Contest #172 shortlist ⭐️

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Contemporary Creative Nonfiction Funny

Moira put on her apron, signed in to her register, and prepared for the least busy day of the year. Her heart thrilled because she was finally old enough to participate in this most sacred of secular events. A moment later the doors opened and the customers started trickling in. The first one up at her counter was an old man in a parka, perpetually rubbing his hands.

“Welcome to McDemocracy’s. Can I take your order?” Moira asked, beaming at him.

“Yes, hello,” he said with an earnest grin. “I’m really hankering something, but I’m not sure what.”

“Do you have any preferences? Hatred perhaps, or fear? Those are two of our best sellers.”

“Oh, fear sounds nice.” He sniffed. “That reminds me, you guys used to have this thing, a long time ago, but I haven’t seen it on the menu for a while.”

“Sometimes the favourites come back,” Moira said. She dug out the seniors menu and handed it to him. “Perhaps you’ll find it here?”

He scanned the menu, running his finger along it and mumbling as he went. Then his face lit up. “Oh! There it is!” He looked at her with such unbridled joy, like he had just discovered presents under the tree – it made her morning. She was making a difference in people’s lives.

“The spectre of communism,” he said reverently.

“Very good, sir,” Moira said grinning. “Your candidate is Tom Thompson.”

“Yes, he sounds good. Is he popular?”

“Not at all, sir. He’s largely seen as out of touch.”

“Perfect!”

It was perhaps an odd choice, perhaps not her choice, but it was a voter’s choice and that’s what made it count. The next customers in line were a youngish couple, somewhere in their thirties. They walked to the counter joined at the elbow.

“Welcome! Can I take your order?”

The couple smiled at each other, their eyebrows flickering with excitement.

“We’re feeling vaguely uneasy about the future. And there’s this budding sense of, like, guilt I guess,” said the man.

“Yes,” said the woman, “and we’d like to double down on those.”

“So more unease and more guilt?” asked Moira.

The couple looked at each other again, first in shock and then in giggle.

“Oh no,” said the man, “more unease but less guilt.”

“Of course, sir,” Moira said. “And what kind of guilt is it? Is it white guilt?”

The couple tittered and shook their heads.

“Oh, goodness, no,” said the woman. “We’re over it. No, we mean like, guilty about the environment. We’re trying for a baby, and, well, you know. We want there to be a planet for our kids.”

“Right,” said the man. “But we also like our trucks, so you see our problem.”

The manager at yesterday’s meeting had gone over just this scenario, so Moira knew exactly what to do. “I think you might find something here.” She reached under the counter and handed them the salad menu.

“Oh, these are nice,” said the man, just as the woman said, “Ooh, look at that one. That one would make me feel good, like I was actually doing something.”

“Right,” said the man. “But we wouldn’t actually have to do anything. Looks like a winner to me, honey. What do you think?”

The woman showed the menu to Moira. “I just have one more question. I see a lot of promises here, but I’m on a diet.”

“Not to worry, ma’am,” Moira said. “They’re all empty.”

“Perfect!” they said in unison. “Looks like John Johnson is our candidate.”

Moira preferred some meat on her promises, but she didn’t begrudge the couple their choice. The next customer was a big middle-aged guy in a greasy green sweatshirt, who grimaced and kept rubbing his belly.

“Hello! Can I take your order–”

“–Yeah, hi,” he interrupted. Then he winced and hissed through his teeth. “Listen, the crap you guys have here keeps giving me gas.”

“I’m sorry to hear–”

“–It all tastes like crap. The bathrooms are filthy, and they smell like – well, they smell like crap, too. There’s garbage everywhere, people keep stealing my stuff, and everything’s way too expensive. And the chairs aren’t comfortable, and they’re all falling apart anyway. Everything is falling apart. It’s like each year I’m paying more and things just get worse.”

Moira waited a solid three-count to make sure he was done, before responding. “I’m so sorry to hear that, sir. It sounds like you’ve had a bad run.”

“You betcha.”

“I’m sure we can sort this out. What kind of candidates have you typically been voting for, sir?”

“Oh, Ron Ronson, all the way,” he said. He patted his heart. “I’m a Ron man, just like my dad.”

“Ron, every time?”

“Yup. Six elections and counting.”

