Fleur O’Farrell felt foolish. She was standing in front of the wardrobe in her bedroom, regarding her reflection in the mirror. Fleur normally took real pride in her appearance – but this afternoon she was wearing a floral print skirt over flouncy petticoats, a cherry-red cummerbund, and a low-cut blouse. Her feet were bare, a silk shawl was slung around her shoulders, and great gilt hoops dangled from her earlobes. The crowning glory was the wig – an Esmeralda-style confection of synthetic black curls. She looked like a chorus member from a second-rate production of Carmen.
Her friend, Río Kinsella, had talked her in to playing the fortune-teller at the annual Lissamore village festival. Río usually took on the role herself, but this summer she was up to her tonsils in work, and had not a moment to spare. So Río had furnished Fleur with the gypsy costume, as well as a crystal ball, a chenille tablecloth and a manual called Six Lessons in Crystal Gazing. The flyleaf told Fleur that these words of wisdom had been published in 1928.
Turning away from the mirror, Fleur reached for the dog-eared booklet. The cover featured a bug-eyed gal transfixed by a crystal ball, and the blurb went: ‘Are you lacking in self-confidence, unemployed or discouraged? Are you prepared for the future, or blindly groping in the darkness? Do you wish for health, happiness and success?’
Evidently not a lot had changed in the world since 1928. People were still asking the same questions, and still entertaining the same hopes and ambitions. Nowadays, however, instead of using crystal gazing as a means of self-help, people were unrolling yoga mats and sticking Hopi candles in their ears to assist them in their navel gazing. Much the same thing, Fleur supposed. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose …
A blast of hip hop drew her to the open window. A youth was lazily patrolling the main street of the village, posing behind the steering wheel of his soft-top and checking out the talent. Being high season, there was a lot on display. Girls decked out in Roxy, Miss Sixty, and Diesel promenaded the footpaths and lounged against the sea wall, hooked up to their iPods, gossiping on their phones or browsing on their BlackBerries. Beautiful girls with gym-toned figures and sprayed-on tans and GHD hair, sporting must-have designer eyewear and designer bags to match. High-maintenance girls, whose daddies footed the department-store bills and whose mummies stole their style. Girls who did not know what the word ‘recession’ meant.
Lissamore was not usually host to such quantities of deluxe jeunesse dorée. The village was, rather, a playground for their parents, a place where those jaded denizens of Dublin 4 came to unwind for a month in the summer and a week at Christmas. Once the yearned-for eighteenth birthdays arrived, the princelings and princesses tended to migrate to hipper locations in Europe or America.
But this summer, because a major motion picture was being made in the countryside surrounding Lissamore, the village had become a must-visit zone. Wannabe film stars had descended in their droves after an article in a national newspaper had mentioned that extras were being recruited for The O’Hara Affair – a movie based on the back story of Gerard O’Hara, father to Scarlett of Gone with the Wind. An additional allure was the fact that the movie starred Shane Byrne, a local hero and Ireland’s answer to Johnny Depp.
The film was good news for the village during such a time of blanket economic gloom. Locals who had been made redundant since the collapse of the construction industry were being employed as carpenters and sparks and painters, hitherto jobless youngsters had been taken on as runners, and an ailing catering company had been given a new lease of life. Fleur’s shop had been honoured with several visits by the film’s leading lady, Río had charmed herself into being offered a gig as a set-dresser, and even Fleur’s lover, Corban, was involved – albeit it at a remove. He was an executive producer on The O’Hara Affair, and, while his artistic contribution to the film was negligible, his money talked. Because he had part financed the production, he, too, was due a credit.
‘Did he text back yet?’ It was a girl’s voice – a typical princess, to judge by the accent.
‘No,’ came the morose reply.
Craning her neck a little, Fleur looked down to see two girls sitting on the windowsill of her shop, Fleurissima, below. The girl with the D4 drawl she recognized – she had been in and out of the shop half a dozen times in the past fortnight, helping herself to pricey little wisps of silk and tulle paid for by Daddy’s gold Amex.
‘Did you put a question mark at the end of your last message?’
‘Shit. That means you can’t text him again, Emily. Like, the ball’s in his court now.’
‘I know. I should never have put the stupid question mark. He’s ignoring me, the bastard.’
