One of the sisters says they were robbed three times in the first town. She wants to call it three times and believes she has the right to. When they left the hotel room, someone robbed it, she says, and when they left the hotel room again, someone robbed it again. And when they stood at the desk and waved their hands at faces blank as zeros, someone robbed the room a third time. And then they rode away through the countryside like bandits run out of town although the bandits were behind them.
It makes no difference that all three took place in the same room, same hotel, from the same bag, and by the same person, presumably—a little boy, she believes, whose mother slid him through the window. Some things were different. Light. Time. Herself, for example.
It was once, says the other sister, the elder. In the first town, once.
In the second town, twice, says the younger. Somebody stole her soap when she left it for a moment by the pila. Bio-degradable soap, costly, carried across two borders like a refugee sent home.
And they stole her t-shirts from the line where she’d pinned them and her sandals from the sun-square where she’d left them to dry. So that makes four, no five. No, she does not have to count each t-shirt as a separate robbery, thank you and fuck you.
Can you honestly count a missing t-shirt as a robbery? says the elder.
Can you honestly count bio-degradable soap?
The elder, whose soap remained safe in its suitcase.
In the third town they were robbed on the street. Each of them. So that’s twice more. By children, of all things, hardly higher than chair seats.
The elder sister never knew the younger sister valued material things so highly. The elder sister never knew a bottle of soap.
And then there were the robberies they heard about—stories of the pack taken, the wallet picked, the taxi ambushed, the gun raised, the machete dropped. Those do not count but in a way they do because they were there, in the mind.
And there were the other robberies, elsewhere, the ones in books and on TV. The ones imagined. The ones in dreams.
Oh, she hardly sees, says the elder, who always never did see, how something not stolen, not even missing, not even existing, can be counted.
It all counts somehow. Her soap. It’s gone, she herself can no longer count it. But it’s out there somewhere, somehow, being counted by someone else.
Deb Olin Unferth won the Cabell First Novelist Award for Vacation (McSweeney’s, 2008). She is also the author of Minor Robberies (McSweeney’s, 2007), a short-story collection. (updated 7/2010)