.

“Aw, I didn’t want to trouble you.” He gasped a dry cough.

“What happened?”

A sad smile touched his lips. “Guess my hard living in the old days caught up with
me.”

“But you’re not old!”

“Apparently, pancreatic cancer isn’t picky about age.”

“Oh Barry, no…” Tears burst from her eyes.

“Don’t you worry. I’m going to beat this. I just need a little TLC. Maybe you could
bring me some consommé? That will fix me right up.”

Kat desperately wanted to believe him. She chopped, simmered, and poured all her
love into the broth.

But it didn’t fix him up. Barry was dead within the week.

#

After her mother’s funeral, Kat gutted her paintings. Taking a knife from her butcher
block, she stabbed at the swollen fruits and burgeoning vegetables. The air in the apartment
became viscous with the rancid decay spilling from their seams redolent of the sulfur from
her nightmares. She snapped the wooden frames across her knees, utilizing a mallet when the bruises became too much.

When she was calm enough to think, Kat moved to her computer. She couldn’t shake
Josie’s words ricocheting through her head. Had she poisoned the people she loved? She
needed to find a way to jettison the pans, and stop this from happening to anyone else. At
first, she thought she might be able to melt the metal, but the internet informed her that
without a forge, it wasn’t possible.

She grabbed Barry’s keys off her counter. He owned a vintage bottle-green Ford
Thunderbird. His brother lived in another state and had asked Kat to keep an eye on his things until he came back.

It took two trips, because of their weight. When she got into the car, she opted for a
remote beach that Barry had introduced her to, a few hours away. On her drive, she stopped
at a hardware store to pick up a sledgehammer and work gloves.

All through the trip, her gut raged and screamed with hunger. Everything from seared
scallops, Coq au Vin, and an innovative take on Gateau St. Honoré assaulted her mind. She
visualized Barry’s unnatural eyes, her mother’s unrecognizable face, and Damien’s closed
casket to keep herself from driving to the grocery store and heading back home.

When she got to the beach, the waves blended with the sky and shore in one monotonous shade of gray. Wind blew, shoving against her as she hauled the pans out of the car to the dead logs scattered at the high tide line.

It took some time to break down the baking instruments into shards she felt small
enough to toss into the ocean. The brittle metal proved no match for her grief. Rain fell from
the clouds making the hammer and shards slick. She often missed her target. Several times,
she had to sit down and rest, her arms burning with unaccustomed effort. As the sky
darkened, and the tide rose, her hunger finally abated.

Piece by piece she hurled the remains into the crashing sea, repeating the names of
those she lost, promising never to forget. Afterwards, she slept dreamlessly in the car,
exhaustion pulling her down as surely as the tide sucked the remnants of the skillet and
muffin tin.

Kat woke with the sunrise, amazed at how the sun brought out the blue-green of the
sea, the khaki of the sand, and the cerulean of the sky. Her hands itched for her paints
reminding her in a flash of the work she’d shredded at home. She considered the pieces
hanging at the gallery…all the pieces sold.

Her stomach grumbled.

She frowned, losing the ephemeral thread of thought. Instead, the neon brilliance of
the 24-hour drive-in chain down the road took its place.

She started the car and drove off, the ocean in her rear-view mirror.

#

Nathan watched the dirt swirl as he kicked at the small shells littering the beach. His
mom’s boyfriend was okay. He did give him five bucks to buy something at Larry’s Gas and
Guzzle. However, knowing they were trying to get rid of him made him feel like he was
being paid to leave, which tainted the fun of spending.

He often wished he had a brother or sister to boss around. Heck, he’d even take being
bossed if that’s what it took to not be lonely. His Converse left prints in the wet sand, and he
was about to turn around when something caught his eye.

Squatting down, he saw an unusual black pebble sticking out of the sand. Getting on
his hands and knees, he dug around the object until he discovered it wasn’t a rock at all. It
was a toy soldier. Further along the shore, he spied little dark objects peppering the strand.
He ran along the shoreline collecting as many as he could. He pulled his red sweatshirt into a basket, using it to collect his find.

When he could no longer outrun the waves, he wrapped the bundle tight against his
chest. He walked up the beach to the soft dry sand, where grizzled sea grass grew. Sitting on a small slope, he studied his treasures. The obsidian figures were made of a heavy dark metal that twinkled with different colors depending upon how he turned them in the sun. These were unlike the cheap green soldiers his friends had. His boasted both men and women, posed not only with weapons, but like real people taking their leisure. Each soldier was intricately designed with fine details, like the creases around one man’s eyes, or the delicate ash dangling from a half-smoked cigarette. None of them had the same face. If he squinted his eyes, he almost thought he could detect subtle movement. The bright joy of imagination filled him.

The metal warmed his hands, and he knew he’d discovered something special. And by
extension, he would be special too. He stood, filling his sweatshirt pocket with his cache,
excited to show his friend Micah. In his hand, he held a lone soldier transfixed by the
swirling eddies of color.

Located on the bottom base he found a small stamp. Peering at the tiny type he read,
“Property of TNUH.”

Credit: Christine Blackwicks

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