I know how she died.
Her family relayed the details. Witnesses gave me statements.
I’ve been to the scene, read the official report, browsed the news accounts.
And now, I’m reading the coroner’s report. The days these papers skid across my desk are the ones I’d rather not show up for work. I’d like to tuck the report between the manila folds without a glance and just say it contained no helpful information.
I know already it will say the cause of death was blunt force trauma. But this case is a puzzle, and hidden in the cold clinical detail of the autopsy is a tiny missing piece I cannot find without reading every sterile page. I shield my eyes as I read how the body was opened in the usual manner, note that various body parts were without abnormality. I stare at the wall, pretending not to look as I invade a private place, add indignity to injustice with the clumsy pencil pushing of my trade.
I find what I’m looking for. It’s what’s not there, really, that I needed to find. But I stumble on the way out, as though knocking stainless steel instruments to the floor in a clanging din that threatens to stop my own heart.
It’s the inventory that paralyzes me. A punch card of descriptors, itemizing the color of her hair and eyes, documenting her length and weight.
I know what she had in her purse. How many bills. How much change. The lipstick, the credit cards, the family photos.
I know how she was dressed. The sweatshirt, the t-shirt, the long sleeved shirt underneath. The socks. The undergarments. And the one brown slip-on shoe.
The brown shoe. Just one.
This woman I never knew, whose post mortem details are spread in black and white in front of me, who dressed in comfortable cotton layers as I am known to do, is missing a shoe.
Though it has nothing to do with the question I need to answer before I can stamp a bright red CLOSED on the outside of a file, the missing shoe haunts me. How did it come off? Where does it rest? Should I have seen it somewhere along the way? But what difference does it make?
Really. What difference does it make?
Mortality has shown her face too near my windows lately. Too close and too often, leaving me to hold a solitary brown shoe in want of a bigger story. The end of life does not come down to this — it is not reduced to the sanitized accounting of pockets and the color of socks.
I know it isn’t. But all the same. For God’s sake, somebody, find that other brown shoe.