Материалы к занятию
Chapter V. Part I
NOVEMBER 16, 2008
Rain splatters the windshield of Tracy’s car as we whiz down I-5. The wipers squeak back and forth frantically in time with the beat of my heart.
“I remember your first date with him,” Tracy says a little nostalgically.
“You do?” I ask, turning to her.
“You were so nervous. You tried on a thousand outfits before you left.”
“Wild Ginger,” I say, my brain spitting out memories in rapid fire. “We went to Wild Ginger.”
“And I almost called the cops because you, always the homebody, didn’t come home until two A.M. You nearly gave me a heart attack.”
Tracy takes the James Street exit and winds her way down to Fourth Avenue. “We can park here, then walk around a bit. See if we find him by the restaurant.”
“Okay,” I say nervously.
When we pass a café, Tracy stops. “Coffee first.”
“Someone should make T-shirts with that phrase,” I say.
“I’d buy one,” Tracy says.
I follow her in, and we each order a double Americano, then Tracy changes hers to a triple at the last minute. “Remember the lattes we used to drink?” she says with a laugh.
“All that sugar,” I reply. “I think I drank a macadamia nut latte for at least a year straight.”
“I had a thing for toasted marshmallow,” she says. “Remember that?”
Her eyes light up. “And tiramisu.” She laughs. “What were we thinking?”
I laugh, but it’s hollow, and lonely. A laugh filled with regret and longing for the way things used to be. Those bottles of Torani syrups, like the two wide-eyed twenty-two-year-olds we once were, are distant memories now.
We sip our no-frills coffee and begin our search. My eyes dart right and left as we make our way down Fourth, and then to Third. I scour every alley, every dumpster, every crevice along the way. The rain is falling harder now, so I pull the hood of my jacket over my head as Tracy ducks under the eave of a building.
“Le Marche is just up the way,” I say. “It’s closed now, but maybe he’s there again.”
Tracy nods and follows me down the next block and up a side street. “At this point, it’s probably our best bet.”
We walk in silence for two more blocks, and I toss my coffee cup into a garbage can. I can’t speak. I can’t even really think. All I can do is put one foot in front of the other, heart pounding.
I see the green awning of Le Marche in the distance. I’m so distracted crossing the street that I don’t notice an SUV to my right, and the driver honks in annoyance as I jaywalk.
The restaurant is dark as I peer through the windows, then scan the exterior.
“He’s not here,” I say, crestfallen.
Tracy pulls her phone out of her pocket and steps under the awning to answer it while I walk a few steps to look down the alley beside the restaurant, which is empty, save for a dumpster and a waterlogged cardboard box.
We wait for a few minutes, then I suggest we walk up to Fifth. “There’s a homeless shelter up there,” I say, recalling an article I wrote last year, a piece about a hotshot chef in town who had teamed up with a benefactor — off the radar, until the meal preparations somehow ended up as a Food Network special — to cook for the homeless. Thanks to their efforts, soggy grilled cheese sandwiches were replaced with salmon en croute and endive salad with candied walnuts. I’d like to think that my local coverage — more than the onetime TV exposure — led to it becoming a yearly event for charity.
“We could see if…” My voice trails off. I still can’t believe Cade’s plight. That I could possibly walk into a shelter and find him there lying on some urine-stained cot.
Tracy pats my arm. “Don’t be scared,” she says. “You can do this.”
I nod, and together we make our way up the next block to a brick building with peeling black paint on its door. A toothless woman with stringy gray hair stands on the sidewalk, drinking from a bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag.
“You cops?” she asks in a deep, raspy voice, taking a step back.
“No,” Tracy says. “We’re not.”
The woman nods and lifts the bottle to her lips once more. I notice an open wound on her left arm, festering and red; I shudder inwardly as Tracy places her hand on the doorknob. “Maybe we’ll get lucky,” she whispers to me.
