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Sheldon Guberman’s Two-state Solution

by

Barry Rachin

 

 

 

In the cramped apartment complex where he moved after his wife divorced him, the tenants occasionally complained when Sheldon Guberman played his trumpet too loud or hit one too many high notes. For that reason, through the summer months Sheldon much preferred to practice in the local park. The middle-aged man was midway through the third study in Kopprash’s Sixty Etudes for Trumpet, when an olive-skinned woman with a hooked nose approached from a bench fifty feet away where she had been sitting. With an overly theatrical flourish she indicated the gold lacquered horn cradled in his lap. “I’ve always been partial to brass instruments, and you play so beautifully!” Rolling her ‘r’s’ with a nasally twang, the woman spoke fluently but with a decidedly foreign accent. “My granddaughter,” she indicated a gangly youth with jet black hair and knobby knees waiting expectantly on the abandoned bench, “wants to play a musical instrument.”

Sheldon ran his fingertips over the valves and felt the recoil action as the springs responded to his familiar touch. “The music store on Beech Street gives lesson.”

“They’re rather expensive,” the woman parried the remark, “and my family’s currently rather strapped for cash.” The way she worded the reply coupled with a flinty, hardscrabble smile suggested that the woman preferred creative financing. “I thought maybe we could barter for your services.”

Sheldon closed the collection of musical etudes lying on the thin metal stand. “I don’t follow you.”

“I work as a domestic… a housecleaner. Perhaps I could clean your home in exchange for my granddaughter’s music lessons.”

A gray squirrel was foraging for acorns under a broad oak tree near the young girl, who was furtively following her grandmother’s negotiations. “If money’s an issue,” Sheldon offered, “I’d be willing to teach your girl for free until circumstances improve.”

“Circumstances improve,” she parroted back his final words with a bitter-sweet half-smile. “That won’t be happening anytime soon. I’d much rather give you something tangible in return for your generosity.”

“Your name?”

“Samira Khoury.” She gestured with her eyes in the direction of the young girl. “My granddaughter’s Abroud.”

“Interesting name.”

“It means ‘fair and beautiful girl’ in Arabic.” The woman nodded at the youngster, who was following the conversation with her walnut-colored eyes. “Abroud was born here, but we are originally from Lebanon.”

“I see.” Actually, Sheldon didn’t see much of anything except that his practice session would be abruptly cut short. He had hoped to wade through a few additional pages of the Kopprash intermediate-level studies before moving on to Sigmund Herring’s Orchestral Excerpts and a handful of flow studies in a collection by Harry Glantz.

Sheldon gestured for the dark-haired girl to approach. “You’d like to play trumpet?” Abroud wagged her head forcefully up and down. “The trumpet,” he raised the horn and held it in front of her face, “is a rather physical beast, a very demanding and, at times, unforgiving collection of bent pipes and pistons.” When there was no immediate reply, he added “There are dozens of other instruments suitable for girls… flutes, oboes, clarinets, French horns, violins, cellos, harps and pianos.”

“I want a trumpet.”

Sheldon made a motion with his wrists as though he was briskly beating an upbeat rhythm with a pair of drumsticks. “What about the drums?”

“Not interested.” Abroud’s voice sounded even more intractable.

A second time, Sheldon held the golden instrument up in front of her face. “Why trumpet?”

“I dunno,” Abroud shot back. “As soon as I heard the sound, I knew.”

“Knew what?”

The girl’s eyes glazed over. Reaching out, she ran a caressing index finger over the beaded bell. “I wanna play trumpet… nothing else.”

Sheldon turned to the grandmother. “I don’t suppose she owns an instrument.”

“We hadn’t thought that far ahead.”

“No matter… I’ve got an old student model she could borrow.

“So you’ll teach my granddaughter?” The older woman couldn’t believe her good luck.

“I dunno,” Sheldon hedged. “Before committing to anything, I want to make sure that the novelty of a shiny new instrument doesn’t wear off once the honeymoon period ends.”

