I was encouraged by a few people to share some of my fiction. I don’t know if people read fiction on blogs. This will be in four or five parts.
I sat next to him and noticed a sudden serenity on his face as he asked for a light. The cold made it difficult to pull from my jacket and I looked away from his eyes. When I turned back, on that park bench, in that brisk morning, while the river slid shamelessly and the leaves slipped through the fog, the man died.
I woke to mornings like that. Where the languid fog floated, brooded through the oaks like a hearth’s lulling heat. I bristled next to it, smiled and said hello, passed it with indifference. That was morning to me. The park rolled in mist and the trees still in slumber as the birds bounced like excited children. The river rolled at its unguarded pace. A breath. I turned as the moisture caressed my skin. Then it was gone.
• • •
I said, “Are you in Albuquerque?”
I knew where he was. I knew he’d be there for a five game series, catch a flight on Monday, land in Colorado Springs until Thursday. Then Tacoma. Then back in Portland for a homestead.
He said, “I’m seeing the ball well.” But he struck out twice on Wednesday. By Friday he’ll have a double.
He said, “I can’t wait to see you, Maddy.”
I know he’ll be released in September when the team’s previous year top draft pick is called up from double A. I know because my father would know. He’d know that Cash was a liability with his knee. That no team needed a left fielder who couldn’t run or be converted to first base, whose only thirty homerun season came before the steroid crackdown.
He said, “I talked to my agent.”
I said, “He dropped you two months ago.” I said it the way I told him I bought shoes. “They were pink.”
He said, “You look good in pink.”
• • •
Cash is short for Cashmere. His mother was an Olympic high jumper from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. She ran away from her father’s dairy farm after high school. Met a charming law-breaker in Montreal who sent her poetry written in French from prison. She didn’t read French, but she kept every letter in a shoebox on a shelf in her living room in Seattle. The poet dropped out of the picture somewhere. Cash was drafted out of high school. I met him last season during media day at the ballpark.
Danny Bourne, the Portland Post’s sports editor, had an equivocal smile as he drilled Cash about his waning career.
“After a thirty homer season, when the league commissioner begins adding harsher penalties for steroid use, you drop twenty pounds, go out with an injury for half the season, and now you’re no longer in the majors. Is this just a case of bad luck?”
Cash said, “It’s just a slump.”
“What about the upcoming Senate report on steroid use in professional baseball. There are rumors it will name names. Are you worried?”
In my head I saw Cash smile. He doesn’t. But I see him smile and I can’t put it all together; his baseball cap sitting high on his shaved head, an obnoxious wrinkle in his brow. It had rained that morning and the turf was wet and the balls during batting practice threw off sparks of water rolling across the carpet.
I asked, “Do you like living in the Northwest?” I asked that because I was not supposed to, because I’m only tagging along, because I’m just a staff writer in the world news department. Danny threw me a wry smile.
“Yes. I like the smell.”
And that was Cash. Country-boyish simple and he never lived on a farm. Before high school he hopped with is mother from Baltimore, Kansas City, Dallas, Houston, Spokane. High school ended and he became a professional. A professional at hitting and throwing. He was paid money for that. At one time lots of it. And that’s why his mother enjoys a view of the Puget Sound from her two-bedroom loft.
• • •
Being a staff writer meant I knew a little about everything in the world. What I didn’t know I read or asked Fadi, the assistant sports editor. I asked him to buy me coffee. He bought baklava, either because he liked it or because he knew I didn’t. We sat in metal chairs, our table rocked from an uneven leg. People walked by in shorts and white legs. It was the first warm week in April. I asked Fadi to tell me what he loved. He offered a cigarette while he thought. His black hair was slicked back with a coconut smelling gel. He folded one leg over the other and slouched in his chair, but still appeared tall. His olive eyes floated behind his glasses, almost outside of him, like he could see in all directions, through thoughts. But it was unassuming and warm. His pupils shrank.
“I love Inter Milan.” He saw my blank expression. “Football club.”
My father said soccer was boring so I say it’s excruciating. Fadi told me Inter Milas had won the Italian football league championship the past two seasons. One year because Juventus and other teams cheated, bullied managers, paid of referees.
I said, “Are you Italian?”
“No,” he laughed. He didn’t say what he was. I didn’t ask.
But I did ask about the Italian mafia. He shrugged. I knew about the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta and how they controlled the futbol clubs’ money flow. Where families in the southern province of Italy killed each other over minor misunderstandings and clear understandings. Wives were shot pointblank in the streets of Rome. Sons and cousins gunned down in pizza parlors in Germany. Hot it’s all connected to the cocaine floating across the Mediterranean from Columbia, unloaded in Sicilian ports overcrowded with immigrants from Sudan, Ghana, Morocco. Tunisian fishermen arrested for saving groups of drowning Ethiopians. Desperate Romanian women selling themselves to Italians driving Audis. They’re found in an alleyway. An Eritrean’s neck is cut open with a broken wine bottle. It’s said to be accidental.
A woman walked by in thick heels, pounding the sidewalk, announcing to the pedestrians three blocks away that she was coming through. I blew smoke in her path. Fadi’s pupils grew.
I don’t know where he was from and I didn’t ask. I was afraid to ask. I knew he was an editor at a local Arabic newspaper. That he went under heat for an anti-Semitic article. I knew this because Danny told me.
Danny said, “I don’t trust him. But we need him. Need him like the others.” He said this looking at the secretary. I thought he was saying this because she was young and beautiful and that we needed more young and beautiful people with new ideas and new energy in the newsroom. But the secretary was black and that was why he said it. He was saying it because the Editor in Chief, Carlos Gutierrez, was Hispanic. And the Post did an article about the Mexicans waiting for work along Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and the city tortilla factory that occasionally didn’t pay their employees.
Fadi said, “Men go through my trash at night.”
“No,” he said. His eyes grew.
To read part 2 click here.