One of the more prominent features of a college town is a transitory population. A few of us come here to do something at the university and never leave, but a large portion of the population is in town for a two or three or four years before moving on. It’s most obvious in the restaurants and coffee shops that I patronize regularly. I get to know a barista after he is hired; we converse occasionally over a year or so until they get comfortable enough to joke about how I’m at the coffee shop more than any staff member. Six months or a year later, he moves to Seattle for a job or graduate school or to Liberia for a Peace Corps assignment.
I also see the transitory nature of Moscow among the regular customers in these establishments. From my vantage point at adjacent tables, I’ve watched relationships start. I’ve watched couples decide to move in together. I’ve watched them talk and argue and reason – sometimes successfully and sometimes not. And I’ve also watched as they have grappled with what’s next when their lives are suddenly pulled down different paths.
So this black glove inspired a story about one of these couples at a cusp point. The glove falls out of a pocket at a time when a bit of good news has a vastly different meaning for each half of the couple. And the event of finding it helps one half begin to understand that difference.
He had just left work at the Co-op and walked across the parking lot. She had come from her friend’s house on Third Street. It was 8:03 P.M. on the second to last day of January.
He stepped between two planters on the edge of the Co-op parking lot as she stepped onto the bright yellow knobby surface of the curb ramp on the southwest corner of Fifth and Washington Streets. He looked at her face in the bright light of the streetlamp. “Hey you.” He smiled at her and then his eyebrows drew together as he said, “What?” They each took two more steps toward each other. Her hands were in the pockets of her pink winter coat.
“What, what?” She asked as they both stopped, the toes of her pink, woven-hemp, Tom’s flats 19 inches from the toes of his scuffed, black, eight-eye Dr. Marten knockoff boots. She was smiling, but there was tension in the small muscles around her eyes and in her smiling lips. He reached his right hand toward her face. His fingers touched her cheek; his thumb moved to a tight crease on the left corner of her mouth.
“That smile. It’s…” He smoothed at the crease with his thumb. His eyebrows separated and raised slightly and he said, “You heard from one of them?”
“Western,” she blurted. Her hands flew from the pockets of her coat, a glove followed the left hand from the coat pocket. She grasped the hand at her face as the glove fell to the ground, tumbled and settled on the concrete between his right foot and her left. “Assistantship. Grant. Housing allowance. They want me.” Her tone was bright and her eyes widened and scanned his face as she spoke, but her lips held the tension around the words.
“God! Congratulations, Kell.” They each shuffled forward and embraced. Neither noticed the glove as it was gently compacted between the toe of his boot and the outside of her slightly in-turned, hemp-clad foot. “Bellingham, yikes,” he said as they released each other and stepped back. The scuffed toe of his Doc Marten ended up 14 inches from the now contorted black glove which was 9 inches from the pink hemp of her left shoe. The toe was still turned in but the foot was now resting on the outside edge of the sole with her ankle cocked at a 120 degree angle. “Now we wait for the flood of -”
The young woman, Kelly, interrupted, “Iowa rejected me. I heard last week; didn’t want to talk about it. U-dub came today too. They will take me, but no -”
He interrupted, “Seattle! That’s where we want -”
She interrupted, “No assistance. Nothing. I can’t afford-”
He interrupted, “We can figure it out, Kells. Seattle -”
She interrupted, “It’s not just money, it’s…
She trailed off under the diesel roar of a truck accelerating past them on Washington Street. They each took a breath. She smiled and the left side of her mouth formed the same crease as before. As the din of the truck faded, they heard a voice from the direction of the Co-op, “Benj!”
“Shoot, I have to go,” the young man, Benjamin, said.
“I do too.” She darted in and hugged him. “I have an edit to finish. Call me later?” When she released him, the black glove was four inches behind her left heel and her forehead was nine inches in front of his chin.
He kissed her forehead and said, “Okay.” He pivoted on his left foot and went back between the planters into the parking lot toward the Co-op entrance.
She pivoted on her left foot – skirting around the black glove on the concrete – and toward the crosswalk on Fifth Street.
As he pulled open the steel and glass door, he glanced over his shoulder and saw her stepping up onto the sidewalk on the other side of Fifth. He continued into the store. The door swung slowly closed behind him while she crossed the first two lanes of Washington Street walking toward the stern concrete facade of the Federal Building. Less than a minute later, she swiped a card through a reader next to a door on the west side of the building and slipped through the door while he weighed a quart-sized container of gluten-free macaroni and cheese at the express checkstand. His hand suddenly jerked away from the purple cardboard container. “Hot,” he said to the woman in the red wool coat who was sliding her card through the machine perched on the edge of the counter.
. . .
After 45 seconds of silence on the street and sidewalk, a lanky man emerged from the shadow on the east side of the Co-op building, striding northward on Washington Street next to the parking lot. Twenty feet from Fifth Street, he stopped, and looked down at the sidewalk. He looked up and scanned the surrounding area before shifting the bag from his back to his hip and pulling a camera from it. He crouched down next to the black glove.
On the third floor of the Federal building Kelly looked out the window toward the Co-op. She took no notice of the man taking a photograph of her glove.
