Evelyn’s gloveless hands were raw from the cold as she attempted to hail a cab at the corner of Bleecker and 4th Street that morning. The temperature must have been somewhere in the low teens. She wasn’t being sadistic by not wearing any gloves; she just couldn’t bring herself to wear any other gloves but the gloves. When she had put them on she felt transformed into one of those lady-in-the-shadow types from film noir of the forties, or perhaps a jewel thief of the same decade.
The gloves had belonged to her grandmother. They were black suede, or something suede-like, now faded with use and time. The stitching was a dark brown that almost blended with the color of the leather but not quite and the stitches were even and small. Her favorite aspect of the gloves though was their length – coming midway up her forearm. When she wore a long-sleeved turtleneck she had to scrunch them up under her coat sleeve, but when she wore them with a short-sleeved sweater they added a touch of sassy elegance.
It’s true that she wasn’t entirely sure from which decade they originated. So she placed them in the forties. She liked the forties, having never been there, and her lack of knowledge came from films and history books. She felt nostalgia for the forties. Of course, it couldn’t really be that as how could she feel nostalgia for something she had never experienced? And yet, she insisted upon calling it nostalgia. She was convinced that had she lived in that decade her life would have been different. Perhaps she would have been one of those lady-in-the-shadow types in a noir film, or a jewel thief.
She was sure she had put them in her handbag when she had left the opera the night before. Yet when she opened it the next morning the gloves were not there. She searched the bag, removing every item, but it was pointless. The handbag was small, and she knew, even before removing everything, that she would have seen the gloves if they had been there. She searched her coat pockets, although she never stuffed those gloves in her pockets. She looked on the table in the entryway to her apartment. Nothing. The more she had looked the more she fought back her tears. She knew it was silly to cry over something as trivial as a pair of gloves, and yet these gloves were special.
Evelyn barely looked at the cab when one finally stopped for her. She closed the door quickly and began rummaging in her purse for her cell phone. She needed to check the time to see just how late she was going to be. Her hands fumbled on the flip phone, her frozen fingers tingling as the cab’s heater slowly thawed them out. As she looked at the digital readout she gave the cabbie the address.
“Sure thing, missy,” the driver rasped and then he stepped on it, sending her lurching back in the seat, the contents of her purse strewn all over the floor.
She stared at the man. She recognized that voice. She stared at the name on his identification tag posted on the dividing window.
“Luckenbee, Ralph,” she must have said the name aloud.
“That’s me, missy,” the driver’s gravelly voice came back at her.
She recognized that name. This was the same cab she had been in the night before. This was the same cab she had been in when she lost her grandmother’s gloves.
“Excuse me, sir,” she began. “But I was in your cab last night and lost a pair of gloves. Did you happen to find them?”
Ralph Luckenbee thought for a moment before he spoke. Then he chuckled to himself.
“’S only a pair of gloves,” he finally responded, still chuckling.
She couldn’t keep the defensiveness out of her voice, “They belonged to my grandmother.”
Ralph Luckenbee stared fixedly at her in his rearview mirror.
“The gloves were special to me,” her voice trailed off as she became uncomfortable under his scrutinizing gaze.
“Oh. Well. In that case. I might be able to help you,” Ralph Luckenbee stretched out the words deliberately.
She was thrown back unceremoniously against the seat again as the cab abruptly cut across traffic and turned onto 23rd. The rush hour traffic seemed to have dissipated miraculously, and before she had a chance to get her bearings Ralph Luckenbee had turned up 10th Avenue. The cab screeched to a stop between 46th & 47th Streets.
“Here you are, missy.”
She stared out the taxi window at a very tall building, art deco style architecture. It was a beautiful building – the type of building that was rapidly disappearing from the city. She’d never noticed this building before though and she’d lived in the city for ten years now.
“I’m sorry. I don’t understand,” she finally said. “What am I doing here?”
“You want your grandmother’s gloves back, dontcha,” Ralph Luckenbee stated simply. “26th Floor, apartment 2HF.”
“26th floor, apartment 2HF?” she queried confusedly and finally began to refill her purse with its spilled contents. She handed Ralph Luckenbee a twenty dollar bill, her eyes riveted out the window at the building again.
Ralph Luckenbee waived the money away, “The rides on me.”
She stared at him and then repeated, “26th floor, apartment 2HF.”
