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A Fe(male) Behind Bars


January 29, production room, Seattle Magazine

For only two weeks she had been preparing for this interview. She struggled to get it approved at the magazine she worked for. See, Chris Hodgkins was a flash from the past, there was no current interest, no timeliness in doing an article on her. In fact, she knew from people who have checked on her whereabouts that she was just living in an apartment on her own, occasionally working, usually not in politics or her usual seminars. The public forget about her anyway - no one wanted to hear what she had to say anymore. Not that she had fallen out of favor with the American public - in fact, she was loved by most women when she decided to leave the public eye. If anything, the American public had fallen out of favor with her.

But Melanie wanted to write about her, find out why she left, why she really left. The editors knew Chris didnıt grant a single interview since she decided to leave her work in the womenıs rights movement. Besides, even if she got the interview, Chris knew how to deal with the media, with audiences, and she would probably manipulate Melanie into asking only what she wanted asked.

But the writer said she was sure there was something more, she could feel it in her bones, and the editors always told her to follow that feeling, so please let her do it now. So the editors and the higher-ups told her to try to get the interview, and get back to them with her progress at that task.

They expected to never hear about the matter again.

Bet she came back to them not one week later, saying one phone call was all it took. She called Chris directly, and not only did this elusive leader grant her an interview, but in Chrisı own home. Editors were a bit stunned. They let her go ahead with the interview, told her to focus on the &$147;where are they now,&$148; &$147;why did she leave&$148; angles, and theyıll put together a long piece for a future issue. A long fluff-piece, they thought, but they had to let her go ahead with it, after having no faith in her ability to get an interview.

Maybe it was just because no one tried to get an interview with her anymore, the writer thought. Maybe the editors were right, that thereıs no story here, at least not anymore. But now, even after feeling this fear which began to grow into a dread, she had to go through with it. She had to research this woman, inside and out, and talk to her. See what makes her tick. What made her decide to give it all up.

And the more she looked, the more questions she had. Maybe is was the journalist inside her, to question everything put in front of you, but she couldnıt get those questions out of her head.

writerıs tape recorded diary entry, February 11

I didnıt know what I was getting into when I decided to interview her, Chris Hodgkins, feminist leader. I did all the research I could, but for some reason I still don't know where to start, and I have to walk into her apartment tonight.

The more I studied her, the more I was interested. She became a prominent figure in the womenıs movement when she wrote her first book, A Woman Behind Bars. The theory was that all women in our society were behind bars, in a sense, that they were forced into a role of looking beautiful, into the role of mother for children, servant for husband, employee for boss, sexual object for single (well, probably all) men.

The chapter that interested me the most was the one on how women adorn themselves in our society in order to please men. Women put on make-up, they grow long hair and long nails, both difficult to work with. They shave their legs, they shave their armpits. They tweeze their eyebrows - they pull hair out of their face from the follicle. Perfume behind the knees, at the ankles, at the chest and neck, in the hair. The list goes on.

But thatıs not even the point of all of this. The thing is, a few years ago she managed to pull together the majority of twenty- and thirty-something women out there into her cause. Everyone loved her, in a strange sort of way. She had a great command over audiences. She would hold rallies in New York, then San Francisco, then Chicago, and before you knew it, everyone was talking about her, she was running seminars all around the country, she was appearing on morning talk shows. She was the first real leader in the feminist movement, a movement which for years was felt in everyone but laid dormant because it had no Hitler.

Did I say Hitler? I just meant he was a good leader. I didnıt mean she was Hitler, not at all, sheıs not like that, sheıs not even calling anyone into action, sheıs just telling people to educate themselves. Sheıs not even telling people to change, because she figures that if she can educate them, they would want to change anyway. And usually more radical feminist and lesbians are leery of that, they want more action - and she doesnıt do that, and they still support her. A movement needs a strong leader, and she was it.

Chris is an interesting looking woman. Youıd think she was a lesbian by her appearance - she was tall, somewhat built, but not to look tough, just big. She had chin-length hair, which seems a little long for her, but it looks like she has just forgotten to cut it in a while, and not like she wants to look sexy with it. She almost looks like a little boy. Sharp bones in her face, and big, round eyes.

