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Passport

by Deb Olin Unferth


It was robbed from her hotel room along with everything else. Or not the hotel room, but her person on the train. Or not the train, but the locked box or the bag. Or it happened in the hallway, or on the stairs. Or she never received it in the first place and had to call after it like a lost dog. Or she got one but good only for a year, renewable each November for the next ten. Or she sat in transit for hours and held it in her hand.

Or she wanted one but didn’t have one, or she lost one, or it was missing. Or she never had one, or she nearly had one, or someone did, someone with a name and face like hers, or someone with a mind, a head like hers.

Or she offered it to strangers, or she didn’t, or swore she didn’t, or she stood on a bridge and let it slip through her fingers.

Because she didn’t want to go home.

Because she thought home was here.

Or because, well, what was the worst that could happen?

Her blue bathroom pass, her wave-through, her half-mast.

Or she waited with the other un-American Americans and answered the following questions under oath. Or she swore—not in front of witnesses but in pen which lasts longer—that she had not received it, nor any other, nor had she sold one, nor bartered one, buried one, nor given one away.

She swears with God and his servants, she swears like a fool who swears by his gold, she swears in the manner of royalty, in the voice of one defeated, with trembling lip, eyes lifted, heart crossed, mind clear as a polygraph. Gentlemen, she does swear.

She did not give one to a Serbian. She did not give one to a Czech. She did not give one to a Nigerian, a Haitian, nor an Argentine. If a Salvadorian has it, it isn’t her doing. No one in the Middle East has it.

Her welcome parade, her tossed baton.

Or she sat in a hot sad place under leaves like wet hands and a man with a cigar told her not to bother with one. Or if she must, he would get her one—not an American but a Mexican, which was better. Five thousand dollars with her name in the system. Everyone in the world likes a Mexican.

Or she ended up with one but it had a Cuban stamp. Not her fault, but she couldn’t very well go back to the States with a thing like that. Or she got a tip that someone had one, guy by the name of John Wayne in Rio C—, just off-shore in a half-sunk ship. Take a taxi, then a bus, then another bus, then a boat, then walk to the end of the dock and say, I’ll pay anyone to take me there. I’ll pay anything to anyone. I’ll anyone you and raise it.

Don’t sink me here in the half-mud sun. Don’t make me fly out of here twice, come back in cuffs, wander the border desert like a long ago Jew.

Her marked cards, her that for this, her dearly departure.

Or later, or earlier, a man in a suit said, May I see your passport? Or at the front of the line she said, Where is my passport? Or she dug through her bag, or she traced her steps back, or she didn’t. Or she stared back with the blank face of a stranger when he pressed record, leaned over the desk, said, One more time. What did you do with your passport?

 

Deb Olin Unferth’s fiction appears or is forthcoming in Harper’s, NOON, Fence, 3rd bed, StoryQuarterly, The Denver Quarterly, and other journals. She received a Pushcart Prize and a fellowship from the Illinois Arts Council. She is a founder and editor of Parakeet.


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