Once upon a time, there was a small, quiet town of drab arrangement, whose people believed in Tranquility.
If you lived in this town, you understood what was expected of you. You knew your place, and if you should happen to forget, someone would remind you.
If you saw something you weren’t supposed to see, you looked the other way.
If, by chance, your hopes had been disappointed, you learned quickly never to ask for more.
Through the best and worst of times, the community held fast to the way of things as they always had been, scorning the possibility of change.
Until one winter day, when a playful breeze drifted in from the north…
The old pastry shop had been closed up for years, a few slats of wood shuttering the door and the letters faded above the awning. Credence had no memory of so much as a light gleaming through the windows, but now, suddenly, the glass panes were sparkling, rich purple drapes pulled back, and behind the window –
Modesty gasped and clutched his hand as they rounded the corner, echoing the sentiments of every other wide-eyed child playing on the sidewalk.
Credence and his eight year-old sister were as different as it was possible to be from the others, but no child, however strictly brought up, could be expected to resist a bounty of chocolate.
And what a bounty! – thick slabs of milk, white, dark chocolate, walnuts and pecans and candied fruits studding their surface like gems. Tiered chocolate cakes trimmed with chocolate roses. Bombes and nougats and truffles stood heaped in piles, sugar dusted or wrapped in shimmery foil. Fishes and lambs and birds molded from shining dark chocolate. Two fountains bubbled at each window corner, running thick with smooth ganache, while at the very center a little chocolate ballet dancer, her fluttering skirts made from wisps of spun sugar, actually turned slowly on a gold dusted music box.
His throat suddenly very dry, Credence tugged at Modesty’s arm in a futile attempt to draw her back towards the court house – Ma would be due from her visit with the Mayor at any moment, and any distraction was more of a risk than he was willing to take.
She whined in protest, breaking away and dashing down the sidewalk, clearly intent on joining the gaggle of little ones crowded round the window, their faces pressed hot and sticky to the glass.
It wasn’t clear if she stumbled, or slipped on the patch of melting snow near the doorway.
Credence didn’t attempt to fool himself though, as he scuttled after her, heart in his throat. She’d been pushed, of course – neither of the Barebone children were ever exactly popular with their school fellows.
Modesty’s knit stocking was torn at the knee, blood seeping through to stain the wool. Both brother and sister were pale, and Modesty began to whimper, half in pain and half in dread of what might be facing them later.
She didn’t have to worry so much, Credence thought to himself resignedly. It wasn’t as if Ma would blame her for the incident, she hardly ever did. And just as well, when he was taller and older and could take it…
“Oh no, ‘re you alright honey?” a pretty voice suddenly chirped anxiously overhead, and it took Credence less than a moment to realize that the pink satin heels beside them on the pavement certainly didn’t belong to any of the townspeople that his mother allowed them to associate with.
Modesty had been herded into the little shop before he could protest, and her skinned knee quickly hidden under a flesh colored bandage.
“Here, we’ll fold them up high so it won’t show –“ the satin-clad owner of this decadent wonderland was assuring the little girl, who sat sniffling on one of the gilded barstools by the glass display counter while her stocking was pulled back over the dressing.
“- I’ll bet they’ll be wearing them just like this in Paris next month.”
Her mouth pulled tight between her teeth, Modesty finally spoke, with her voice shy as a mouse’s.
The lady hissed in sympathy, before scurrying behind the counter, her honey-gold curls bouncing lightly with each step.
“Why don’t you try one of these, honey?” she offered, bringing over a china vase apparently full of pink rosebuds – but sugar glaze melted over Modesty’s fingertips when she tentatively poked at one petal.
“Strawberry roses, they’re your favorite.”
Credence would have liked to ask how she was so certain, but his sense of self-preservation remained firm.
“No, I – I’m sure it’s expensive, we can’t waste money –“
It might have been rude, but no all-too brief indulgence would be worth the punishment that would come when Ma made them submit to the nightly inspection, searching their clothes and sniffing their hair…
“It’s been nice to meet you, Miss…”
“It’s Miss Goldstein, but please, call me Bathsheba-!”
A stone dropped into Credence’s belly. Ma would kill him for certain, it was only a matter of how. His life wouldn’t be worth the thin gruel he lived on, after allowing the youngest member of the family anywhere near a… a… one of those people.