I follow my friend inside to a lobby, where a middle-aged man with a goatee and a receding hairline sits at a desk. The air smells of body odor, damp carpeting, and stale cigarettes, but also of sadness, dashed dreams.
“Howdy,” the man says, looking up. His face is familiar, and I immediately remember the unexpectedly cheerful tenor of his voice. He must remember me, too. “Are you the reporter from the Herald?”
“Yes,” I say. “Kailey Crain.” It’s been at least a year since I interviewed him. “Forgive me, you’ll have to remind me of your name.”
“Abe Farrell,” he says, extending his hand. “I figured the two of you weren’t looking for a room for the night.” He laughs to himself, but Tracy and I are too stunned to respond to his attempt at humor. We just stare blankly. “What can I do you for?”
“We’re looking for someone,” I say quickly, taking a step forward. “A man.”
“Got a name?”
I look at Tracy, then back at Abe. “Yes, his name is Cade McAllister.”
Abe shakes his head. “Don’t think we have anyone by that name, but with our clientele, you never know. Some of them don’t even know their own names.”
I nod. “He’s about six foot. Thin. He has a beard. He was wearing an army-green jacket yesterday, boots.” The image of him sitting on the sidewalk, now burned into my mind, lingers. I feel unsettled thinking about his eyes — so sad, so lost. “His jeans had holes” — I point to my shins — “right along here.”
“Sorry, miss,” the man says, smiling again. “That about describes every man in this place.”
I let out a defeated sigh.
He shrugs. “If you’d like to show me a picture, maybe I could be of more help.”
I reach for my wallet and pull out a faded snapshot of Cade and me together, in Big Sur, at a scenic outlook along Highway 1. I smile to myself, remembering the trip in vivid detail. We rented a convertible, and I wrapped a beige scarf around my head Grace Kelly–style. By the time we’d reached that little overlook, each of us was green from car sickness after navigating one too many twists and turns, but you couldn’t tell from the photo.
“This is him,” I say, holding the picture out to Abe, who squints, then shrugs.
“I’m afraid there’s no one like that around here,” he says after a few moments. “But if you’d like, I can take you in and you can have a look for yourself.”
“Thanks,” I say, looking at Tracy, then back at him. “I’d appreciate that.”
We follow him, a bit warily, down a small hallway and through a doorway to a large room, where bunks line the walls. Three men sit at a central table, immersed in a game of cards. A few others appear to be asleep or passed out in their bunks. Another is muttering to himself in the corner. None of them is Cade.
“No,” I say with a sigh. “He’s not here.”
“Sorry,” Abe says. “This man, is he your… boyfriend?”
I shake my head. “No, no,” I say, rubbing my engagement ring. “He’s just an old friend.”
“Well,” he says. “This old friend of yours is lucky to have someone like you looking for him.” He smiles. “I hope you find him.”
“Me too,” I say.
As he turns to the door, I place my hand on my right shoulder. “Wait,” I say, taking off my jacket and lifting up the sleeve of my T-shirt. “This tattoo — he has one just like it. Does it look familiar to you?”
“No, I’m afraid I haven’t seen any tattoos like that one.”
Just then I notice that one of the men who’s playing cards, older and with a long gray beard, is looking up at me.
“All right,” I say dejectedly, slipping my arms into my jacket as the bearded man stands up from the table.
“Excuse me,” he says, walking toward me, a fan of cards in his right hand. I notice the ace of spades, and I think of the time I taught Cade to play Thirty-One, my grandparents’ favorite card game. Cade won. “That tattoo. It looks like… Mitchell’s.”
I shake my head. “Mitchell?”
“Yeah, he’s a strange one. Doesn’t speak. He’s in and out of here, but he spends most of his time up on Fourth by that fancy Frenchy place, what’s it called—”
“Le Marche?” I ask eagerly.
“Yeah, that’s the one.”
My eyes widen. “Are you sure you recognize the tattoo?” I slip my jacket off again to show him.
“Yes, ma’am,” he says, peering closer.
“Please tell me. Why do you call him Mitchell?”
