There is a sketch in an old journal from years ago of a fortress—a place for keeping secrets and acting out. I drew that fortress when Nora started coming around.
When Nora and I first found each other, I was living in a townhouse—a fortress big enough for two people where there were deadbolt locks near the doorknobs and chain-locks near the floor. Jane and I had talked about moving in together, but then she left me shortly after I got the new place. In the days after Jane left, I spent nights looking at the bottoms of bottles and listening to loud music in dark bars.
Nora was a dancer most of the time, even when she wasn’t physically engaged in the act of dancing. Dance was something that lived in her, and as she moved through a room, she danced through it always. Some people dance and some people are dancers. Nora was a dancer.
Nora kissed me one night even though she had a boyfriend—against the door to the fortress. I didn’t mind much the kissing part, but the rest made me feel weird. So I turned off the lights so I didn’t have to see it happen even though I could still feel it moving over my body like rain.
I should have probably been a better person—less of a hypocrite. Nora’s boyfriend was a good guy. He smoked sometimes, and the one night he almost caught us together, I invited him in for a drink and we smoked cigars on my back porch. I hoped he couldn’t smell her perfume as it lingered in the air and on my clothes.
After that, I didn’t see her for a while. It was like she had never existed, but just as I was ready to call the whole thing a dream, I would find a hair on a pillow-case that was not red like mine, but brown like hers.
She had gone into hiding and would emerge only occasionally enough to remind me she was real. We spent a long time chasing each other through the dark. She would pop up in the alley at the shady bar at the edge of town, or she would find me jogging through the woods, or she would send me a message to come find her in a dark parking lot.
Nora was like an itch you couldn’t find—an itch that was too deep under the skin. When she was around, she fed parts of my brain that I didn’t know were hungry, and she danced around the dark apartment-turned-fortress, candles her only stage light. When she was gone, I was alone with all of that space.
Things with Nora ended when I left town for good. I needed to get out. The aftershocks of my relationship with Jane had continued to shake the ground beneath my feet, and Nora wasn’t going to ever be someone I could really be with. She came to see me as I was packing, and the rain was falling in the pollen-covered parking lot. When she left, she sat in her car refusing to look up at me and I closed the door. The next day I loaded down a U-Haul and moved on from the fortress that I had rented for one woman, but ended up spending more time inside with another.
The last I heard, she was married, but not to the guy who smoked.
I think we all probably get one Nora in our lives. She is the one that makes us do things a little bit different from the way we normally would do things, which is really only a bad thing if someone gets hurt.
I hope Nora is still dancing--wherever she is.