“Everyday  Use”

“Everyday Use” Discussion Board

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Your original response should be at least 250 words and include at least 3 direct quotes.


“Everyday  Use”

by  Alice  Walker

I  will  wait  for  her  in  the  yard  that  Maggie  and  I  made  so  clean  and  wavy  yesterday  afternoon.  A  yard  like  this   is  more  comfortable  than  most  people  know.  It  is  not  just  a  yard.  It  is  like  an  extended  living  room.  When  the   hard  clay  is  swept  clean  as  a  floor  and  the  fine  sand  around  the  edges  lined  with  tiny,  irregular  grooves,   anyone  can  come  and  sit  and  look  up  into  the  elm  tree  and  wait  for  the  breezes  that  never  come  inside  the   house.

Maggie  will  be  nervous  until  after  her  sister  goes:  she  will  stand  hopelessly  in  corners,  homely  and  ashamed   of  the  burn  scars  down  her  arms  and  legs,  eying  her  sister  with  a  mixture  of  envy  and  awe.  She  thinks  her   sister  has  held  life  always  in  the  palm  of  one  hand,  that  “no”  is  a  word  the  world  never  learned  to  say  to  her.

You’ve  no  doubt  seen  those  TV  shows  where  the  child  who  has  “made  it”  is  confronted,  as  a  surprise,  by  her   own  mother  and  father,  tottering  in  weakly  from  backstage.  (A  pleasant  surprise,  of  course:  What  would  they   do  if  parent  and  child  came  on  the  show  only  to  curse  out  and  insult  each  other?)  On  TV  mother  and  child   embrace  and  smile  into  each  other’s  faces.  Sometimes  the  mother  and  father  weep,  the  child  wraps  them  in   her  arms  and  leans  across  the  table  to  tell  how  she  would  not  have  made  it  without  their  help.  I  have  seen   these  programs.

Sometimes  I  dream  a  dream  in  which  Dee  and  I  are  suddenly  brought  together  on  a  TV  program  of  this  sort.   Out  of  a  dark  and  soft.seated  limousine  I  am  ushered  into  a  bright  room  filled  with  many  people.  There  I   meet  a  smiling,  gray,  sporty  man  like  Johnny  Carson  who  shakes  my  hand  and  tells  me  what  a  fine  girl  I  have.   Then  we  are  on  the  stage  and  Dee  is  embracing  me  with  tears  in  her  eyes.  She  pins  on  my  dress  a  large   orchid,  even  though  she  has  told  me  once  that  she  thinks  orchids  are  tacky  flowers.

In  real  life  I  am  a  large,  big.boned  woman  with  rough,  man.working  hands.  In  the  winter  I  wear  flannel   nightgowns  to  bed  and  overalls  dur.ing  the  day.  I  can  kill  and  clean  a  hog  as  mercilessly  as  a  man.  My  fat   keeps  me  hot  in  zero  weather.  I  can  work  outside  all  day,  breaking  ice  to  get  water  for  washing;  I  can  eat   pork  liver  cooked  over  the  open  fire  minutes  after  it  comes  steaming  from  the  hog.  One  winter  I  knocked  a   bull  calf  straight  in  the  brain  between  the  eyes  with  a  sledge  hammer  and  had  the  meat  hung  up  to  chill   before  nightfall.  But  of  course  all  this  does  not  show  on  television.  I  am  the  way  my  daughter  would  want  me   to  be:  a  hundred  pounds  lighter,  my  skin  like  an  uncooked  barley  pancake.  My  hair  glistens  in  the  hot  bright   lights.  Johnny  Carson  has  much  to  do  to  keep  up  with  my  quick  and  witty  tongue.

But  that  is  a  mistake.  I  know  even  before  I  wake  up.  Who  ever  knew  a  Johnson  with  a  quick  tongue?  Who  can   even  imagine  me  looking  a  strange  white  man  in  the  eye?  It  seems  to  me  I  have  talked  to  them  always  with   one  foot  raised  in  flight,  with  my  head  fumed  in  whichever  way  is  farthest  from  them.  Dee,  though.  She  would   always  look  anyone  in  the  eye.  Hesitation  was  no  part  of  her  nature.