‘How many Xs did you put?’
‘Three. But two of them were lower case.’
‘Ow. Three’s a bit heavy. I’d only put two lower case ones next time.’
‘If there is a next time. There was a comment from that Australian girl on his Facebook this morning.’
Fleur felt like leaning out of the window and calling down: ‘Just pick up the phone and talk to him!’ But she knew that the rules laid down by mobile phone etiquette meant that picking up a phone was not an option. Fleur couldn’t understand how kids nowadays coped with the uncertainty, the insecurity, the emotional turbulence generated by the text messaging phenomenon. It must be a kind of enforced purgatory, sending texts toing and froing through the ether – like playing ping-pong in slow motion.
But Fleur was as in thrall to her phone as the girls on the street below, she realized, because when her text alert sounded she automatically reached for her nifty little Nokia. Accessing the message, she saw that it was from her niece, Daisy. The text read: Hey, Flirty! On my way now with cake & wine J XXX
Because Fleur’s middle initial was T for Thérèse, Daisy had come up with the nickname ‘Flirty’ for her. Fleur loved it: it sounded so much more youthful and fun than ‘Aunt Fleur’, which was what her nephew called her.
Cake & wine sounds good, she texted back, adding ♥ for good measure.
Cake and wine did sound good. Especially wine. It had been busy in the shop today: Fleur’s jaw was aching from all the smiling she’d been doing, and her feet were killing her. Her boutique, Fleurissima, specialized in non-mainstream labels sourced from all over Europe: from evening chic to skinny jeans, from beachwear to accessories, all Fleur’s stock was hand-picked and exclusive to her – and none of it was cheap. From October, when the tourist trade dropped off and the summer residences were boarded up, Fleur hibernated, opening the shop only at weekends. After today, when two overdue deliveries had arrived at the same time, Fleur was looking forward to hibernating already. She reached up a hand to pull off her gypsy wig, then decided against it. It would give Daisy something to laugh at, and she loved to hear her niece laugh.
Tossing her shawl on the bed, Fleur negotiated the spiral staircase that led down to her living area. Since the demise of her little dog Babette, Fleur had taken the brave step of redecorating. She had painted the walls in Farrow & Ball Wimborne White, had the floorboards sanded and lime washed, and her furniture reupholstered in pale damask. Cobwebby lace was draped around the windows, a pair of alabaster angels stood sentinel on either side of the fireplace, and a chandelier scintillated overhead. All eight of her dining chairs were overlaid with nubbly linen slip covers, and her chaise longue was piled with tasselled white cushions. Fleur’s room was all white for a reason. She had sworn that she would never get another dog, because the pain she felt when Babette had died had been so unendurable she never wanted to go through anything like it again. And what better way to resist the allure of that puppy in the pet shop window or the sad eyes of a rescue dog in an ISPCA ad than by creating a pristine environment – one that would not welcome muddy paws or moulting hairs.
The only splashes of colour in the living space were courtesy of the artwork on the walls – much of which was by Río. Most of Río’s paintings were seascapes in vibrant oils, but the one that stood out was a portrait that had been painted some twenty years earlier. It depicted Fleur sitting back in her chair at the end of her long dining table, a glass of Bordeaux in front of her, a Gauloise between elegant fingers (she had stopped smoking two years later, and still missed it sometimes). Her hair was twisted into in a loose chignon, and she was toying idly with a tendril that had escaped. Her attention was focused on someone to her right, someone with whom she was clearly rather coquettishly engaged. In truth, the painting depicted Fleur in full-on flirtatious mode, one eyebrow raised like a circumflex, mouth in a provocative pout, eyes agleam with intention. Fleur loved it.
Moving into the kitchen – where the aroma of last night’s ragout still lingered – Fleur set a tray with plates, napkins, glasses and a wine cooler. She was just about to carry it through to the deck, when the door bell rang. ‘Come on up, Daisy-Belle,’ she purred into the intercom. ‘I’m on the deck.’
Fleur’s deck overlooked the Lissamore marina, and was perfect for spying on the comings and goings of boats and boatmen. Corban had a pleasure craft berthed there, but so far this summer he’d had few opportunities to use it, as he’d been stuck in Dublin on business. When Río had asked Fleur to describe her lover, Fleur had laughingly called him her very own Mr Big.
