Norah was disappointed that he was going again. But she had a lot of work to do and with Ethan gone, she could let her messy side loose. The dishes could pile up, her clothes could litter the floor, her shoes need not find their proper home and she could hyper-focus on the photographs.
The gallery had a hole in their schedule and they offered her a three month slot but only if she could have them ready in two months. It was a tight deadline, but with Ethan off trouble-shooting his project, she might be able to pull it off. Even when he was busy, he was a distraction. She always had this feeling that their time together might end at any moment. It was less premonition and more learned gratitude.
Sometimes Norah couldn’t believe that she had this life with him. Not just because of the circumstances of their initial attachment. Newly single in her forties, Norah had not believed it possible that she would find someone age appropriate, single, who didn’t want to have children, non-religious, liberal, intelligent, funny and who might accept her, just as she was. Besides those must-have’s, Norah had a thing for foreign men. She had a consistent type, a propensity analyzed ad nauseam by the girlfriends of her single days.
Her first teenage boyfriend had been half Iranian, though she didn’t know it when she met him. Growing up in a stiflingly small town with the same group of friends from kindergarten to high school, Norah was attracted to anyone who was different. Maybe it was the idea that she might be taken away from the small, central Louisiana bubble. Maybe she was bored with her stunted environment. Norah had been a deathly shy child, vulnerable to ridicule as she grew up. Sarcasm became a weapon, learned from the master, her mother. Her defensive comebacks gave her a mean, cold and unapproachable demeanor. The boys who picked on her as a child did not ask her out as a teenager.
It took a stranger to see her as something different. He saw a pretty girl he wanted. After that 2-year, traumatic fiasco, resulting in the birth of her daughter, she dated a couple of Anglo Saxons in college until she was once again intrigued by the different one. The quiet Chinese guy who spoke perfect English, wore a maroon beret, army jacket, skater vans and rolled around campus with his blue-black bangs hanging in front of his face. When their lives finally split, twenty-four years later, they had spent more time with each other, than without. He was all she knew.
In those early post-divorce days, there had been the Syrian doctor, the Mexican puppeteer, the Iraqi interpreter and the man she still remembered as one of the great loves of her life, the Indian graduate student. What a weird little fling that had been. For about three years they maintained a very physical yet oddly romantic off and on relationship. They were still in touch. He was married now and living in Dallas. Norah reminded him regularly of his promise, or her demand really, that he name his daughter after her. He claimed Norah was not a proper Muslim name. She would settle for Maria, her middle name.
It was about a year after he moved away that she met Ethan. There had been other dating attempts, all just flighty false starts and disappointments. When she saw Ethan for the first time, she was instantly intrigued. It wasn’t that he was classically handsome. It was just that he was so perfect…….to her. He was just tall enough with salt and pepper hair, kept short with stylish side burns. He wore black-rimmed, nerdy glasses that hid deep brown eyes. He had a nicely shaped face with a strong jaw and perfect nose. And those lips. Ethan had the most perfectly shaped lips. They softened his face and served as an enticement to Norah. She would never forget the first time she got to touch those beautiful lips with her own.
And he had a sense of style. A simple, understated but intentional way of dressing and being. His tasteful clothes complimenting the perfectly tuned body underneath.
She got to know him and fell in love.
Then he left.
He communicated very little with her that summer. She mourned him and tried to let go. The months crept by. In early August she got a message from him. “I’m coming back to Lafayette. I want to ask you something. I’ll be back in two weeks.”
Norah held Ethan tight as they stood in the unloading lane at the airport. She would have kissed him passionately but that wasn’t Ethan’s style. So, she gave him one last kiss on his cheek and said in his ear, “I love you, Boo. I’ll be thinking of you every minute.”
He took her by the shoulders and raised his voice a little as if he had just thought of something, “Hey,” he said looking her in the eyes. “I have a surprise for you. You will probably get it tomorrow.”
“A surprise?” It wasn’t like him to give surprises. Ethan had a stoic belief that everyone should be good to each other every day and there was no need for special treatment or special days. It was an attitude Norah countered as often as possible. She loved making a big deal out of birthdays and expressing her feelings extraneously. After five years together, she was turning him around a bit.
“You will see.” Ethan said as he started to walk away.
“Don’t do that to me,” she yelled after him. “You know that drives me crazy!”
He looked back at her with his goofy grin and stuck his tongue out at her.
“Bye,” she yelled annoyingly.
She got back in the car and pulled away, headed into the evening traffic. Her mind was working out the dimensions of the gallery space and how many prints she would need to order. She liked to have large scale paper prints, usually in black and white, next to smaller, glossy, shiny color images printed on blocks. Her head was filled with images of mosaic details and weird shapes as she climbed the stairs to their little flat.
Her phone rang. It was Carol.
“Hey Carol, I just got Ethan off on his flight. Everything OK?”
“Yeah, thanks for bringing him. I would have but I had to get to the office to get some research done for him. He’s headed into a mess over there.”
“Anytime. You know I like to see him off. A mess, you say? I hope everything is going to be alright.”
“It’ll be fine once Ethan gets there. He’ll know what to do. The reason I’m calling is….are you home? I’m having someone bring a package to you. I was suppose to bring it tomorrow but I was able to put all the pieces together today. He should be there soon. It’s supposed to be a surprise. If you have any questions or problems, just call me.”
“Oh, yeah, Ethan’s surprise. What is it?” Norah barely got the words out before Carol hung up with a quick, “I gotta go. Cheers.”
It was getting dark and the heat and traffic left Norah exhausted. She wanted nothing more than to pour a nice bath and soak for a while. But she was also dying with curiosity. She opened the door onto the landing so she could see the courier when he drove up, hoping he wouldn’t take too long. She poured herself a glass of wine and plopped down onto the bean bag they kept in the living room.
That stupid bean bag chair. It’s amazing it was still in one piece. It seemed to puff out a little white pellet or two every time it was invaded by human weight. She laughed every time she sat in it, remembering the time they found it at a flea market. Ethan had to have it, despite her warnings that it was possibly the most impractical piece of furniture ever invented. He loved it. She would sometimes find him sitting in it, his head back, his eyes closed, contemplating who knows what.
Just as she found the sweet spot on the giant, obnoxious, red mass, her glass of wine precariously being brought to her lips, she heard a car pull up. She took a sip, put the glass back down and shifted her weight around again clumsily fighting her way out of the blob, laughing at her own lack of grace. She walked out onto the landing and watched the uniformed young man look around for the right apartment number. She waved to him and he headed up the stairs.
“Norah Michel?” he asked.
“That’s me,” she said, anxious to see what Ethan and Carol had conspired for her.
She took the flat package and quickly signed the form he presented. Walking back inside, she tore open the thin, cardboard envelope. She opted for a sturdy chair and pulled out a small white envelope with “Peachy” written on it in Ethan’s handwriting. There was something else. She pulled out another small package. She instantly recognized the Lufthansa logo.
“Holy shit. What the hell?” she said out loud.
She opened the note first and deciphered Ethan’s scribbly handwriting.
It’s time, peachy.
It’s time to go to Jerusalem.
I love you.
“Oh my God,” Norah said. She started to cry as she opened the Lufthansa package to find a plane tickets to Tel Aviv via Munich.
I wonder if I should try to see the Hagia Sophia again as well, she asked herself.
“I’m going to back to Israel,” she said to the bean bag chair and started to laugh.
“Shit. I better call the gallery.”