“How  do  I  look,  Mama?”  Maggie  says,  showing  just  enough  of  her  thin  body  enveloped  in  pink  skirt  and  red   blouse  for  me  to  know  she’s  there,  almost  hidden  by  the  door.

“Come  out  into  the  yard,”  I  say.

Have  you  ever  seen  a  lame  animal,  perhaps  a  dog  run  over  by  some  careless  person  rich  enough  to  own  a  car,   sidle  up  to  someone  who  is  ignorant  enough  to  be  kind  to  him?  That  is  the  way  my  Maggie  walks.  She  has   been  like  this,  chin  on  chest,  eyes  on  ground,  feet  in  shuffle,  ever  since  the  fire  that  burned  the  other  house  to   the  ground.



Dee  is  lighter  than  Maggie,  with  nicer  hair  and  a  fuller  figure.  She’s  a  woman  now,  though  sometimes  I  forget.   How  long  ago  was  it  that  the  other  house  burned?  Ten,  twelve  years?  Sometimes  I  can  still  hear  the  flames   and  feel  Maggie’s  arms  sticking  to  me,  her  hair  smoking  and  her  dress  falling  off  her  in  little  black  papery   flakes.  Her  eyes  seemed  stretched  open,  blazed  open  by  the  flames  reflected  in  them.  And  Dee.  I  see  her   standing  off  under  the  sweet  gum  tree  she  used  to  dig  gum  out  of;  a  look  of  concentration  on  her  face  as  she   watched  the  last  dingy  gray  board  of  the  house  fall  in  toward  the  red.hot  brick  chimney.  Why  don’t  you  do  a   dance  around  the  ashes?  I’d  wanted  to  ask  her.  She  had  hated  the  house  that  much.

I  used  to  think  she  hated  Maggie,  too.  But  that  was  before  we  raised  money,  the  church  and  me,  to  send  her  to   Augusta  to  school.  She  used  to  read  to  us  without  pity;  forcing  words,  lies,  other  folks’  habits,  whole  lives   upon  us  two,  sitting  trapped  and  ignorant  underneath  her  voice.  She  washed  us  in  a  river  of  make.believe,   burned  us  with  a  lot  of  knowl  edge  we  didn’t  necessarily  need  to  know.  Pressed  us  to  her  with  the  serf’  ous   way  she  read,  to  shove  us  away  at  just  the  moment,  like  dimwits,  we  seemed  about  to  understand.

Dee  wanted  nice  things.  A  yellow  organdy  dress  to  wear  to  her  grad.uation  from  high  school;  black  pumps  to   match  a  green  suit  she’d  made  from  an  old  suit  somebody  gave  me.  She  was  determined  to  stare  down  any   disaster  in  her  efforts.  Her  eyelids  would  not  flicker  for  minutes  at  a  time.  Often  I  fought  off  the  temptation  to   shake  her.  At  sixteen  she  had  a  style  of  her  own:  and  knew  what  style  was.

I  never  had  an  education  myself.  After  second  grade  the  school  was  closed  down.  Don’t  ask  my  why:  in  1927   colored  asked  fewer  questions  than  they  do  now.  Sometimes  Maggie  reads  to  me.  She  stumbles  along   good.naturedly  but  can’t  see  well.  She  knows  she  is  not  bright.  Like  good  looks  and  money,  quickness  passes   her  by.  She  will  marry  John  Thomas  (who  has  mossy  teeth  in  an  earnest  face)  and  then  I’ll  be  free  to  sit  here   and  I  guess  just  sing  church  songs  to  myself.  Although  I  never  was  a  good  singer.  Never  could  carry  a  tune.  I   was  always  better  at  a  man’s  job.  I  used  to  love  to  milk  till  I  was  hooked  in  the  side  in  ’49.  Cows  are  soothing   and  slow  and  don’t  bother  you,  unless  you  try  to  milk  them  the  wrong  way.

I  have  deliberately  turned  my  back  on  the  house.  It  is  three  rooms,  just  like  the  one  that  burned,  except  the   roof  is  tin;  they  don’t  make  shingle  roofs  any  more.  There  are  no  real  windows,  just  some  holes  cut  in  the   sides,  like  the  portholes  in  a  ship,  but  not  round  and  not  square,  with  rawhide  holding  the  shutters  up  on  the   outside.  This  house  is  in  a  pasture,  too,  like  the  other  one.  No  doubt  when  Dee  sees  it  she  will  want  to  tear  it   down.  She  wrote  me  once  that  no  matter  where  we  “choose”  to  live,  she  will  manage  to  come  see  us.  But  she   will  never  bring  her  friends.  Maggie  and  I  thought  about  this  and  Maggie  asked  me,  “Mama,  when  did  Dee   ever  have  any  friends?”

