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Mark Budman 

Fur Elise 

 

The day Boris Zelinsky's wife Tamara called him up in his office and announced that she just bought a mink stole for sixteen grand, he decided to cheat on her for the first time. 

Boris, a thirty-nine year old immigrant from the former Soviet Union, had a single desire: to be a real American millionaire. 

Unlike many others with similar inspirations, Boris wanted freedom the magical seven-digit figure would bring him. One day he would have $999,999 and be a slave. Next day he would have $1,000,000 and be a free man. He understood the logically shaky base of his almost mystical assumption, but could do nothing about it. 

On the morning he turned five in the Ukrainian city of Odessa, he came out of his room, in the long pink pajamas he inherited from his older sister Luyba and said to his father, "I want to be an American millionaire." Back in the sixties in the Soviet Union, that was almost equivalent to a confession of manslaughter. 

Luyba was playing Beethoven's Fur Elise on the upright piano that used to belong to her grandmother. She stopped, her mouth agape. Boris' mother dropped a plate of piroshki, meat pies. His father spanked him lightly and then whispered, "Excellent, Borya. Just keep shush about it. Especially with people who know us." 

Boris was nineteen when his parents and he came to America. In New York City, Boris bought lottery tickets twice a week. 

He liked plump women. He was a big man himself, six-foot-two, and weighed two hundred fifty pounds in his silk boxers with bulldog faces on them. He dated a fellow immigrant Tamara, whose parents were real self-made American millionaires. And she played Fur Elise. 

"The boy's respectful," Tamara's father told his daughter while Boris was sitting next to her in the parent's living room. "That's a rare quality nowadays. Go for it. I'll take him into the business some day." 

Tamara moved her solid, pleasantly overgrown body of a Ruben's model away from Boris. She had another date, whom she called Flimsy Victor. 

Next day, Flimsy Victor approached Boris at the entrance to Boris' house and said, "Listen here, shmuck!" The top of his head barely reached Boris' nose, but his pocket bulged. 

Boris assumed the defense position: opened his mouth, ready to cry help. He wasn't fast on his feet anymore. He never had been. 

"I see you next to Tamara one more time and you're dead. Is this understood?" Flimsy Victor said and patted his pocket. 

"Understood." 

The same evening, Tamara called Boris. 

"Flimsy Victor got into a car accident," she said. 

"I'm sorry to hear that," Boris said. He imagined Flimsy Victor's body broken by a truck, and he shuddered. 

"I just saw him. He's bad," Tamara said. "He's in coma. I couldn't stand it. I threw up." 

"I'm sorry to hear that," Boris said. 

"What happened, Borya?" his mother said from across the room. "You're so pale!" 

Three months later, Tamara and Boris were married. 

In ten years, he was a manager at a big bank and had his own office with a Manhattan skyline view and pictures of American West exploration hanging on the solid-teak walls. Despite his six-figure salary, Tamara and he saved very little, and his dream to become a millionaire was as far away as ever. They had to pay a mortgage for their 500,000 dollar condo, various loans -- for his Mercedes, for her Jaguar, for the Italian furniture, for their daughter's private school. They went on vacations to exotic places like Tahiti and Nepal. They dressed very well, or at least expensively. 

They didn't have support from Tamara's parents that Boris had counted on. They made them a grand wedding for five hundred people, and showered them with presents for a few months until Boris refused to invest his savings the way his father-in-law suggested. 

He tried other ways as well. He bought an apartment building in the Poconos, but had to sell it at a loss because he was too busy to take care of it. He even tried Atlantic City, but retreated quickly. 

Meanwhile, Tamara grew bigger than Boris' preferred. When he hinted about diet, the nightmare began. 

In the evenings Tamara took to meeting Boris at the door, and dirty words flew from her generous mouth like a river in the spring. He didn't even know those words existed in either Russian or English. She accused him of everything, starting from infidelity and ending with his financial status. 

At first he stood through her outpours with a straight poker face, but then began to barricade himself in the spare bedroom and read there, while Tamara banged on the door with her fists, tears cascading down her cheeks. 

Meanwhile, their daughter grew up and went to college in L.A. She never wrote a single letter to her parents and called only twice a year, collect. 

Tamara kept gaining weight steadily like a nurtured elephant. Her breasts and bottom were solid no more. She mostly gossiped on the phone, went on shopping sprees, or just sat in her favorite chair, chewing gum, blowing bubbles, and staring forward, unblinking, with her beautiful blue eyes. And then she stopped playing Fur Elise. 

Boris worked eighty hours a week at his bank. At home, he read books about American Frontier or watched Westerns on TV. They had two sets. One for him, and one for Tamara. Once a week they went to visit Tamara's parents, who taught Boris the hidden laws of life. 