Corban was the latest in a fairly long line of amours: Fleur was most certainly not the marrying kind. She’d tried it once when, aged nineteen, she had fallen in love with a beautiful Irish boy who was studying at the Sorbonne in Paris. Fleur remembered that epoch only dimly, as one might remember scenes from an art house movie viewed long ago through rose-tinted glasses: picnic lunches by the Seine, reading the poems of Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath in translation; strolls through the narrow winding streets of the Latin Quarter; rough wine and rougher cigarettes in cheap café bars; stolen hours in his bed when the concierge was napping; visit after visit to museums and galleries, and hour after hour of gazing into each others’ eyes, slack with desire and limp with adoration. And when Tom asked her to come with him to Ireland, she had said – breathless as Molly Bloom – ‘Yes, yes! I will, yes!’
They had married in the registry office in Dublin, and for a year she was pleased to receive letters as Mrs Thomas O’Farrell. Thereafter, following her separation and subsequent divorce, she trashed any correspondence addressed to ‘Mrs Thomas’, ‘Mrs Tom’ or ‘Mrs T’ O’Farrell’. She would never be ‘Mrs Tom, Dick or Harry’ for any man. She was Fleur – Fleur Thérèse Odette O’Farrell (she’d retained the ‘O’Farrell’ because no one in Ireland could pronounce her real surname, which was de Saint-Euverte). And Tom? Tom had gone off to Canada with a Mountie. She hadn’t seen him since.
‘Hello! What in God’s name are you wearing?’ Fleur turned to see Daisy framed in the French windows, regarding her with a curious expression.
‘It’s my outfit for the village festival. Ta-ra!’ Fleur held her skirts out and attempted a Flamenco-style twirl. ‘I am the fortune-teller. What do you think? Smoking, ain’t it?’
‘Mystic Meg, eat your heart out,’ replied Daisy, strolling across to the table and dumping a carrier bag on it. ‘Let me take a photograph.’ Holding up her iPhone, she adopted the exaggerated stance of a pro photographer, and segued into the usual clichéd directive: Lovely! Chin a little higher! Drop your shoulder!
Click, click, click went Daisy’s camera, while Fleur twirled some more and hummed a little Bizet, and then Daisy slid her phone back into her bag and kissed her aunt on the cheek. ‘How did you get roped into being the fortune-teller?’ she asked. ‘I thought that was normally Río’s gig.’
‘I’ll tell you later. I want to hear all your news first. Sit down and give me the wine and the cake.’ Daisy took a bottle of wine and a cake-box from the carrier bag, and Fleur reached for the corkscrew. ‘Have you seen sense and ditched that bad boy?’ she asked, stripping foil from the neck of the bottle.
‘Yes. You’ll be glad to know the bad boy’s ancient history, Flirty. But I’ve got some even better news.’
‘Oh? What’s that?’
‘You have landed a new contract?’
‘You’ve been asked to be a judge on Ireland’s Next Top Model?’
‘Yes, I have actually. But that’s not the good news.’
‘You have a photo-shoot with Testino.’
‘In my dreams.’
Fleur poured wine into the glasses and handed one to Daisy. ‘A Vogue cover?’
‘OK. I give up,’ said Fleur.
‘That’s it! That’s exactly what I’ve done!’
‘What are you talking about?’
‘I’ve given up modelling.’
Fleur set her glass down. ‘I am guessing this isn’t a joke.’
‘No joke. This is real, I promise.’
‘But why, Daisy?’
‘I’ve fallen out of love with it. It’s that simple. I’m going to Africa to do voluntary work.’
Fleur took a sip of wine, and gave her niece a look of assessment. It was clear from Daisy’s expression that she was resolute. Daisy was a Capricorn, and once a Capricorn decides upon a course of action, Fleur knew, there was no turning back.
‘Well. Good for you. Was it a tough decision?’
Daisy shook her head. ‘No. My agent asked if I needed twenty-four hours to think about it, and I said “Yes …” and then “No!” practically simultaneously. I really didn’t need to think twice. I’ve been miserable in this job for a long time.’
‘You’ve only been modelling for two years,’ Fleur pointed out.
‘Well, I’ve been miserable for a whole year of those two, and that’s a long time to be miserable. I was never cut out to be a model.’