As she got out of the cab, she turned back to say ‘thank you,’ but stopped before the words were out of her mouth. She stared at the cab, a Packard 110 , a car which had been discontinued since 1948. Ralph Luckenbee touched his hand to his cap one last time, then sped up 10th Avenue out of sight.
Evelyn turned back to the building and gazed up at its height. She was mesmerized by the design – black marble speckled with white, shiny brass ornamental artwork that reminded her of the layout of the pipes of an organ. Like the gloves she had lost, this building took her back to another time. She felt disoriented and a little faint. She wasn’t sure what possessed her – from the moment she had gotten in the cab the events of the morning had been inexplicable – but she found her feet carrying her toward the building and through its revolving doors.
The lobby was as empty of people as 23rd street had been empty of cars. Even the wooden security desk, the wood a mellow patina created by the touch and oils from many generations of hands, stood empty. She drank in her surroundings like a (cat with a bowl of milk – too normal, need something more extraordinary than this.) Despite the brightly polished chandeliers with their many incandescent bulbs, which reflected off the highly polished brass elevator doors, the entryway had a cavernous quality. As she walked toward the elevator bank, the heels of her pumps clicked on the patterned tile floor, echoing around her emphasizing the emptiness of the hall. She apprehensively reached her hand toward the up button, pausing a moment before she deliberately pressed it with her index finger. She watched the floor indicator – another rarity in this modern age as it wasn’t digital but half-moon shaped with a hand like an analog clock – move from right to left. She could hear the faint dinging of the elevator as it passed each floor growing louder as it descended. She shivered slightly as the doors jerkily yet simultaneously shifted to each side revealing the dim interior and stepped inside.
Her courage was growing as she pressed for the 26th floor although her fear had yet to diminish. She fixated on the bulbs in the chandeliers as the doors closed in front of her, forcing her to blink from the sudden dimness. The elevator car moved relatively smoothly and much more quickly than she would have liked. The speed with which she traveled paralleled the rapid rate of her heartbeat. She took deep breaths and internally assured herself that she would be fine. Before she had herself convinced, the doors slid open and she stepped out into a long wood paneled hallway.
The wall sconces placed about every fifteen feet flickered at her. She had never seen light bulbs flicker like that before, and upon closer look she realized they weren’t light bulbs at all, but gaslights. She nodded to herself once, a gesture of encouragement, and proceeded down the hallway reading the numbers as she went.
Apartment 2HF was about midway down and oddly enough directly across from the only visible window in the hallway. The sunlight filtering in from the city beyond gave her comfort, reminding her that she was, after all, merely in a building in a big city. She rapped twice on the wooden door. She waited. She rapped three more times, more insistently this time. There was still no answer. She looked up and down the hallway, even knowing she would see no one, before she tried the doorknob. It turned easily at her touch and she gently pushed the door ajar. She stepped into the room and closed the door behind her.
She abruptly sucked in her breath at the sight inside. She couldn’t decide which image was more appropriate – an Egyptian tomb, her grandparents’ attic or a child’s toy chest – as they all rushed into her mind en masse. There were valuable works of art, jewelry of silver and gold, teddy bears, porcelain dolls and toy train cars, old coats, pipes and cigarette cases all seemingly piled randomly on tables, chairs, bookshelves and buffet cabinets. There were a number of old armoires as well which when she opened them were filled to capacity with more items. She wandered through the room, gently caressing a teddy bear with a missing button eye and a frayed pale blue ribbon around its neck, fondling a fur stole slightly moth-eaten, holding a diamond neck choker up to the light to admire the sparkle. As she picked her way delicately through the lost treasures, she wondered where the people were who had once loved these things, what they were doing. She became so engrossed in her wanderings that she forgot how and why she had ended up here. She was no longer in the present. Time had neither stood still nor gone backwards, it had simply ceased to exist.
