The day she left her keys on the counter at the Stuyvesant Post Office was not the first time he’d seen her. He had, in fact, watched her carefully for three months. It wasn’t perverted, obsessional curiosity that compelled him to note each detail of her movements as she collected her mail. It was simply his nature to observe.
                  Three times a week—Monday, Wednesday, and Friday—Steve Dant waited on the long post office line that snaked between frayed, dirty ropes in a complicated figure S. The line inched forward toward the three service windows. The clerks had long ago mastered the art of looking busy while doing almost nothing. They shuffled and stamped papers behind their grates and tossed priority mail packages into different bins in slow motion as the people on line shifted from one foot to the other and the tendons on their necks rose out of the skin and pulsated very slightly.
                  Steve did not share their impatience. The post office line marked the end of his work day and he used it as a cool down period. It was his equivalent of happy hour, a time to slowly unwind in a crowd of strangers. He pushed his box of “outgoing” mail along with his foot and enjoyed the spectacle. Hispanic women yanked their children along by their frail little arms and talked in loud voices in a language he didn’t understand, despite three years of high school Spanish and two trips to Mexico. Aged Eastern European women with swollen legs and sunken mouths, clutched letter in lightweight airmail envelopes, complicated addresses scrawled across the front. Tired looking interns in white jackets fiddled with the stethoscopes hanging around their necks. It was like a movie, Stave often thought, some art movie that didn’t have an obvious, recognizable plot.
                  Steve worked in a four-person office one half block from the Stuyvesant P.O. It was on the third floor, where the sounds of the traffic on 14th Street amplified and the rumble of the L train passing by deep underground shook the building at five to eight minute intervals. The vibration slowly dislodged more than a century’s accumulated dust and filth which collected on the tops of desks and filing cabinets. The computer screens became fuzzy and a small coffee spill soon became a small mud pie. The two-room office had to be swept at least three times a week or dust bunnies grew to unruly proportions behind the doors and under the creaky steam radiators.
                  Amid the dirt and the noise, they produced a literary quarterly called Expression which sold for $5.00 a copy. It was a labor of love for the editor and publisher, Janet Lawrence, who had started the magazine on a shoestring eleven years before. Janet handled her enterprise with an intensity that secretly amused Steve. She favored wall charts, push pins, and Post-its. Her profit margin, is any, was minuscule, but she often stated that relating profit to product value was an error primarily made by money grubbers with no taste, no sophistication, and no sense of aesthetics. A big brunette going grey, Janet spent all her time reading unsolicited manuscripts, fussing with the page layout of the next edition, and moving her color-coded push pins from one mysterious square to another. She had hired Steve three months before, after he answered a classified ad she’d placed in a free downtown newspaper.
                  “Look,” she’d said, sliding her faux-leopard skin glasses up her nose. “I’m not gonna ask you why you want this job or how you’re gonna live on the money. That’s your business. But I want to make it clear that just because you work here, it doesn’t mean you’re automatically gonna get published in Expression.” She’d looked at him and paused, and something about the density of that pause and the position of her head indicated a question. Steve wasn’t sure what it was, but he felt expected to answer. Finally he mumbled, “I’m not a writer.”
                  “O.K.,” she said, her shoulders dropping a fraction of an inch. “For five bucks an hour, I don’t expect you to stay forever. Just give me two weeks notice, that’s all I ask.” She’d stood up and extended her hand. “See you Monday at nine. That’s in the morning.”
                  He’d smiled at her little joke and let himself out into the dimly-lit landing. He went down two long flights and pushed through the metal door to the street, stepping over a full-time stoop sitter with a buzz cut and silver rings in both his nose and upper lip.
                  “Spare change for beer?” the stoop sitter asked, thrusting his hand toward Steve.
                  “Why should I pay for your beer?” Steve answered, ignoring the fingers that almost poked his leg.
                  “Fuck you,” said the stoop sitter. “I want money, not conversation.”