‘You are a brave girl.’
‘No, I’m not. I’m just doing what I’ve always wanted to do, and that’s make a difference. You’ve no idea what it’s like to be surrounded by size zero girlies moaning about putting on half a kilo when there are people all over the world starving.’
‘Won’t you miss your celebrity status, beauty?’
‘Nope. I’d rather be famous for having a real talent like singing or dancing or painting. Being famous for being a model is just embarrassing.’ Daisy cut two slabs of chocolate sponge and plonked them on to plates. ‘Ha! Bye bye, stupid diet. Bring on the calories.’
‘What made you decide on Africa?’ asked Fleur.
‘A friend who’s over there told me I had to come out. She’s recruited a whole bunch of people via Facebook.’
‘Yep. I’ve been in touch with everyone else who’s going, and they’re all really sound. Facebook’s brilliant for networking. Have you joined up yet, Flirty?’
‘I keep meaning to, but I’ve been so busy lately. Perhaps I will get around to it in the winter, when things have calmed down.’
‘Things will be hotting up for me this winter. I’ll be working in a township in KwaZulu-Natal, building a school.’
‘Actually physically building?’
‘Yeah. My mate says that she’s completely knackered at the end of every day, but that she’s never felt better in her life.’
‘Well. I am full of admiration – and not a little jealous. I would have loved to have had an opportunity to do something like that when I was your age. When are you off?’
‘No! So soon?’
‘Someone dropped out, so I got in like Flynn. If I hadn’t got a place on this trip, I’d be waiting another six months.’
‘Well, bon voyage!’ Fleur raised her glass in a toast. ‘Here’s to Africa!’
‘And here’s to you, Mystic Meg!’ Daisy took a sip of wine, then gave Fleur a look of appraisal. ‘One question. How are you going to do it?’
‘Río lent me a crystal ball.’
Daisy raised a cynical eyebrow. ‘A crystal ball? Does it work?’
‘But of course! I looked into it earlier and it told me that at half-past seven this evening I would be drinking Sancerre and feasting on gâteaux with my niece. And presto! How uncanny is that? It is now seven-thirty and that is exactly what I’m doing.’
‘So presumably you’re just going to gaze into the ball and come out with mumbo-jumbo stuff about travelling over water and meeting tall dark strangers?’
‘I guess so. I haven’t really thought about it. Río gave me an instruction manual, but it’s pretty useless.’
‘How does Río usually do it?’
‘She improvises – she’s brilliant at it. She has such intuitive flair.’
‘I hate to say this, Flirty, but you’re not very good at improvising.’
Fleur shrugged. ‘I’ll just have to try. Río says she raised nearly four hundred euros last year, and Corban has agreed to double the sum I take in. And all the money raised is going to the Hospice Foundation.’
‘But if word gets out that you’re rubbish, no one will want to know.’
Fleur looked put out. ‘It’s only five euros a go, Daisy. And it’s for charity.’
‘Flirty – if you’re not worth it, people are going to spend their five euros on the tombola instead. If you want to double your money, you’re going to have to dream up some way of impressing the punters.’
‘But I can’t be expected to read people’s fortunes, Daisy! That is madness!’
‘Of course it’s madness. But …’ Daisy narrowed her eyes and gave Fleur the benefit of her best sphinx-like smile ‘… but I’m having quite a good idea. Where’s your crystal ball?’
‘OK.’ Fleur got to her feet and eased into a stretch. ‘Ow. I’ll get out of this costume while I’m up there. If I don’t take off the cummerbund I’ll have no room for your cake.’
‘Why did you lace it so tight?’
‘Vanity, of course.’
Upstairs, Fleur doffed her fancy dress and got into lounging pyjamas. On reflection, she decided she was glad that Daisy had decided to quit her modelling career. She knew that her elder brother, François, was uncomfortable with the notion of his daughter being caught up in such a superficial milieu. Being the father of an only daughter, François was a staunch protector of his pride and joy, and had reared her quite strictly, as is the manner of French fathers. Fleur remembered how François had been sent by her own father to rescue her when she had run off to Dublin. The ironic thing was that her brother, too, had fallen in love with Ireland – more specifically, with a Galway girl – and both siblings had stayed, building businesses on the west coast. Fleur had her boutique in Lissamore, and François had his – a fishing tackle shop – in nearby Galway. Fleur was glad she had family so close: although she and her brother were chalk and cheese (François was into hunting, shooting and fishing in a big way), she was mad about her beautiful niece, whom she treated as her surrogate daughter.