“What about our arrangement?” Samira pressed.

Sheldon was trying to imagine, from a practical standpoint, what Samira could do in his claustrophobic apartment. “We’ll discuss that after the first lesson.” Sheldon rubbed his grizzled jaw with a repetitive gesture. “How old is your granddaughter?”

“Abroud turned eleven earlier in January.”

“So she’ll be attending middle school at Jackson Heights in September.” Samira nodded. “I know the music director. They have a first-rate band program.”

“Three months,” Samira blurted, anticipating Sheldon’s unspoken thoughts. “Is that enough time – ”

“More than enough to learn the basics,” he cut her short, “if the girl applies herself over the summer.” “The main thing is to get a handle on fundamentals… breath control, fingering, articulation and reading simple sheet music.”

Sheldon had spent the better part of thirty years teaching disinterested, disaffected, poorly motivated, recalcitrant and hopelessly incorrigible teenagers how to triple tongue and negotiate the Carnival of Venice with all five thematic variations. He didn’t want to drag another would-be musical prodigy kicking and screaming down that darkened alleyway.

“Most students start out with the best of intentions. A new horn’s like a Christmas present in the middle of July. When the novelty wears off, practice becomes drudgery. Some new fad catches their interest, and the golden horn spends more time locked away in the case than the student’s hands.” “I can whip her into shape by September,” Sheldon added, “but Abroud would have to set aside an hour a day to practice her lessons and not fall behind schedule.” He turned his attention to the girl. “Have you ever seen a person waterskiing?”

The question, which had nothing to do with the topic at hand, caught Abroud by surprise. She blinked several times and gawked at her grandmother. “At the beach last year… they had a motor boat, pulling the skiers around the lake.”

“What happened when the boat slowed down?”

Abroud considered the question. “The skier sank.”

“And when the boat sped up again?”

“The skier rose to the surface and skimmed across the water.” The girl stared at him with a muddled expression.

“With wind instruments,” Sheldon continued, “your lungs are like the speedboat. You play the horn with your breath not your lips.” Sheldon ran his tongue over his lips, a reflexive gesture, and blew a raspy, sustained tone. When the air was gone and the sound finally petered out, he tapped the girl gently on the wrist. “Now you take a deep breath and make a similar sound. Once the lips vibrate like a reed, you can proceed to the mouthpiece and eventually the horn.”

When the girl had wandered off out of earshot, Sheldon turned to the grandmother. “Over the next seven days, say nothing about our meeting today and see how many times Abroud inquires about the horn. Then come back to the park next Saturday at the same time. I’ll be here. If she mentions her musical interest more than twice, I’ll give her trumpet lessons.”

Samira reached out and shook Sheldon’s hand. “Fair enough.”

 

Normally, Sheldon would have been miffed at the interruption, but the loquacious woman, with her affable, easygoing manner proved a pleasant distraction. He was no longer preparing for an upcoming performance. The trumpeter stopped playing in the community orchestra the previous year when he formally retired from his position as musical director at the high school “You’re originally from Lebanon?”

“No, not exactly.” The woman watched as the granddaughter ran off in the direction of a playground with tire swings a short distance away. “We are Palestinians, through and through.” She waved a flabby arm fitfully in the air. “Lebanon was a beautiful country… heaven on earth but little more than a way station, a pause in life’s fickle journey.”

“I see.” Again, Sheldon hadn’t a clue what the woman was talking about. Her frenetic mind resembled a glitzy pinball machine with an array of silvery balls ricocheting off a myriad of free associations and unrelated ideas.

“It’s a long story,” Samira cleared her throat and averted her eyes, “but let me try to explain… set things right.”

 

Samira’s Khoury’s grandfather owned a large tract of orange groves in the Northern Galilee. During the War of Independence in 1948, the Jewish army drove the Khourys off their land and into exile in the foothills of southern Lebanon. The family subsisted in refugee camps until the father cobbled together enough money to purchase land and start over again.

