Sometimes I pass a person on the street and get a sense that something isn’t right. A look in her eyes. The timbre of his voice. A robotic stiffness of her limbs as she opens a car door. Or it may be me projecting own my worries and insecurities. Whatever the cause, though, I sometimes find myself wondering for a moment or an hour what happened. And sometimes if my mind is particularly engaged – or I’m looking for a distraction from the new pain in my foot or the ongoing pain in my heart or just from the depressing news of the moment – I find myself speculating. Wondering what happened – and what will happen – to this person haunting my thoughts.
I saw this gold “glitten” hanging from a fence on Third Street – just a block from the blue knit child’s glove. As I leaned across the fence to take the picture, I took in its bedraggled state and realized it had been exposed to the elements for some time – likely many months. So I began to wonder about what happened to a young woman when she dropped the glitten and how she fared as the glitten took its punishment from Moscow’s four seasons.
The young woman stepped onto the porch of the house on Third Street. She looked calm. She looked like she was headed off for coffee. It was a cold mid-March morning; she was putting on her midnight blue wool pea coat. Her right arm was in its sleeve. Her left hand was searching for its proper spot – unsuccessfully. A hand reached out from the dark doorway, took the collar of the coat and lifted it slightly up and to her left, helping the lost hand find the armhole.
A close observer would have seen and heard this sequence:
- The left sleeve stiffens and a hand shoots from the cuff.
- The knuckles of the assistant brush her neck as the coat settles on her shoulder.
- She pivots quickly on her right foot and the coat collar jerks from the assisting hand.
- Her body continues to turn until she’s sideways to the open door.
- A surprised “Oh!” jumps from her mouth.
A lanky man striding by on the sidewalk opposite noticed only the strange loudness of the exclamation.
He turned his eyes back to his path and strode on. He might have heard the figure in the doorway if he had directed his attention, but he didn’t. The young woman heard though and replied as she turned back toward the street, “Sure. Sounds good. Text me.” The passerby might have noticed a flatness in her tone, but he was most of a block away and his back was to the exchange.
The young woman was three quick steps down toward the sidewalk as the door began to close behind her. The door latched as her foot reached the sidewalk. She began to turn east and lifted her foot. She put her foot back down. As she looked up the street and then turned and looked down the street to the west, her hands seemed lost.
A close observer would have seen this sequence:
- Both hands pat and smooth the front of her shirt.
- Her fingers absently comb her shoulder-length hair.
- Her right hand rubs the left side of her neck.
- Her fists plunge into her coat pockets.
- Her right hand springs out of the pocket and moves to the back pocket of her jeans.
- A ball of yellow-gold knitwork bounces on the sidewalk next to her right foot.
- Her right hand emerges from under the tail of her coat with a large smartphone.
The young woman was alone on the street.
The young woman touched the screen three times, pivoted to her left and began walking west as she put the phone up to her ear. After three steps, she said, “Hey.” Six steps down the street she said, “I – I’m fine. I.. I’m fine.”
Twelve minutes later as the young woman was crossing the highway five minutes from her apartment, a man pushed a stroller up Third Street. A voice from the bundle in the stroller said, “Yellow, daddy!” Emma’s father leaned over the top of the stroller and watched the yellow/gold knitted something pass between the front wheels. He stopped and rolled backwards until the something re-emerged from under the stroller. “Someone will be looking for that.” He rounded the side of the stroller, picked up the item, examined it and mused, “With a button! Simple. Best of both worlds.”
Emma said, “What is it daddy?”
Emma’s father said, “It’s someone’s…” He looked up and reached out to stop the stroller which had begun to roll backwards down the hill. “I think I would call it a glitten. Shall I put it here?” He set it on the knee-high, concrete retaining wall next to the sidewalk.
Emma said, “Yes.” Then carefully, “Glitten.” Emma’s father said, “Sure, glitten.” And Emma said, “I want glitten!” Emma’s father said, “Tell your grammy. I’m sure she’ll – ” Emma interrupted with, “Glih ten… glih glih glih.” Emma continued her experimentation with the sounds as they continued up the street. It began to snow; the last snow of this winter.
. . .
Six weeks later, the young woman stood up from a chair in front of a desk in an office at the university. The figure silhouetted in the spring afternoon sunshine streaming in from the window behind the desk said, “Okay, you’re registered. It was just one semester. Get those grades back up and you’ll be good to go for grad school apps.” On Third Street, a bored teenage landscape laborer waved a string trimmer at the long, thick grass at the bottom of a white picket fence. After a moment, the machine burbled with tangled discontent; at the same time, the young woman in the office nodded and turned to the door. As the teenager let the machine wind down, across town the figure behind the desk said to the young woman’s back, “Hey. You’re sure there’s nothing going on?”
The young woman paused. A close observer would have seen and heard this sequence:
- The young woman’s neck stiffens slightly.
- A quiet “ding” comes from the laptop on the desk, sitting just left of center.
- The young woman flattens the front of her shirt with both hands.
- The head of the figure behind the desk tilts down and to the left.
- The young woman inhales as if to begin speaking.
- She finger-combs the tips of her hair – now much shorter than it was six weeks ago.
- She feels the left side of her neck with her right hand.
- She turns back to face the desk.
- She looks toward the face of the figure behind the desk and then down to the back of the laptop screen.