“And things keep getting worse?”

“Yup.”

Moira bit her lip. “Have you tried not voting for Ron Ronson?”

He frowned and scratched his belly. “What do you mean?”

Moira sighed. “How about this, sir. What are you really looking for in a candidate?”

“I want stability! I don’t want things to keep sliding away. I want to feel safe.” He rubbed his belly and looked pensively at the ceiling. “I want somebody to hold me, and tell me it’ll be all right.”

“Well–”

“I got it!” he shouted. “I’ll vote for Ron Ronson!”

“Sir, but – why!?

“He’s the stable choice. And I’ve voted for him before, so he’s got to be doing something right. Thanks kid!”

Moira gave her head a quick shake and took a deep breath. She didn’t need to understand their choices, just accept them, after all. She shook off the last of her confusion in preparation for the next customer. And her heart sank.

A guy with a briefcase in one hand and a bundle of papers under the other arm approached. He set his case down on the counter and his papers spilled all over the place.

“Hello, sir. Can I take your order?”

“I have a lot of questions,” he said. “You see, I’ve been doing a lot of research.”

The line behind the man groaned, and Moira looked pleading into the air. Her manager said there was always at least one crank every year. Just part of the job.

“Certainly, sir. What are your questions?”

“I want to know what the candidates mean with their road policies.”

Moira glanced at the clock, ticking away glacially, her lunch so impossibly out of reach.

The man continued. “Tom Thompson says he wants to expand our road network and reduce congestion. But John Johnson says he wants to extend our road system and minimize traffic issues. Then Ron Ronson wants to expand the road network but also minimize traffic issues, which sounds like the best of both worlds, but then there’s Don Donson who wants to exacerbate our road infrastructure and mitigate vehicular delays, which I understand worked very well for France. But then even Sam Samson has a great idea by looking at the problem from a different angle, where he wants to downsize jams and upsize municipal en-roadening. And Ben Benson, well, he says it doesn’t make sense to spend money on new roads if we can’t even afford to fix the old ones, but that doesn’t make any sense to me. And Jen Jenson is even worse, not wanting to spend on new or old roads.”

Moira felt her pulse begin pounding at her temples. Were roads this important? She hadn’t even considered it before, but this guy came armed for war, and the other customers were starting to grumble. On the other hand, maybe a customer who was interested in the details was a good thing.

He pulled out a bunch of pie charts and pointed to them. “I’ve done extensive analyses, but there are discrepancies, and we’re going to comb through the data until we resolve them.”

“Yes, sir,” she said meekly. She looked at the pie charts with dread, but then suddenly an idea occurred to her – something her manager had brought up in their morning meeting.

“Say, sir, you seem really passionate about the condition of our roads.”

“Oh, yes indeed. More than anything else.”

Moira smiled. “Would you say… it’s the single issue you’re interested in?”

“Hmm,” said the man, gripping his chin with his thumb and forefinger. “Why, yes, I suppose I would. I want to feel like I really put the effort in. You know, be real passionate about at least the one thing.”

Moira rang the single-issue voter bell, grinning wide, and the whole line of customers cheered. “I have just the thing for you!”

She handed him the dessert menu, and his eyes almost immediately lit up.

“Yes, I see now! Sam Samson it must be! Thank you!”

It felt good to see the line moving again, as everyone deserved a turn. But still, she felt a pang of disappointment. What if he had been interested in more than just the one issue? What if he had been truly informed? Maybe she could have learned something from him.

The next guy rushed up to the counter and snapped her out of it. He had a five o’clock shadow and his eyes darted manically.

“Hello–”

“Tax cuts!” he said. “Just give me the tax cuts!”

“Um, okay sir. Are you a property owner?”

“No.”

“Do you own a business?”

“No.”

Moira pursed her lips. “Are you employed?”

“No.”

“Do you have children?”

“No.”

Moira drummed her fingers on the counter.

“Do you shop?

“No.” He ran his fingers through his hair. “Don’t have any money because of all the taxes – which, no, I don’t pay. Come on, there’s got to be something! I’m tired of everyone stealing from me.”

“Well, maybe,” Moira said. She reached for the cheese menu, but then grabbed the wine menu and he snatched it from her. His eyes skittered over the page and then stopped dead.