Her phone alerted her to a message: Daisy had forwarded the picture she had taken earlier. Ooh la la – it was quite fun! Her gypsy skirts were all a-twirl around her thighs, the cinched-in waist enhanced her curves, and she was smiling directly to camera. She’d forward it to Corban, for a joke. She composed the caption: Gypsy Rose Lee will tell your fortune for a modest remuneration, then pressed Send. By the time she’d got back downstairs with the crystal ball and Six Lessons in Crystal Gazing, Daisy was checking something out on her iPhone.
‘My idea is inspired, Flirty. Have a look at this.’
‘What is it?’
‘It’s my Facebook profile.’
‘Wow. You have so many friends,’ said Fleur, looking over Daisy’s shoulder. ‘But what has this to do with your inspired idea?’
Aiming the cursar at ‘Status’ on the top of her profile page, Daisy typed in, ‘Anyone in the Coolnamara region this weekend? Check out the fortune-teller at the festival in Lissamore. She rocks!’
Fleur gave her niece a sceptical look. ‘Daisy – that’s just inviting disaster!’
‘No, it’s not. Because this is what you are going to do. Watch this.’
Daisy clicked on a name, and another profile appeared on the screen. The person in question was a pretty girl called Sofia. As Daisy scrolled down, Fleur learned that Sofia’s birthday was on the second of October: she was a Libra. Her relationship status was single, she was interested in men. A click told Fleur that Sofia’s favourite movies included Mamma Mia and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, her favourite book was The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, she had a brown belt in karate, and she made excellent pasta because her mother was Italian. Her photo album included shots of herself standing against a variety of landmarks: the Sydney Opera House, the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum. Remarks that had been posted on her wall read: ‘See you when you get back from Coolnamara – Club M, Friday week?’ ‘Hmm … I hear you met a cutie in Paris!’ ‘You saw Cheryl Cole in Top Shop? Awesome!’
‘This is most illuminating, my dear,’ said Fleur. ‘But why should you want to share with me the information that one of your friends met a cutie in Paris and has a brown belt in karate?’
‘I know for a fact that she’s in Lissamore this weekend.’
‘So, picture this. She’s messing about on Facebook. She learns that there’s a shit-hot fortune-teller at the festival, and decides to investigate. Put yourself in her shoes.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Pretend you’re Sofia.’
Fleur gave Daisy a bemused look, then shrugged and said: ‘OK. I’m Sofia.’
‘Welcome, Sofia!’ said Daisy, doing a kind of salaam and adopting a mysterious expression. Gazing into the crystal ball that Fleur had set on the table, she added in a dodgy Eastern European accent: ‘I think you might be a Libra, Sofia, yes? Hmm. What else can I tell you about yourself? I see – I think I see you in a suit of trousers – white trousers, with bare feet. You are dancing – no, no! You are kicking! I guess perhaps you might have a talent for karate, Sofia? And there is more – you have travelled, travelled far and wide. I see many foreign countries in the crystal – Sydney, Paris, Rome … And what is this? You are in a club, now, and this time you are dancing. But dancing in the future. Next Friday, perhaps? Next Friday I think you are going dancing with a friend, to a place called the – could it be Club N?’
‘No,’ said Fleur with a smile, as the penny dropped. ‘It’s Club M.’
‘There!’ Daisy flopped back in her seat with a triumphant smile. ‘You see! It’s ingenious! Word spreads like lightning through the Facebook community, and anybody who’s spending the bank holiday weekend in Coolnamara will come flocking to see – what’s your fortune-teller name?’
‘Haven’t an idea.’
‘Tsk-tsk. How about Tiresia?’
‘No. Tiresias was a famous soothsayer in ancient Greece.’
Fleur sighed in admiration. ‘My niece has brains as well as beauty!’
‘Sounds good, doesn’t it? The famous Madame Tiresia, who knows all!’
‘Daisy – how exactly do you propose that I do this?’
‘Simple! You check out profiles on your iPhone, which you will have cunningly concealed under the table.’
