- Bashert, the Beloved
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From outside the French doors, the black cocker spaniel, Bashert, followed Alex Rosen from dresser to the bed and back again, with eyes clouded from cataracts. Alex dumped the dresser drawers directly into the waiting cardboard carton, not bothering to fold a cashmere sweater with lamb's wool collar or the countless pairs of unbecoming polyester shorts with their rippled waistbands. He taped the flaps in place. Done, finished, kaput. It felt damn good to put a lid on it all. The few hours left in the Saturday afternoon were his and his alone. He would allow himself one final day of bereavement before he once again took up the business at hand, moving real estate in a Phoenix summer so hot the bags of ice turned to slush between market and home. A few pressing matters still lurked in the corners of his thoughts. No matter what their daughter, Claire, thought, Alex had taken to sleeping on the sofa bed before learning of Elaine's illness. One night after watching a late-night John Wayne movie he simply decided to spare her the jiggling of the mattress. As simple as that, only thoughtfulness, no ulterior motives on his part whatsoever. It was Elaine who let Bashert, her beloved, take over his side of the bed, rub her weeping eyes on his pillow, shed those scratchy hairs between the sheets. It was Claire's mother's doing from the start.
Alex turned away from the dog's head so picturesquely framed in a single pane of glass. He tackled the bedside table, tossing a year-old [End Page 143] copy of The New Yorker, a romance novel, and an ancient tube of spermicidal jelly into a waste-paper basket. She kept everything. In the bottom drawer he came across the beige wallet with worn corners, as if Elaine, playing games from the grave, planted it for him to find. Four quarters, two dimes, a "good-luck" penny from the Horseshoe Club in Las Vegas dropped from the coin purse. Yeah. Some luck she had. A plastic accordion displayed credit cards from Macy's, J.C. Penney's, Visa. In the bill compartment he found a small folded paper with the familiar scrawl of her handwriting, as loopy as she was, Claire's new address for the fall semester at the university. A buried treasure well worth the search.
Since the day of the funeral when she lugged a brimming purple laundry basket out to a strange pickup truck, Claire had become incommunicado. She took the death hard, too hard, demanding minute details over and over again as if she was a private investigator hired to find the root, the cause of a disaster with no easy identifiable cause other than ethnicity or age. When, precisely, did Elaine discover the lump in her right breast? How did she learn of its clandestine existence? How come no one told her until the last three months? Why had all treatments failed, even the clinical study? When Alex confessed that he had no answers, Claire acted as if he'd conjured the cancer by sticking pins in a Jewish rag doll. All he knew was that there'd been little love between them for a very long time, but that fact did not make him a killer.
He pocketed the slip of paper and moved on to the bathroom to sweep the medicine cabinet shelves of makeup and the useless pills with their easy-to-open tops. He shifted his eyes to the light fixture above the mirror to avoid facing the dark pouches under his eyes and a new paunch straining at the belt. Since the funeral he'd craved dairy: ice cream, cheeseburgers, cheesecake; he was never without thin white sticks of mozzarella in his pocket.
In Elaine's last months, they'd slept apart, eaten apart, and barely spoke except to question whether the air conditioner needed a tune-up. That's the way she wanted it, so it was fine with him. Still, he was used to her footfall on the stairs, her raucous laughter on the...