“Whoa whoa whoa,” he said, woodpeckering the menu with his finger. “What’s this?”

“That? It’s a tax rebate. Some candidates promise to return tax money if they get elected.”

“Oh, jackpot,” he said breathlessly. “Jen Jenson, you just got a vote. Thanks!”

Moira shrugged. The customer was always right, after all, though she wondered where the money would come from. The next person up at the counter was a woman not much older than she was. She was tall and squinted up at the panels behind Moira.

“Hello! Can I take your order?”

“Yeah,” she said, drawing it out. “I’ll have the Big Mac meal, with a Coke and an extra order of large fries on the side.”

“Oh, sorry, ma’am, we don’t sell that here. You’re looking for the restaurant just a block down the street.”

“Oh, cool. Thanks, dude.”

And so the day went for Moira, with a long, slow trickle of citizens doing their civic duty, more or less, and the occasional person looking to get their parking validated. By the time her shift ended at eleven PM she was thrilled to see Nina take her place, because she was utterly worn out. She hung up her apron with a limp arm and shuffled for the door.

And that’s when Ricky entered, holding a big soda cup. While her dress-code was casual-plus-apron, the people who worked at the Burger Autocrat across the street all wore crisp uniforms, polished jackboots, and of course an assortment of armbands.

“Heil, fellow wage slave,” he said.

“Hiya, Ricky.” He looked much too relaxed for a work day, and the constant sips from his straw grated on her, as management didn’t allow staff to drink on shift. She stifled a yawn. “Come to gloat?”

“I’m just saying,” he said, “elections are a lot easier when you decide the outcome first, and then do the busy work. It really is a better system.”

She shrugged. “I don’t know.” Then she closed her eyes and rolled her sore neck, and flexed her aching muscles, and for a moment was lost in the simple pleasure of a good stretch. When she opened her eyes, she saw the Burger Autocrat across the street was on fire.

“Ricky, your job is burning.”

“Hmm?” He turned, took a sip. “Ah, well. When it’s good, it’s really good. But people get really into it. And then when it’s bad…”

“They burn the house down.”

“Yeah. Oh well.” He turned back to her. “That’s a tomorrow problem. Say, you want to catch a bite?”

“Sure, why not,” Moira said.

“Did you vote?”

For just a moment her eyes widened. She looked back to the counter, where Nina was already swamped with the undulating customer line, and her shoulders fell. “Nah,” she said. “Too tired. Can’t even think straight to reason out a candidate.”

“Well, who do you feel like voting for?”

“Food.”

“Fair enough,” said Ricky.

He tossed his cup in the trash and helped her put her coat on, and then they left together, hand in hand.

November 15, 2022 22:41

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73 comments

19:56 Nov 17, 2022

This story should be required reading to be able to vote -- and it's the antidote for our midterm elections! You've summed up the entirety of the constipated political process:"That’s a tomorrow problem." THANK YOU for this. The bitter irony with humourous underpinnings was pitch-perfect. Love this.....................

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Michał Przywara
21:54 Nov 17, 2022

The beauty of tomorrow problems is you can just keep pushing them to tomorrow. Until you can't. But... that's a tomorrow problem :) Thanks for reading, Deidra! I struggled this week with a number of false starts, but I'm glad this came out all right. Also, "constipated political process" - what an evocative phrase :) Might have to borrow that one.

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22:43 Nov 17, 2022

My gift to you, O Master of the Insightful Commentary 👑

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16:17 Nov 25, 2022

YES ON THE SHORTLIST HUZZAH HUZZAH HUZZAH

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Lily Finch
04:43 Nov 17, 2022

- Best line “Listen, the crap you guys have here keeps giving me gas.” Great intro, “Welcome to McDemocracy’s. Can I take your order?” Moira asked, beaming at him. “I’m just saying,” he said, “elections are a lot easier when you decide the outcome first, and then do the busy work. It really is a better system.” Michał, You nailed it with this brilliant satire that is awesome! LF6

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Michał Przywara
21:39 Nov 17, 2022

Thanks Lily! I'm glad you enjoyed it :) It's not the kind of thing I normally write, but the prompt seems to call for it.