‘But I don’t do Facebook.’
‘Aha! But you log on as me – popular minor celebrity and model, Daisy de Saint-Euverte. You saw how many friends I have. And those friends have friends, and I have influence. Sometimes being a C-lister can be useful.’
‘You’ve clearly had too much wine. This can’t possibly work.’
‘Don’t be so negative, Flirty!’ Daisy reached for Six Lessons in Crystal Gazing and started leafing through it. ‘Just think of all the moolah you can raise for the Hospice Foundation.’
‘But we have got to anticipate the worst. Lots and lots of things could go wrong. What if Mister Norman No-Friends from Nenagh enters the booth. What do I say to him?’
‘You tell Norman that there is no hope of telling his fortune because … because he doesn’t have one!’
‘I couldn’t say that! Poor Norman will think he’s going to die.’
‘Um. OK. Tell him you can’t see his aura. Listen to this: “It is quite possible for the gazer to be able to see things in the crystal at one time and not at another. In fact, many of the best crystal gazers have lost the power for weeks together. This being so, you should not be discouraged if such images fail to appear at your command.” There’s your disclaimer. Print it out and display it by the entrance to your booth.’ Daisy checked out the cover of the booklet. ‘It’s by Dr RA Mayne. There you go! Your spiritual mentor has impressive credentials.’
‘But that book was published in 1928.’
‘Your punters don’t need to know that. Come on – let’s have another go. This time you can tell my fortune. My name is … Jana.’ Daisy’s fingers twinkled over her iPhone, then she handed it to Fleur.
‘Jana!’ said Fleur, peering at the display as if she were reading Ancient Egyptian. ‘Um, welcome.’
‘Pretend to be gazing into the ball,’ instructed Daisy.
‘I can’t look at the ball and Jana’s profile at the same time!’
‘Then we’ll get you a veil. Try this.’ Daisy unwound the chiffon scarf she was wearing and dropped it over her aunt’s head. ‘Perfect! Go again.’
‘Jana,’ repeated Fleur. ‘I think you might be a Pisces, yes? I see – um – a book with the title The Time Traveler’s Wife and I see Meryl Streep wearing dungarees – holy moly, is Mamma Mia everyone’s favourite film on Facebook?’
‘Tut-tut! You’re stepping out of character, Madame Tiresia. Here, have some more wine.’
‘Thank you, Jana. Now – where were we? I see you singing – singing in front of Simon Cowell. Perhaps you have auditioned for the X Factor?’
Some forty minutes later, Fleur had told half-a-dozen more fortunes, and was really beginning to have fun.
‘Not bad for a Facebook virgin,’ remarked Daisy, upending the wine bottle. ‘You’ll get hooked, Flirty, mark my words. Now, let’s do one more. This time I’m going to be Paris Hilton.’
‘Paris Hilton is one of your Facebook friends?’
‘No, she’s not. But we all know everything there is to know about Paris. You should have no problem uncovering her secrets.’
‘Welcome!’ enthused Fleur, waving her hands over the crystal ball. But just as she was deliberating over questions for Paris, the phone in the kitchen sounded. Reaching for her wineglass, she excused herself and shimmied inside to pick up. It was Corban.
‘Hello, chéri!’ she crooned into the mouthpiece. When Fleur had a little too much to drink, or when she was aroused, her French accent became marginally more pronounced.
‘I just got your message,’ he told her, ‘and I have to say, you look pretty damned hot as Gypsy Rose Lee. But you made a mistake.’
‘Yeah. Gypsy Rose Lee was a burlesque artist, not a fortune-teller.’
‘And she was a very sexy lady. The original Dita Von Teese.’
‘What are you getting at, Mister O’Hara?’ Fleur started toying with a strand of hair. She couldn’t help flirting with Corban, even on the telephone.
‘You know I said I’d double your take, Fleur? I’m prepared to quadruple it. On one condition.’
‘When I call in to you on Friday evening, I want to see you wearing those gypsy threads.’
Fleur’s mouth curved in a provocative smile. ‘So that you can take them off?’
‘No. So that you can take them off. While I watch.’
Fleur’s smile grew even more provocative. She pretended to buy time while taking a sip from her wineglass. Then she laughed out loud. ‘Done deal,’ she said.
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