This scene is where Pat Nolan hits bottom. The years of estrangement from his daughter Megan have culminated in her suicide and a depressing interview with a haughty Parisian police inspector. His heart broken, he finally breaks down and cries at the gentle touch of the flower girl. He has never denied his culpability for turning his back on Megan, but now it hits him with full force. She is dead, there is no way he can gain redemption. He is wrong, as the reader of the novel will soon see.
Pat walked along the river after finishing his coffee, then turned away from the water in the neighborhood of the Eiffel Tower, which was teeming with tourists, who, trance-like, were streaming to the giant structure like insects to the sacred seat of their queen. His hotel was in this neighborhood, as was the Rue des Fleurs, which he decided to visit before being “collected” by Detective Laurence. He knew from looking at his city map the night before that it ran only two blocks, from Rue de l’Universite roughly southerly to Rue de Montessuy. When he made the turn from Rue de l’Universite onto Rue des Fleurs, he saw a city worker in hip boots using a hose connected to a truck that followed him slowly as he methodically sprayed the sidewalk on Pat’s side. Rather than backing up, he stepped into a doorway that turned out to be the foyer of a small apartment house. There, squatting before him, was a woman arranging bouquets of flowers in two large wicker baskets.
“Would you like to buy a bouquet of flowers, Monsieur,” she said, without looking up, apparently deducing from his shoes and jeans that he was a man. “For your daughter? Your wife?”
The woman’s hair was pitch black, and at first Pat thought she was one of the gypsies who pestered the tourists in virtually all of Europe’s capitals. Then she stood and Pat saw that she was not a gypsy and not a woman but rather a girl of thirteen or fourteen with large luminous eyes set in a pale face of immaculate complexion and indecipherable national origin. The foyer was small, only ten feet by ten feet, but its richly paneled walls reached up some twenty feet to meet in a darkly latticed cathedral ceiling. The floor beneath them was a pink and gray striated marble. The transom above the front door was made of stained glass of pale blues and greens, and the light spilling from it cast the girl’s face in an angelic glow. Outside, the street washer was passing. The girl, holding a bouquet of roses in one hand and wiping the other on her poorly cut cloth coat, smiled and said, “The street cleaner has sent you to me.”
Pat could not find his tongue for a second and then without thinking he reached into the back pocket of his jeans and withdrew his wallet, a slender beat-up leather affair with little in it except some cash, his driver’s license, two credit cards and a picture of Megan. This he slid from its clear plastic cover and showed to the flower girl.
“This is my daughter,” he said. “Do you know her?”
“Oui, Monsieur,” the girl answered. And then, switching back to her lilting schoolgirl’s English, “She told me you would come.”
“She told you I’d come?”
“When was that?”
“When she purchased flowers from me last week.”
“What kind of flowers?”
“Roses. Comme ca.” She looked down at the bouquet in her hand and then back up at Pat.
“What else did she tell you?”
“Rien, Monsieur, just that you would be coming.”
She’s dead, Pat wanted to say, I’m too late. But he could not form the words. He heard them echoing in his head, but though he tried he could not get them to his lips. Then suddenly he was crying, holding his hands to his eyes to hide his tears. He was not a man to cry, but the harsh truth was that a part of his heart had been buried with Lorrie. The pieces that were left he had doled out stingily to Megan. Selfishly. This is not a thought that a parent wants to have when a child dies, when it is too late to make amends. But neither was Pat a man to avoid the truth. Embarrassed, he opened his wallet again and began fumbling in it for euro notes to pay for the bouquet. The girl, however, gently clasped her hands over his, forcing them to close the wallet, at the same time deftly placing the flowers into his right hand. There was more comfort in her touch than Pat had felt in years. He stood there mute, wondering at the sweetness of this child who was a head shorter than him but whose presence seemed to fill every corner of the small room.
“She was troubled, Monsieur.”
“Yes, Monsieur. It is good that you have come. You must go to her.”
There was no point in telling the girl that Megan was dead, that in a few minutes he would indeed be going to her, but only to her corpse.
“I am going to her now,” he said.
“Have faith, Monsieur. You will be led to her.”
James LePore is The Story Plant’s February Author of the Month, which means we are offering sensational deals on his work – including the digital edition of A World I Never Made for only $2.99. You can read more about the program here.