Ma’s names for them were nasty enough to leave a sour flavor under his tongue.
“E-excuse us, we – we have to –“ he mumbled, backing quickly out of the shop and pulling a protesting Modesty with him; quickly enough that they almost collided into a rotund man with a black mustache who seemed to be on the verge of stepping inside, his grey coveralls proclaiming him as an employee of the nearby canning factory.
“Oh- s-sorry, sir –“
They had rounded the corner by the time he crossed the threshold, hands in pockets, looking back over his shoulder in vague frustration and concern.
“Poor kids…” he muttered, to no one in particular. “I’ve seen kicked dogs with more life in them.”
“Well, it’s never easy being different.”
As if surprised to hear someone speaking to him, he turned and actually took in the sight of her for the first time. His jaw slackened, all thoughts of the Barebone family escaping like birds from an opened cage.
She would be the one to know, he concluded once normal thought process had returned. Femininity didn’t exist to the locals, not by any normal definition. She was as different from the flat-shoed, eye-averted women who hurried up and down the streets everyday as a sparrow from a bird of paradise.
If she noticed him staring too long, she didn’t give any sign of it – besides perhaps a lip-bitten smile.
“Like anything you see?”
He snapped free of the trance just in time to avoid embarrassing himself.
“I, um- sorry, I was, uh, I was just passin’, and – this, this was my grandma’s old place, just surprised to see someone fixed it up after so long –“
The new owner mewed sympathetically.
“Oh honey – I hope we haven’t, y’know –“
He jumped at the chance to reassure her.
“Nah, don’t get me wrong, I love it, it’s – God, it smells so good in here… gotta be better than smelling canned mushrooms all day, I guess…” he paused, suddenly realizing how bizarrely revolting that statement must have sounded, and blushed a vibrant red.
To his shock, she giggled helplessly without a hint of malice, and he managed to crack a smile in return.
“Uh, it’s Kowalski – Jacob Kowalski.” He rubbed at the back of his neck, his face warming, much more agreeably than before.
“Bat- wasn’t she a queen or somethin’?”
She noticed the teasing glint in his eye, and seemed to squirm in delight – a reaction that Jacob, to say the least, was not accustomed to inspiring in women, and particularly not one like this.
“Aren’t you the sweetest-! Cocoa with clotted cream, that’s what you want!”
A coffee mug seemingly full of melted chocolate and crowned with thick fluff was pushed into his hands before he could protest that he didn’t have the money for –
“Samples are on the house, honey.” Bathsheba nodded expectantly towards the cup, and after all, he decided, it was only polite, she was so… and it smelled so good…
He took a sip.
What he tasted, exactly, would be difficult to describe – though the heat wasn’t dissimilar to the sensations when Babci took the kołacz fresh from the stove pipe oven, flaky and stumpy in her crooked baking pan, the one she complained about because all the dough would pool on one side, but he liked best for the thicker pastry it produced, light and buttery and stuffed with cream cheese and rasins, and Babci would shake her head, laughing throatily, her starched petticoats rustling on the floorboards while Dziadzia scattered poppy seeds to the pigeons in their little coop outside the kitchen door…
Jacob glanced up from the steaming cocoa in a haze of half-forgotten delight.
“Jeez… I-I love it, gosh – how’d you know I’d-“
She grinned, squinting adorably, and avoiding his gaze. Her fingers played with a bit of gilded ribbon from the wrapping wheel.
“You’d never believe me if I told you.”
Credence had managed to put the little chocolate shop out of his mind for two weeks, until it seemed like one of those barely cognizant dreams he almost remembered when he woke up, fantasies that he was afraid to admit might be memories.
But like most of his worst transgressions, the return visit was for the sake of his sister.
He was certain she hadn’t meant to be obstinate, which was Ma’s word for it – she simply had a habit of disappearing into her own imagination at times and becoming insensate to the world around her, in a fashion that Credence envied terribly. But it meant she didn’t always come when called.
The blisters hadn’t faded yet from the soles of her feet (“Maybe it will remind you to step more quickly.” Ma had told her while she was pulling her shoes and socks back on, whimpering behind tight lips.) When one of them had burst the night before, she’d sat quite still on the sink counter, obviously struggling not to dissolve into tears of pain and risk waking their mother while Credence washed off the torn skin as best he could.
