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   Chapter 15 Saving Saffron Sweeting Chapter 1

Attention Span and Other Stories By PaulineWiles Characters: 10643

Updated: 2018-01-11 12:02

Only a complete lunatic would try to fly somewhere the Sunday after Thanksgiving. And yet, there we were, O'Hare Airport, Sami battling to steer our absurd luggage cart through the shuffling crowds.

Everyone looked miserable. Half had basked in the pumpkin pie-scented warmth of their familial circle, and didn't want to return home. The other half had endured prickling awkwardness with either their own kin, or, as in my case, the in-laws, and were now being further tortured in a seething herd of fellow travellers.

I could have helped Sami with the cart but I was determined not to be obliging. I hadn't wanted to go to Chicago for Thanksgiving, pleading to see my own family and sister in Santa Barbara instead.

'But you can go at Christmas, ' Sami had said. He didn't want to visit his maniacal father either, but after four years of us ducking and dodging, Jafar was threatening to come to us in Seattle.

'Michelle won't be there at Christmas. Andrew's parents are taking them on a Disney cruise.'

I had met my baby nephew only once, had fallen shockingly in love, and was aching to see little Danny again. He smelled of warm cookies and had clung to my finger like a climber in a crevasse. What's more, I was dying to escape the rain and enjoy Thanksgiving lunch on the terrace of my parents' graceful white house with its Spanish tiled roof. Chicago's sleet and bitter wind held no allure for me.

I was even less in need of a dose of Sami's Iranian father. Ironically, his heritage had been part of the attraction when we had met, twelve years ago now, in a quirky café in downtown Berkeley. I had been mesmerised by Sami's molten chocolate eyes and thick dark hair. As I got to know him, I discovered with delight that his American mother had instilled western values in her son: he was fully supportive of my ambitions to specialise in genetics counselling. To me, he was an exotic, modern-day romantic hero.

The magic wore thin when we moved to Seattle after graduation, so that Sami could take a lucrative job in software. The rain had tarnished the sheen on our marriage as my career sputtered and stalled. I found myself stuck in a doctor's office, typing, filing, and greeting. Sami's luminous smile made fewer appearances these days.

Finally, we reached the special security desk. Our cargo, a Persian rug, was too large to go through the regular baggage system.

'What the hell was he thinking?' I snarled to Sami for about the tenth time. 'What a damn crazy thing to do.'

'He meant well. It's his culture to give us stuff.'

'We should have gotten rid of it.'

Unfortunately, Jafar had given both us and the rug a ride to the airport, double kissing us goodbye at the kerbside with tears in his eyes.

'C'mon, Tess, we can't just dump a large package in the check-in hall.'

'And it's going to cost a fortune. I know it.' I prided myself on travelling light and had arrived in Chicago with only handbaggage.

'I'll pay, ' Sami said curtly. Money was another thing we had started to bicker about.

Jafar's previous presents had usually missed the mark, but this one was bordering on ridiculous.

'I have for you a gift, ' he had announced proudly after lunch on Thursday. Instead of turkey and pecan pie, we had feasted on saffron-coloured shrimp stir-fry. To my dismay, Jafar's Iranian second wife had eaten in the kitchen, refusing my polite urging to join us.

Our gift was a mammoth green plastic package, the size of a nightstand. It took two people to lift.

'This is coming all the way from Iran, ' Jafar said. He pronounced the country Ee-rrahn. 'It is an antique carpet.'

I went pale. My nerves were already stretched from the effort of being polite to my father-in-law. He was an impetuous man, given to grand gestures and appallingly sexist comments. I knew his attitudes were cultural, but he was living in America now, for heaven's sake. On previous occasions, he had asked me if I knew how to drive, whether I worked, and if I exercised my right to vote. The implication was that his son's wife should be doing none of these things.

In the early days, Sami had defended me and womankind vigorously, insisting I was a better driver than he and that of course I worked. He'd even thrown in for good measure that I could run a mile faster than most men. On this visit, though, when Jafar trotted out derisive remarks, Sami had sighed and kept his eyes fixed on the European soccer on television. He doesn't even like soccer.

We'd gathered around the monstrous package.

'Do not open it, ' Jafar ordered. 'It is sealed, for you to take home.'

Great, I thought. We now have to navigate an airport on the busiest day of the year with a massive, unknown parcel given to us by an Iranian national. We would probably get body searched.

I looked at Sami, willing him to decline the gift.

He too was pondering the rug doubtfully, but he wouldn't meet my eyes. He knew how particular – fussy – I am about our home. Nothing gets in to our neat townhouse without my approval, and most of what does is rejected within a couple of years, as my tastes evolve. More often than not, gifts from stylish girlfriends are hidden in closets. The free mugs that Sami tries to bring back from computing conferences are donated within days. So there

was no way on earth I was going to live with a hideous Persian artefact.