She  had  a  few.  Furtive  boys  in  pink  shirts  hanging  about  on  washday  after  school.  Nervous  girls  who  never   laughed.  Impressed  with  her  they  worshiped  the  well.turned  phrase,  the  cute  shape,  the  scalding  humor  that   erupted  like  bubbles  in  Iye.  She  read  to  them.

When  she  was  courting  Jimmy  T  she  didn’t  have  much  time  to  pay  to  us,  but  turned  all  her  faultfinding  power   on  him.  He  flew  to  marry  a  cheap  city  girl  from  a  family  of  ignorant  flashy  people.  She  hardly  had  time  to   recompose  herself.

When  she  comes  I  will  meet—but  there  they  are!

Maggie  attempts  to  make  a  dash  for  the  house,  in  her  shuffling  way,  but  I  stay  her  with  my  hand.  “Come  back   here,  ”  I  say.  And  she  stops  and  tries  to  dig  a  well  in  the  sand  with  her  toe.

It  is  hard  to  see  them  clearly  through  the  strong  sun.  But  even  the  first  glimpse  of  leg  out  of  the  car  tells  me  it   is  Dee.  Her  feet  were  always  neat.looking,  as  if  God  himself  had  shaped  them  with  a  certain  style.  From  the   other  side  of  the  car  comes  a  short,  stocky  man.  Hair  is  all  over  his  head  a  foot  long  and  hanging  from  his  chin



like  a  kinky  mule  tail.  I  hear  Maggie  suck  in  her  breath.  “Uhnnnh,  ”  is  what  it  sounds  like.  Like  when  you  see   the  wriggling  end  of  a  snake  just  in  front  of  your  foot  on  the  road.  “Uhnnnh.”

Dee  next.  A  dress  down  to  the  ground,  in  this  hot  weather.  A  dress  so  loud  it  hurts  my  eyes.  There  are  yellows   and  oranges  enough  to  throw  back  the  light  of  the  sun.  I  feel  my  whole  face  warming  from  the  heat  waves  it   throws  out.  Earrings  gold,  too,  and  hanging  down  to  her  shoul.ders.  Bracelets  dangling  and  making  noises   when  she  moves  her  arm  up  to  shake  the  folds  of  the  dress  out  of  her  armpits.  The  dress  is  loose  and  flows,   and  as  she  walks  closer,  I  like  it.  I  hear  Maggie  go  “Uhnnnh”  again.  It  is  her  sister’s  hair.  It  stands  straight  up   like  the  wool  on  a  sheep.  It  is  black  as  night  and  around  the  edges  are  two  long  pigtails  that  rope  about  like   small  lizards  disappearing  behind  her  ears.

“Wa.su.zo.Tean.o!”  she  says,  coming  on  in  that  gliding  way  the  dress  makes  her  move.  The  short  stocky  fellow   with  the  hair  to  his  navel  is  all  grinning  and  he  follows  up  with  “Asalamalakim,  my  mother  and  sister!”  He   moves  to  hug  Maggie  but  she  falls  back,  right  up  against  the  back  of  my  chair.  I  feel  her  trembling  there  and   when  I  look  up  I  see  the  perspiration  falling  off  her  chin.

“Don’t  get  up,”  says  Dee.  Since  I  am  stout  it  takes  something  of  a  push.  You  can  see  me  trying  to  move  a   second  or  two  before  I  make  it.  She  turns,  showing  white  heels  through  her  sandals,  and  goes  back  to  the  car.   Out  she  peeks  next  with  a  Polaroid.  She  stoops  down  quickly  and  lines  up  picture  after  picture  of  me  sitting   there  in  front  of  the  house  with  Maggie  cowering  behind  me.  She  never  takes  a  shot  without  mak’  ing  sure   the  house  is  included.  When  a  cow  comes  nibbling  around  the  edge  of  the  yard  she  snaps  it  and  me  and   Maggie  and  the  house.  Then  she  puts  the  Polaroid  in  the  back  seat  of  the  car,  and  comes  up  and  kisses  me  on   the  forehead.