- The young woman exhales without speaking.
- She turns back to the door.
The figure behind the desk only noticed the young woman’s exhalation.
On Third Street, the teenager put his foot on the yellow glitten and pulled the strings of his trimmer free as the young woman said over her shoulder,”I’m good. Looking forward to the summer.” The teenager nudged the glitten to the left where the grass was already shorn as the young woman stepped toward the door. The figure behind the desk said, “Okay see you in August!” to the young woman’s retreating back as the teenager started up the string trimmer again.
Through the summer, the glitten sat under the picket fence on Third Street, 35 feet west of the steps up to the porch of that house.
The young woman had a friend who lived on Third Street, in a duplex five blocks east of that house. The young woman visited the friend eleven times in the first weeks of that summer, but never walked past the glitten, the porch or that house. She always walked up the steep hill on Sixth and came down Third from one of the cross streets further east. A twelfth visit was to happen one day in mid-July. The young woman and her friend ran into each other in a coffee shop downtown. They decided to watch a movie together that evening and they began walking to the friend’s house. They crossed Washington Street at Fifth and when they reached the sidewalk, the young woman turned right to go to Sixth. Her friend who had turned left toward Third, said, “I’m this way, silly!” The young woman laughed and followed her friend north toward Third Street. As they turned up Third, the young woman began to slow. “Keep up, slowpoke,” the friend said. And then, “You okay?”
The young woman stopped. Her hands seemed to flutter for a moment, first at waist level then on either side of her head before she quickly pulled her phone from the back pocket of her jeans. She said, “I’m fine. I just remembered that I’m supposed to call my mom but my phone’s almost dead. I’m going to walk home and then I’ll drive over in an hour or so.”
The friend didn’t protest, and the two parted. The young woman walked home and the friend continued up Third Street. As the friend was passing the white picket fence and a yellow-gold glitten under one of the pickets, she wondered about the young woman. Something seemed off. Something had seemed off for awhile. She thought she ought to say something. She thought about sending a text but decided she’d talk to her during movie night. 90 minutes later, the young woman texted “Can’t make it tonight.”
. . .
Late in the afternoon on the first day of October, a teenager was clearing leaves from the six inch wide strip of grass on the street side of the white picket fence on Third Street. He had finished two-thirds of the length of the fence when a tine of the rake snagged something heavier than a leaf. He pulled and extracted a gold knitted something. He muttered, “Again” as he pulled it off the rake and shook it to break loose the leaves and grass. He started to throw it toward the half-full black plastic bag on the other side of the fence, but stopped. He hung the glitten from the top of one of the pickets and continued his raking.
An hour later, just as the sun was setting, the young woman and her friend turned up Third Street from Washington. As they passed the high school, the young woman still walked normally. She had visited her friend 16 times since that day In July. And though she didn’t think of it this way, this would be the fourth time she had taken Third Street to the friend’s house. They reached the yard with the picket fence.
The young woman suddenly stopped; she was next to the picket with the glitten. A close observer would have seen this sequence:
- The young woman’s eyes flick right toward the fence and briefly narrow.
- Her hands flatten the front of her midnight blue pea coat.
- They move up and massage her scalp.
- They reach slowly into the pockets of her midnight blue pea coat.
- The right hand emerges and reaches to the back left side of her neck.
- Her fingers feel and then curl to gently scratch at her neck.
The friend had stopped one step after the young woman and had watched this sequence. The friend looked at the curled fingers. The friend said, “Hey. You okay?”
“Yes. Yeah. Um, sort of. It’s. I’m fine,” the young woman said as her right hand dropped from her neck. After a moment, the friend said, “No. You’re not.”
The young woman inhaled, exhaled, inhaled again, paused, pointed up the street and said, “Do you remember that house?” The friend looked at the house and then back at the young woman. “We went to a party there once, didn’t w…” her voice trailed off as she found the young woman’s eyes. The friend took the young woman’s outstretched hand in hers.
. . .
At noon on the Sunday after Thanksgiving a Moscow Police Department SUV parked on Third Street next to the white picket fence. Atop its picket, the gold of the glitten was barely visible under light coating of snow. There were four people silhouetted in the vehicle. A giant of a man in the driver’s seat. A stocky woman in the front passenger seat and the young woman and the friend in the back seat. After a moment they emerged almost simultaneously from the four doors of the car. As they converged on the sidewalk, the female officer looked up the street, then back at the young woman and said, “That’s the house?” The young woman flattened the front of her jacket and nodded. The friend offered, “He still lives there.” The male officer said, “Good. That helps. You don’t mind walking your friend back to her car?” The friend nodded.
The young woman looked up the street toward that house and said, “Thanks.”
The other three responded simultaneously. “We’ll call you in a couple of hours,” the male officer said. “Thank you for your courage,” the female officer said. “I love you, you know,” the friend said. The young woman took a breath, nodded and turned as if to leave. But then she stopped.
Facing the fence, the young woman took a step forward. She pulled the glitten from the top of the picket and knocked the snow from it. She looked down at the faded yellow-gold in her hand.
“Miss?” the male officer said.
The young woman reached into the left pocket of her coat and pulled out a much brighter gold glitten. She handed it and its damp mate to the male officer. She took the friend’s hand and they started down Third Street toward downtown.