Today's Reading


They rode through the lush farm country in the middle of autumn, through quaint old towns whose streets showed the brilliant colors of turning trees. They said little. Of the three, the father was most visibly strained. Now and then he would place bits of talk into the long silences, random and inopportune things with which he himself seemed to have no patience. Once he demanded of the girl, whose face he had caught in the rearview mirror: "You know, don't you, that I was a fool when I married—a damn young fool who didn't know about bringing up children—about being a father?" His defense was half attack, but the girl responded to neither. The mother suggested that they stop for coffee. This was really like a pleasure trip, she said, in the fall of the year with their lovely young daughter and such beautiful country to see.

They found a roadside diner and turned in. The girl got out quickly and walked toward the restrooms behind the building. As she walked the heads of the two parents turned quickly to look after her. Then the father said, "It's all right."

"Should we wait here or go in?" the mother asked aloud, but to herself. She was the more analytical of the two, planning effects in advance—how to act and what to say—and her husband let himself be guided by her because it was easy and she was usually right. Now, feeling confused and lonely, he let her talk on—planning and figuring—because it was her way of taking comfort. It was easier for him to be silent.

"If we stay in the car," she was saying, "we can be with her if she needs us. Maybe if she comes out and doesn't see us . . . But then it should look as if we trust her. She must feel that we trust her "

They decided to go into the diner, being very careful and obviously usual about their movements. When they had seated themselves in a booth by the windows, they could see her coming back around the corner of the building and moving toward them; they tried to look at her as if she were a stranger, someone else's daughter to whom they had only now been introduced, a Deborah not their own. They studied the graceless adolescent body and found it good, the face intelligent and alive, but the expression somehow too young for sixteen.

They were used to a certain bitter precocity in their child, but they could not see it now in the familiar face that they were trying to convince themselves they could estrange. The father kept thinking: How could strangers be right? She's ours all her life. They don't know her. It's a mistake—a mistake!

The mother was watching herself watching her daughter. "On my surface there must be no sign showing, no seam—a perfect surface." And she smiled.

In the evening they stopped at a small city and ate at its best restaurant, in a spirit of rebellion and adventure because they were not dressed for it. After dinner, they went to a movie. Deborah seemed delighted with the evening. They joked through dinner and the movie, and afterward, heading out farther into the country darkness, they talked about other trips, congratulating one another on their recollection of the little funny details of past vacations. When they stopped at a motel to sleep, Deborah was given a room to herself, another special privilege for which no one knew, not even the parents who loved her, how great was the need.

When they were sitting together in their room, Jacob and Esther Blau looked at each other from behind their faces, and wondered why the poses did not fall away, now that they were alone, so that they might breathe out, relax, and find some peace with each other. In the next room, a thin wall away, they could hear their daughter undressing for bed. They did not admit to each other, even with their eyes, that all night they would be guarding against a sound other than her breathing in sleep—a sound that might mean . . . danger. Only once, before they lay down for their dark watch, did Jacob break from behind his face and whisper hard in his wife's ear, "Why are we sending her away?"

"The doctors say she has to go," Esther whispered back, lying rigid and looking toward the silent wall.

"The doctors." Jacob had never wanted to put them all through the experience, even from the beginning.

"It's a good place," she said, a little louder because she wanted to make it so.

"They call it a mental hospital, but it's a place, Es, a place where they put people away. How can it be a good place for a girl—almost a child!"

"Oh, God, Jacob," she said, "how much did it take out of us to make the decision? If we can't trust the doctors, who can we ask or trust? Dr. Lister says that it's the only help she can get now. We have to try it!" Stubbornly she turned her head again, toward the wall.

He was silent, conceding to her once more; she was so much quicker with words than he. They said good night; each pretended to sleep, and lay, breathing deeply to delude the other, eyes aching through the darkness, watching.

On the other side of the wall Deborah stretched to sleep. The Kingdom of Yr had a kind of neutral place, which was called the Fourth Level. It was achieved only by accident and could not be reached by formula or an act of will. At the Fourth Level there was no emotion to endure, no past or future to grind against. There was no memory or possession of any self, nothing except dead facts which came unbidden when she needed them and which had no feeling attached to them.

