The door slammed shut, and she could hear the sound of boots thumping down the corridor. Then silence. She had once enjoyed silence, but it was now shackled to a sense of apprehension that twisted her insides. She turned her attention to the heap of clothing that had just been dropped before her. How long had these awaited delivery to the sorting room? Had they lain discarded in another chamber, forgotten and growing cold, or could she slide her hands into their midst and still feel warmth—some vestige of that humanity stolen by those boots in the hallway? Did it really matter? That warmth would soon fade, and she would feel nothing then but an absence.
She focused her attention on the business at hand, and after a moment of searching, selected two matching shoes from the pile. These she set neatly side by side on the plank counter marked “footwear.” Taking up the worn stub of a pencil, she began her list for the day: One pair of girl’s shoes, brown, size two. She glanced down at her own feet shod in tattered remnants and remembered the slippers that she had worn into that place. It had embarrassed her to leave the apartment in her house slippers, but it had all been too rushed for her to find her shoes, and mother had not been there to help her. She wondered: Who had sorted her slippers? Where had they gone?
After selecting another article of clothing, she wrote her next entry: One pair of boy’s pants, black, medium. Cold. Only, she did not write that last word—it was almost too much to just think it. She folded the pants exactly and placed them upon the roughly hewn counter. She regarded them momentarily, hesitating, then she picked them up again and hastily searched the small, buttoned pockets. In the front, right pocket, there was a note that she withdrew and unfolded. She read it slowly, then read it again—a message from a father to a son. The paper was ragged and worn with love, and she knew it had been handled many times. Recognizing the danger of such a possession, she pushed the paper into her mouth, chewed and swallowed it dryly. There was a taste of dust and ash, but no love remained, simply another absence.
One woman’s hat, black. She looked for a size but could find none. All that remained was a slight discolouring on the inside rim, a faint scent like perfume, and a stand of hair caught on the material. Breath held, she took hold of the hair and carefully pulled it free. The woman had been blonde, and she had worn her hair cut short, or perhaps the strand had been broken when it was snagged. Could this be all that remains? She set the hat on the counter.
Who would wear that hat now? She wondered if they would think of the person who had worn it before.
A stand of hair and a passing thought.
Then, from the pile of discarded garments, she withdrew a single glove. For long moments, she stared and handled it gently. Comfortably weathered, brown leather, the faded and almost unidentifiable image of a red flower that had been drawn upon it in pencil crayon. She pulled it over her left hand, luxuriating in the warmth. This was a moment of dangerous impulse, for she knew what her punishment would be if discovered. Then she began searching for the other glove, sorting through the remnants of people’s lives. Yet, the second glove was nowhere to be found. Then there came the sound of boots within the corridor. She quickly jerked the glove from her hand and laid it once more upon the counter.
The boots passed by.
Her one hand grew cold, and it felt that absence. She regarded the single glove where it lay. It seemed an emptiness awaiting fulfillment.
And she remembered the gloves she had once worn herself—a gift from her grandmother—the embroidered red flowers that had blossomed upon them everyday anew. How two humans had clasped hands and eyes had smiled.
Those gloves had slipped from her like the dried leaves of Autumn.
There was no promise of fulfillment, no other glove, only the whispered emptiness of a silent passing.
Let it go. Let it go.
Had it been lost in the gathering? They were very efficient in their duties. Few things were ever lost. People perhaps, human beings were lost, but things were never misplaced.
Had it been on the train? During the midnight march?
It would never be found, that second glove. The pair had been separated, and one without the other was incomplete, a statement of absence. And then, and then, like that missing glove, the person who had worn it had also become emptiness. How many homes, businesses, schools now stood like that, each a testament to what had been taken away?
She looked with misting eyes at the single glove, surprised that there were still tears to be shed. That empty glove with its childish design of a flower once drawn in imitation, and then cherished by its owner. That glove. Her mother’s glove.
One glove of a beautiful woman, found in a collection of stolen clothing gathered at gunpoint, recorded by her daughter who loves her, who misses her and will never see her again.
She reached for the glove and pulled it on her hand a final time, then she picked up the worn pencil and returned to the list she had begun that morning. She drew a thin line across “One pair of girl’s shoes, size two, yellow” and wrote instead: One small girl, now missing, who loved her bright, yellow shoes. The punishment, she knew, would be severe. She crossed out her next entry and wrote, One young man, brother and son, who cherished the note given him by his father, now lost forever.
One blonde-haired woman . . . .
She stopped writing and gasped for breath. The tiny choking sound she made was quickly pressed to silence in the cold room with its piles of empty clothes.
Then, at the bottom of the list, she added: One young woman, aged seventeen. Sister. Daughter. Loved. She paused and wrote the word a second time: Loved. Terrified and then dehumanized. She had learned that word in school before the occupation. Beaten, starved, and tattooed. Broken but not destroyed. A human being.
Still a human being.
From without, she heard the sound of boot steps approaching in the corridor.