Meanwhile  Asalamalakim  is  going  through  motions  with  Maggie’s  hand.  Maggie’s  hand  is  as  limp  as  a  fish,   and  probably  as  cold,  despite  the  sweat,  and  she  keeps  trying  to  pull  it  back.  It  looks  like  Asalamalakim  wants   to  shake  hands  but  wants  to  do  it  fancy.  Or  maybe  he  don’t  know  how  people  shake  hands.  Anyhow,  he  soon   gives  up  on  Maggie.

“Well,”  I  say.  “Dee.”

“No,  Mama,”  she  says.  “Not  ‘Dee,’  Wangero  Leewanika  Kemanjo!”

“What  happened  to  ‘Dee’?”  I  wanted  to  know.

“She’s  dead,”  Wangero  said.  “I  couldn’t  bear  it  any  longer,  being  named  after  the  people  who  oppress  me.”

“You  know  as  well  as  me  you  was  named  after  your  aunt  Dicie,”  I  said.  Dicie  is  my  sister.  She  named  Dee.  We   called  her  “Big  Dee”  after  Dee  was  born.

“But  who  was  she  named  after?”  asked  Wangero.

“I  guess  after  Grandma  Dee,”  I  said.

“And  who  was  she  named  after?”  asked  Wangero.

“Her  mother,”  I  said,  and  saw  Wangero  was  getting  tired.  “That’s  about  as  far  back  as  I  can  trace  it,”  I  said.   Though,  in  fact,  I  probably  could  have  carried  it  back  beyond  the  Civil  War  through  the  branches.

“Well,”  said  Asalamalakim,  “there  you  are.”

“Uhnnnh,”  I  heard  Maggie  say.



“There  I  was  not,”  I  said,  “before  ‘Dicie’  cropped  up  in  our  family,  so  why  should  I  try  to  trace  it  that  far   back?”

He  just  stood  there  grinning,  looking  down  on  me  like  somebody  inspecting  a  Model  A  car.  Every  once  in  a   while  he  and  Wangero  sent  eye  signals  over  my  head.

“How  do  you  pronounce  this  name?”  I  asked.

“You  don’t  have  to  call  me  by  it  if  you  don’t  want  to,”  said  Wangero.

“Why  shouldn’t  1?”  I  asked.  “If  that’s  what  you  want  us  to  call  you,  we’ll  call  you.”

.  “I  know  it  might  sound  awkward  at  first,”  said  Wangero.

“I’ll  get  used  to  it,”  I  said.  “Ream  it  out  again.”

Well,  soon  we  got  the  name  out  of  the  way.  Asalamalakim  had  a  name  twice  as  long  and  three  times  as  hard.   After  I  tripped  over  it  two  or  three  times  he  told  me  to  just  call  him  Hakim.a.barber.  I  wanted  to  ask  him  was   he  a  barber,  but  I  didn’t  really  think  he  was,  so  I  didn’t  ask.

“You  must  belong  to  those  beef.cattle  peoples  down  the  road,”  I  said.  They  said  “Asalamalakim”  when  they   met  you,  too,  but  they  didn’t  shake  hands.  Always  too  busy:  feeding  the  cattle,  fixing  the  fences,  putting  up   salt.lick  shelters,  throwing  down  hay.  When  the  white  folks  poisoned  some  of  the  herd  the  men  stayed  up  all   night  with  rifles  in  their  hands.  I  walked  a  mile  and  a  half  just  to  see  the  sight.

Hakim.a.barber  said,  “I  accept  some  of  their  doctrines,  but  farming  and  raising  cattle  is  not  my  style.”  (They   didn’t  tell  me,  and  I  didn’t  ask,  whether  Wangero  (Dee)  had  really  gone  and  married  him.)

We  sat  down  to  eat  and  right  away  he  said  he  didn’t  eat  collards  and  pork  was  unclean.  Wangero,  though,   went  on  through  the  chitlins  and  com  bread,  the  greens  and  everything  else.  She  talked  a  blue  streak  over  the   sweet  potatoes.  Everything  delighted  her.  Even  the  fact  that  we  still  used  the  benches  her  daddy  made  for  the   table  when  we  couldn’t  effort  to  buy  chairs.