Now, in bed, as she achieved the Fourth Level, a future was of no concern to her. The people in the next room were supposedly her parents. Very well. But that was part of a shadowy world that was dissolving and now she was being flung unencumbered into a new one in which she had not the slightest concern. In moving from the old world, she was moving also from the intricacies of Yr's Kingdom, from the Collect of Others, the Censor, and the Yri gods. She rolled over and slept a deep, dreamless, and restful sleep.

In the morning the family started on its trip again. It occurred to Deborah, as the car pulled away from the motel and out into the sunny day, that the trip might last forever and that the calm and marvelous freedom she felt might be a new gift from the usually too demanding gods and offices of Yr.

After a few hours of riding through more brown and golden country and sun-dappled town streets, the mother said, "Where is the turnoff, Jacob?"

In Yr a voice shrieked out of the deep Pit: 'Innocent! Innocent!' From freedom, Deborah Blau smashed headlong into the collision of the two worlds. As always before it was a weirdly silent shattering. In the world where she was most alive, the sun split in the sky, the earth erupted, her body was torn to pieces, her teeth and bones crazed and broken to fragments. In the other place, where the ghosts and shadows lived, a car turned into a side drive and down a road to where an old redbrick building stood. It was Victorian, a little run-down, and surrounded by trees. Very good façade for a madhouse. When the car stopped in front of it, she was still stunned with the collision, and it was hard to get out of the car and walk properly up the steps and into the building, where the doctors would be. There were bars on all the windows. Deborah smiled slightly.

It was fitting. Good.

When Jacob Blau saw the bars, he paled. In the face of this, it was no longer possible to say to himself "rest home" or "convalescent care." The truth was as bare and cold for him as the iron. Esther tried to reach him with her mind: We should have expected them. Why should we be so surprised?

They waited, Esther Blau trying still to be gay now and then. Except for the barred windows the room was like an ordinary waiting room and she joked about the age of the magazines there. From a distance down the hall they heard the grate of a large key in a lock and again Jacob stiffened, moaning softly, "Not for her—our little Debby" He did not see the sudden, ruthless look in his daughter's face.

The doctor walked down the hall, and steeled himself a little before entering the room. He was a squared-off, blunt-bodied man and now he dived into the room, where their anguish seemed to hang palpably. It was an old building, a frightening place to come to, he knew. He would try to get the girl away soon and the parents comforted enough to leave her, feeling that they had done the right thing.

Sometimes in this room, at the last minute, the parents, husbands, wives, turned with loathing from the truth of the awful, frightening sickness. Sometimes they took their strange-eyed ones away again. It was fear, or bad judgment well meant enough, or—his eyes appraised the two parents again—that straying grain of jealousy and anger that would not let the long line of misery be severed a generation beyond their own. He tried to be compassionate but not foolish, and soon he was able to send for a nurse to take the girl to the wards. She looked like a shock victim. As she left, he felt the wrench of her going in the two parents.

He promised them that they could say good-by to her before they left, and surrendered them to the secretary with her pad of information to be gotten. When he saw them again, leaving after their good-by, they, too, looked like people in shock, and he thought briefly: wound-shock—the cutting-away of a daughter.

Jacob Blau was not a man who studied himself, or who looked back over his life to weigh and measure its shape. At times, he suspected his wife of being voracious, picking over her passions again and again with endless words and words. But part of this feeling was envy. He, too, loved his daughters, though he had never told them so; he, too, had wished confidences, but was never able to open his own heart; and, because of this, they had also been kept from venturing their secrets. His oldest daughter had just parted from him, almost eagerly, in that grim place of locks and bars, turning away from his kiss, stepping back. She had not seemed to want comfort from him, almost shrinking from touch. He was a man of tempers and now he needed a rage that was cleansing, simple, and direct. But the anger here was so laced with pity, fear, and love that he did not know how he could free himself of it. It lay writhing and stinking inside him, and he began to feel the old, slow-waking ache of his ulcer.


They took Deborah to a small, plain room, guarding her there until the showers were empty. She was watched there also, by a woman who sat placidly in the steam and looked her up and down as she dried herself. Deborah did what she was told dutifully, but she kept her left arm slightly turned inward, so as to hide from sight the two small, healing puncture wounds on the wrist. Serving the new routine, she went back to the room and answered some questions about herself put to her by a sardonic doctor who seemed to be displeased. It was obvious that he did not hear the roaring behind her.

