W. Hegel’s holiday

When Sgt. Roscoe spotted the form slouched over a suitcase at the bus stop bench, she could not tell its gender or age. An oversized checked sweater concealed any shape, and the limbs were pulled in like a turtle’s. Only the head emerged, dwarfed in a cherry-red hunter’s cap, the tip of the nose pointing north into the wind as if waiting, perhaps sniffing, for the bus. She pulled over and lowered her window. “The late bus don’t run on Christmas Day, sir.” Cold air rushed into the car and made her words sound more fragile than she liked. The shape did not move, and she repeated herself. “You OK, sir? Sir?”

When the woman was unwrapped at the hospital—for it was a woman, overweight, around forty five—the staff found her comatose and nearly frozen. Her fingertips were stained with an unknown substance, in addition to being frostbitten. While they nursed her vital signs, several of the less occupied workers opened the suitcase. “Let’s see what Mrs. Claus brought the ER,” said an intern.

The newspaper lady was glad to get the call on the holiday. First Christmas after a divorce, especially if the kids are with their father and his folks, warm around a beautiful tree and floating in torn wrapping paper, while you’re alone in the apartment with the dog and a box of assorted See’s—you need something to do, she thought. The moment she walked into the hospital and met the policewoman holding the open suitcase overflowing with photographs, she realized she had received the gift of a lifetime. There was no ID on the comatose woman, the suitcase, or its contents, but she knew the photographs instantly. They were the work of the reclusive W. Hegel, obviously recently developed, newborn black-and-whites. Moreover, they were unexpected: W. Hegel had not come out with anything new for a decade, and was supposedly dead. The photographer was a master of lighting and angle, and shot anything and everything, except for W. Hegel. No one knew the first thing about the one who held that camera, who had failed to come forward for three Pulitzers, whose books recorded the goings-on of a fragile and oblivious world. But now W. Hegel was in the next room thawing, her fingertips stained with photographic developer, her veins coursing with warmth, taking a well-earned day off.

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