On the phone, hushed voices, in our bedroom, late afternoon, Noa declines an offer to meet with her lover. I stand in the corridor, book in hand, listening intently, refusing to believe.
Her side of the conversation consists of a half-hearted demurral balanced by a lot of hopeful incredulity. How do you know the key will be under the rug - she questions her interlocutor - and how can you be sure they won't be at home?
This is how this phone conversation proceeds and Noa can see a penumbral Sam projected by the hallway lighting and then she can see me entering the room and looking at her, dumbfounded. She casts a glance my way and ignores me, continues the exchange as though nothing entered her field of vision.
I tell her: "Disconnect, Noa, now!". She goes on talking and my voice turns harsher and echoes through this vacuous room. I approach and extend an infuriated hand towards the phone's cradle. Now Noa apologizes hastily and hangs up.
Ricocheting verbal shrapnel, sentences unuttered, tension. We look away, she at the phone, I at my tiptoed feet. Noa suddenly grins but it is sheer embarrassment. We can't believe that this is happening to us, to our togetherness.
Her smirk ignites my rage, as was to be expected. Perhaps that's what she wants. Maybe this is her way or making certain she got punished, of guaranteeing attention long denied her, even if only to be chastised as evil and corrupt. Anything but this months-long absence, I and my book, sprawled on the leather couch, turning a barbered nape and taciturn back to her.
So, here it comes: attention, rage, envy. She is almost content. It is evident in the way she lowers her lashes, slumped on our marital twin bed, no intention to sit up, as though inviting me to her, making love to him and me simultaneously: today with me here and tomorrow with him on the phone, or vice versa.
I am curiously unfazed now. I am cold-blooded and matter-of-fact. I weigh and analyze. I survey all the options as they invitingly spread their dilemma horns. I inspect them with the indifference of a veteran client in an overpriced brothel. I am acquainted with the merchandise, no novelty here, it's all the same old nudity. The perforated lampshade swings pendularly, set in motion by a now forgotten hand gesture. It rations light, once to myself and once to her, our faces yellow-flickered strainers.
Noa rises and I tell her to follow me into the living room. She obeys speechlessly. When she passes me in the narrow corridor, I don't give way and I rub against her agitated softness. I can smell her hair, the sex that wafts into my nostrils like a dare.
We sit in our living room. It is a chilly quadrangle, strewn with blinking appliances, bisected by a massive glass table-top that rests on four perfected marble tits. The glass slab mirrors us, distorted, our reflections melt into each other. I cross-examine her. I want the details.
Full frontal nakedness? Did he penetrate her? Did she give head? His hands on both her breasts? How did he taste?
She is patient, not mutinous. She says she hoped I will find out. She thought she could have both, the lover and myself. Yes. Permanently, as a way of life, but it didn't work out. And all this time I am panicking: God, this is real, this is Noa and this is me and an evening and we are at our home and this has happened so unpredictable and no way out. Like a pre-mortem trepidation.
Now what shall we do? asks Noa and the question hangs midair. We peruse every aspect of this query. It is crystalline and glitters, you can't mistake its polish. It is untouchable, unreachable. Like a heavy stone on a distant star from which there's no return.
I listen to my voice. It's icy and I am stunned. It's decisive. My self-control impresses me.
I say: Let's separate for a year and then we'll see. Rent a small apartment, do as you please and in twelve months let's see if you still want me and if I still want you, if we are still emotionally available.
Noa wails vociferously. She makes no attempt to hide the tears. She sits up, a veritable Alice in horrorland: golden curls adorn her round shoulders, her face disproportionately large, she has the hands and feet of children, that's the way I see her. That's the way I always want to see her.
Her lamentation startles me. I realize that she is crying for me too, perhaps mostly on my behalf. I cannot join her.
I soothe: Look, no single side is guilty. I have neglected you and our relationship, I let them fester and this is the result. This situation is of both our making.
She is relieved. She glances at me with gratitude. I ask her if she would like some red wine and she affirms enthusiastically as though we just found the solution and there it is, chilling in our refrigerator and we didn't appreciate it. So, I walk slowly, extract the bottle that I placed there in another universe, uncork it and pour into potbellied glasses. The lacey foam subsides into the inky liquid. I bring this hue to Noa to consume. I click my tongue delighted at the taste.
Noa discusses details. What kind of apartment, where, how will she pay for it. She gets carried away, describing the interior decoration. I sip the wine strictly and not a word but I cannot look away from her exuberant eyes, intermittently flaring and decaying. She grows silent and swirls the fluid gently in her glass. She gazes into it as though trying to decipher the gory sediments left by the frothy drink. And then she sobs again.
She tells me that she loves me. She doesn't know what to do. She can't believe that she found herself in these circumstances. She no longer recognizes herself. What to do, she repeats her mantra, but this time I am not playing along, I am not her father after all. I feel as aghast and awkward as she does.
I stand up and stretch my bones. This is the kind of silence that breeds decisions. Not tense, just a break for data processing, like he dead moments when a floppy whirrs and the hard disk answers.
Noa changes her posture. I contemplate her body and wonder what it knew and not with me. A foot flashes, she bends and a swathe of milky breast, a nipple, his hand between her thighs.
I feel nothing, not even pain or fury. But I sense the distant echoes of a remote battle, behind the fortified hilltops of my self. It will arrive, this ruinous war, it will exact the price. Like everything else in life, it is only a matter of time.
I repeat to Noa her choice. She can remain here and we will try together, she can depart and we will separate, one year alone, maybe it's better that way. Maybe I am her undoing. And I keep reiterating silently: Noa, please ignore these monstrous alternatives offered by an alien, a stranger, not me. I love you. I love Noa. Throughout I want to hug her and make my love in her, but I just sit there, stony-faced, a scientist sifting through the formulas for a particularly complex experiment.
Now Noa is quiet, still rocked from time to time by mournful tremors, her fingers flutter and combine, a leg swings across the wide-brimmed, tattered arm of our sofa. She regards me tenderly.
I pour more wine. The halogen lights are blinding. We are so close, Noa and I, up there in the large screen of our TV. But really we are divided by glass and marble.
Noa takes her wine and toys with it. Suddenly she lays it down and bursts into bitter, convulsive whimpers, face buried in both hands, shoulders unruly.
"I can't leave you" - she sucks the words out of the thinning air - "I love you so. You are a wizard and I am hypnotized. I am staying here with you. Oh, let's try again!"
I let the words sink in. A rainbow ricochets from the glasses to the table. The light is piercing and in it I witness Noa making love. Like an unwanted child, this deed is with us, like an accident. Only it left me quadriplegic, breathless for all eternity, long after Noa is gone, and she will be gone. I now know that this, too, is only a matter of time.