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Model Homeby Eric Puchner
Two days after his car--an '85 Chrysler LeBaron with leather seats and all-power accessories--vanished from the driveway, Warren Ziller crept past the expensive homes of his neighbors, trying to match his dog's limp. Buggy Whip Lane was shrouded in a mist that blurred his glasses. It was June, month of foggy mornings; vines of bougainvillea climbed the telephone poles and hung like tinsel from the wires. Warren tugged at Mr. Leonard's leash, trying to keep to the narrow horse trail skirting the road. The wood chips at his feet sent up a pleasing funk of manure. He passed the Hathaways' and Wongs' and Dunkirks', the Temples' and Starchilds', each house white as a tooth, distinguished only by a lone cactus or bronze deer in the yard or surfboard tipped against the wall. There was something very appealing about these surfboards. They looked doomed and precarious but never seemed to fall over. He'd lived here three years and the sight of them still gave him a thrill. When he tried to define California to himself, to reckon the fathomless miles he'd traveled from Wisconsin, Warren always thought of these beautiful toys on the verge of collapse.
Mr. Leonard stopped along the trail to inspect a rock and began to sing to it. A high, sorrowful croon, as if he might coax the thing into a duet. The mutt was old and arthritic, but it had never occurred to Warren that his mind might deteriorate. As dogs went, he'd always been bright and resourceful, sniffing out lost shoes or figuring out how to open doors with his paws.
"Have you noticed anything funny about Mr. Leonard?" Warren asked when he got home. His children were sitting around the kitchen table together, most likely by accident. The house smelled of McDonald's and bare feet. Mr. Leonard limped to his bowl and stared at his meager ration of kibbles.
"You mean aside from him singing to rocks?" Lyle said, clipping her toenails into an empty sneaker on the floor. The sneaker was presumably her own.
"Any rock. He can't resist."
"Maybe someone gave him some LSD," Jonas suggested.
"I don't think so," Warren said.
"Has he been jumping out of windows, thinking he can fly?"
Dustin scoffed. "That's a myth."
"Dogs can't fly?" Lyle said, laying her clippers on the table.
Camille, his wife, looked up from the sink. "There's nothing funny about it."
"I think it's inspiring," Dustin said. "That he can find love so late in life."
"In Vietnam," Jonas said, "they kill dogs when they're no longer useful and use them for food. There's a dish called Dog Seven Ways."
"Boys! That's enough," Camille said.
"Yeah," Lyle said. "Mr. Leonard can hear you."
The mutt caught his name and came limping over to the kitchen table, tail thumping.
"How do I love thee," Dustin said, leaning to pet him. "Let me count the ways."
Camille walked over to Mr. Leonard and bent down to stroke his head, then looked up at them accusingly. "I hope you remember this, what a laugh riot you're having, when you're singing to rocks."
A guilty hush came over the table. In the silence, Warren had a chance to take in the spectacle of his children: Dustin, his college-bound son, shirtless as usual and eating an Egg McMuffin he must have picked up on the way home from surfing, preparing for another deafening day of band practice in the garage; Lyle, his redheaded, misanthropic daughter, sixteen years old and wearing a T-shirt with DEATH TO SANDWICHES stenciled on the front, her latest protest against corporate advertising; Jonas, eleven and haunted by death
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