It was just past eight in the morning when he slipped through the glass paned front door and into the gilded display room; early enough to avoid being seen on the streets by anyone Ma might know. For all she preached against sloth and idleness, her crowd rarely got up before nine.
He snatched up the first foil-wrapped sweet he saw, with no time to be choosy or wonder if this or that would be better received. After nineteen years, he’d learned that particular luxury wasn’t afforded to people like him.
“Good morning.” a warm voice murmured behind his back, just as he stuffed his ill-gotten prize into his left pocket.
Credence spun around, assuming precisely the gaze of a hare when it stares down the barrel of a hunter’s gun, but the dark haired woman by the shelves didn’t seem threatening, only…
“Can I help you with anything?”
He swallowed with some difficulty; sweat beading on the back of his neck.
“Um, I – I was looking for Miss Goldstein – “
It was a hurried, flimsy lie, and his panic only increased when she replied with a calm smile.
“Bat’s in the kitchen – I’m the other Miss Goldstein. Call me Tina?”
He didn’t answer, only stood trembling in the middle of the black and white tiled floor and wondered if she’d give his mother suggestions for his punishment or let her deal with it by herself.
“You sure there’s nothing I can interest you in?” She walked over to the tray of gold wrapped candy, and Credence thought his heart might punch a hole straight through his chest.
“One of these maybe? It’s on me.”
“I- I can’t - “ he began, shaking, before fear seized him entirely and he ran back out the door and into the street.
Modesty didn’t smile when he slipped the truffle into her palm under the table at breakfast, but she leaned her head against his shoulder while he read her the usual nighttime bible story, and he supposed that was enough.
The trouble with small towns of course, was that word spread quickly. It was always the same; the sideways glances, the whispering.
Bathsheba had learned to ignore it, but just because the pain had been dulled hardly meant it wasn’t ready to flare back up at the first harsh word, or one of the leers that she had quickly become accustomed to as soon as she first sprouted some evidence of womanhood.
To the minds of most men, Jewish girls were fair game.
Her heels clicked rapidly on the pavement, her mother’s shopping basket clutched in front of her like a shield, and she was on the verge of throwing caution to the winds and getting home the quick way, secrecy be darned. Her resolve barely held up until she was across the street from the shop front, when a soft noise crept from one of the nearby alleys.
She’d forgotten what good hiding places they were. Empty crates and garbage cans forming a sort of playground, if you didn’t mind the smell, and they could become a decent wall to keep you safe from whoever you were desperate to avoid.
The little girl – the little blonde girl with the grey dress and skinned knee – was huddled behind a stack of moldering newspapers. She had knotted a few scraps of stained cloth around a stick, and occasionally twirled it with her fingers, upright on the pavement like a top, so that the rags flared out like a rather dirty, threadbare skirt.
She was so engrossed by the pitiful little toy that Bathsheba’s arrival went unnoticed, until she had crouched down beside her in the alley.
“ Hi…” She murmured carefully.
The child startled, before scrambling to her feet, every speck of color fading from her tiny, pinched face.
“Isn’t it cold out here?” Bathsheba tried, noticing her blue fingers with some concern. There was still no reply, only wide, almost terrified eyes.
“Why don’t I make us some tea to warm up? And this morning’s cookies should be cool enough to eat by now –“ She nodded towards the end of the alleyway, were the storefront was just visible between two grey brick walls, but a muffled whimper interrupted her.
“M-Ma says I’m not allowed.” The little girl mumbled, the sheaves of paper clutched in her freezing hands crinkling as she tightened her grip. Flyers, Bathsheba realized belatedly, as she twisted her neck to try and read the upside down letters.
Horribly familiar words jumped out at her – disguise, depravity, parasite upon civilization – and she swallowed with difficulty.
Evidently the child’s mother, whoever she was, hadn’t wasted time making sure the community was alerted.
“Oh… alright then.”
She rose, turning to leave and wishing with all her considerable might that the ground would open and devour her whole, when the girl chirped behind her suddenly.
“But – she didn’t say I couldn’t come for just a little while…”
The invisible grip around Bathsheba’s throat seemed to ease slightly, and the two shared a gentle smile.
After several days of waiting for the skinny boy with fragile eyes to reappear, Tina’s patience finally ran dry.
While she was able to get a name from a general description, the shop’s slowly growing clientele proved rather unhelpful otherwise.
