art by Void lon iXaarii
The Mitten Inspector
by Patricia Russo
The woman appeared on our block early in the afternoon the day before yesterday. She was dressed all in white and carried a clipboard. Nobody saw where she had come from; we first noticed her when she was standing on the north corner of the street, but she could have arrived there from any direction (except south, of course.) She said she was a mitten inspector, but then some people will call themselves anything.
The kid who lives in the basement two houses up and had been playing kick-the-ball-against-the-wall since dawn, or nearly, began to cry, the cauldron-bellied guy who always has coffee stains on his t-shirt stood by his mailbox with his mouth hanging open, and Rian, who'd been sitting next to me on the stoop for a long time, trying to catch an errant ray or two of sunlight through the eternal overcast and chatting about nothing worth remembering, said, "I think it must be a translation problem."
I sighed. It had already been a long day, what with the kid and his solo kickball practice, and no hot water in the building again, and one can of peas and one can of sliced beets left in the larder. I was saving those for later. I might have said something to Rian about my food situation when he first sat down and started going on about the dream he'd had, and a joke his cousin told him, and how he'd lost his glasses again but found them I'd never guess where, but I knew he didn't have any more money than I did. He was holding a flower, some yellow thing he'd probably filched from a respectable person's garden. The flower had a long stem, and he kept twirling it as he told me his pointless anecdotes.
The washtub-bellied guy shouted for his wife.
The mitten inspector made a note on her clipboard. That beeping sound is one of the most annoying things in the world, I swear to crap. Drives me nuts.
Within seconds, some folks from further down the street came out to check on the commotion (the kid was bawling his head off, and the fat man was hollering for his mother as well as his wife.) I'm sure plenty of other individuals were peeking out of windows by then, too.
The white-clad woman walked to the south corner, pivoted, and strode back to the north end. "Mitten inspector," she said, in that tone of voice everybody with a clipboard seems to use: sort of bored and mechanical, but at the same time authoritative. "Mitten inspector."
The kid's older sister, who'd run outside pretty fast, considering how hung over she must've been given the state she'd been in the night before, yelled, "It's summer. We haven't got any mittens!"
"It has to be a language problem," Rian said.
I said, "What do you think she wants to inspect, kittens?"
"You know what I mean."
The tub-bellied guy's wife leaned out of her window. "Who sent you? Giorje, get inside."
"Loss prevention," the mitten inspector said. She ticked something on her clipboard. Buzz.
"See?" Rian said. "I told you."
The kid had stopped crying, but he'd wrapped his arms around his sister's leg. "I lost my hamster," he said.
His sister slapped his shoulder. "Don't talk to her."
The mitten inspector fixed the boy with a dead-eye stare. "Please describe the event."
"It was nothing," the sister said. "Leave him alone."
A beaky woman from down the street said, "I lost my silver brooch."
"I lost my wind-up flashlight," offered another south-end resident, the skinny old grump who never says hello to anyone.
"I think I'm losing my mind," I muttered.