“But it was a short-lived affair,” Samira confided grimly. “In 1982 the Israelis rained cluster bombs on Nabatieh where we were living in Southern Lebanon, transforming our glorious fruit trees into charred stumps and ashes. My parents said, ‘Enough is enough!’ and we immigrated to America.”

“You became refugees twice over.”

Samira shrugged, her lips sagging in a bitter-sweet smile. “My grandfather was long dead, but my husband, who was also a refugee, always planned to return when there was serious talk of a two-state solution. Following the Six Day War, he felt the Israelis might agree to a Palestinian homeland in the Gaza Strip and occupied territories west of the Jordan but fate interceded. My spouse took sick and died.” The woman shrugged and blotted some wetness from the corners of her eyes with the back of her hand, then mumbled something so softly that Sheldon could make no sense of her words.

“Excuse me… I didn’t hear what you said.”

“Patience is a cure for everything… an Arabic saying.” Samira wagged a finger at the music case lying next to the bench. “First I interrupt your music and then prattle mindlessly on, talking you half to death. Now you tell me something about yourself.”

“That won’t be so easy.”

“And why not?”

“I‘m painfully shy,” Sheldon confided, “and never quite know what to say in social situations.”

“But you seem to be doing just fine now.” Samira protested.

Sheldon grinned sheepishly. “That’s only because you came to the bench and initiated the conversation.” He shook the water from the spit keys and returned the horn to its case along with Kopprash’s Sixty Etudes for Trumpet. “When my marriage went on the skids, so did I. Twenty-five years we were together… a quarter of a century. I was reasonably happy in the marriage, but my wife didn’t share my sentiment.”

Samira lowered her eyes and pawed at the grass with the toe of her shoe, “Perhaps there was another man.”

Sheldon’s head bobbed up and down, as his features cycled through a series of unflattering emotions. “My ex-wife, Myra,” he continued, “was constantly berating me for not being more enterprising… like her brother, Jake, a lawyer who specialized in personal injury and medical malpractice. My brother-in-law also managed investments and pension funds for several of his wealthier clients.”

“When I pointed out that we weren’t doing so badly, she sniggered that, compared to Jake, we’re penny-pinching paupers.” “As my brother-in-law’s fortunes blossomed over the years, Myra became more shrewish and demeaning. Jake drove a fully-loaded Jaguar convertible. He owned a lavish summer home, a mini-mansion on the beach in Yarmouth, where he could stroll along the beach at sunset, watching the tide roll in off Cape Cod Bay.”

Sheldon stared morosely at his trumpet case. “My wife eventually ran off with the manager of a real estate firm where she worked part time. The middle-aged love birds move away to San Francisco. I haven’t seen or heard from her since the divorce was finalized.”

Sitting down on the bench next to him, Samira folded her hands in her ample lap. “At least you don’t have to listen to her endless complaints.” Samira noted.

“About a year ago an article appeared in the local newspaper: Prominent Local Lawyer Indicted for Embezzlement.” Sheldon made a wry face. “My ex-brother-in-law jerk stole over two hundred thousand dollars from a client’s retirement fund and squandered all the money.” Sheldon watched as a gray squirrel picked his way in a zigzag pattern across the grassy knoll in search of acorns. “At first Jake denied the allegations and the case went to court, but shortly before the trial he pled guilty.” “Five years… that’s what the judge gave him.”

“So much for the mini-mansion overlooking the harbor,” Samira observed with a tersely laconic grin.

 

* * * * *

 

Arriving back at the condo, Sheldon checked his mail. There were a handful of bills, a flyer from the local supermarket offering two-for-one specials and the latest copy of the International Trumpet Guild journal. From out in the hallway before inserted the key in the lock, he could hear the telephone in the kitchen twittering incessantly. “Hello, Sheldon?”

