Kathryn Huber has studied in Portland, Oregon, and New York City, where she worked for more than a decade before moving to South America. Her work has been published in various literary journals, including Diner Literary Journal, The Griffin, Post Road, and Mangrove.

With Peruvian Director Delia Ackerman, Huber developed, researched and co-produced two documentaries "The King of the Desert is Dying" about deforestation on Peru's southern coast, and "String of Pearls" a look at the 90 year history of the American Women's Literary Club in Peru. In Lima, she performed her poetry as part of a multi-media ensemble "Paper, Spirit, Clay and Brush." She is currently finishing revisions for the historical novel Desert Voices, wherein a young woman navigates the deadly world of sorcerers, tribal conflict and ancient spirits as the Nasca culture struggles to survive in the drought-ridden desert coast of sixth-century Peru.

The Wallet

posted Mar 3, 2015


To tell you the truth, I think God would understand why I kept the wallet.

In fact, I think it was His work. My heart nearly stopped when I counted the money inside. How else could you explain the coincidence except for an act of God? There was enough to cover my mother's medicine for a whole year! It was a miracle, and I know that the señora who dropped it would also understand. After all, anyone who has that much in a wallet doesn't have to worry like we do about money, does she? She was more worried about her documents. I heard the doorman telling Mrs. Charles that the building's cleaning lady went through all the garbage hoping to find her cards and driver's license and green card. I didn't realize that there were gringas with immigration problems too! Even white ladies from England have to have their immigration cards. That's why I only kept the money and left everything else in the wallet. I put it on the floor for Sofia to find next time she takes the garbage down. God only wanted me to have the money for medicine.


When I heard that Sofia was looking through the garbage for that lady's wallet, I wondered why she would demean herself like that. Let the old woman look for her own stuff. If she can't hold on to her wallet, is that our fault? Everyone in the building has been looking at me like I took it or something, just because I came down through the lobby a few minutes after she went up. I didn't even come down in the same elevator! Shit, I only work here once a week, to wash windows for people. I just wish it had been me who found the wallet first. I heard it had, like, thousands of dollars. If I had that kind of money, I sure wouldn't work here.


I pray every day that they will find that wallet. I don't see the lady in 1205 much, but she always says "hello" in a nice way. Not snobby like some of the others. She talks to me normal like, not like I'm stupid or something just because I'm new on the job. I heard someone say that it wouldn't have happened if Luis had been on duty instead of me because he would have noticed who came down after her. It's not my fault he's on vacation. I do my job. I sign people in who don't live in the building. I open the garage door when it gets stuck. I help people with their groceries, even though I'm not supposed to. Even if I did recognize all the faces, would I have been able to stop someone from taking a wallet that they found on the floor if I didn't actually see them pick it up? I just feel bad that it happened right after she took it out to pay the monthly maintenance fees. The wallet was so full she couldn't fold it when she put it back in her bag. She was so nice about my not having any change and trusted me to get it to her later. But maybe if she had just waited until tomorrow, she wouldn't have taken it out, and then it wouldn't have dropped out. I guess she didn't notice because of all the other stuff she was carrying. She was so sure someone would turn it in, she kept coming back down every ten minutes. But she doesn't realize that temptation is a powerful thing.


Just because I work as a maid does not make me a thief. I've quit more than one job because some daft old lady thinks I took her ugly old shoes or snuck off with a jar of sugar. No way will I take that shit. Not from no one. Sure, I left right about the time that wallet supposedly got dropped in the elevator. But how do we know she didn't imagine the whole thing and her wallet isn't like under her bed? I used to work for a lady who forgot things all the time. One day she hid money under the mattress, then told her son I stole it. Lucky for me, I saw her fiddling in her room and the sheets all messed up. I make a pretty tight bed, so I told him he should look there, and sure enough: There it were. Plus way more than what she said I took. No surprise he begged me to stay on—I think I'm the third maid this month. But like I said, I don't take that from no one. I work hard enough—don't need the extra bull.

Judy Polsky

Why does everyone think I should have noticed? I was on the phone, not paying attention to who was getting on or off the elevator. I saw Mrs. Jacobs go into the elevator; she even held it for me, but I was busy with my own problems and needed to finish the call. Sure, I'm sorry she lost her money and her cards and everything, but she'll get over it. Who of us hasn't been robbed? Come on, it's not the end of the world. But the Jacobs's maid keeps looking at me like I should know. Even asked me in a funny way if my maid had seen anything when she took the dog out. As if she thought I should check up on my own maid. Uppity if you ask me. Dresses too nice. Maybe she took the money. She's probably sifting through stuff all the time, but I suppose she's not one to rock the boat or bite the hand that feeds her. Jacobs said her maid wasn't even there that day. My girl thinks that the Jacobs maid has airs because Mrs. Jacobs uses the term "housekeeper." And lets her keep a key to the apartment. But a maid is a maid, and I've never had one that didn't sneak something out of the house one time or another.


