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Just when he thought he'd gotten a handle on it, Noam realizes he hasn't even scratched the surface. This devastating discovery has come too late in the day for him to do anything about it. Other than cancel his flight back to LA, that is. Rescheduling it clearly isn't an option until he can at least estimate how long it will take to complete the task at hand. The one he's been commanded by his sister to tackle. "It's the least you can do," she said curtly.
And he knew better than to argue. Feared it would open a Pandora's Box much more daunting than any closet he is going to have to clean out. It had been bad enough, as far as the family was concerned, that Noam had upped and left Israel before the start of his first semester at university. Worse still, that what he ended up doing in California was moving furniture with a group of "punks" from a neighborhood in Tel Aviv they wouldn't be caught dead living in. Worst of all, that his lack of a Green Card prevented him from visiting for the first seven years - by which time his mother was in the early stages of Alzheimer's, and his father in deep distress and helplessness over it.
At the time, nothing had been demanded of Noam, either from his father or from his sister. But this wasn't unusual. Noam had always been viewed as the baby, and a surprise one at that. He was the eternal ben zkunim, born to a 48-year-old mother and 52-year-old father, who'd been told - following the birth of their first child - that they would not be able to conceive again. It was thus that, when Noam came along, his older sister, Dina, was herself a young mother with another baby on the way. As happens in situations such as these, Noam considered his sister more like an aunt, and his cousins contemporaries. As for Dina, she and her mother would spend their mornings taking care of the babies together.
The toll this took on the family was tremendous - though only in a behind-the-scenes kind of way. While on the surface, everything seemed to be going smoothly, below it bubbled resentment from every nook and cranny in each household.
Noam's father, who had just retired, kissed the world cruise he'd fantasized taking with his wife goodbye - replacing it with dreams of a full night of uninterrupted sleep.
Noam's mother, whose pregnancy preceded her menopause virtually by minutes, was in a terminally hormonal state of self-pity, that caused her to feel abandoned by her husband and by her daughter, who was too preoccupied with her own young children to be of any solace.
And Dina was seething over the fact that her mother had not only upstaged her - rather than serving as her much-needed support system - but had robbed her children of the only living grandmother they had.
No one actually took any of this out on Noam. On the contrary, he was treated like nothing less than a prince on a pedestal. And any natural tendency toward self-absorption and inconsiderateness was allowed to flourish, unhindered by rivalrous siblings or zealous parents.
Nor was anything ever expected of him, other than displays of cuteness and cleverness, which he possessed in abundance.
NOAM SIGNS off his conversation with a manager at El Al, after jotting down instructions about what to include in a letter requesting that he not be charged for cancelling his return flight. He makes a mental note to ask his sister for a copy of the death warrants of both parents, who died within 24 hours of each other - his mother having succumbed to her illness, and his father to what everyone believed was a broken heart.
He goes back to the master bedroom and opens the doors of each cupboard, overwhelmed and bewildered by the quantity of clothes, documents and other paraphernalia staring at him in the face. It occurs to him that he hadn't been aware that his mother and father were pack rats - a phenomenon he came to recognize in his work as a professional mover. But then, there is so much he hadn't been aware of while growing up that he wonders for a moment whether he had been shielded from it all or merely not been paying attention. He has a sudden urge to phone Dina and ask her, but stops short of actually dialing. A sense of self-preservation tells him that any trips down memory lane will have to wait until he completes cleaning out his parents' apartment. Otherwise, he suspects, he is likely to get one of those cold-shoulder responses he began receiving after making his grand exit out of the country and far away from the familial fray.
BUT WHERE - and how - to start? The order he had created out of this morning's chaos - which he had originally thought was the extent of the job - was made possible by two things: the fact that it was restricted to a finite pile of papers; and an array of plastic bags he had found in one of the kitchen drawers. Now he is left with a much more diverse set of items, and no receptacles in which to put them.
He looks at his watch. It is too late to drive to Ace Hardware and buy boxes. He will have to do this tomorrow, which is just as well, considering how exhausted he is. Bending down to untie his shoelaces, he notices his name on the binding of a book on the shelf above his mother's jewelry boxes. Sliding it out carefully, he sees that it is a photo album. Each picture in it has a caption with a date. "Noam nursing, 1975; Noam, age 6, Purim, 1981; Noam's bar mitzvah, 1988; Noam in uniform, 1993." On the last page is a photo of Noam waving from the escalator at Ben-Gurion Airport. The caption reads: "America awaits."
Noam lies down on the bed that his parents shared for more than half a century and weeps. He is back where he belongs and intends to stay. But there's no one to tell.