Recognizing his wife’s whiny voice, an icy chill slithered down his spine. “Myra, I haven’t…” He left the sentence dangling.

“How you been?” The woman had spoken a sum total of five words, and yet the gloom-and-doom undercurrent of diffuse rage filtered through the telephone line like a malevolent curse. But Sheldon had nothing to fear from Myra, the congenital malcontent. Three thousand miles of mountains, deserts, lakes and rivers physically separated them.

In her youth, Myra had been passably pretty with sharp, angular features, auburn hair and a thin-lipped smile. But over the years perpetual discontent eroded her more congenial features. The supple lips grew taut and wrinkled. A smattering of crow’s feet took up permanent residency around the corners of the hazel eyes.

“Not bad. Why are you calling?”

“I don’t want favorsain’t asking nothin’ for myself, but Jake’s having a rough go of it at the facility.” As Sheldon remembered, Myra refused to use the term ‘prison’, when referring to her brother’s current living arrangement. She much preferred a benign euphemism over the harsh reality. “Nobody treats him with respect.”

“The guards or other inmates?”

“Both,” she shot back. “And worst of all, hardly anyone ever goes to see the poor slob. He seldom gets visitors.”

Like an over-the-hill prize fighter, Myra telegraphed her punches, inviting the opponent’s counterpunches. “When’s the last time you saw your brother?”

“The week before sentencing.”

Feeling the urge to retch, Sheldon pulled his ear momentarily away from the receiver. Myra had never bothered to visit her brother since he entered prison. “You could fly east and spend some quality time with Jake.”

“Not a possibility.”

“And why not?”

“I got domestic problems of my own,” she replied in a voice as coarse as 60-grit sandpaper. “I thought maybe as a kindness you might visit Jake. The facility… it ain’t more than a two-hour drive from where you’re living.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” he muttered noncommittally.

“So you’ll go see my brother?”

“I dunno. I’ll think about it.”

An awkward pause ensued. “Goodbye, Sheldon.”

He hung up the phone without bothering to say anything more.

 

Sheldon couldn’t believe his bad luck. After such a pleasant afternoon – pure serendipity – meeting the vibrant Samira Khoury, Myra, the ex-wife from hell, resurfaces! She emerges from the black hole of his melancholic past with a request that he spend quality time with Jake - the shifty, cagey, con-artist with no moral center.

Sheldon brewed a cup of chamomile tea and curled up on the bed with his International Trumpet Guild journal. He plodded through an article describing the use of the alt-7 chord in jazz improvisation. The scale was based on the melodic minor of the flatted second chord. He already knew that but would need to work out some of the clever harmonic inversions displayed in the sheet music that accompanied the article.

Toward the middle of the magazine Sheldon skimmed an article about the English trumpet superstar, Allison Balsom. A glossy, full-page picture showed the fair-skinned blonde in a stunning off-the-shoulder evening dress, clutching a silver trumpet. Sheldon had recently seen Ms. Balsom in concert with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at the orchestra’s hall on Huntington Avenue. Soaring into the upper register over a lush carpet of French horns and low brass, she breezed through the Hayden Concerto. For such a sinewy, feminine creature, Miss Balsom’s tone was brilliant and aggressive, tempering every note in the rapid-fire, staccato passages with a singing, lyrical quality. Alison Balsom was physically dazzling, but the world-class trumpeter didn’t travel all over the country performing with the greatest symphonies because of her ravishing good looks.

Abroud Khoury didn’t need to become the next Allison Balsom. The knock-kneed, dark-eyed adolescent had only to show a mild passion for the instrument, and Sheldon would teach her to play with a beautiful singing tone. In a week’s time he would speak with the grandmother.

When the tea was nearly gone Sheldon felt better. He read a second article describing the bel canto, ‘beautiful song’ approach to brass playing. A trumpeter with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra devised the concept, where every note must be equally rich and resonant, creating a song within a song. Each tone was a melody in itself with the trumpeter displaying the same attention to detail that an opera singer devoted to classical arias.