They really don't pay me enough to manage this building. The people here are whiners and complainers, and more than half of them pay late and then complain the loudest when the water gets turned off because the bill hasn't been paid. You can't manage a building without cash flow. And a good reserve. Last association meeting, they decided to put cameras in. Everyone's worried about security. About the construction workers next door. About service workers who slip in behind a resident without leaving their documents at the desk. No one has broken into this building yet, but they're all sure it'll happen if we don't have cameras. One more thing to maintain. One more thing to monitor. One more thing that can break. And how many people who voted for the extra quota have even paid their share? We're farther behind than ever. Now they're saying that we could have identified the person who found the wallet if only we had had the cameras in place. So I suppose that makes it my fault?

Mitch Jacobs

Damn. Why did she have to go and space out like that with a thousand dollars in her wallet? With what, less than fifty feet to our door? With me out of town and no back-up cards. She said that she had been extra cautious all the way back from the bank, keeping the wallet tucked down under the cables in her laptop bag. She let her guard down because she was home. Why didn't she just wait to pay the maintenance until later? Nobody else pays on time. That means when I get home the place will be a mess. She'll turn the place upside down just to make sure she didn't accidentally kick it under the furniture or actually put it away without remembering. Now she's filing police reports, filing for replacement cards, arguing with the bank because they won't process her new card until she has her ID replaced.

None of us like to deal with the immigration office, but you have to do what you have to do. She asked me not to get sick over this. I was already sick over our finances long before this. I don't know why she thinks she has to help everyone. She took money from our credit line to loan to our housekeeper and wasn't even going to charge her the interest - which we still have to pay for. She just doesn't know how to say "no." By now, we have financed Tina's new roof, her daughter's college classes, and a computer for the grandkids who live with her. She always pays it off eventually, but as soon as she does, there is something else. This time it was the wiring in her house. She wanted to borrow enough to fix all the faulty wiring and I don't know what else. A thousand dollars didn't go very far with our own repairs, so I don't doubt that Tina needs it. It's just that we still have our own loans to pay off. Janice just doesn't seem to get it that we are not getting any younger and I can't work like this forever.


I feel so bad for Mrs. Jacobs. She's not as friendly as Mrs. Charles, but she's always pleasant. And she was the one who gave us a toaster oven for the building staff so that we could have hot meals. It's not my fault that Luis thought it was a microwave and put his plastic dish in and nearly ruined it. It took days to scrape it all off. A microwave would have been more practical, but at least she thought of us. And she was so upset about her wallet. She went down to the garbage room, hoping someone might have just taken the money and thrown away the rest. From what I hear, that's what most thieves do these days. Maybe she's worried about all this talk about identity theft. Poor woman didn't find a thing. Whoever took it was probably still counting the money! When I collected the garbage, I checked every single bag from every single apartment just in case someone did take the money and throw out the cards. But there was nothing. Nothing. Mrs. Charles says that this just goes to show how much we need those cameras.


My mother made me take out a flashlight and look between the cracks between the elevator door and the lobby floor. Like Mrs. Jacob's wallet could have fit there? Not with all those bills in it. But I feel sorry for her. Every day I see her, she looks older, and who knows, maybe she's starting with Alzheimer's or something. I used to take her dog out for her, till it died of old age. I think that must have taken something out of Mrs. Jacobs, you know? Maybe she's not all there anymore.


You know what? I wouldn't be surprised if Mrs. Polsky, my boss, took the bloody wallet. She's always complaining about money trouble. Never pays me on time. And she was on the phone right there by the elevator when Mrs. Jacobs went up. Maybe it fell outside of the elevator. When I came down with Mrs. P's yappy Pekinese, she looked kind of startled. When the door opened, she turned away from me like she didn't want me to see something. I didn't know yet about the wallet, or I might have suspected something right then. I went to the street, the mutts did their business, and when I went back I ran into Mrs. Jacobs coming out of the elevator. She asked me if I had seen her wallet, and she looked so disappointed when I said "no." So disappointed. I feel bad for her. She seems nice, and her housekeeper thinks the world of her. I wish I could say that about my boss, but hey, at least I have a job.


