It rained through the night. The angry patter on the roof and the steady gutter overflowing beat against the gravel below. I thought I heard Gigi open the front door, but when I peered into her room she was not there and the bed was neat and tightly drawn.
I decided to go for a run. I didn’t eat breakfast. I drank a glass of water and stepped outside. Cash stood in the street with his hands in his pockets. He smiled. We walked together wrapped in silence, the way the fog wrapped the air. Along the river’s path a violinist strung his heart in slow gasps, like the fleeting breathes of a dying man. We stopped under the branches to watch. Tears fell down his hairless face. His hands were pale, lips thin and grey, brows and lashes shadows of the fallen past.
Cash said, “I missed you.”
I wanted him to stop talking, stop moving, stop it all so I could listen, so I could see. He walked away and found a bench. I followed him and sat. He looked peaceful.
Cash pulled out a cigarette and said, “Do you have a lighter?”
I turned away. I turned back. I felt his breath against my cheek.
Then it was gone.
• • •
During the drive to Seattle a three car wreck slowed traffic down to a standstill. After two hours I passed the flashing lights and mangled metal. I watched it and drove on. Western Washington had received steady rain for the past two weeks. Some areas had possible flooding. I did not plan to go to the funeral. I wanted to see his mother. I wanted to tell her how much Cash loved her. That he did not die sad or in pain. When I imagined her loft I saw myself standing near a window viewing the water. The sun would shine and I would hear Cashmere laughing with her. He called her Mon Fleur. But the clouds blocked the sun and Cashmere was not here. He could not say her name.
At the street entrance stood a man who asked if I was here to see Fleurette. He led me to an elevator and once at the fifth floor down the hallway. He knocked twice and an elderly woman opened the door. The man left me and the woman took my hand and sat me down on a couch. A group of four women talked around the kitchen island. A box of tissue and an ashtray was in the middle. They drank coffee. The woman asked my named.
I said, “Madeleine.”
The women in the kitchen looked up. One of them asked, “The girlfriend?” I nodded.
The elderly woman said, “Let me get you some tea.”
• • •
They sat around me and told stories of Cashmere as a child. How he wouldn’t go to sleep at night, wouldn’t take a bath, wouldn’t eat applesauce. Stubborn as a mule. Two of the women were Fleurette’s younger sisters. The other two distant cousins. The woman who led me in was a friend from Spokane. Her hand shook as she handed me a cup of tea. She pointed to the coffee table with glass bowls of sugar and cream. She sat next to me and pushed the box of tissues closer. She said, Fleurette was resting. She would be out soon.
Someone arranged pictures of Cashmere on a table in the living room. In most of them he was playing baseball or posing in his uniform, holding a bat or a glove. Trophies and plaques were displayed, autographed baseball cards and a baseball with the words, “First MLB Homerun” written in black marker, a framed copy of a check for three-hundred thousand dollars, a hand-written poem titled, “Mon Fleurette,” written in French. The last line “Love, Cashmere.” I turned away from the table and out the window across the room dark clouds brooded over Elliot Bay. Rain fell like dirty shreds of cotton. The water churned an ugly gray. A woman started crying. A door opened.
Fleurette was a lithe woman with striking black hair. She moved fluently across the room and took me in her arms. The women around us started crying. Fleurette, however, did not. She pressed herself hard into my body and then stood back and held my shoulders. She smiled.
She said, “He talked about you often.”
I tried to smile.
She said, “I have something to give you.”
I followed her into a bedroom. On the dresser sat two shoeboxes side by side. Fleurette opened one and took out a letter.
She said, “Cashmere wrote me while he was on the road. He stopped writing the last month. But I wanted you to hear his last letter.”
She unfolded the letter and started to read.
I said, “No.”
She looked at me and I sat down on the bed.
“I don’t want to hear it.”
“I’m sorry dear.”
She folded the letter back up and placed it in the shoebox. She placed the shoebox next to me on the bed.
“You don’t have to take them if you don’t want to. He mostly wrote about you. That is why I want you to have them. To remember.”
Fleurette went to the mirror and dabbed at the makeup under eyes. She applied lipstick then wiped it off.
She said, “What’s the use?” And sat down next to me. She held my hands in hers. “You are much prettier than I imagined. You made him very happy.”
I wanted her to stop talking. Stop remembering. I hoped to tell her what I didn’t tell Cash before he died. But I knew I couldn’t. She was not Cash. She would not understand the way he would. We sat on a bed in Seattle, not a park bench in Portland. It was not morning, not cold, a violin did not play, no dogs barked. When I turned he wasn’t there. He would not be any longer.
I said, “Can we look at the water? I want to look at the water with you.”
Fleurette held a hand to her face and took mine with the other. We stood by the window looking out at the clouds falling into the bay. The women made food in the kitchen. Someone opened a door to let the cigarette smoke out. A teakettle steamed. Someone dropped a box of tissues and apologized.
“As a child my father would take me north up to the Buffalo Pound Lake above Moose Jaw and Regina. We traveled in his truck and the exhaust would come into the cab so we drove with the windows rolled down. It was summer so we didn’t freeze. The roads were these long stretches of open fields and trees lining the creek beds. I felt like I was the only girl in the whole world. Inside the empty space.”
“What was your father’s name?”
“His name was Robert. He called me Fleurette because I was his only flower. Down one of those empty roads, in the middle of a bare field stood this wood shack, the windows bare, strips of wood missing, and it leaned. I would watch it for miles hoping it wouldn’t fall over. I’d hold my breath. During winter the snow covered it completely and all one could see was a big bump in a white field. And then my mother died and my father started drinking and I left as soon as I could.”
“Cash didn’t tell me much about your childhood.”
“I told him little. I never told him about the shack in the empty field.”
“I think he would have liked it.”
“It’s funny. Whenever I think about that shack now, I want it to fall over. I hope it’s fallen over. If feel like it’s all fallen over.”
The next day at work Fadi’s office was empty. His secretary told me he refused to give up his contact for the Cashmere story to Danny. The guy who bought his steroids. With the Senate report due out in a few days and Cashmere’s name rumored to be on the list of players named the story needed to be out before the report.
I went to the café and found Fadi. The ashtray on the table smoked from unfinished butts. He held a cup of coffee in both hands and sat with one leg crossed over the other. I sat down. It started to rain.
He said, “I changed my mind on who I’d give my money to.”
“The park ranger’s wife or the gorillas. I said I wouldn’t give my money to either, but I changed my mind. I donated it to the woman whose husband was shot. I did that this morning and now I regret my decision.”
“Why? She will take your hundred dollars and buy groceries with it. She will feed her children.”
“What good does that do?” He stood straight up in the chair and set his coffee on the table. He put a cigarette in his mouth. His pupils grew inside his glasses.
I said, “It’s a piece. When it all falls apart and shatters we don’t know how to put it all back together. When other people help with the pieces sometimes we find hope.”
Fadi sat back and inhaled a deep breath of smoke.
I said, “You can write your story. It doesn’t matter now.”
Fadi said, “It’s all that matters now.”
• • •
On my street the neighbor kids kicked a soccer ball. They used a garbage can for a goal. One boy wore an oversized Inter Milan jersey. The rain continued to fall. Drops of water slid down their faces. The ball landed in front of me in a puddle. The water splashed my ankles.
They said, “Por favor senora. Por favor.”
I reached down into the water. Reached like the Italian fishermen into the Mediterranean, reached like the violinist with his song, like the gorillas for their children, like the widow for her husband, like Fleurette toward the leaning shack. I reached the way Cashmere reached for me.
I drop kicked it over their heads. It sailed up, up, up.
And then it fell.