“The Barebones? They keep themselves to themselves…”
“-the mother came from Massachusetts, I heard –“
“- good Christians –“
Tina remained ill at ease. Credence – if that was his name – hadn’t seemed the type to become light fingered on impulse, and the pure fear she’d seen on his face when she’d nearly caught him out provided further cause for concern. Young men didn’t become terrified when discovered in the middle of wrong-doing, however petty – they got embarrassed or attempted to sweet-talk her to hide their embarrassment.
It was six in the evening when she found herself in front of the modest townhouse, an orange syrup truffle in her coat pocket, and considered if she might simply be making things worse. Still, it was too late to turn back now.
Bat said that was her excuse for every impulsive scheme, and perhaps she was right.
Bypassing the front door on a gut feeling, she eventually found a small service entrance surrounded with dead ivy and knocked carefully. Something shifted behind the smeary windows, before the door creaked open excruciatingly, revealing a boy’s too thin face.
He didn’t meet her eyes, staring at the smooth gravel under her blue leather pumps. A muscle twitched unpleasantly in his cheek.
“W-what d’you want?”
“It’s Credence isn’t it?” she pressed gingerly, not wishing to spook him any further.
He didn’t reply immediately, every inch of his body obviously on high alert.
“You – you can’t be here.”
“I thought I’d bring this over, after you forgot it yesterday.” She continued, as if he hadn’t spoken, offering the gold-wrapped candy with her fingertips.
“Why don’t you give it a taste, tell me if you think it needs more orange rind?”
He swallowed with difficulty, and his gaze finally met her own.
“…Why are you here?” he all-but whimpered.
All of Tina’s worst suspicions were confirmed with that frightened little question, and how clearly the boy seemed to consider kindness a foreign concept.
“You looked like you needed a friend.”
She gently placed the truffle on his palm – noting the white scar tissue with a surge of nausea - and curled his fingers around it.
“Come by whenever you feel ready. We’ll keep our door open.”
Tina walked away slowly, hands in her coat pockets, but if she had remained a moment longer she might have seen the boy raise the chocolate to his mouth and breathe in the scent like a heady perfume.
With another enormous bite that she would have been pinched for at home, thick ganache seeped from the little choux swan and formed rivers around Modesty’s thin lips.
One visit had turned into three, then six, until she’d lost the look of a wax doll and finally began to smile and turn pink like a little girl.
Jacob shot her a grin from across the counter as he piped in the last of the filling, and dusted powdered sugar over the flakey golden pastry, pulled upright to resemble wings.
Queenie (she’d bitten her lip and glowed when he’d first dubbed her that, and it had caught on ever since) had offered him the baking position on his second arrival at the shop. While he’d certainly jumped at the opportunity to toss Cotswald’s Canned Foods to the curb in exchange for pursuing a lifelong passion, Jacob would have been lying if the chance to see her every day, fluttering around the copper molds and pots with her satin heels and bouncing honey-colored ringlets like some kind of confectionary butterfly… well, that was what they called a perk of the job. One that paid dividends, as it turned out - his face still turned hot and something wriggled in his chest when he remembered how she’d bussed him sweetly on the cheek that first time, while he was frosting the creme buche.
The temptation to never wash away her lipstick mark had been strong.
Mo had agreed with an eager nod to work for job satisfaction as Jacob’s pastry sampler, and stuffing her with cakes and cookies became a highlight of his day. Her twisted excuse for a mother didn’t seem to mind or even notice as long as those disgusting pamphlets never came home with her, and Jacob was happy to make certain they went to a place they’d certainly be appreciated; specifically, fueling the hotplates on the stove.
He’d genuinely believed all that sort of thing would have died out after the war, but apparently evil never died - it only found a rock to crawl under.
The vitriol and fear mongering had brought back a few less than pleasant memories, ugly names being hurled by the blond, blue-eyed kids from the boarding schools in Warsaw.
With wide-eyed innocence, Mo had asked him in the early days if he was a polack, “like Ma said,” and he’d replied, a rock in his gut, that he preferred to be called Mr. Kowalski. That was easy enough for a seven year old to accept.