Into the vacuum of the Midworld where she stood between Yr and Now, the Collect was beginning to come to life. Soon they would be shouting curses and taunts at her, deafening her for both worlds. She was fighting against their coming the way a child, expecting punishment, anticipates it by striking out wildly. She began to tell the doctor the truth about some of the questions he was asking. Let them call her lazy and a liar now. The roar mounted a little and she could hear some of the words in it. The room offered no distraction. To escape engulfment there was only the Here, with its ice-cold doctor and his notebook, or Yr with its golden meadows and gods. But Yr also held its regions of horror and lostness, and she no longer knew to which kingdom in Yr there was passage. Doctors were supposed to help in this.

She looked at the one who sat fading amid the clamor and said, "I told you the truth about these things you asked. Now are you going to help me?"

"That depends on you," he said acidly, shut his notebook, and left. A specialist, laughed Anterrabae, the Falling God.

Let me go with you, she begged him, down and down beside him because he was eternally falling.

So it shall be, he said. His hair, which was fire, curled a little in the wind of the fall.

That day and the next she spent on Yr's plains, simple long sweeps of land where the eye was soothed by the depth of space. For this great mercy, Deborah was deeply grateful to the Powers. There had been too much blindness, cold, and pain in Yr these past hard months. Now, as by the laws of the world, her image walked around and answered and asked and acted; she, no longer Deborah, but a person bearing the appropriate name for a dweller on Yr's plains, sang and danced and recited the ritual songs to a caressing wind that blew on the long grasses.

For Jacob and Esther Blau the way home was no shorter than the way to the hospital had been. Although Deborah was not with them, their freedom to say what they really wanted to say was even more circumscribed than before.

Esther felt that she knew Deborah better than her husband did. To her, it had not been the childish attempt at suicide that had begun this round of doctors and decisions. She sat in the car beside her husband wanting to tell him that she was grateful for the silly and theatrical wrist-cutting. At last a dragging suspicion of something subtly and terribly wrong had had outlet in a fact. The half-cup of blood on the bathroom floor had given all their nebulous feelings and vague fears weight, and she had gone to the doctor the next day. Now she wanted to show Jacob the many things he did not know, but she knew she could not do it without hurting him. She looked over at him driving with his eyes hard on the road and his face set. "We'll be able to visit her in a month or two," she said.

Then they began to construct the story that they would tell their acquaintances and those relatives who were not close or whose prejudices did not allow for mental hospitals in the family. For them, the hospital was to be a school, and for Suzy, who had heard the word "sick" too many times in the past month and had been puzzled too often and deeply before that, there was to be something about anemia or weakness and a special convalescent school. Papa and Mama would be told that everything was fine . . . a sort of rest home. They already knew about the psychiatrist and his recommendation, but the look of the place would have to change in the telling, and the high, hard scream that they had heard from one of the barred windows as they left, and that had made them shiver and grit their teeth, would have to be expunged. The scream had made Esther wonder if they had not really been wrong after all; the scream would have to be kept locked in her heart as Deborah in That Place.

Dr. Fried got up from her chair and went to the window. It faced away from the hospital buildings and over a small garden beyond which lay the grounds where the patients walked. She looked at the report in her hand. Against the weight of three typewritten pages were balanced the lectures she would not be able to give, the writing she would have to neglect, and the counseling of doctors that she would have to refuse if she took this case. She liked working with patients. Their very illness made them examine sanity as few "sane" people could. Kept from loving, sharing, and simple communication, they often hungered for it with a purity of passion that she saw as beautiful.

Sometimes, she thought ruefully, the world is so much sicker than the inmates of its institutions. She remembered Tilda, in the hospital in Germany, at a time when Hitler was on the other side of its walls and not even she could say which side was sane. Tilda's murderous hate, bound down on beds, tubefed, and drugged into submission, could still fade long enough to let the light in now and then. She remembered Tilda looking up at her, smiling in a travesty of genteel politeness from the canvasbound bed, and saying, "Oh, do come in, dear Doctor. You are just in time for the patient's soothing tea and the end of the world."

