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She should have gone back to the Laundromat, she thought. But by the time she had noticed she’d forgotten the book, she’d figured someone else had probably already taken it. And when she realized that that assumption had only been an excuse for not going back outside and that the book had probably still been there, it was several hours later and she decided that, at that point, there really was no point in going back. It occurred to her as she was walking that she hadn’t been to the Laundromat since and that the copy of War and Peace might still be there. She wondered if maybe she should wait to go to the library, since it would be ridiculous to pay the fine for losing the book and later discover that she hadn’t lost it. Then she would be stuck with the copy of War and Peace, which—she was ready to admit now—she would never read.
She was approaching an intersection and looked ahead to see if she would make the light. Between her and the light was an oven with a woman’s back, hips and legs poking out. The woman’s top half emerged. She was holding a cookie tray. Jane could smell the cookies. She wondered how the oven was getting gas, out on the sidewalk like that, but then she noticed an orange extension cord. Underneath a table, a little boy was playing with the cord, trying to get a toy bicycle to balance on it. A helmeted Barbie doll lay on the ground next to him, dressed in pink spandex bike shorts and no top.
"Would you like some cookies?" the woman asked Jane.
"They’re gluten-free, but I promise they don’t taste like it."
"No, thank you," Jane said. She heard shouting, strangely staticky, coming from across the street, near the Brooklyn Museum. When she looked, she saw that there was a sofa perched on the steps. Two people were sitting watching TV.
"I know people think gluten-free food is no good, but these are good, I promise," the woman said. "Aren’t they good?" she asked the boy. He nodded but looked unconvinced. "He was just diagnosed a few months ago," the woman said. "It’s been hard for him. No Lucky Charms, no cake, no cinnamon toast."
Jane looked at the boy. She worried that by refusing she would imply that she didn’t believe cookies could be good without gluten.
"I guess I could have just one," she said.
"I knew you wouldn’t be able to resist," the woman said, "once you really thought about it. Only they still have to cool off a bit."
Jane sat at the table. The boy leaned up against her legs. She didn’t have children herself and his body made her uncomfortable, with its combination of softness and tiny, sharp bones.
"I know who you are!" the woman exclaimed suddenly, looking at Jane. "I was sure I’d seen you before and now I remember."
"I don’t think we know each other," said Jane.
The woman went over to a bookshelf which Jane hadn’t noticed before and took out a thick volume wrapped in a translucent library cover.
"You were carrying this at the Laundromat," she said and handed Jane her library copy of War and Peace. "Just goes to show you," she said.