Forty-five seconds later, the man stood up, stowed the camera and shifted the bag to his back.
A young woman in a midnight blue wool peacoat appeared in the red glow of the “closed” sign of the yarn store on the opposite corner of Fifth and Washington, walking south as the lanky man stood up from his crouch. As he shifted his bag, she entered the Fifth Street crosswalk. He started north and the two passed each other on the yellow knobbed surface of the curb ramp. After two further steps, she stopped and looked at him over her shoulder before looking down at the black glove. She turned and looked again at the man, now almost to the police station on Fourth Street, before turning back, leaning down and picking up the glove.
She entered the Co-op and went to the express checkstand where the young man stood, holding his right hand near his mouth and blowing on his index and middle fingers. The young woman said, “I found this on the sidewalk” while pointing toward the exit door.
“Thanks,” Benjamin said, quickly putting his hand down on the counter in front of him. “I’ll put it in the lost and found.” The young woman did not make eye contact, but stared at the nametag hanging from a lanyard around his neck. It read “Your co-operator today is: Benjamin.” Without saying another word, the young woman left the store the way she entered. Benjamin watched the door slowly swing closed behind her before walking to the end of the third checkstand, leaning down and stuffing the glove into an overflowing box of hats, gloves, and scarves. His right hand moved back up in front of his mouth and he was blowing on his fingers as he stepped back behind his register for the final minutes of his shift.
. . .
Twenty-three hours later, Benjamin sat at a table next to a window at the coffee shop on Sixth and Main Streets. A battered laptop computer sat in front of him, screen angled down toward the keyboard. A stack of three Mead composition books sat next to the computer, the topmost open, its lined white pages darkened with black-inked paragraphs, scratch-outs, circled emendations and arrows. His right hand rested across the open spine, tips of index and middle finger each neatly covered with a white adhesive bandage adorned with red hearts.
“I mean, I’m happy that Western wants her, but Bellingham! And U-Dub wants her too. It’s just money, right?”
“Just money. Yep,” said the person at the adjacent table, brushing the tips of her right hand across a blue polka-dot bow tie tied neatly at her throat. “What do you want to do?”
Benjamin looked down at his right hand and took a breath before looking back up and saying, “Well, I want to write. I’m going to apply to grad school next year. Seattle would be a better landing spot.”
“So go to Seattle.”
Benjamin’s eyebrows drew together, “Exactly.”
She smiled, looked at him for a moment and then said slowly, “What do you need to make you happy?”
The small gaspy growl that emerged from Benjamin’s constricted face made her lips twitch into a slight smile as he followed with, “I said. I want to go to Seattle and write and get ready for grad school.”
“Ah.” She paused, looking at him gently but intently.
He took in a breath as if to speak, but held it instead. He cocked his head slightly to the left and drew his eyebrows together again. He took another breath, sighed it out and turned back to the woman. “I don’t know how to be happy.”
The woman barked out a laugh that turned all fourteen heads in the coffee shop toward her. She stood up and slipped a notebook and pen into a canvas shoulder bag that was hanging from the back of her chair. “Write that down in your composition book there.”
“Professor?!” The tone of his voice was an octave higher than it had been. “I don’t understand.”
She put on her coat and slung her bag over her shoulder before turning back to him. “Review your words in our conversation, Ben. And review my big question to you.” She patted him on the shoulder as she took a step toward the exit and said, “And then I want you to think about singular and plural pronouns. You’re a writer.” Benjamin’s eyebrows crowded together on his forehead as he watched her leave. His head jerked back toward his table when a buzzing sound reached his ears. He extricated an older iPhone from the clutter on the table looked at the screen and then swiped the screen. “Hi Kells.”
On the third floor of the Federal Building, Kelly held a giant smartphone to her ear. “Hiya. I’m almost done here. Want to walk me home?” She listened while also playing with a single black knit glove on her desk. “That’s fine. I know you want to get that essay done. I’ll see you tomorrow.” She flattened the glove on her desk and then said, “Okay. And when you get to your house, can you see if I dropped a black glove somewhere there?”
Back in the coffee shop, Benjamin had his phone in his right hand. His right elbow pinned down one of the Mead composition books on top of his now closed laptop. The pen in his left hand was in the process of drawing a line under the four words he had just written on the page: pronouns – singular or plural. He then put a box around the words written 3/4 of an inche above these, the only other words on the page: I don’t know how to be happy.
He said into the phone, “Oh, sorry. Zoning out a bit. I’ll – we can look the next time you’re over. Tomorrow night?” He set the pen down, switched the phone into his left hand and looked at the two bandaged fingers. “I really want to figure out this Seattle or Bellingham thing, Kells. When do you need to decide?”
Kelly had stood from her desk and was looking out the window by her cubicle. She looked at the facade of the coffee shop building and said, “I. We’ll figure it out. I’ll text you when I get home.” She smiled as she listened but there was the tense crease on the left corner as before. “You and your words. Have fun. Love you, Benjamin.” She closed her eyes as she moved the phone from her ear. She sighed, opened her eyes and looked at the screen. She tapped it four times and held it to her ear. “Hi Lace,” she said. She smiled – without the crease – chuckled gently and said, “Guess what?” A pause. “No, not that. I’m going to Western for my Masters.” If there had been anyone else in the office, they would have heard joyful burblings from the phone now held a couple of inches from Kelly’s ear. “Full-ride. I won’t be spending a penny. I’ll be working my ass off, but they’re actually paying me. It’s exactly what I needed.” A pause. “Thanks. I’m excited.”