She was replacing on a bookshelf a little girl’s diary, the lock broken and the cover water-stained, when she noticed an old wire dressmaker’s mannequin a few feet away, close to the wall. Draped over the shoulders giving the mannequin a lifelike quality was a sweater – a crocheted duster that came midway down the thigh and was a lovely shade of ecru – that she had lost on a subway platform where it must have fallen off of the bag across which she had slung it. She remembered checking the subway lost and found that day but knew that was a futile effort. She gave a quiet cry of joy and shuffled as quickly as the piles of clutter and furniture would allow toward the mannequin. She removed the beloved sweater and put it on. At the base of the mannequin were a pair of black crocodile pumps – a pair she had looked for before an evening get-together and upon not finding them had given them up as having ended up in the bag that went to the Salvation Army – which she now promptly put on her feet. Leaning against the wall was an umbrella – a beautiful, full sized umbrella with Renoir’s painting of “The Umbrellas” silk-screened on the canopy – which she had left in a drugstore during a spring drizzle. When she went back, moments later, it was already gone. She had loved the redundancy of that particular painting appearing on just such an item. She had lost umbrellas before but they were black and small and typical. Next to the mannequin was a small circular table and laid out on the table, as if they were waiting for her to grab them on her way out of the house were a cashmere scarf, with her initials monogrammed on one end, neatly folded, a black wool beret, which had actually been easily replaceable from a street vendor but had been her first purchase at a street vendor her first winter in the city, and a leopard-print wallet which had been a kitch purchase at a secondhand store. Underneath the beret, neatly placed one on top of the other like an item and its reflection in a mirror, lay her grandmother’s gloves.
Evelyn slowly picked up the gloves and stared at them. She held them to her face, breathing in their scent and caressing her cheek with their softness. She had them back. She had them back and just holding them again brought a tear to her eye. She placed the gloves in her purse, looked around the room one last time. It suddenly struck her how the furniture and most of the items in the room all seemed to come from a certain time. They reminded her of the forties, just like her gloves. She speculated on how her other items had ended up in this room, out of their proper time. Then she smiled realizing that despite that they didn’t seem out of place.
She whispered to the other treasures in the room, as though they were long lost friends, “They’ll come for you too.” Then she gathered her remaining belongings and made her way back to the door.
She couldn’t contain her excitement. She wanted to bring her friends here, her family. Was it possible that no one knew of this lost and found? As she closed the apartment door she looked at the door for a nameplate or something that would indicate what this place was. All she saw was the scuffed, brass apartment number: 1HF. She looked again. She reached her hand out and touched the number. Had she misheard Ralph Luckenbee in his cab? Had she merely glanced at the number when she had entered the room? She was sure that she had gone into apartment 2HF. The faint feeling of disorientation she had felt prior to entering the building overcame her again. She leaned against the windowsill across from the apartment to steady herself. Then she rapidly carried herself down the hall to the elevator without looking back.
She pressed the down elevator button multiple times in rapid succession. She fixed her eyes on the floor indicator, its single hand moving at a slow deliberate pace. The bell announcing the arrival of the elevator on the floor startled her, causing her to jump slightly. As the doors opened she noticed the floor number on the wall to the left: 13. She stared at the number, a chill creeping up her spine and arms. She was in a vacuum unable to remove her gaze from the number. It wasn’t until a small, slightly balding, elderly man in a two-toned uniform – black and navy blue with gold piping and brass buttons – poked his head out of the elevator.
“Going down, miss?” he asked politely.
She simply nodded and stepped in, her attention now focused so intently on the elevator operator she was not even aware that she was staring. It was even possible that she didn’t take a breath the entire way down.
“First time in the building?” the operator had asked with a knowing smile. He didn’t seem remotely surprised by her continuous gaze. She tried to nod her head in acknowledgment of his question, but the movement would have been imperceptible to most people.
“Have a nice day,” the elevator operator quipped as she returned to the lobby.
“Yes. Thank you,” she finally managed to squeak out.
The lobby was a bustle with people carrying packages and briefcases, greeting each other briefly yet politely. There was a jovial, pudgy security guard at the desk, wearing a uniform similar to that of the elevator operator, grinning from ear to ear and chuckling out “hellos” and “good mornings” to the passers-by. Standing amidst the morning flurry, she closed her eyes and let the movements of the people going about their business wash over her. When she opened her eyes she was acutely aware of the differences in her surroundings. Men in hats, women in skirts and seamed stockings. There was a calendar behind the security guard’s desk and it only took her one glance at the year printed in bold across the top. She would never have thought it possible but here she was. She took a deep breath and grinned.
“What do you suppose? Am I a lady-in-the-shadow or perhaps a jewel thief?” she said under her breath.
She checked in her purse to make sure she had everything important. Her gloves were still there. Taking them out, she started to put them on and then thought better of it. She wasn’t prepared to lose these gloves again. Not just yet. She put the gloves away and closed her purse. Then she walked through the revolving doors out onto 10th Avenue. And as she walked up the street that morning, she noticed that it was warmer; the temperature must have been somewhere in the mid-40s. She didn’t need to wear gloves today.