With the bel canto approach, a performer had to find the sweet spot, where the burnished tone slotted and locked in with harmonic perfection, producing no strain on the lips. He needed to perform with agility and virtuosity, demonstrate a smooth, pure, legato and sustained unbroken phrasing, perfect intonation and unhindered musical expression.

 

After finishing the article, Sheldon went into the living room. He got out his trumpet and blew some long tones in the middle register. Then he played through a series of chromatic arpeggios and slurred scales. Afterwards he called the prison in Lincolnville. “What are your visiting hours tomorrow?”

“You coming to see someone?” the raspy voice on the other end of the line was businesslike if somewhat cold.”

“An inmate.”

“Ever been convicted of a felony?”

“No, of course not,” Sheldon shot back.

“Served time in a correctional institution or worked in the department of corrections?”

Again, the questions struck Sheldon as oddly inappropriate. He was a retired music teacher whose last run in with the law was over an expired parking meter. “Don’t wear any clothes that might resemble the inmate’s or staffs’ clothing,” the correctional officer rambled on, “and no medical scrubs or other uniforms. They present security risks.”

“Okay.” As the monologue dragged on, Sheldon was becoming increasingly irritated.

“Show up fifteen to twenty minutes early so you can fill out the paperwork.”

“What paperwork?”

“Nothing to worry about… it’s just a formality.”

“Will I be searched?”

“Maybe yes, maybe no. In the past we used scanners, but the machines gave false positives, and then visitors had to be strip searched for drugs and contraband.” The officer hung up.

 

* * * * *

 

When Myra unceremoniously dumped him, cleaning out the belongings on her side of the closet, underwear, cosmetics, pills and lotions, he experienced a listless ennui that dragged on the better part of a month. The house was empty as a mausoleum. But then the fog gradually lifted and, in her absence, Sheldon regained his emotional equilibrium.

He wished Myra no harm. But neither did he wish her back. Sheldon Guberman was perfectly comfortable in his own skin, leading a monastic existence. His wife gone, a burden had been lifted and, if he so chose, was free to fritter away a balmy summer afternoon practicing his trumpet or jibber-jabbering with a Palestinian immigrant, whose luckless family had endured much heartache and still managed to maintain their humanity. In either case, it was a victimless crime.

 

* * * * *

 

A month before his wife dumped him, Myra announced, “The roof’s leaking. What you gonna do about it?”

“Where’s the leak?”

“Upstairs… in the spare bedroom.”

Sheldon lumbered up the stairs and stared at a darkened water spot the size of a softball spreading across on the stucco ceiling. Then he went outside in the back yard and peered up at the roof. “There must be something wrong with the flashing around the vent pipe.” He pointed indicating a plastic pipe directly above the spare bedroom.

“You’ll have to hire a professional… a roofer,” Myra insisted.

The real estate taxes were coming due the end of the week, and he still had the telephone and electric bills to pay. “Can’t afford a roofer,” Sheldon replied. “I’ll fix it myself.”

“At your age, you’re gonna climb up on the goddamn roof?”

Sheldon gazed up at the soffit. The eaves were about thirty feet off the ground, but the roof wasn’t terribly steep. As long as he wore sturdy work boots and didn’t do anything crazy, the project was manageable. “That’s right.”

“My brother, Jake, would hire someone,” Myra sniped.

“I’m not your brother.” For all practical purpose, the marriage was over. They were just going through the motions until drifting off their separate ways. Throwing her hands up in despair, Myra retreated to the safe haven of kitchen and a stiff drink.