That was all I knew before I started doing research on her. I started looking into her childhood first, found out that her parents were killed in a robbery when she was fourteen, so she started high school in a small town where her aunt and uncle lived. Her aunt died a year later, and she lived with her uncle until she moved out and went to college. Her uncle died a year before she began to gain fame. In essence, there was no family of hers that I could talk to, to find out from if she played with Barbie Dolls with her best friend in her bedroom or played in the ravine in the back yard with the other boys from all over the neighborhood. To see if her theories were right - even on her. All of that was lost to me.

She took honors classes in high school, kept to herself socially. In fact, most of her classmates didnıt know whether or not she was a girl, she looked so boyish. Even the other girls in her gym class didnıt know sometimes, I mean, they knew she was a girl because she was in gym class with them, but she never even changed in front of them. She wouldnıt take a shower and she would change in a bathroom stall.

So I started hearing things like this, little things from old classmates, but as soon as they started telling me how they really felt about her, how they thought she was strange, they would then clam up. But it was in my head then; I started wondering what happened in her early childhood that made her so introverted in high school. Maybe the deaths of her parents did it to her, made her become so anti-social. Maybe the loss of her aunt, the only other maternal figure in her life, made her become so masculine. It was a theory that began to make more and more sense to me, but how was I supposed to ask her such a question? How was I supposed to ask her if her parents molested her before they died, and thatıs why sheıs got this anger inside of her that comes out seminar after seminar?

the interview, Friday, February 11

The apartment building was relatively small, on the fringes of some rough neighborhoods. Not to say that she couldn't take care of herself, she had proven that she could years ago. The interviewer followed the directions explicitly to get to the apartment, and Chris' door was on the side. She knocked on the door.

Snap one, that was the chain. Click one, that was the first dead bolt. Another click, and the door was free. With a quick jerk the door was pulled open half-way by a strong, toned forearm. Chris stood there, waiting for the interviewer to make the official introduction.

&$147;Hi, Iım Melanie, from Seattle Magazine,&$148; she blurted out, as she tried to kick the snow off her boots and held out her hand. Chris nudged her head toward the inside and told her to come in. The interviewer followed.

She followed Chris down the stairs, looking for clues to her psyche in her clothes, in her form. Grey pants. Baggy. Very baggy. Button-down shirt. White. Sleeves rolled up, make a note of that. Not very thin, but not fat - just kind of there, without much form. Doc Maartens. She had big feet. She was tall, too - maybe five feet, ten inches. But her feet looked huge. The interviewer stared at her feet as they walked down the dark hall. Iıll bet no one has looked at her feet before, she thought.

Chris lived in one of the basement apartments, so they walked past the laundry room, the boiler room, and then reached a stream of tan doors. Hers was the third. Chris opened the door, the interviewer followed.

She looked around. A comfortable easy chair, rust colored, worn. Walls - covered with bookshelves. Books on Marx, Kafka, Rand. History Books. Science books. No photos. No pictures. A small t.v. in the corner on a table, the cord hanging down, unplugged. Blankets on the floor. Keep looking, the interviewer thought. A standing lamp by the chair. The room was yellow in the light. Where were the windows? Oh, she forgot for a moment, theyıre in the basement. Sink, half full.

&$147;May I use the washroom?&$148; she asked, and without saying a word, Chris pointed it out to her.

Check the bathroom, the interviewer thought. No make-up. Makes sense. Generic soap, organic shampoo. Razor. Toothbrush. Colgate bottle. Hairbrush. Rubber band, barrette. Yeah, Chris usually sometimes her hair back, at least from what the interviewer can remember from the photographs.

&$147;Wanna beer?&$148; Chris yells from the refrigerator to the bathroom. &$147;No, thanks,&$148; the interviewer says. She turns on the water.

She wants to look through the trash, see what she can find. No, that's too much, she thought, besides, whatıs going to be in the trash in the washroom that would surprise her so? Nothing, she was sure of it, and from then on she made a point of avoiding even looking in the direction of the trash can.

This was getting out of hand, she thought. There was no story here. Nothing out of the ordinary, other than the fact that Chris decided to give up her cause, and now sheıs living life in this tiny, dark basement apartment.

The interviewer walked out into the yellow living room. Chris was stretched out in a chair, legs apart, drinking a beer with no label.