Tilda and Hitler were both gone and now there was more and more to tell the younger doctors who were coming out of the schools with too little experience of life. Is it fair to take private patients when any real improvement may take years, and when thousands and tens of thousands are clamoring, writing, phoning, and begging for help? She laughed, catching in herself the vanity she had once called the doctor's greatest enemy next to his patient's illness. If one by one was good enough for God, it would have to do for her.

She sat down with the folder, opened it, and read it through:


Testing: Tests show high (140150) intelligence, but patterns disturbed by illness. Many questions misinterpreted and overpersonalized. Entire subjective reaction to interview and testing. Personality tests show typically schizophrenic pattern with compulsive and masochistic component.

Interview (Initial): On admission patient appeared well oriented and logical in her thinking, but as the interview went on, bits of the logic began to fall away and at anything which could be construed as correction or criticism, she showed extreme anxiety. She did everything she could to impress her examiner with her wit, using it as a formidable defense. On three occasions she laughed inappropriately: once when she claimed that the hospitalization had been brought about by a suicide attempt, twice with reference to questions about the date of the month. As the interview proceeded her attitude changed and she began to speak loudly, giving random happenings in her life which she thought to be the cause of her illness. She mentioned an operation at the age of five, the effects of which were traumatic, a cruel babysitter, etc. The incidents were unrelated, and no pattern appeared in them. Suddenly, in the middle of recounting an incident, the patient started forward and said accusingly, "I told you the truth about these things—now are you going to help me?" It was considered advisable to terminate the interview.

Family History: Born Chicago, Ill. October, 1932. Breastfed 8 mos. One sibling, Susan, born 1937. Father, Jacob Blau, an accountant whose family had emigrated from Poland 1913. Birth normal. At age 5 patient had two operations for removal of tumor in urethra. Difficult financial situation made family move in with grandparents in suburb of Chicago. Situation improved, but father became ill with ulcer and hypertension. In 1942 war caused move to city. Patient made poor adjustment and was taunted by schoolmates. Puberty normal physically, but at age 16 patient attempted suicide. There is a long history of hypochondria, but outside of tumor the physical health has been good.

She turned the page and glanced at the various statistical measurements of personality factors and test scores. Sixteen was younger than any patient she had ever had. Leaving aside consideration of the person herself, it might be good to find out if someone with so little life experience could benefit from therapy and if she would be easier or harder to work with.

In the end it was the girl's age that decided her, and made the report weigh more heavily than the commitment of doctors' meetings to be attended and articles to be written.

"Aber wenn wir . . . If we succeed . . ." she murmured, forcing herself away from her native tongue, "the good years yet to live . . ."

Again she looked at the facts and the numbers. A report like this had once made her remark to the hospital psychologist, "We must someday make a test to show us where the 'health' is as well as the illness."

The psychologist had answered that with hypnotism and the amytals and pentothals such information could be obtained more easily.

"I do not think so," Dr. Fried had answered. "The 'hidden' strength is too deep a secret. But in the end . . . in the end it is our only ally."


For a time—how long by Earth's reckoning Deborah did not know—it was peaceful. The world made few demands so that it seemed once more as if it had been the world's pressures that had caused so much of the agony in Yr. Sometimes she was able to see "reality" from Yr as if the partition between them were only gauze. On such occasions her name became Januce, because she felt like two-faced Janus—with a face on each world. It had been her letting slip this name which had caused the first trouble in school. She had been living by the Secret Calendar (Yr did not measure time as the world did) and had returned to the Heavy Calendar in the middle of the day, and having then that wonderful and omniscient feeling of changing, she had headed a class paper: NOW JANUCE. The teacher had said, "Deborah, what is this mark on your paper? What is this word, Januce?"

And, as the teacher stood by her desk, some nightmare terror coming to life had risen in the day-sane schoolroom. Deborah had looked about and found that she could not see except in outlines, gray against gray, and with no depth, but flatly, like a picture. The mark on the paper was the emblem of coming from Yr's time to Earth's, but, being caught while still in transition, she had to answer for both of them. Such an answer would have been the unveiling of a horror—a horror from which she would not have awakened rationally; and so she had lied and dissembled, with her heart choking her. Such a danger must no more be allowed, and so that night the whole Great Collect had come crowding into the Midworld: gods and demons from Yr and shades from Earth, and they had set up over their kingdoms a Censor to stand between Deborah's speech and actions and to guard the secret of Yr's existence.