 

A week later, Sheldon climbed up on the roof with several shingles, a caulking gun loaded with roof sealant, and a piece of metal flashing. Cutting away the pitted flashing, he quickly located the leak. The repair was relatively straightforward and uneventful. Climbing up and down the thirty-foot ladder proved considerably more challenging than fixing the roof. The fifty year-old man was not nearly as supple as during his college years. His arthritic hips and creaky knees refusing to act in tandem. But what he lacked in agility he made up for twice over in caution. When he reached the top of the ladder, Sheldon used a rung for leverage, swinging his body onto the shingled surface. Myra monitored his progress from a strategic vantage point near the rock garden. When the job was completed and the aluminum extension ladder stowed away, she made no mention of what had just transpired.

A few days later following a torrential downpour, Sheldon went upstairs. In the spare bedroom the ceiling was bone dry. Myra joined him briefly, gawking morbidly at the ceiling before scurrying away. She never bothered to congratulate her husband for fixing the roof or saving the expense. It wasn’t in the woman’s DNA, her genetic makeup, to praise her husband for much of anything!

 

* * * * *

 

The prison didn’t resemble a prison. There were no razor wire or guard towers or bars on the windows or crocodile-infested moats. It was a low-slung affair constructed of decorative, split-ribbed blocks. Sheldon found his former brother-in-law in an outdoor courtyard that doubled as the visitor center. Grown flabby from too much haute cuisine and three-martini luncheons, the orangey prison jump suit hung on his squat body like a tacky Halloween costume. “How’re you doing, Jake?”

“Shitty.” The man was having trouble making eye contact, his head flitting distractedly about the prison yard. Without the nine-hundred dollar, Neiman Marcus suits and Burluti Scritto, designer shoes he looked pathetic.

“What do they have you doing here?”

“Most days, I’m in the cafeteria, peeling potatoes, scouring pots and pans… whatever they need done.”

“Well, at least you’re not stamping out license plates,” Sheldon joked.

Judging by his brother-in-law’s dour expression, he took no pleasure in Sheldon’s wittiness. Rather, Jake would have much preferred a sorcerer, someone who could wave a magic wand or recite a secret incantation, transporting him to another realm where a term like ‘misappropriation of funds’ was not synonymous with certain four-letter words.

Jake cracked his knuckles and coughed hoarsely. “I can’t sleep in this god-awful shithole. The beds are metal and mattresses three inches thick. I got a decent cellmate now but the one before was a real psycho.” He rubbed his stubbly jaw and stared at the concrete. “You can’t even control your own light switch. The guards turn the lighting on and off on a fixed schedule.”

 

Some nights Jake would be dozing off to sleep, when the jangling of a guard’s keys would jolt him back to the nightmare that was his new reality. A mental case or new arrival would wail in his sleep. Jake never knew when someone would have a fart attack and pollute the narrow cell block with fetid fumes. “I never intended to steal anything,” The man whispered in a flat monotone. “I put cash in hedge funds that went sour, and before I could recoup the loss everything turned to shit.”

Sheldon’s brother-in-law wasn’t the least bit contrite. He experienced no remorse. Getting caught was his only regret. “You squandered the guy’s entire life savings… every cent he’d saved for retirement.”

For the first time since Sheldon arrived, Jake looked him full in the face. “Yeah but I had every intention of returning the goddamn funds!” “These creeps,” he gestured dismissively with a wave of his arm, “They don’t know right from wrong… got no scruples.”

They don’t know right from wrong… got no scruples. Jake’s fall from grace had been swift and brutal, and yet he accepted no responsibility for his client’s personal ruin. He was as much victim as the elderly plaintiff he so glibly fleeced! Jake shook his head fitfully and blew out his flaccid cheeks. “What do you hear from my sister?”

The question caught Sheldon off guard. “Myra’s okay, I guess.”

“She never visited me once.”

“She’s got her own issues,” Sheldon replied evasively.

“Don’t we all.”

 

* * * * *

 

“My granddaughter’s had a change of heart,” Samira Khoury announced when she stood in front of Sheldon on the Saturday following their first encounter. Sheldon, who had been playing through a collection of intermediate-level etudes by the Russian trumpeter, Harry Glantz, laid his instrument aside. “Abroud never mentioned the instrument… not once all week and when I told her that I was coming to the park to sit on the bench and listen to Mr. Guberman play his lovely horn, she said, ‘I’d rather stay home and watch TV.’”