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Lily Finch
22:22 Nov 17, 2022

Yeah. That's talent when you can do that Michał - well done! I am a fan. LF6

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Amanda Lieser
16:54 Nov 30, 2022

Hey Michal! Congratulations on the shortlist! Of course you earned it, this one was brilliant! I loved how you made the names and how you created a universe that felt familiar and foreign at the same time. The use of Moira was wonderful as well, it’s a name I hadn’t heard much of before the TV show, and then my friend named her daughter that. I hope she doesn’t end up in the world you’ve created here, though. Nice job!

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Michał Przywara
22:37 Nov 30, 2022

Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it :) It was fun to write. We recently had a mayoral election here, and two (of the eleven) candidates had names similar enough that the media kept needing to remind people that they weren't actually the same person. I appreciate the feedback :)

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Kevin Broccoli
17:19 Nov 28, 2022

Michal, this is so different from other work I've read from you. It reminded me of a lot of great late 80's early 90's fiction as satire was trying to catch up with the fraught moment. I loved "elections are a lot easier when you decide the outcome first, and then do the busy work. It really is a better system.”

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Michał Przywara
21:42 Nov 28, 2022

Thanks, Kevin! Yeah, don't normally do political satires, though I do enjoy the occasional absurd. It was fun, if infuriating, to write :) I'm glad you enjoyed it, and I appreciate the feedback!

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Philip Ebuluofor
19:47 Nov 27, 2022

Congrats Michal.

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Michał Przywara
21:56 Nov 28, 2022

Thanks, Phillip! I'm glad you enjoyed it :)

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Philip Ebuluofor
14:48 Nov 29, 2022

My pleasure.

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Chris Campbell
07:24 Nov 27, 2022

Michal, This is a lesson on the old adage, "Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one." However, opinions only have weight when actioned - as in voting. Here in the land of Oz, voting is compulsory, with fines meted out to those that fail to vote." It's an effective way to realise what the people actually want. Over 90% of the population voted in the 2022 federal election, and most - like me, got the result wanted. The scumbag out and a much more down-to-earth leader in the driving seat. That aside, I found this piece to be quite funny an...

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Michał Przywara
21:58 Nov 28, 2022

Thanks, Chris! I'll gladly take any comparison to Monty Python :) That wasn't my aim, but I watched it a lot growing up and it's got to have some subconscious effect. Well, I'm not alone in that. Compulsory voting is a fascinating idea. I think here in Canada we have an issue with apathy (and strategically voting not for what you want, but rather against what you don't want - but that's a different issue) and I wonder if that might help solve the issue. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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Meet Antala
18:56 Nov 26, 2022

i love this, read two times as it became more interesting for me upon knowing the outcomes :)

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Michał Przywara
20:04 Nov 26, 2022

Thank you, Meet Antala! I'm glad you enjoyed it :) I like re-reading stories sometimes too, as there's often new details I might have missed the first time.

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Suma Jayachandar
04:14 Nov 26, 2022

Congratulations! Michal. This story commanded recognition.

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Michał Przywara
04:33 Nov 26, 2022

Thanks, Suma!

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Tommy Goround
02:24 Nov 26, 2022

Boom.

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Sophia Gardenia
22:57 Nov 25, 2022

“Heil, fellow wage slave” - LOL! This was funny! But also very worrisome. I love how McDemocracy's and Burger Autocrat are next to each other, paralleling reality. I do wonder, are the citizens really doing their civic duty? At least the citizens are coming to vote, but they don't seem super informed and treat the political process with a lot of seriousness(the one guy who does is frowned upon). A great extension for this story would be a feud between the two establishments; maybe they're both trying to attract customers and it gets reall...

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Michał Przywara
16:53 Nov 27, 2022

That's not a bad idea :) I suppose the two must be constantly competing, since it sure seems that way in real life. Thanks for the feedback, Sophia!

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Cindy Strube
18:43 Nov 25, 2022

👏🏻 Another well-deserved shortlist! Congratulations!

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Michał Przywara
21:34 Nov 25, 2022

Thank you, Cindy :)

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Anne Marie Miles
17:23 Nov 25, 2022

Woohoo, congratulations on the shortlist Michal! 🎉

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Michał Przywara
21:35 Nov 25, 2022

Thanks! A nice Friday surprise :)

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Laurel Hanson
16:48 Nov 25, 2022

Brilliant satire! "Moira preferred som meat on her promises" - so good.