&$147;I really appreciate you offering me this time to talk to you.&$148;

&$147;No problem.&$148;

The interviewer sat there, suddenly so confused. Chris was terse. She didnıt want to talk, yet she accepted the interview and offered her home as the meeting place. They sat in silence for a moment, a long moment.

&$147;What kind of beer are you drinking?&$148;

&$147;My own.&$148; Chris sat for a moment, almost waiting for the interviewer to ask what she meant. &$147;You see, the landlord gave me some keys for a storage room on this floor, so I converted it into a sort of micro-brewery. Iıve come up with this one -&$148; she held the bottle to the interviewer - &$147;and another one, a pretty sweet dark beer. I call this one ŒOcean Lager.ı&$148;

The interviewer felt she had to take the bottle. &$147;Ocean Lager, thatıs a nice name,&$148; and she took a small sip and passed the bottle back to Chris.

&$147;Yeah, I used to be a photographer, back when I was in high school and college, and I loved working in the dark, timing things, and I loved the stench of the chemicals. Iıve given up on the photography years ago, so I thought that this would be a hobby like that. You know, it smells, itıs dark, you have to add things the right way and wait the right amount of time. I like it. And itıs cheaper, too,&$148; she said, and with that she took another swig. &$147;Cheaper than photography as well as buying beer from the store.&$148;

The interviewer tried to listen to her voice. It was raspy, feminine, almost sexy, but it was very low; she didnıt know if sheıd ever heard a womanıs voice this low before.

&$147;I was looking at your great career,&$148; the interviewer finally started, &$147;and thought it surprising that you just decided one day to leave. You had everything going the right way. People were listening to you. What happened?&$148;

She thought she had dropped a bomb.

No one ever got a straight answer for that question.

&$147;Well, it was my time to go. I couldnıt take the spotlight anymore. I wanted to become who I really was, not what the world wanted me to be, not what the world perceived me as. I still havenıt done that. I havenıt become myself yet.&$148;

&$147;When were you yourself? Or were you ever?&$148;

&$147;I suppose I was, when I was little, but by the time I got to high school, I started hiding from everyone, because no one seemed to want to know who I really was. I didnıt fit in as who I really was. So then I started with my seminars, started trying to work my way to success, and people started to like me. But in all of that time that I was working on womenıs rights, I wasnıt who I really am deep down inside. Not that I didnıt believe in the cause, but I was doing it because it seemed like the best route to success. And when I reached the top, people still wanted more out of me, more that I wasnıt ready to give. I wanted to take some of myself back.&$148;

&$147;Have you gotten any of yourself back since youıve left the spotlight?&$148;

&$147;Some.&$148; Chris paused. &$147;I can sit at home by myself and act the way I want to, without having to project a certain image for everyone else. People have begun to leave me alone.&$148; She paused, then looked at the interviewer. &$147;Not that I consider you and interruption; I wouldnıt have accepted the interview if I didnıt want you here. If fact, I think I really wanted to be able to tell someone how I feel, what Iıve gone through. I donıt talk to many people nowadays. This is like a confessional.&$148;

The interviewer wondered for a moment what Chris was planning to confess.

Chris paused, swirled her beer in her bottle, then looked up. &$147;Sometimes I think of getting a pet. Iıd get a cat, but then I think of this stereotypical image of an old woman in an apartment alone with forty cats, where she keeps picking a different one up and asking, Œyou love me, donıt you?ı I donıt want to be like that. Maybe a dog. But a pet requires too much care, and I think Iıd end up depending on it more than I should. I should have another human being in my life, not an animal. But Iım so afraid Iıll be alone.&$148;

&$147;Why do you think youıll be alone?&$148;

&$147;I carry this baggage around with me everywhere. People know me as Chris Hodgkins, and thatıs not who I am. I donıt want anyone liking me because Iım Chris Hodgkins. Thatıs not real. Chris isnıt real, not the Chris everyone knows. The only way I could escape her is to go off to another country in a few years, maybe, and start life all over again.&$148;

&$147;Isnıt that a scary thought, though? I mean, you could ride on your fame for a while longer, make more money, be more secure. You wouldnıt have to work as hard at anything. And people respect you.&$148;

&$147;People respect a person that Iım not. Okay, maybe that person is a part of me, but itıs not all of me. The world doesnıt know the whole story.&$148;

&$147;What is the whole story?&$148; the interviewer asked. By this time she put her pen and paper down and wasnıt writing a word. She was lost in the conversation, like the many people who had heard her speak before. Suddenly she felt she was thrown into the middle of a philosophical conversation, and she was completely enthralled. &$147;Can anyone know the whole story about another person?&$148; she asked.

