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Ironclad Rules

Illustration by Pamela Jaeger

Usually, we don’t kiss around other people. Cecile, with her plunging necklines and fuck-me shoes is actually very shy. And I’m one of those guys who’s always aware of every movement around them, who never manages to forget where they are. But it’s a fact that on that morning, I did manage to forget, and we suddenly found ourselves, Cecile and me, hugging and kissing at a table in a coffeehouse like a pair of high school kids trying to steal themselves a little intimacy in a public place.

When Cecile went to the bathroom, I finished my coffee in one gulp. I used the rest of the time to straighten out my clothes and my thoughts. "You’re a lucky guy," I heard a voice with a thick Texas accent say from very close by. I turned my head. At the next table was an older guy wearing a baseball cap. The whole time we were kissing, he was sitting practically on top of us, and we’d been rubbing and moaning into his bacon and eggs without even noticing. It was very embarrassing, but there was no way of apologizing without making it worse. So I gave him a sheepish smile and nodded.

"No, really," the old guy went on, "it’s rare to hold on to that after you’re married. A lot of people get hitched and it just disappears."

"Like you said," I kept on smiling, "I’m a lucky guy."

"Me too," the old guy laughed and raised his hand in the air, to show me his wedding band. "Me too. Forty-two years we’re together, and it isn’t even starting to get boring. You know, in my work, I have to fly a lot, and every time I leave her, let me tell you, I just feel like crying."

"Forty-two years," I gave a long, polite whistle, "she must really be something."

"Yes," the old guy nodded. I could see that he was trying to make up his mind whether to pull out a picture or not, and I was relieved when he gave up on the idea. It was getting more embarrassing by the minute, even though he clearly had good intentions. "I have three rules," the old guy smiled, "three ironclad rules that help me keep it alive. You want to hear them?"

"Sure," I said, gesturing at the waitress for more coffee.

"One," the old guy waved a finger in the air, "every day I try to find one new thing I love about her, even the smallest thing, you know, the way she answers the phone, how her voice rises when she’s pretending she doesn’t know what I’m talking about, things like that."

"Every day?" I said, "that must really be hard."

"Not that hard," the old guy laughed, "not after you get the hang of it. The second rule — every time I see the children, and now the grandchildren too, I say to myself that half of my love for them is actually for her. Because half of them is her. And the last rule —" he continued as Cecile, who’d come back from the bathroom, sat down next to me, "When I come back from a trip, I always bring my wife a present. Even if I only go for a day."

I nodded again and promised to remember that. Cecile

looked at us a little confused; after all, I wasn’t exactly the kind of person who starts conversations with people in public places, and the old guy, who’d probably realized that, got up to leave. He touched his hat and said to me, "Keep it up." And then he gave

Cecile a small bow and left.

"‘My wife’?" Cecile grinned and made a face, "‘Keep it up’?"

"It was nothing," I stroked her hand, "he saw my wedding band."

"Ah," Cecile kissed me on the cheek, "He looked a little weird."

On the flight back home, I sat alone, three seats all to myself, but as usual, I couldn’t fall asleep. I was thinking about the deal with the Swiss company, which I didn’t actually think would get off the ground, and about that PlayStation I bought for Roy with the cordless joystick and everything. And when I thought about Roy, I kept trying to remember that half of my love for him is actually for Mira, and then I tried to think about one small thing I love about her — her expression, trying to stay cool, when she catches me in a lie. I even bought her a present from the duty-free cart on the plane, a new French perfume, which the smiling young flight attendant had said everyone was buying now and even she herself uses it.

"Tell me," the flight attendant said, extending the back of her bronzed hand toward me, "isn’t that a fantastic scent?"

Her hand really did smell great.

Translated from Hebrew by Sondra Silverstone.

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