Despite my glare, Sami thanked his father and they hugged awkwardly.

'What colour is it?' I asked, swallowing the acid in my throat and summoning my manners.

Jafar looked uncertain. 'Red, ' he said, after a pause.

'Milky, ' his timid wife offered simultaneously, stretching her minimal English to its limit.

They didn't know, of course. They'd never actually seen the rug. Jafar had probably ordered it by telephone, talking rapidly across nine time zones to the friend of a friend. I shook my head in frustration. Coincidentally, I had been thinking about buying a rug for our dining area, but this sure as heck wasn't it. It was undoubtedly valuable and I could only imagine what it had cost to ship from Tehran. Why couldn't he have just given us the money, and I would have gone to Pottery Barn and picked out something tasteful?

Seven hours later, we were home, exhausted, barely talking. I hadn't slept well for four nights, resentment and a sagging air mattress conspiring against sweet dreams.

To my surprise, the excess baggage had cost a mere forty dollars. And the X-ray machine had revealed nothing sinister lurking within. I had entertained a brief fantasy that American Airlines might misplace it, but of course it had shown up with brash defiance in the luggage hall at Tacoma.

Sami was out of breath from hauling the green plastic interloper up the stairs from our garage. 'We can put it into storage, ' he said.

He knew he was in big trouble. His lovechild would probably have received a warmer welcome in our home. Meanwhile, though, I had made espresso in my beloved De'Longhi machine and was inhaling the comforting steam. And I had to admit, I was curious.

I kicked off my shoes and shrugged. 'We may as well take a look.'

Sami slit the plastic and the carpet came popping out, like the dough in a can of ready-to-bake crescent rolls. Together, we wriggled and pulled until the rug flopped onto the dark hardwood floor.

I folded my arms and prepared to hate it. 'This must be the back, right?'

The colours were too muted, too calm. But no, closer inspection revealed this was the front of the rug: taupe and cream, with smoky blue-grey hints and a little sage. Jafar's wife had been correct with milky. The pattern, of course, was swirly, traditional, uninspiring. However, the rug was a good size, huge, in fact. It might even be big enough to accommodate our sleek Ethan Allen dining table.

I walked to the far side of the room, looking at the rug from a distance. I tilted my head, pursed my lips, narrowed my eyes.

Sami was watching me, his body tense.

I sniffed. 'It might just work.'

'Where?' he asked.

I didn't answer, already moving the dining room chairs.

Between us, we lifted the table, struggled to move it, dragged the heavy rug into position, and put the table back. As I suspected, there was still ample room for the chairs.

I stood back, hands on hips, ignoring the twinge in my lower back. How, exactly, was this possible? The taupe in the rug coordinated perfectly with the Benjamin Moore paint on our walls. The cream echoed the silk of the drapes, and the gentle smoky blue enhanced my large glossy lamps, which had been a luxurious splurge last birthday. The traditional style was a punchy contrast to the modern lines of the table and the striped covers on our custom dining chairs. It was as if it had been chosen for this space and no other.

I reached out an experimental toe and found the rug was densely woven, yet disarmingly soft. I got down on my hands and knees and sniffed: wool, of course, a little cinnamon, nothing too offensive. I circled the table, looking from every angle, went into the kitchen, viewed it from there. I was a mother sheep, deciding whether to accept an orphaned lamb as my own.

Sami stood to one side, eyebrows raised, knowing better than to interrupt.

I flicked the switch on the coffee machine again. 'It can stay.'

'Really?' He was surprised.

I nodded. 'It looks pretty good.'

Actually, it looked perfect. I flushed and dropped my eyes to the rug.

Carefully, as if he might get clawed at any moment, Sami put his arms around me. I stiffened but then relaxed, letting my cheek fall against his chest. He was wearing the cashmere sweater I'd bought him last Christmas.

'Okay?' He kissed my forehead.

'Yeah.' I exhaled slowly. 'Sorry I was moody all weekend.'

'You were great, ' he said, and we both knew he was lying.

After a pause, Sami spoke. 'How about we call in sick tomorrow and go get a Christmas tree?'

I blinked, opening my mouth to snap that I couldn't possibly. The medical practice would be besieged by patients who had burned themselves making sweet potato casserole, or cut themselves carving turkey. Or – and these were the worst kind – those who had decided they couldn't face December without upping their dose of Prozac.

Still, I looked again at our Persian rug. I had been so wrong about that. I lifted my head and looked into my husband's chocolate eyes.

'You choose it, ' he said. 'I'll chop.'

Something in his gaze told me he was asking a bigger question.

'A tree?' I gave a tiny nod, willing at least to meet him halfway. 'I'd love to.'

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