"Zhizn' prozhit' ne pole pereyti," his father-in-law would say, and then would repeat the same thing in English. "To live a decent life is not as easy as crossing a field." His pearls were abundant, like his wife's zakuski. She always tried to find a soothing word for Boris. 

"Don't argue with him," she told Boris in the kitchen. "I tried to argue for the first twenty years and never won. Just let him talk. He's not a bad man really. Just has a long tongue. I wish his penis was as long as his tongue." 

Boris swallowed hard when she said that. Tamara had complained about his sexual prowess lately in similar, but even more explicit terms. Actually, the prowess was there, but Tamara wanted to duplicate the tricks she saw on the late night show. Unwilling to say that directly, she concentrated on false accusations. Boris was in favor of straight unadorned sex, but was ashamed to talk about that, and would rather trash the whole process altogether. 

After his wife called about the stole, Boris left work without saying a word to anybody, drove to a bar and got drunk. 

That day was full of surprises. Earlier in the morning, his daughter called, and announced that she just got married and is moving with her husband to his native Zimbabwe. 

"We are leaving tomorrow," she said. 

"Can I come to the airport to meet your husband?" 

"I don't see any reason for that. I'll send you a picture, if you want me to." 

"Why, Tanya, why? We love you--" 

"So? I'll be in touch. Say hello to mommy." 

And she hung up. 

Boris rarely went to a bar, and if he did, he never was alone. This time he sat there, drinking one Black Russian after another and studying a big wall calendar replete with nude pictures. 

A woman sat next to him and said, "Hi." 

"Hi, yourself," Boris said. 

She was slim, and she wore a decently thin layer of makeup. Her teeth were like a horse's, and he could see her nipples when she bent over to him. Boris had not had an affair since he met Tamara. 

"What's your name?" the woman said. 

"Boris. And yours?" 

"Alice." 

"Elise?" His eyes sparkled. 

"Alice. Where did you come from?" 

"I am local," he said, closing his eyes. 

"Local? And before that?" 

"Ah, come on," he said. "You barely know me and already start picking at my accent." 

"Buy me a drink, evil Boris," she said. 

Boris ordered her a martini, which she sipped a little. He put his hand on hers. Alice smiled. She had blood-shot blue eyes. A dancer came on stage. Two tiny gold stars covered her nipples, as if she were an accomplished A-student. 

"How 'bout a smoke?" Alice said. 

"I don't smoke," Boris said. "I don't smoke, I don't drink, and I don't fornicate." 

"You must be a fucking angel," she said and pulled a cigarette from her purse. "Have you got a light?" 

"I think I'll divorce my wife. Or just leave and never come back. That's it. Simple and to the point!" 

"You're cute, you know that?" 

"Start everything anew. Fresh start. I will go West, that's it. Let her eat the stole." 

"Especially your eyes. Blue. I just love blue eyes." 

"What will she do to me if I just leave? File for divorce? Big deal!" 

"And your mouth too. Sensual lips." 

"Hell with the condo! Hell with the furniture! Hell with the job! I'll get a new job. A new condo. A ranch! A new wife." 

"If you're looking for a new wife. . ." 

"I got to go," Boris said. 

"Wait. I wanted to invite you for coffee. Don't you want some hot, juicy coffee to lick, I mean to drink? I like big men like you." 

"Where are you from?" 

"North Dakota." 

"Really?" 

"Yeah. Would I lie to you, sweetie?" 

"Do you have a family there?" 

"Sure do. All my folks live there." 

"When was the last time you've seen them?" 

She began to cry all of a sudden. Boris handled her his handkerchief. 

"Get me another drink," she said. Few minutes later, she was crying on his shoulder. 

"I want to see them, Boris! But I'm ashamed!" 

"Come, I'll take you home. To North Dakota," he said. 

"Really?" 

"Really." 

In his car, she quiet down, smiling, holding her hand on his thigh. He felt slightly aroused. Then all of a sudden she turned away and began to whistle Fur Elise softly. That was the best vocal performance of this Boris had ever heard. Then she fell asleep, her head on his shoulder. 

"I am mad," Boris said aloud. Cars zoomed by him. According to the laws of statistics, some of the people inside were millionaires. The majority were married. 

A few blocks later, he stopped the car near a curb, keeping the motor running and sat there with his foot on the brake pedal, shifting his big bottom restlessly on the leather seat of his Mercedes. He had a full tank of gas, five credit cards and a wad of cash in his wallet. 

"What will she do to me? Sue me for a million dollars?" he said out loud. A homeless man came and stared at him. Boris opened the window, gave the man a fifty dollar bill and drove straight for the Washington bridge. 

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