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Michał Przywara
21:36 Nov 25, 2022

Thanks, Laurel! I'm glad you enjoyed it :)

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Mary Lehnert
16:38 Nov 25, 2022

Congrats on the short list, Michal. Well deserved.

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Michał Przywara
21:37 Nov 25, 2022

Thanks, Mary!

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Tommy Goround
14:57 Nov 25, 2022

clap'n

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Daniel Allen
13:02 Nov 25, 2022

Well... that was kinda depressing. But it was also a funny and brilliantly insightful look at the state of democracy. I see a lot of comments noting that this is very appropriate to US politics, and it certainly seems a lot like the situation here in the UK also. However, I do like that you introduced the idea of authoritarianism at the end, perhaps suggesting that no matter how wounded democracy may be, it's still better than the alternative.

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Michał Przywara
21:41 Nov 25, 2022

Yeah, from people's comments it sounds like it's broadly relatable, which yes, is depressing :) I'm not one for conspiracy theories, but it does seem like there's a global apathy or something. Maybe fatigue? I'm sure smarter people than me have already written volumes about it. Anyway, thanks for the feedback, Daniel!

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Kelsey H
09:10 Nov 22, 2022

This is funny and entertaining but also accurate, a great read. I loved the conversations with each different voter type, very recognizable! Also loved the person who just wanted an actual burger.

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Michał Przywara
21:39 Nov 22, 2022

Sometimes, all we want is just an actual burger :) Thanks for the feedback, Kelsey! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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Rebecca Miles
16:00 Nov 21, 2022

I'm not even American going through midterms and I agree with Deidra: required reading. The humour is razor sharp like your take on the prompt. The deadpan dialogue is pitch perfect; right from the off, this was comic perfection: "I see a lot of promises here, but I’m on a diet.” “Not to worry, ma’am,” Moira said. “They’re all empty. And your names, also so well chosen to stress the mind boggling lack of choice. Bravo with communist caps thrown in the air!

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Michał Przywara
21:38 Nov 21, 2022

Heh, thanks Rebecca :) Actually, the midterms were just a happy coincidence, but my main inspiration was a Canadian mayoral election. I guess some of this is universally applicable, which makes me sad :) I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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07:07 Nov 21, 2022

Great take on a challenging satire topic Michal! Nice to see you making a go at this genre this week. The McDonalds menu choices is a great metaphor to make this story work. I enjoyed the takes on pretty much every category of super strongly opinionated voter ahem.. hamburger customer. “more unease but less guilt”.. "more stability" "tax cuts" "single issue". As an aside, my dad was a lifetime civil servant. The government employees who actually get the work done seemed to view elected politicians as buffoons who don't know how anything wo...

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Michał Przywara
21:42 Nov 21, 2022

Thanks, Scott! That means a lot coming from you, as I've really enjoyed your satires. Commoditized democracy isn't great, but it's still better than what they're selling across the street :P Your dad's is a great observation. I've seen hints of that in the corporate world too. Maybe it's normal. It seems unreasonable to expect a "leader" to know the ins-and-outs of a whole organization - who has the time? Leading is letting people do their job, listening to their advice, and making decisions based on it. I guess we get into trouble when we ...

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10:18 Nov 22, 2022

Agree, at least we get to change our reality show guests every couple of years which limits their power to suddenly invade neighbors quite a bit;) But thinking about many western countries populations fascination with strong man leaders these days, made me think about how Machiavelli had interesting things to say about how in history countries go tend to go through a cycle between monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy,. Luckily the balance of powers has been working out well in the US & UK (and canada?) as how he described how the Roman empi...

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Aeris Walker
12:53 Nov 20, 2022

“Welcome to McDemocracy’s. Can I take your order?” There’s no way you can scroll past this line and not keep reading. I’m impressed at the subtly and humor in which you’ve delivered this whole commentary, and how you say a lot without actually *saying* it. A testament to your intelligence and skill. I’m so behind in my Reedsy reading, but working to catch up!! Best of luck this week!

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Michał Przywara
21:54 Nov 20, 2022

Thanks, Aeris! Yeah, that might have been the first line I came up with, and the rest of the story sprung from it. I'm very happy you found it humorous :) Thanks for the feedback!

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