. . .
At 2:15 in the afternoon on February 1, Benjamin was sitting at the customer service counter at the Co-op. He was examining his fingertips, now covered by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles bandages. “Hey Ben,” he looked up to see Kelly’s friend – whose name he couldn’t remember – pushing a stroller. He smiled and said, “Hey!”
“Hey. Emma here saw your lost and found box and thinks her missing glove might be in it. Could we look?” Ben could now faintly hear a small voice chanting “wonewy gwove, wonewy gwove, wonewy gwove” somewhere below the level of the counter. He came out from behind his island and stepped toward the end of the last checkstand. “Sure thing. Dig away,” he said, as he pulled the box from the shelf below the stock of grocery bags.
Kelly’s friend released Emma’s buckle and set the girl on her feet. “Go ahead and start looking, Emma.” The little girl said, “okay wacey.” She then carefully pulled the sleeves of her pink and white striped sweater up to her forearms, causing both adults to laugh. They watched for a moment as Emma dug into the box, now chanting “gwove, gwove, gwove.”
Emma pulled a white knit winter hat from the box and dropped it on the toes of Benjamin’s black boots. As she pulled a bright red scarf from the box hand over hand, piling it incrementally over Lacey’s white sneakers, the young woman said, “so, good news for Kells, huh? Western! I’m so happy for her.”
“God, yeah. Accepted to U-dub and Western. So great.” Emma dropped a gray child’s sweater at Benjamin’s feet.
“Oh, she was all set to go to Western! Did she hear from U-Dub today?” A bright blue woven shopping bag fell on Lacey’s toes.
“No. She heard from both of them on Tuesday.” A black ski glove; a huge, puffy white mitten and a water bottle landed at Benjamin’s feet.
Benjamin reached out with his left toe and stopped the water bottle from rolling too far away as Emma pulled a pink windbreaker from the box and handed it to Lacey who took it from the little girl and began folding it as she said, “Oh. Oh, well, it was a quick conversation.” Lacey paused and chewed on her lower lip as she set the neatly folded windbreaker on the end of the checkstand counter.
As two black leather driving gloves fell to his feet, Benjamin said, “She said she was going to Western?”
“Well, that’s what I thought, Benj.” A tiny knitted gray hat with mouse ears landed onn the shopping bag at her feet.
Emma handed him a blue umbrella which he took and set on the counter as he said, “God. I really wanted to go to Seattle.”
“Well…” A brown leather jacket was piled at her feet.
“I think she really wants to go to Bellingham.”
“But what about us?”
“Well what do you want?”
“I want to go to Seattle.”
Emma handed Lacey a black knit glove. “Sorry, I meant what do you guys want – together,” Lacey said as she set the glove on top of the folded pink windbreaker.
“Oh,” he said. He watched Emma pull a earflapped hat in the shape of a skunk’s face from the box and drop it on the pile at his feet. It was the last item in the box.
“No bwue gwove, wacey,” Emma said. She pulled her sleeves back down to her wrists and sat down in her stroller. Both adults laughed again.
Lacey bent down and gathered the pile of lost items at her feet and put them in the cardboard box. Benjamin followed suit with the pile at his feet. Emma sat calmly in her stroller chanting, “gwove, gwove, gwove, gwove,” as the two adults stood at the end of the checkstand. Lacey again pulled her bottom lip under her top front teeth and Benjamin drew his eyebrows together. They stood there facing each other over the box of lost and found items until interrupted by Emma suddenly shouting, “you!” They both looked down at the girl to find her looking at Benjamin and pointing at the box. Benjamin smiled leaned over and picked up the box. Lacey noticed the three items on the counter. She took the umbrella and slotted it upright into the corner of the box. Then she placed the folded pink windbreaker and the black glove riding its zipper atop of the jumbled pile in the box in Benjamin’s hands.
The black knit glove was 19 inches from the tip of his chin.
“You guys’ll figure it out, Benj,” Lacey said as she started to crouch down to the stroller. His eyes followed her movement until her head passed behind the box and he found himself looking at the glove. His eyes widened. He quickly set the box back on its shelf. He then took the black, knit glove and looked at it carefully.
“Huh,” he said and then, “you.”
“See ya, Benjamin,” Lacey said. He waved as she turned the stroller toward the exit. He could just hear the little girl begin to chant, “you, you, you, you,” as they reached the door. He pulled out his phone and looked at the screen. He then scanned the checkstands, walked to the second one and said to the woman there, “I’m going on my ten, okay?” Without waiting for an acknowledgment, he walked to the exit and out onto the sidewalk in front of the store. Touched the screen on his phone once and held it to his ear. A moment later he said, “Hey Kells. I found your missing glove. and I think… I need – we need to talk about pronouns.”