The war wasn’t something the Goldsteins talked about, but he assumed that they’d been some of the luckier ones, like he and his grandparents - the ones who managed to get out early, when it had become fairly obvious what was going to happen. Even so, they never talked about the all the photographs of a kind-looking man and woman with their arms around two little girls, so… perhaps not so lucky, after all.
There were days, of course, when Jacob would have liked to march down to that cold looking house and give Mary-Lou Barebone a piping hot piece of his mind, but what good would it do, with her feet well and truly under the mayor’s table…
“Gimme a hand, honey?” a familiar candy-sweet voice interrupted his rumination, while Queenie balanced precariously on the little wooden step stool, placing the finishing touches inside the window display.
Sighing, Jacob planted a foot on the lowest level, putting a stop to the constant teetering.
“Wish you wouldn’t climb that thing in those shoes, Angel, it’s askin’ for trouble.”
“You can’t ask a fish not to swim.” Tina called from the corner, prompting a giggle from Modesty.
She slid off the miles-high counter stool to land neatly on her stocking-feet - those hateful too-tight shoes tossed beside the door like rubbish - and trotted over to the enormous picture window, where Miss Queenie was setting out the last of a family of little white chocolate goslings. Their mother sat at the center of the gaggle on her nest of sugar wafers, warming a bakers’ dozen of creme-filled eggs tightly wrapped in gold and silver paper.
“I thought maybe a pirate ship next week? With mermaids sunning on rocks?” Miss Queenie chirped, flashing a grin over one of her bare shoulders, and Modesty responded with a silent but eager nod.
The sisters had taken to reading aloud in turns from a big leather-bound book during the two hours set aside for resting in the afternoon. Work breaks were an alien concept where Modesty was concerned, right alongside eating in the middle of the day, and while they wouldn’t let her see the pictures for some reason (“You wanna try explaining that, be my guest.” Miss Tina had hissed to her sister when she thought Mo wasn’t listening) the story was exciting enough on it’s own; buried treasure and sailing ships, and a man who could turn into a parrot, which Mr. Kowalski had explained was a kind of big, colorful bird that could talk. She’d smirked when he said it - as if anyone could believe that.
Miss Queenie was handed down from the stool like a princess from a coach, or at least that was how Modesty imagined they’d look in the stories she’d been told over the past few weeks, between customers. Fluffy crinolines rustled under a flower printed sundress, and Mr. Kowalski even pecked her hand with a featherlight kiss, which made her laugh and flick his nose playfully.
“Don’t go charmin’ me now, I gotta start the filling for the nougat frogs!”
Modesty had been on the verge of following her when she trotted towards the kitchen, but a shadow abruptly cut through the warm sunlight pouring into the shop through the open door, and she went numb.
She’d forgotten. It was the first of the month, and that meant Ma would be going to the Christian Family League down the street… A buzzing noise filled her head like flies, and she wondered if seeing spots meant you were going to faint.
“Modesty…” Ma sighed, in that strange tone of voice, as if she were disappointed. Maybe it was true, she always seemed so surprised when her daughter was disobedient. Unlike the other one.
The room was very quiet, until Tina spoke.
“We’re the ones the blame, obviously. Call it whatever you like - corruption by cocoa?”
“And next week it will be the Talmud, am I right?” Mrs. Barebone replied calmly. “Unfortunate - I thought you people would have learned your lesson fifteen years ago.”
Queenie gasped, her eyes flooding with tears, and Tina fought the urge to charge with her fingernails outstretched.
“Have we broken any laws?” she asked instead, her teeth gritted. “Are we hurting anyone?”
“I’ve only informed this community of the truth, which they deserve to know. They were warned about the danger to their children; I suppose the proof is in front of me, thank Jesus I arrived in time. As for you and your cocoa, this place will be closed down within a month and you can slither back to whatever filthy hovel you crawled out of. Modesty, come with me.”
“I… I don’t want to, Ma.” she whispered, and something like pride cut through Tina’s fury, for those tiny words that would have been unspectacular to anyone else but for that one child, must have carried the weight of the earth.
“Now.” Mrs. Barebone never raised her voice once, and somehow it was worse than if she were screaming.
Her chin wobbling, Modesty crossed the tiled floor in slump-shouldered defeat, whimpering quietly as her mother seized the back of her collar and led her back into the street, not even sparing her the time to pick up her shoes from the doorway.
“Are you really proud’a yourself?!” Jacob finally shouted after her, woken from his shocked daze. “You really think that’s what’s good for her?!”
