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The taxbell rang for him. It was only a soft chime in his head, but was exquisitely aggravating. George flinched. They pulled away from each other like school-children caught necking. Her resigned expression showed that her bell had rung at the same time. Damn. For one blessed moment, he had forgotten the bell, that intrusion into his life decreed nine years ago by duly elected politicians. He stuffed his hands into his pockets and looked around, staring at the sink, refrigerator, Formica dinner table--anything but the cursed pleasuretax meter. No use; he couldn't resist ambling to that little cube under the wall clock and checking the amount. It registered two figures, one for him, and the other for Mary. Her kiss to him had been worth 0.3 units, but his kiss only 0.2. Ah well. I could have kissed her better if I'd wanted to. But we have a budget.

He wandered through the apartment. A beige bedspread lay stretched tight over most of the mattress, though one rumpled corner stood out. The bathroom sink gleamed, but a tube of toothpaste dripped onto the counter. George peed, flushed, and left the seat up. Vacuum cleaner tracks covered three quarters of the living-room rug, the remainder ignored. Just right, he thought. The apartment is neither sloppy enough to depress nor neat enough to trigger the bell--it’s perfect bland. He suppressed the thought and asked, "When do we eat?"

"Come on in. It's almost ready, dear."

George, Mary, and Marc sat down to dinner--meat, potatoes, and salad, a simple meal, but looking and smelling scrumptious. George sat with hands clasped in front of his plate and stared at Mary.

"Eat up, sweetheart. Or do you want me to say grace first?" Mary asked.

"No. I'm waiting for you to enter the tax code."

Mary laughed with embarrassment. "Oh, silly me." She reached for her pocket keypad and entered the supermarket's tax code number for the groceries.

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