Over the years the power of the Censor had grown greater and greater, and it was he who had lately thrust himself into both worlds, so that sometimes no speech and no action escaped him. One whisper of a secret name, one sign written, one slip of light could break into the hidden place and destroy her and both the worlds forever.

On Earth the life of the hospital moved on. Deborah worked in the craft shop, grateful that the world also offered its hiding places. She learned to do basketwork, accepting the instruction in her acerbic and impatient way. She knew that none of the workers liked her. People never had. On the ward a large girl had asked her to play tennis and the shock had sounded down to the last level of Yr. She saw the pencil-doctor a few more times and learned that he was "ward administrator" and the one who gave permission for "privileges"—steps in similitude to the normal world—to get up and go out on the ward, to go to dinner, on the grounds, then out of the hospital itself to the movie or store. Each was a privilege and had a certain connotation of approval that seemed to be expressed in distances. To Deborah he gave permission to walk unrestricted on the grounds, but not outside. Deborah said to the large girl, whose name was Carla, "Well, I'm a hundred square yards sane." If there were such things as man-hours and light-years, surely there was foot-sanity.

Carla said, "Don't worry. You'll get more privileges soon. If you work hard with your doctor, they ease up a little. I just wonder how long I'll have to stay here. It's been three months already." They both thought of the women at the far end of the ward. All of them had been in the hospital for over two years. "Does anyone ever leave?" Deborah asked. "I mean be well and leave?"

"I don't know," said Carla. They asked a nurse.

"I don't know," she said. "I haven't been here that long."

There was a groan from Lactamaeon, the black god, and a derisive laugh from the Collect, which were the massed images of all of the teachers and relatives and schoolmates standing eternally in secret judgment and giving their endless curses.

'Forever, crazy girl! Forever, lazy girl!'

Later one of the little student nurses came to where Deborah was lying, looking at the ceiling.

"It's time to get up now," she said in the wavering and frightened voice of her inexperience. There was a new group of these students working out their psychiatric training in this place. Deborah sighed and got up dutifully, thinking: She is astounded at the haze of craziness with which I fill a room.

"Come on now," the student said. "The doctor is going to see you. She's one of the heads here and a very famous doctor, too, so we must hurry, Miss Blau."

"If she's that good, I'll wear my shoes," Deborah replied, watching the young woman's expression widen with surprise and her face fight with its look of disapproval. She must have been told not to show anything so strong as anger or fear or amusement.

"You really should be grateful," the student said. "You're very lucky to get to see her at all."

"Known and loved by madmen the world over," Deborah said. "Let's go."

The nurse unlocked the ward door and then the stairway door, and they went down to the lower floor, which was open, and out of the back of the building. The nurse pointed to a green-shuttered white house—a small-town, oak-lined-streets type of white house—standing incongruously just inside the hospital grounds. They went to the front door and rang. After a while a tiny, gray-haired, plump little woman answered the door. "We're from Admissions. Here she is," the nurse said.

"Can you come back for her in an hour?" the little woman said to the student.

"I'm supposed to wait."

"Very well."

As Deborah stepped through the door, the Censor began to thrum his warnings: 'Where is the doctor? Is she watching from behind a door somewhere?' The little housekeeper motioned toward a room.
"Where is the doctor?" Deborah said, trying to stop the rapid juxtaposition of walls and doors.

"I am the doctor," the woman said. "I thought you knew. I am Dr. Fried."

Anterrabae laughed, falling and falling in his darkness. 'What' 'a disguise!' And the Censor growled, 'Take care' '. . .' 'take care.'

They went into a sunny room and the Housekeeper-FamousDoctor turned, saying, "Sit down. Make yourself comfortable." There came a great exhaustion and when the doctor said, "Is there anything you want to tell me?" a great gust of anger, so that Deborah stood up quickly and said to her and to Yr and to the Collect and to the Censor, "All right—you'll ask me questions and I'll answer them—you'll clear up my 'symptoms' and send me home . . . 'and what will I have then?"'

The doctor said quietly, "If you did not really want to give them up, you wouldn't tell me." A rope of fear pulled its noose about Deborah. "Come, sit down. You will not have to give up anything until you are ready, and then there will be something to take its place."

Deborah sat down, while the Censor said in Yri: 'Listen, Bird-one; there are too many little tables in here. The tables have no defense against your clumsiness.'