&$147;Do you really want to know my story?&$148; Chris asked.

&$147;I wouldnıt be asking if I didnıt.&$148;

&$147;You realize that if I tell you, it goes off the record. Besides, you wonıt be able to substantiate anything I say. More than that no one would believe it, especially not your editors.&$148;

At this point, she didnıt even care about the interview. &$147;Off the record. Fine.&$148;

the confession, February 11, 10:35 p.m.

Chris sat there for a minute, legs apart, elbows on her knees, beer hanging down between her legs. She kept swirling the liquid in the glass. She took the last two gulps, then put the bottle on the ground between her feet.

&$147;I wanna take a bath,&$148; she said, and with that she got up and walked toward the bathroom. Halfway there she stopped, turned around, and walked to the refrigerator. It creaked open, she pulled out another beer, let the door close while she twisted the cap off. She walked into the bathroom.

The interviewer could hear the water running in the bathtub. She didnıt know what to do. Was she supposed to sit there? Leave?

Chris popped her head out of the bathroom. &$147;I hope you donıt mind, but I really need to relax. Besides, itıs cold in here. Sorry if the cold is bothering you. We can continue the interview in the bathroom, if you want,&$148; and she threw her head back into the bathroom.

Melanie didnıt know what to think. She edged her way to the bathroom door. When she looked in, she was Chris with her hair pulled back, lighting one candle. &$147;The curtain will be closed. Is this okay with you?&$148; Chris asked.

The interviewer paused. &$147;Sure,&$148; she said. She sounded confused.

&$147;Okay, then just wait outside until Iım in the bathtub. Iıll yell through the door when you can come in.&$148; And Chris closed the door, and the interviewer leaned against the door frame. Her note pad and pen sat in the living room.

A few minutes passed, or maybe it was a few hours. The water finally silenced. She could hear the curtain close. &$147;You can come in now.&$148;

The interviewer opened the door. The curtain to the bathtub was closed. There was one candle lit on the counter next to the sink, and one glowing from the other side of the curtain. The mirror was fogged with steam. Chrisı clothes were sitting in a pile on the floor. There was no where to sit. The interviewer shut both seats from the toilet and sat down.

&$147;Okay, Iım here,&$148; the interviewer said, as if she wanted Chris to recognize what an effort she went through. &$147;Tell me your story.&$148; She almost felt as if she deserved to hear Chrisı story at this point, that Chris had made her feel so awkward that she at least deserved her curiosity satisfied. She could hear little splashes from the tub.

&$147;You still havenıt asked me about my childhood. Youıre not a very good reporter, you know,&$148; Chris said, as if she wanted the interviewer to know that it didnıt have to come down to this. &$147;You could have found out a lot more about me before now.&$148;

They both sat there, each silent.

&$147;It must have hurt when your parents died.&$148;

&$147;I suppose. I didnıt know how to take it.&$148;

&$147;What was the effect of both of your parents dying at such an early age in your life on you?&$148;

&$147;I was stunned, I guess. What I remember most was that my mother was strong, but she followed dad blindly. And dad, he had his views - he was a political scientist - but no one took him seriously because he didnıt have the background. He wasnıt in the right circles. I just remember dad saying to mom, Œif only I had a different start, things would be different.ı In essence, he wanted to be someone he wasnıt. He failed because he wasnıt who he needed to be.&$148;

&$147;Did it hurt you to see your father think of himself as a failure?&$148;

&$147;He had the choice. He knew what he wanted to do all of his life. He knew the conventional routes to achieving what he wanted - he knew what he needed to do. But he chose to take a different route, and people thought he didnıt have the training he needed, that he didnıt know what he was talking about. But he made that choice to take that different route. He could have become what he needed to in order to get what he wanted. But he didnıt, and in the end, he never got anything.&$148;

&$147;But you, you got what you wanted in your life, right?&$148;

&$147;Yes, but that was because I made the conscious choice to change into what I had to be in order to succeed. If I didnıt make those changes, no one would have accepted my theories on human relations and no one would have listened to my speeches on womenıs rights.&$148;

&$147;How did you have to change?&$148;

The interviewer finally hit the nail on the head.

