Es ist nichts

By the time I reach the crest of Maple street, I’m agitated.  The upward climb on icy blacktop has been tense, and tense is not the state of mind I seek on these early morning walks.  I stop for a minute.  Try to settle myself, and I see her in the next block.  Mincing her way along the sidewalk that borders the front of her house, pausing every few feet to sweep up what appears to be the spilled contents of her recycling bin.

My steps, still stiff from the fear of falling, stilt me towards her as quickly as I dare to travel.  The sight of her makes my heart ache. Broom in one hand, dustpan in the other, she is elderly, her rounded  shoulders clad insufficiently  in a loosely hanging cardigan sweater layered over a summer housecoat.  She must be freezing her tush off.   And sure enough.  Someone has upended her bin.  Probably just to be nasty.

Idiots!  I rant the words into my scarf as I bend to retrieve a flattened cereal box, tilted ramp-like against the curb, but the old woman does not hear me.  In fact, as she straightens up she is startled by my presence.  But then she relaxes, and smiles.

Thank you!  She exhales her appreciation in a puff of frosty foreign-accented breath.

I’ve turned her bin right side up, commiserating as I refill it.  I’m sorry this happened to you!  It must make you so angry that someone did this!

She doesn’t respond.

Puzzled, I skim her beautiful weathered face, searching out animosity.  It’s not there.

Finally, she speaks.

It is nothing.  Truly, and sincerely, it is nothing.

As she drops shards of broken glass into the bin, I’m stunned to see the numbers, tattooed on her wrist.  And in her present time, and place, I understand.

21 thoughts on “Es ist nichts

  1. Well, what does one say to that ending!? It sure put everything leading up to it into perspective. Nicely handling of a sensitive subject. You brought honour to that lady and, by extension, to all survivors of the Holocaust.

  2. Wow! I love how subtly you bring about her history. I was angry right along with you, and then learning where she’s been put things into perspective.

    You describe the scene so vividly, I felt as if I were watching it unfold. This is great storytelling, my friend!

  3. Wow Valerie. I knew I needed a dose of perspective, and I chose well to pick your piece to read. Thank you for this beautiful story full of heart. Excellent work!

  4. This packed a subtle yet oh so powerful punch, Valerie. Nothing, nothing compared to what she’s known or seen. I dated a Polish man in my twenties. His parents had numbers on their wrists. I will never forget that. Incredible piece of writing!!!

  5. This story grabbed me from the beginning and didn’t let go. I could see this woman, the cold and the debris she had to pick up. Your description of the woman was fabulous, especially these words: “…her rounded shoulders clad insufficiently in a loosely hanging cardigan sweater layered over a summer housecoat.” You made me see her with these words.

    The ending was a potent punch to the story. I didn’t expect it!

    I like the new site. However, from now on, I will signing in with Google. While I’m WP site, I’m not “officially” one and so, can’t sign in via my site. It’s a long story:~) Sara, A Sharing Connection.

  6. I am astounded by the depth of this piece Val-weaving in the horrors/aftermath of holocaust with such a word as tush-wow!No wonder she finds all this easy and not bothersome-after what atrocities she has gone through-amazing job!

  7. I’m late to the comments here and so I think all our well spoken Trifecta community members have said what I wanted to say.

    Valerie, you are a wonderful writer. You’re able to find the nuance in every story and you wrap humanity around each situation. This piece is no different in that regard; however, this one also brings in the greater world. The subtle way you’ve referenced the Holocaust is so very powerful.

    Beautifully realized, friend. Beautifully realized.

  8. I’ve got goosebumps. I love the stories of the people we walk by on the streets. I love the idea that there’s a long, hope-filled or disastrous tale behind each one. Thanks for bringing this one to life for us.

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