"Do you know why you are here?" the doctor said. "Clumsiness. Clumsiness is ?rst and then we have a list: lazy, wayward, headstrong, self-centered, fat, ugly, mean, tactless, and cruel. Also a liar. That category includes subheads: (a) False blindness, imaginary pains causing real doubling-up, untrue lapses of hearing, lying leg injuries, fake dizziness, and unproved and malicious malingerings; (b) Being a bad sport. Did I leave out unfriendliness? . . . Also unfriendliness."

In the silence where the dust motes fell through the sun shaft, Deborah thought that she had perhaps spoken her true feelings for the ?rst time. If these things were so, so be it, and she would leave this office at least having stated her tiredness and disgust at the whole dark and anguish-running world.

The doctor said simply, "Well, that seems to be quite a list. Some of these, I think, are not so, but we have a job cut out for us."

"To make me friendly and sweet and agreeable and happy in the lies I tell."

"To help you to get well." "To shut up the complaints."

"To end them, where they are the products of an upheaval in your feelings."

The rope tightened. Fear was ?owing wildly in Deborah's head, turning her vision gray. "You're saying what they all say—phony complaints about nonexistent sicknesses."

"It seems to me that I said that you are very sick, indeed." "Like the rest of them here?" It was as near as she dared go, already much too near the black places of terror.

"Do you mean to ask me if I think you belong here, if yours is what is called a mental illness? Then the answer is yes. I think you are sick in this way, but with your very hard work here and with a doctor's working hard with you, I think you can get better."

As bald as that. Yet with the terror connected with the hedgedabout, circled-around word "crazy," the unspoken word that Deborah was thinking about now, there was a light coming from the doctor's spoken words, a kind of light that shone back on many rooms of the past. The home and the school and all of the doctors' offices ringing with the joyful accusation: There Is Nothing The Matter With You. Deborah had known for years and years that there was more than a little the matter—something deeply and gravely the matter, more even than the times of blindness, intense pain, lameness, terror, and the inability to remember anything at all might indicate. They had always said, "There is nothing the matter with you, if you would only . . ." Here at last was a vindication of all the angers in those offices.

The doctor said, "What are you thinking about? I see your face relax a little."

"I am thinking about the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony."

"How so?"

"The prisoner pleads guilty to the charge of not having acute something-itis and accepts the verdict of guilty of being nuts in the first degree.
"Perhaps in the second degree," the doctor said, smiling a little. "Not entirely voluntary nor entirely with forethought."

Deborah suddenly recalled the picture of her parents standing very single and yet together on the other side of the shatterproof locked door. Not aforethought, this thing, but more than a little with malice.

Deborah became aware of the nurse moving about in the other room as if to let them know that the time was up.

The doctor said, "If it's all right with you, we will make another appointment and begin our talks, because I believe that you and I, if we work like the devil together, can beat this thing. First, I want to tell you again that I will not pull away symptoms or sickness from you against your will."

Deborah shied away from the commitment, but she allowed her face a very guarded "yes," and the doctor saw it. They walked from the office with Deborah striving assiduously to act as if she were somewhere else, elaborately unconcerned with this present place and person.

"Tomorrow at the same time," the doctor told the nurse and the patient.

"She can't understand you," Deborah said. "Charon spoke in Greek."

Dr. Fried laughed a little and then her face turned grave. "Someday I hope to help you see this world as other than a Stygian Hell."

They turned and left, and Charon, in white cap and striped uniform, guided the removed spirit toward the locked ward. Dr. Fried watched them walking back to the large building and thought: Somewhere in that precocity and bitterness and somewhere in the illness, whose limits she could not yet define, lay a hidden strength. It was there and working; it had sounded in the glimmer of relief when the fact of the sickness was made plain, and most of all in the "suicide attempt," the cry of a mute for help, and the statement, bold and dramatic as adolescents and the still-fighting sick must always make it, that the game was over and the disguising ended. The fact of this mental illness was in the open now, but the disease itself had roots still as deeply hidden as the white core of a volcano whose slopes are camouflaged in wooded green. Somewhere, even under the volcano itself, was the buried seed of will and strength. Dr. Fried sighed and went back to her work.

"This time . . . this time can I only call it forth!" she sighed, lapsing into the grammar of her native tongue.


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