                  Steve disengaged. He walked around the corner to a bagel shop and got himself a cup of black coffee. He had a job, his first in eighteen months. As he stirred three packets of sugar into his coffee, he found his mind drifting back to the stoop sitter. The facial rings and studs were distracting, but Steve had noticed the derailed intelligence that leads to total cynicism behind his muted grey eyes. Steve glanced up into the cracked, gilded mirror tiles glued to the wall behind the table and considered his own eyes. Shit brown Dull. He shifted in his seat and tapped his fingers on the Formica table top. A job, he thought. A crummy job, but a job.
                  That  Monday he’d met the rest of the staff. John, the word processor, was a part- timer, and Mary Anne, Janet’s right hand, proofread and did all the accounting. Steve’s modest duties included Xeroxing, sweeping, running errands, picking up the mail, and sending the magazine out to subscribers. Hence, his visits to the post office. He usually hit it around 4:15 and he wasn’t really expected back in the office, though occasionally he returned for the last fifteen minutes of the work day.
                  He’d noticed the woman who let her keys on the counter at the end of his first week on the job. She seemed to ride in from 14th Street on a dark cloud, and then move like a streak toward the postal boxes that lined the eastern wall of the lobby. She was tall, perhaps 5’10”, and her stride was long and smooth, despite her calf-length motorcycle boots and tight black stretch-skirt. There  was a kind of precision to her, a single-pointedness that cleared a natural path. No one stepped in front of her.
                  The woman squatted down to fit her key into a box on the second to bottom row. She pulled out a single letter and stuffed her key ring, which appeared to Steve, twenty feet away on the line, to be a bright pink golf ball, into the pocket of her denim jacket and dropped her huge leather bag onto the floor between her feet. She slid her finger under the flap of the envelope and pulled out a hand-written letter.
                  The line shifted forward one person, and Steve moved with it, but his attention remained fixed on the woman, on the way she leaned against the boxes, effectively blocking one entire vertical row, while her eyes, brown like the hair that was piled on tope of head and tied with a black scarf, darted across line after line, down the page. She turned the letter over and read the last paragraph on the back. Then she tore it to bits and dumped it in the garbage can as she sailed out, shifting her sunglasses down off her head over her eye.
                  “Move it up, bud,” a voice behind him said. The person in front of him had made the final turn and was a full three feet closer to the windows. Steve quickly pushed his box of mail along the floor and fought off the urge to apologize to the group. Why should it make them so nervous, he wondered, if he didn’t step forward the exact second it became possible? What unrelenting chaos could his slow response time release?
                  It was a small incident, the arrival of the woman into the periphery of his life, and he forgot about her until he saw her again later that week. She was, apparently, a creature of routine because she always arrived at 4:35 and always did the exact same thing: she’d open, read, rip, toss, replace the sunglasses, and disappear through the various dogs toed to the railing on the steps in the foyer. Based on his observations, she got one letter a week, and they mustn’t have been too important because she discarded them immediately. Her face never registered anything as she read. No smile cracked along her lips, painted a dark, rich shade of red-brown, nor did she ever straighten up and begin to read with sudden intensity.
                  When she broke that pattern, Steve was, in a detached way, stunned. He’d just concluded his Expression business and turned from the window when he saw her there in her usual stance, leaning against the wall of mailboxes. She looked relaxed but distant, as usual. Then her face changed and she took a few steps to the counter and seemed to use it to steady herself.
                  Steve moved toward the stamp machine. A man in an orange shirt fed quarters into the slot, and Steve stepped behind him. The woman flattened her letter out on the counter and read it again. Her head fell forward and the sunglasses clattered to the floor. She fumbled twice, so unlike her usual abbreviated gestures, when she reached down to pick them up. Then she folded the letter back into its envelope and carefully tucked it into the inside pocket of her jacket. She almost ran out of the post office, her movements uncoordinated and clumsy.
                  And then Steve noticed her pink key ring sitting on the counter among the used carbon paper and bits of trash. He crossed quickly, picked it up, and started toward the exit. He waited impatiently as a woman with a stroller maneuvered through the one working street door. Then he stepped onto 14th Street, moving across the crowded sidewalk to the curb to get a clearer view. The woman was walking east, making a right turn onto Avenue A. He picked up speed and followed her.
