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Mark Budman

To Own the Block

Jane plays on the piano, and Silvia sings on the bench next to her, her fangs glistening as she opens her mouth for another note. Jane recently grew tall enough to reach the pedals, and she's happy.

Len watches his daughter from his chair, with a half smile on his heavyset face. His lap is full of Silvia's hair, black, white and brown. Earlier today, he got a $2000 a year raise. According to his boss, that's a lot for a fifty year old defense lawyer. Last year Len's raise was zero. If he moved to Boston, he might get a higher paying job, but his wife Nancy refuses to leave their small, safe village for the horrors of a metropolis.

Nancy bursts into the room, her cheeks flaming. To Len, she is a large panther, with a twitching tail and ears flat against her head. Len gets up from the sofa to preempt the lunge. His knees creak.

"You know, Nancy, I just read a story about a man who owned Vermont. He just drove there after a fight with his wife, and when he came back, he gave Vermont to her as a present. They've never fought again. I walked around the next block down the street this morning and want to give it to you, Nancy."

"Stop talking nonsense," she says. Her eyes are like emeralds Len saw catching sun in a Tiffany's window. "Don't you see that Silvia's breaking Jane's concentration? Get her out of here!"

"They both distract me, mommy," Jane says without turning. "They don't care how will I do on the recital. They need grounding."

Len picks up Silvia and carries her outside. She's heavy, almost twenty pounds. He eases her onto the warm asphalt of the driveway. Spring waves at him with a young poplar's branches.

"We need to lose weight, Silvia. Both of us."

Silvia rubs her head against his knee and sings in her melodic voice. Another half a dozen hairs stick to the pant leg of Len's Dockers.

"Would you like to own the block, Silvia? Suppose there is no law against that?"

Silvia lies down and tucks her front paws under her chest.

"I can hardly afford to pay the taxes on one house," Len continues. "If you agree to be the legal owner, I'll feed you tuna fish every day."

She gets up, raises her tail and walks away, suddenly unattainable like a model in a sable coat. Len watches her disappearing into the bushes. He sighs. He might need an evening job.

Author's note missing.

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