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“Requiem for Those People Who Lived Briefly in Your Ward” by Rose Green

Leaving day.

The bags were packed; they stood in a neat row across the entire front wall of the living room; weighed, tagged, ready to march. She’d been up until two filling them. The house had been a bustle at first, with friends bringing food and scraping hard water off bathroom faucets and staring while she tore everything out of that last suitcase to find a new way to make everything fit.

“Don’t you have pillows in America?” asked her visiting teacher as she lay breathless across that last bag and forced it to zip.

Of course there were pillows in America. But not these pillows. These pillows were relics of the world she was leaving. These pillows—so common, not even the best in this world—would never come again.

Leaving day.

She’d sung yesterday as she painted over little children’s artwork on the wall. Piled the sheets and silverware in a box to give away. The songs poured out of her; all the songs she’d sung in this house. Hänschen klein, Sandmann, Sankt Martin. They hung in the air on the empty walls, echoing off the places where pictures used to hang.

The inspectors were surprised. “We thought you would have to replace the wallpaper,” they said. “We thought it would be damaged after having children live here.” But they didn’t know that she’d done this before. That she knew how to stitch the seams up so that the hole left by their leaving wasn’t a hole at all, just a smooth, unremarkable piece of blank cloth.

Leaving day.

It was time now. The suitcases rolled out to the stairwell, each with an owner. She tugged hers out, not even wincing as it clipped her toes. She took one last look at the empty apartment. And shut the door.

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