                  A crowd of noisy kids, their pants drooping into puddles of cloth at their ankles, stood on the corner. Steve skirted around them in time to see her step into a liquor store a few doors down. He had her keys in his hand as he pushed through the heavy glass door. He even felt the “m” in the word “Miss” form on his lips, but he said nothing.
                  “A bottle of Tanqueray,” she said, bending slightly to speak through the slots in the bullet-proof glass. An Asian man went to a corner shelf and using a step ladder, reached for the gin. It was, Steve later thought, the sound of her voice that had arrested him. It was musical, soft and somewhat timid. It sounded as if it had never been raised in anger, never lashed back in an argument. It surprised him. Until that moment, he had not realized he had acquired an unconscious set of expectations about her.
                  Steve tucked her keys into his pocket.
                  It was a reflex action, something unexplainable. There was no plot, no intention. It was the frailness of her voice and the way she counted, and then recounted, the money she finally passed through the slot. Steve left before the Asian man returned her change and handed over the bottle of gin.
                  When the woman emerged from the liquor store, Steve had the receiver of a broken payphone pressed against his ear. He placed his arm against the top rim of the metal phone booth cabinet and leaned inward so his face would be hidden. An empty Gatorade and a crumpled brown bag, left on the shelf, came into focus as he reran what had just happened. It seemed strange to him: on the one hand, he’d wanted to give her some privacy as she asked for the gin in her quiet voice; on the other, he wanted to keep the small part he already possessed. The irrationality of that thought scared him.
                  The woman crossed Avenue A, dodging between a taxi heading south and a dented Chevy van heading north. She stopped in front of a Korean market and stared at the buckets of fresh flowers. She selected a bunch of lilacs, shook off the water, and went inside. Steve watched her take a bottle of tonic water from a cooler and place it on the counter. She left quickly, heading downtown toward Tompkins Square Park. At 10th Street, she took a left, and five doors down she climbed the cracked front steps of a brownstone. As she reached into her pocket and fished around, a look of irritation crossed her face. She set her shopping bags and her oversized purse on the landing and began to search in earnest.
                  It entered Steve’s mind that she would soon retrace her steps. He could easily beat her back to the post office and think about this later. He started to jog at an easy pace.
                  He was inside the locksmith shop before he was even completely aware of noticing it.
                  “One of each?” asked a middle-eastern man with a huge head of wiry hair and a cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth.
                  “Yeah, please.”
                  There were four keys on the ring. As the machine ground out a duplicate set of keys, Steve moved to the window and glanced down Avenue A. No sign of her.
                  “I can’t copy the post office key,” the man said over the whine of the machine. “It says right on it, ‘Do Not Duplicate’.”
                  “No problem. Forget it.” Steve dug into his pocket for money. “How much?”
                  “Three bucks plus.”
                  “Plus what?”
                  “Tax, man.Where you from? The moon?”
                  Steve laid four dollars on the counter and stuffed the keys into his pocket. As he bolted for the door, he heard the locksmith call, “Hey buddy, your change!” but he didn’t stop. Through the front window, he saw the man shrug and drop  back down onto his stool.
                  Steve ran around the corner and into the post office. He cut in front of the “Broken mailbox/pick up” line and shoved the keys through the gridwork.
                  “Found these on the floor,” he said. The clerk glanced up without interest and tossed them into a box with “lost & found” printed on the side in blue magic marker. Steve stepped back outside and stood in front of a street vendor’s table full of wallets. Nervously, he picked once up and pretended to examine it.
                  “Genuine eel skin,” the vendor said. “Best price in the city.”
                  She was coming around the corner.
                  “Just looking,” Steve said, replacing the wallet.
                  Her eyes were covered with her big dark glasses, but her mouth was set in a tense line that crated a squared off angle in her jaw. She pulled the door open and disappeared into the post office. Steve slowly walked the half block to the entrance to the L train and descended.