He shrugs. “Hell if I know. Mitchell is what’s printed on that army jacket he always wears. I guess everyone just assumed that’s his name. Maybe it is; maybe it isn’t.” He chuckles to himself. “My name’s Frank, but everyone calls me Mad Dog.”
“Mad Dog,” I say. “Well, thank you.”
He nods and begins to walk back to the card game; I think about Cade, wearing an army jacket with the name MITCHELL stamped over his heart. How did this happen?
“Pardon me for being nosy,” Mad Dog says, turning to face me once more. “But how’s it that someone like you and someone like him have the same tattoo?”
Tears sting my eyes. I take a deep breath, my lower lip trembling a little. “He and I are not different. We are the same. And I once loved him, very much.”
I feel Tracy’s hand on my arm. “C’mon, honey, let’s go.”
Numbly I walk out behind her to the street.
The rain has picked up again, and when we make it back to the sidewalk in front of Le Marche, Tracy and I duck under the awning.
“What next?” she asks.
“I think I’ll stay here for a while,” I say. “See if he comes back.”
Tracy nods as she reaches into her pocket to pull out her ringing phone. I wander a few steps ahead and have another look down the alley beside the restaurant. Vacant, aside from a pigeon pecking at the pavement in the distance.
“That was the hospital,” Tracy says, walking toward me a moment later. “Patient crisis. I’m so sorry; I have to go.”
“I’ll be okay on my own,” I say as the pigeon startles and flies off farther into the alley, desolate and gray.
I stand on the sidewalk for a few minutes, then begin walking up the block to a Starbucks, where I order another coffee and slide into a chair by the window. It’s raining harder now, and the window is foggy, like my mind. I use the sleeve of my jacket to clear away a spot so I can see the passersby. Any of them could be Cade, but none is.
I leave the café. An hour passes, and then two. Ryan calls, and I tell him I’m doing some field research. Another white lie. He asks if I can make risotto for dinner. I say yes, and ask him to pick up Arborio rice at Whole Foods. Our conversation is easy, effortless. It ebbs and flows as if each of us has a script. But right now, I don’t love the script. I hate that I am talking about Arborio rice and Whole Foods when Cade is somewhere in the city, cold, probably hungry, perhaps slumped over in some alley in the rain. I hate it all. The rice and the rain and the way life has unfolded.
I lean against the brick wall of the restaurant, which has just opened for Sunday lunch. Through the windows, I notice an attractive couple at the bar. She’s wearing a flouncy ivory linen dress, straight off the rack of Free People. She twirls her long brunette hair and leans in flirtatiously toward her date, a clean-shaven man with dark-rimmed glasses. I imagine their conversation.
“I love oysters,” she is saying.
“Me too!” he replies.
“But not mussels,” she adds, daintily sipping her chilled rosé.
“Never mussels,” he says in instant agreement. “Those are the questionable mollusks.”
She laughs, taking another slow sip of her wine, which is the color of the MAC blush she applied to her cheeks earlier. She wonders if she’s put on too much. And whether she’s met her soulmate.
A car speeds by and I narrowly miss the spray from a mud puddle. I clutch the gold chain around my neck, letting my fingers trace the familiar path to the locket at its base, gold, with my initials engraved on the back. It was a gift from my grandparents for my tenth birthday, and I’ve worn it ever since.
“What are you going to put inside?” Grandma asked me when I first slipped it on.
“I don’t know yet,” I said, imagining that the object I’d choose above all others would have to be very special.
That very day, Grandpa pulled out an aged cigar box and sorted through old coins, photographs with scalloped edges, postcards, and yellowed snippets of paper until he’d selected a tiny object, which he held in his hand.
“The prettiest shell, for the prettiest girl,” he said, planting a kiss on my forehead.
I turned it over and over in my hand, beaming.
“Would you like to hear the story of how I found it?” he asked.
I nodded, keeping my eyes on my new prized possession. I had always loved Grandpa’s stories.