&$147;Iım not ready to answer that question yet. Ask me later.&$148;

The interviewer paused, then continued.

&$147;Okay, so your parents died and you had to move in with your aunt and uncle. How well did you know them?&$148;

&$147;Not at all. In fact, they didnıt even know I existed. You see, my father had no family in the States, he moved here from England, and he lost contact with all of his family. Momıs family didnıt want her marrying dad, I still donıt know why, so they disowned her when she married him. She never spoke to any of them. In fact, my motherıs sister didnıt even know my parents died until the state had to research my familyıs history to see who I should be pushed off on to. When my aunt and uncle took me in, it was the first time they ever saw me. It was the first time the even knew I existed.&$148;

The interviewer could hear the water moving behind the curtain, and then Chris continued.

&$147;My parents were in New Jersey, and my aunt and uncle were in Montana. It was a complete life change for me.&$148;

&$147;How did you get along with other kids from school?&$148;

&$147;Before my parents died, fine. Once I changed schools, I didnıt fit in. I didnıt know how to fit in. I thought it would be too fake if I tried to act like all the other girls, even the ones who were like me, who didnıt fit in. I just didnıt know how to be a girl. I wanted to, and I tried, but it was so hard.

&$147;I just wanted to be looked at as a girl. I didnıt want anyone to question it.&$148;

&$147;Why would they?&$148;

&$147;Because I looked so boyish. Because I didnıt go on dates. Because I was so anti-social.&$148;

&$147;Do you think that has something to do with the fact that your mother died, then a year later your aunt died? They were your maternal figures, and you lost them both at a crucial age.&$148;

&$147;Yes. But my aunt didnıt know how to deal with me. She never had children. She left me alone most of the time. She knew that was what I wanted. I remember once she asked me if I had gotten my period yet in my life. I didnıt, but I didnıt want her to think that, so I said yes, so the next day she bought me pads. I didnıt know what to do with them. The day after that I told her that I would buy them myself from now on, so she didnıt have to, but I thanked her anyway. That way I knew she would think that I was still buying them, even if that box in my closet was the same box that she bought me.

&$147;Relations with her were strange. And when she died, I only had classmates and my uncle to take cues from. I wanted to be like the girls in school, so I tried not to take cues from my uncle. I tried to avoid being like my uncle. But sometimes I couldnıt help it.&$148;

&$147;Why did you want so hard to be a girl? Did you want to fit in? Or do you think it had more to do with your mom?&$148;

&$147;No, it wasnıt that at all. There wasnıt a part of me that said I needed to be feminine. But at that age I knew what I wanted to do with my life, and that was work in political science and sociology - specifically, in womenıs rights. I knew I wanted that, and I knew that Iıd have a better chance of succeeding in that field if I was - well, if I was a girl.&$148;

&$147;But you were a girl, no matter how much you didnıt fit in.&$148;

And that was when Chris decided to drop the bomb.

&$147;But thatıs exactly it, Melanie - Iım - well - Iım not a woman.&$148;

&$147;There are sometimes when I donıt feel feminine - when I want to go out and drink beer, I know what you -&$148;

&$147;No, youıre not listening to me,&$148; Chris cut in. &$147;Iım not a woman. Iım a man. My name is Chris, not Christine. I am a man, I have a penis, Iıve got testosterone running through my body. Just not a lot of it.&$148;

&$147;You donıt really expect me to -&$148;

&$147;Look, when my parents died, I knew what I wanted to do with my life - I knew before they died. But I also knew that I wouldnıt be taken seriously in the field unless I was a woman. So at fourteen, when they died, I had a clean slate. I told everyone I was a girl. I was given to my aunt and uncle as a girl. I went to my new school as a girl.

&$147;And I went to gym classes and I didnıt have breasts, and I had to hide from all the other girls. Although I was boyish-looking, I wasnıt manly, so I got away with it. I shaved only occasionally, only when I had to. And once I got out of high school, acting like a girl was easier. No one questioned who I said I was. People accepted me as a woman.

&$147;Then I started doing the work I did, and people loved me. I got a lot more fame for it than I ever anticipated. I was succeeding. It was wonderful.