My first thought was that I don't know why someone would throw away a perfectly good wallet. It was just sitting on top of one of the garbage bins. I had just parked my car in the garage and gone to throw out the bag from Burger King before I went upstairs so Mom wouldn't know I'd been snacking. The wallet was empty, I swear. There was nothing in it, but it was a lot nicer leather than mine, so I took it with me. I was in a rush because I had promised my mom I'd come home early to help make dinner since my stuffy aunt Veronica was coming over. I didn't even notice the poster in the elevator. When Mom mentioned it, I almost told her what I had found, but then she started in on how my skirt was too short and my hair needed washing. I don't even know who Mrs. Jacobs is, and since the wallet was empty, it wouldn't help anyway.


I always check the garbage room on my way upstairs after I park my bike downstairs. You never know when someone decides to throw out something perfectly useful. Believe it or not, half my apartment has been furnished by stuff I found. An old clock that works fine. A CD stand. A broken shelf that was easy to fix. Lots of hangers. I made a sculpture for the corner of my living room out of coat hangers. Joey was with me when I saw the wallet on the ground. If it had just been me, I would have tried to find the owner, but Joey saw it different. He said that there was no money, only cards, so if we turned it in, they'd think we took the money, and no one would believe we hadn't because we're just a couple of punks crashing at my cousin's apartment while he's waiting to sell it. It's hard to argue with Joey. But that doesn't mean I agree with him. He said that we should take the cards and see what we could get for them. He said the owner had probably already canceled everything anyway. Joey has all kinds of friends who would buy ID. Especially a green card. His friends know how to doctor them, I guess. Or maybe set up new identities or something. I'm not big on fraud, but when money is short, I don't always think straight. So I didn't say anything when he emptied it. He took the cards, threw out all pictures and other stuff. He grinned and stuffed them into a bag of dirty diapers and said no one would look there.

Janice Jacobs

I feel so, so stupid. How could I lose my wallet between the front desk and my front door? But I feel most sick about the fact that someone actually picked it up and took it! I had been so vigilant from the moment I left the bank. Careful and aware of everyone within fifteen feet of me as I walked down the sidewalks, when I stopped in the grocery store, when I took a cab home. Yet right here, in my own building, I lose it! No one took it off me, I lost it. Dropped it. Probably when I was leaning against the elevator wall. The bar there probably pushed against my bag and dislodged it. Stupid me, trying to hold everything. The maintenance receipt, my laptop bag, my cell phone, my keys… What is wrong with me that I did not realize until I took out the laptop that my wallet wasn't there? And why was I hauling it around anyway? So that I could get some work done while elder-sitting my mother-in-law? Ha. Wishful thinking. All I did while I was there was show her pictures of her great-grandkids on Facebook. That little indulgence may have cost me a thousand dollars that we didn't even have.

I keep trying to remember, hoping to come up with something new. But I just keep seeing the wallet in the bag. I kept it stuffed under cords and the mouse until I pulled it out to pay the building maintenance. I swear I pushed it back in well enough. But it was more at the top of the bag. That must be what happened. The cords pushing from under, the elevator rail from the side… Or did someone brush past me getting out of the elevator? I only remember Mrs. Polsky there with her cell phone, passing me but then pacing while she spoke with someone. I was watching her, not the elevator. I just don't remember! The policeman asked me if anyone had come out of the elevator as I stepped in, and as soon as he said that, it was as if I remembered someone being there, but I think my mind is playing tricks on me.

It must have fallen out when I leaned against the corner, and I just didn't feel it because the elevator lurched when it started.

I am so sick about it.

Mitch will be so disappointed in me.

And poor Tina. I had to tell her that I lost her money. She had to be disappointed, but she acted more worried about me. She knew I was borrowing it. But I'm lucky at least I have credit! Tina doesn't. So she can't borrow money from a bank. Her neighborhood loan sharks charge a fortune. I told Mitch we could certainly handle five percent on her behalf. She's worked for us twice a week for ten years. She travels an hour and a half each way to get here, but is always cheerful. How could we not try to help? We have a roof that doesn't leak, hot water, and all the electricity we need. She can barely keep a few lights on and use a blender without the fuses blowing.

How I wish the person who found it would just listen to their conscience and hear the right voice. It's never too late to try to make things right.

I still can't believe Sofia went through all the garbage. And so many people have been nice to me. But I am sick about it. Someone in our own building…

It will be weeks before I have my papers straightened out. Weeks. Four hours this morning in immigration and going back tomorrow. And no driver's license until I have "acceptable identification."

I finally cried today.

And I still keep going to the door, hoping that I will open it and find my wallet there, waiting.