Mrs. Barebone turned her head, flashing an icy stare.
“I don’t believe that’s for a polack to decide, and certainly not two k-“
He slammed the door shut before she could finish.
Queenie was trembling by the kitchen door, still crying silently ever since that first, unforgivable statement. Finally she ran for the staircase to the apartment above, a few choking sobs managing to escape. Her sister followed after a moment, more slowly, her own eyes wet.
Jacob was left standing unhappily at the center of the shop, watching the chandelier sway gently, and wanting nothing more than to dash after his honey-sweet girl and kiss the tears away. Something, however, told him this was a moment when they needed each other first, which he had no right to disturb.
He’d begun twisting the corner of his apron, trying not to eavesdrop on the soft voices drifting down through the thin ceiling plaster, when someone knocked a bit frantically on the shuttered door.
With painful hesitance, Jacob pulled back the latch and opened the door a crack, only to find a gangly man about his own age, ruddy-haired and covered in freckles, and clutching what appeared to be, after a double take, a small green turtle.
“So sorry to bother you, but he’s stopped eating his cornmeal - I think he has a cold - and the grocer’s shut up; could you spare some fruit or berries, it might tempt him-“
“Oh, uh - sure, sure, uh, apples ok?” Jacob stammered, allowing the stranger and his… companion inside, and hoping the girls wouldn’t be too irritated with his allowing a reptile on the premises.
“Absolutely, provided the seeds are removed - cyanide, you know.”
Nodding, a bit wide-eyed, he cored one of the left-over fruits from that morning’s chocolate apple tarts and began dicing it, watching the new arrival stroking the turtle’s shell and muttering concernedly to it.
“We’ll have you right as rain in a jiffy, Pick, but first thing’s first, you have to get something down you - now don’t give me that look, we both know this is because of last Wednesday, isn’t it?-“
“I, um -“ Jacob interrupted, somewhat hesitantly. “I hope I cut ‘em up small enough, can I… can I get you anythin’, mister…?”
“Oh, no… thank you…” He accepted the saucer of apple bits with a quick nod and offered them to the strangely petulant looking turtle, before seeming to realize that a query had been left unanswered.
“Oh, call me Newt.”
It was just a little after midnight when something shattered downstairs, something made of glass, and woke Tina up with an unpleasant start.
Queenie mumbled discontentedly as she was shaken out of a restless sleep, but pulled herself into consciousness when her sister began to creep down to the shop floor, clutching a slender length of oak as if it were an extension of her arm - and after so many years, it almost was.
The offending article turned out to be a loose cobblestone, and for a moment Tina’s heart jumped into her mouth - but there were no threats tied on with box string, no epithets painted on the side. In fact, it appeared only to have been thrown through the door window, to allow a pair of too-thin, shivering figures to reach the doorknob and stumble inside.
Modesty was clutching at Credence like a lifeline, her pale blonde hair spilling ghost-like onto the shoulders of her coarse linen nightgown, and Queenie barely managed to stifle a horrified cry when she noticed the bloody footprints being left in the child’s wake.
“Sh-she tried to stop him taking me, but we pushed her into the bedroom an’ locked her door- she started yelling again, so I blocked the keyhole up with newspaper -“ she was babbling a little hysterically, one odd situation arising in her story after another.
Her brother just mumbled beside her, his head beginning to sag.
“-and then - and then - she was so mad, I - so I pulled the belt out of her hands and tossed it in the fireplace, but that just made her -“
Credence finally crumpled to the floor, moaning, just as Tina hesitantly touched his shoulder, and Modesty cut off her frantic ramble with a piercing scream.
“Bat- just get her upstairs - go-“ Tina ordered, tugging him upright to lean on her shoulder, and fighting back lightheadedness when the hand that had been bracing his shoulders came away bloodstained.
Queenie already had Modesty - still wide-eyed and shrieking - wrapped up in her own wadded robe, and carried her up to their bedroom.
It wasn’t until they had washed the lashes on his back - several bruises carrying the unmistakeable outline of a belt buckle - and tucked him in beside his sister, now quieted by a drugged sleep, that Credence finally spoke.
“She doesn’t mean to lie,” he whispered softly, while Tina petted his hair back. “I think… I think sometimes she chooses to forget what really happened.”