“Well, that settles things.” Sheldon stood up. “Would you like to go for coffee?”

Samira eyed him curiously. “What about your music?”

“There’s something I’d like to discuss with you.”

 

* * * * *

 

“My wife, Myra, called.” They were seated in a booth at the Paneras eatery, nursing mugs of cappuccinos and pastries.

Samira raised an apricot cheese Danish to her lips and nibbled distractedly at the sugary crust. “I thought you hadn’t heard from her in years.”

“Last week out of the clear blue she calls to tell me that her brother, the jailbird, is depressed. It’s over a year since he got sent away, and no family or friends ever visit.”

Samira sipped her coffee. She teased the Danish apart and watched as the orangey apricot filling fell away from the cheese-filled crust. “It’s you ex-wife’s brother. Why doesn’t she spend quality time with the louse?”

“That’s what I suggested, but Myra said she had ‘domestic’ problems of her own.”

“That doesn’t sound terribly encouraging.”

“I visited my former brother-in-law in the prison. It was a minimum security, white-collar facility where they play bingo and boast a library that would be the envy of any white-collar, suburban community.”

“And how was Jake?”

“A total mess…the mere shell of the person I knew.”

“How sad!” Samira ventured.

“He stole an elderly widower’s life savings… left him penniless, stone cold broke!”

Samira sat collecting her thoughts for the longest time. “Are you familiar with the Hammurabi Code?” When there was no response, she continued, “Hammurabi was the king of ancient Mesopotamia, which is a few hundred miles east of where we lived in Lebanon. He ruled the Fertile Crescent, the lands around the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers a thousand years before Christ. Hammurabi organized what is generally recognized as the first written set of laws.”

“In Arabic?”

“Cuneiform… a picture language.”

Samira described the ruler with a relaxed familiarity that Sheldon found mystifying. “I don’t suppose there was a punishment in the Hammurabi Code for pilfering a neighbor’s life savings?”

Samira’s smile deepened. “In ancient Mesopotamia, if a house caught fire, and a neighbor, who came to help put out the blaze, was caught stealing, the punishment was that the thief be thrown into the flames and burned alive.”

“Fair enough!” This screwball woman, who told him about ancient Mesopotamian culture, made Sheldon feel young again. Not that he had any desire to revisit the angst and weltschmerz of his neurotic youth, but there was something refreshing, revitalizing in her free-spirited repartee.

Samira wagged a taut index finger under his nose. “A man usually changes for one of two reasons: either he has learned or been hurt a lot.”

“Well, unfortunately, in Jakes case neither applies.”

“The fancy Jaguar sports car and the mini-mansion by the sea in Cape Cod… what ever happened to all the extravagance?”

“Sold to pay legal bills and make restitution.” Sheldon chuckled mirthlessly. “In additional to financial losses, the plaintiff claimed emotional damages.” Leaning forward, he suddenly reached across the table and grabbed her hand. “I’ve been thinking about what you said last week… how a person could die waiting for humanity to come to its senses.”

Samira eyed him curiously, while staring at his fingers resting on top of her own. “A person could languish a lifetime,” she agreed.

Curling his wrist, their ten fingers melded in a tidy bundle. “A lifetime or longer,” Sheldon picked up on the thread of the woman’s previous remark. “Or a couple might find their own solution separate and apart from the ceaseless inanity.” Sheldon leaned closer across the table. “What are you doing tomorrow night?”

“Why do you ask?”

“I thought maybe we could go out to dinner… catch an early movie.”

“Or, if the weather’s unsettled, stay home and watch something on television.”

Sheldon gently squeezed her fingers. “Our own two-state solution.”

“Theres an Arabic saying,” Samira replied. “It may be you dream a star and Allah wrote for you a moon.”

 

 

 

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