“Oh,  Mama!”  she  cried.  Then  turned  to  Hakim.a.barber.  “I  never  knew  how  lovely  these  benches  are.  You  can   feel  the  rump  prints,”  she  said,  running  her  hands  underneath  her  and  along  the  bench.  Then  she  gave  a  sigh   and  her  hand  closed  over  Grandma  Dee’s  butter  dish.  “That’s  it!”  she  said.  “I  knew  there  was  something  I   wanted  to  ask  you  if  I  could  have.”  She  jumped  up  from  the  table  and  went  over  in  the  corner  where  the   churn  stood,  the  milk  in  it  crabber  by  now.  She  looked  at  the  churn  and  looked  at  it.

“This  churn  top  is  what  I  need,”  she  said.  “Didn’t  Uncle  Buddy  whittle  it  out  of  a  tree  you  all  used  to  have?”

“Yes,”  I  said.

“Un  huh,”  she  said  happily.  “And  I  want  the  dasher,  too.”

“Uncle  Buddy  whittle  that,  too?”  asked  the  barber.

Dee  (Wangero)  looked  up  at  me.

“Aunt  Dee’s  first  husband  whittled  the  dash,”  said  Maggie  so  low  you  almost  couldn’t  hear  her.  “His  name   was  Henry,  but  they  called  him  Stash.”



“Maggie’s  brain  is  like  an  elephant’s,”  Wangero  said,  laughing.  “I  can  use  the  chute  top  as  a  centerpiece  for   the  alcove  table,”  she  said,  sliding  a  plate  over  the  chute,  “and  I’ll  think  of  something  artistic  to  do  with  the   dasher.”

When  she  finished  wrapping  the  dasher  the  handle  stuck  out.  I  took  it  for  a  moment  in  my  hands.  You  didn’t   even  have  to  look  close  to  see  where  hands  pushing  the  dasher  up  and  down  to  make  butter  had  left  a  kind  of   sink  in  the  wood.  In  fact,  there  were  a  lot  of  small  sinks;  you  could  see  where  thumbs  and  fingers  had  sunk   into  the  wood.  It  was  beautiful  light  yellow  wood,  from  a  tree  that  grew  in  the  yard  where  Big  Dee  and  Stash   had  lived.

After  dinner  Dee  (Wangero)  went  to  the  trunk  at  the  foot  of  my  bed  and  started  rifling  through  it.  Maggie   hung  back  in  the  kitchen  over  the  dishpan.  Out  came  Wangero  with  two  quilts.  They  had  been  pieced  by   Grandma  Dee  and  then  Big  Dee  and  me  had  hung  them  on  the  quilt  ftames  on  the  ftont  porch  and  quilted   them.  One  was  in  the  Lone  Stat  pattetn.  The  other  was  Walk  Around  the  Mountain.  In  both  of  them  were   scraps  of  dresses  Grandma  Dee  had  wotn  fifty  and  more  years  ago.  Bits  and  pieces  of  Grandpa  Jattell’s  Paisley   shirts.  And  one  teeny  faded  blue  piece,  about  the  size  of  a  penny  matchbox,  that  was  from  Great  Grandpa   Ezra’s  unifotm  that  he  wore  in  the  Civil  War.

“Mama,”  Wangro  said  sweet  as  a  bird.  “Can  I  have  these  old  quilts?”

I  heard  something  fall  in  the  kitchen,  and  a  minute  later  the  kitchen  door  slammed.

“Why  don’t  you  take  one  or  two  of  the  others?”  I  asked.  “These  old  things  was  just  done  by  me  and  Big  Dee   from  some  tops  your  grandma  pieced  before  she  died.”

“No,”  said  Wangero.  “I  don’t  want  those.  They  are  stitched  around  the  borders  by  machine.”

“That’ll  make  them  last  better,”  I  said.

“That’s  not  the  point,”  said  Wangero.  “These  are  all  pieces  of  dresses  Grandma  used  to  wear.  She  did  all  this   stitching  by  hand.  Imag’  ine!”  She  held  the  quilts  securely  in  her  atms,  stroking  them.