&$147;But then it hit me - Iım all alone, and I can tell no one about who I really am. Iıve been doing this all my life, and people would look at me like I was a freak if I went out and told them the truth now. Iım a man, and I like women, Iım not gay, and I could never tell any women that exists that has ever heard of me the truth, because then they will no longer trust me or anything I have ever said regarding womenıs rights. I would take the whole movement backwards if I told the world who I really was.&$148;

&$147;That you were a man.&$148;

&$147;You still donıt believe me, do you? Iım telling you this because you wanted to know, you wanted me to tell you this. And because I needed to tell someone. But I canıt destroy womenıs chances of being treated with respect in this country by telling everyone.&$148;

&$147;So what youıre telling me is that at age fourteen you decided to become a woman so you could do the work you wanted to do in your life.&$148;

&$147;Yes.&$148;

&$147;But thatıs a lot to do to yourself, especially at fourteen. What made you decide to do it?&$148;

&$147;My motherıs strength, but her submission to my father, made me want to go into the field. My fatherıs desire to do what he wanted, but his failure to achieve it because he wasnıt what the world wanted, made me decide to become a woman. I realized then that I could never succeed in this field if I wasnıt one.

&$147;And look at the success Iıve had! Look at all of the people I managed to bring together! I was famous, people were reading my books, people wanted my opinions. I was succeeding.

&$147;But even with all my success, people still expected a messenger for the welfare of women all over the world to be a woman - even the other women expected this. No one would have listened to me for a second if I was a man.&$148;

&$147;And so you stopped because -&$148;

&$147;Because thereıs a price you pay by becoming what the world wants you to be. My father knew that, and he didnıt want to pay that price. He didnıt, and he failed at what he wanted to do. I was willing to pay the price, I made the sacrifices, and I actually beat the odds and succeeded. But then I realized that I lost myself in the process. Iım a man, and look at me. People think Iım a woman. I wear fake breasts in public. I have no close relationships. I have nothing to call my own other than my success. Well, after a while, that wasnıt enough. So this is part of my long road to becoming myself again.

&$147;Iım going to have to change my identity and move to another country, Iım going to have to start all over again, Iım going to have to more completely separate myself from working on womenıs rights, but itıs the only way I can do it. Iıll know I did what I wanted, even if it cost a lot. The next few years will now have to be me correcting all that I changed in myself in order to succeed. Correcting all my mistakes.

&$147;I want to have a family someday. How am I supposed to be a father? There are so many things I have to change. I couldnıt go on telling the world I was a woman any more. But I couldnıt tell them I wasnıt one, so I just had to fade away, until I didnıt matter anymore.&$148;

The interviewer sat there in silence.

&$147;Do you have any other questions?&$148; Chris asked.

The interviewer sat there, confused, not knowing if she should believe Chris or not. She could rip the curtain open and see for herself, she thought, but either way they would both be embarrassed.

&$147;No.&$148;

&$147;Then you can go,&$148; Chris said. &$147;I want to get out of this bath.&$148;

Melanie walked out of the bathroom, closed the door. Then she started thinking of all the little things, not changing with the other girls in school, looking so boyish, the low voice, the way she sat, her feet, the razor, the toilet seats. Could she be telling the truth? Could he be telling the truth, the interviewer thought, is Chris a she or a he? She didnıt know anymore. But it seemed to make sense. Her birth certificate would be the only thing that would prove it to anyone, unless she somehow got it changed.

She could have had her birth certificate changed, the interviewer thought, and therefore there would be no real proof that Chris was lying, other than looking at her naked. It was such a preposterous story, yet it seemed so possible that she tended to believe it. It didnıt matter anyway, because she couldnıt write about it, proof or not, she offered this information off the record. She grabbed her pencil and note pad from the living room and walked to the door.

Just as she was about to leave, Chris walked out from the bathroom. She walked over to the front door to open it for the interviewer. Melanie walked through the doorway, without saying a word, as Chris said, &$147;Good story, wasnıt it?&$148;

The interviewer turned around once more, but didnıt get to see Chrisı face before the door was shut. Once again, she was left with her doubts. She walked down the hall.


note: this work is fiction. Any correlations between any part of this story and events that have taken place in real life are purely coincidental.


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