But nothing had seemed out of the ordinary, not even the old woman sitting on the marble steps in the foyer the day before. She was fanning herself with a magazine and humming some sort of hymn about knowing neither the day nor the hour. In fact, wasn’t that her yearly routine? Yes. The residents in the building were not surprised when they spotted her on their approach to the double glass doors, slouching in her summer print; occupying the space in the corner of the stairs with grace, like the aging black sovereigns that one heard existed in centuries past, but could not quite visualize; or as might have been conceptualized in a painting created by an artist that never had and never would actually witness such living greatness. Yet, the old lady was great in her way; she had lived a lengthy life and deserved some title. She was a sweet old thing really; harmless by most accounts, and seemed always satisfied to be just where she was. They all nodded in her direction whenever they passed through the front doors, and she nodded back.
The nurse expected to come across the elderly woman on her way back in from her day shift. She was ready to greet her with the appropriate degree of deference, while perhaps letting a mild curiosity about the woman play in her smile. She anticipated the hike up the flights of stairs leading to the fifth floor, with her clenching the rail like a rope, blowing full breaths from a body that was not unaccustomed to labor, and marking with each quiet pant, a task that required her attention; the grandchildren would have likely been in need of some item or other and then, she would have had to see how her daughter was making out in the heat, pregnant as she was. It was true that July had only now started, but the humidity had climbed to such a high degree that the young flower buds that were striving to decorate the garden in the building’s entranceway fell over and passed out. Nonetheless, the nurse arrived to find that the old woman had relinquished her place by the door. And that gave her a shock despite her knowledge of the circumstances that had suddenly summoned her home.
It was the first true symbol of the change that had smashed into her routine and demolished everything; this vacancy on the stairs that even the light was beginning to withdraw from, leaving only the pale bare stone. The call had reached her at work. A frantic voice astounded her with the news that her daughter’s body had been discovered motionless on the bed and, that by that hour, the child inside had followed its mother; that the authorities had already come to fetch out the dead; and an aunt had already taken from the apartment the children whose mother had suddenly departed from them. She must have ravaged her mind for an image of her daughter talking and moving. What had they talked about? She would try to remember. As the vehicle drove to the address, she was statue still, thinking that at any moment it would disintegrate into ash with her in it, willing it to happen. But nothing happened and nothing changed. People moved about on the avenues as if this catastrophe was not upon them all; cars and buses moved; planes soared too high for the caving earth to vacuum them in and swallow them; trains still ascended like fountains out of the underground with compartments in tact, and the sun continued to blaze its punishment upon her. It was only the old woman that had vanished; the first true symbol of the change.