“Some  of  the  pieces,  like  those  lavender  ones,  come  ftom  old  clothes  her  mother  handed  down  to  her,”  I  said,   moving  up  to  touch  the  quilts.  Dee  (Wangero)  moved  back  just  enough  so  that  I  couldn’t  reach  the  quilts.   They  already  belonged  to  her.

“Imagine!”  she  breathed  again,  clutching  them  closely  to  her  bosom.

“The  ttuth  is,”  I  said,  “I  promised  to  give  them  quilts  to  Maggie,  for  when  she  matties  John  Thomas.”

.  She  gasped  like  a  bee  had  stung  her.

“Maggie  can’t  appreciate  these  quilts!”  she  said.  “She’d  probably  be  backward  enough  to  put  them  to   everyday  use.”

“I  reckon  she  would,”  I  said.  “God  knows  I  been  saving  ’em  for  long  enough  with  nobody  using  ’em.  I  hope  she   will!”  I  didn’t  want  to  bring  up  how  I  had  offered  Dee  (Wangero)  a  quilt  when  she  went  away  to  college.  Then   she  had  told  they  were  old~fashioned,  out  of  style.



“But  they’re  priceless!”  she  was  saying  now,  furiously;  for  she  has  a  temper.  “Maggie  would  put  them  on  the   bed  and  in  five  years  they’d  be  in  rags.  Less  than  that!”

“She  can  always  make  some  more,”  I  said.  “Maggie  knows  how  to  quilt.”

Dee  (Wangero)  looked  at  me  with  hatred.  “You  just  will  not  under.stand.  The  point  is  these  quilts,  these   quilts!”

“Well,”  I  said,  stumped.  “What  would  you  do  with  them7”

“Hang  them,”  she  said.  As  if  that  was  the  only  thing  you  could  do  with  quilts.

Maggie  by  now  was  standing  in  the  door.  I  could  almost  hear  the  sound  her  feet  made  as  they  scraped  over   each  other.

“She  can  have  them,  Mama,”  she  said,  like  somebody  used  to  never  winning  anything,  or  having  anything   reserved  for  her.  “I  can  ‘member  Grandma  Dee  without  the  quilts.”

I  looked  at  her  hard.  She  had  filled  her  bottom  lip  with  checkerberry  snuff  and  gave  her  face  a  kind  of  dopey,   hangdog  look.  It  was  Grandma  Dee  and  Big  Dee  who  taught  her  how  to  quilt  herself.  She  stood  there  with  her   scarred  hands  hidden  in  the  folds  of  her  skirt.  She  looked  at  her  sister  with  something  like  fear  but  she   wasn’t  mad  at  her.  This  was  Maggie’s  portion.  This  was  the  way  she  knew  God  to  work.

When  I  looked  at  her  like  that  something  hit  me  in  the  top  of  my  head  and  ran  down  to  the  soles  of  my  feet.   Just  like  when  I’m  in  church  and  the  spirit  of  God  touches  me  and  I  get  happy  and  shout.  I  did  some.thing  I   never  done  before:  hugged  Maggie  to  me,  then  dragged  her  on  into  the  room,  snatched  the  quilts  out  of  Miss   Wangero’s  hands  and  dumped  them  into  Maggie’s  lap.  Maggie  just  sat  there  on  my  bed  with  her  mouth  open.

“Take  one  or  two  of  the  others,”  I  said  to  Dee.

But  she  turned  without  a  word  and  went  out  to  Hakim~a~barber.

“You  just  don’t  understand,”  she  said,  as  Maggie  and  I  came  out  to  the  car.

.  “What  don’t  I  understand?”  I  wanted  to  know.

“Your  heritage,”  she  said,  And  then  she  turned  to  Maggie,  kissed  her,  and  said,  “You  ought  to  try  to  make   something  of  yourself,  too,  Maggie.  It’s  really  a  new  day  for  us.  But  from  the  way  you  and  Mama  still  live   you’d  never  know  it.”

She  put  on  some  sunglasses  that  hid  everything  above  the  tip  of  her  nose  and  chin.

Maggie  smiled;  maybe  at  the  sunglasses.  But  a  real  smile,  not  scared.  After  we  watched  the  car  dust  settle  I   asked  Maggie  to  bring  me  a  dip  of  snuff.  And  then  the  two  of  us  sat  there  just  enjoying,  until  it  was  time  to  go   in  the  house  and  go  to  bed.

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