: The Coat :

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an excerpt by Uwe Timm, translated by Robert C. Conard

She climbed the steps. Where they widened by the wall, in the corner of the stairwell, she stood for a minute, waiting to catch her breath. Her knees trembled, she thought that’s from the fright, it still sticks in my limbs. She started up again, supporting herself with her left hand on the banister. Most of the brass strips on the edge of the steps were torn away, the linoleum was frayed and covered with the dust of gray plaster. The banister on the second flood wobbled. Drawn on the walls were large stick figures, and in large script were initials and names that meant nothing to her. When she moved in twenty-six years ago, the janitor lived downstairs. He swept the steps every day and cleaned the stairwell every other. Now, once a week two Africans came and mopped the stairs.

She heard steps coming from above and stopped, tried to breathe calmly and to hide her trembling hand. A young man came toward her carrying a red bicycle on his shoulder. He nodded to her. She said hello. Then she turned her back to the wall, making room for his bike, but really to hide her back. I should never have worn the coat, she thought. It was a mistake. I should have worn my brown cloth coat even though the sleeves are worn to a shine, and sometimes frayed threads have to be snipped with a nail scissors, but it isn’t warm. The other coat as she called it was warm, really warm. A nutria coat, made of the best pelts. It had turned cold overnight, and the apartment was cold in the morning. She had turned the heat up just before supper for three hours. For the last two years she had been thinking of selling the coat. Once she even went to the furrier on Oster Street, the last such shop in the neighborhood. A few years ago there were four—no five. Now just one. And in its window are just leather goods, seldom a fur coat.