She was standing on the porch of a sagging cabin with bright yellow leaves collecting around her feet. As the cold wind billowed her skirt, she shivered and wondered if the owner of the purse really lived here. She knocked timidly and the door quickly opened, revealing a tiny girl holding a hideous, bald doll…

(Entries must touch on the topic in some way to qualify.)

Traci stood in front of the tired wood cabin, hesitant to step onto the sagging porch. Yellow leaves swirled around her feet as a chill wind blew by. She shivered involuntarily and wondered if the owner of the purse could really live here.

Several years ago, Traci had been in dire straits. The boyfriend she had followed to the city had disappeared, leaving just a note and no explanation. She had lost the last of her part-time jobs a month later. Then came the eviction notice. Alone and overwhelmed, Traci had left home with just a bag of clothes and walked down to the subway. She didn’t know where to go, but at least the train was warm and the motion was soothing. After so many sleepless nights, it was no wonder she fell asleep.

Traci awoke, startled and disoriented, and saw the purse lying on the seat next to her. She looked around, but she was alone in the train car. Someone must have left it behind by accident. The bag was made of well-worn brown leather with a long strap that could be slung over a shoulder. She tried to open the front pouch to look for some ID, but the zipper was jammed. The main section was full of smaller dividers and in one of these she found a piece of torn lined paper with an address.

Having no other plans, she decided to try to return the purse there. However, she had a moment’s hesitation when she came to the address. There was cardboard in the windows and a “COMING SOON” banner over the door. Warily, she tried the door. It opened with a tinkling of bells.

A slender man in black was at her side almost the instant she walked through the door.

“Please tell me you’re here to answer the ad. It’s only two days until opening and we’re still short-staffed.”

“I’m sorry…” Traci was flustered, “I’m trying to return this purse. I found-”

“Anybody lose a purse?” He shouted. The volume of his voice was shocking coming from such a slight figure. A curly-haired head popped out from behind a swinging door followed by a very large body.

“No need to holler. Is that the new prep cook?”

“She’s looking for the owner of this purse, Eloise.”

“Isn’t mine,” She turned to Traci, “You want a job or not?”

Traci looked down at her shoes.

“I can’t cook,” she said, “I never learned…”

“Well, now’s the time. Follow me.”

Leaving her bag, Traci followed Eloise into the kitchen. The rest of the day was a blur of instructions. The curly-haired head chef showed her how to chop and dice, where the ingredients would be stored, how to mix the sauces and to set up the stations. The pace was furious, but Traci loved every minute. It was nearly midnight by the time she sat down to fill out employment forms.

When she came to the section labeled “ADDRESS,” Traci paused. Cold settled in the pit of her stomach. She filled out the rest of the form, leaving those lines blank and handed it over.

Eloise looked the form over and raised an eyebrow. “You need a place to stay, kiddo?”

Traci could feel her cheeks turning red with embarrassment, but she nodded. She quickly found herself installed in the vacant studio apartment upstairs, her first month’s rent borrowed against her future paychecks. She hugged the purse to herself as she stood in the tiny room, thanking the person who had lost it and vowing to return it somehow, someday.

Traci’s rise through the restaurant world was meteoric. She thrived under Eloise’s tutelage and by the end of the year she was a sous chef. Within three she was head chef of her own restaurant. For the first time in her life, Traci was proud of herself and she blossomed as she became more confident and at home in the kitchen.

The worn leather purse stayed continuously by her side. Not only was it the talisman that had brought her to that first culinary gig, but it still somehow contained just what she needed. A pen to write a crucial phone number. Extra money she didn’t remember stashing, but needed desperately for a cab when late for a meeting. She had only lost it once and spent the entire day retracing her steps in a panic. When she arrived home, exhausted and despairing, there was a man ringing her doorbell and holding the bag in front of him. To thank him, Traci had taken Mark out for coffee – there was a coupon for the new place around the corner in the purse ñ and six months later they were engaged.

It was Mark who fixed the zipper on that front pouch, unsticking it with oil for her. Inside were a name and address.

Traci knew it was finally time to return the purse.

She was surprised when her timid knock brought a tiny waif of a girl to the door, lugging an ugly bald doll behind her.

“I’m looking for Sara Green,” she said to the little girl. The girl’s eyes got big, but she didn’t answer.

“Who’s that at the door, Sara!” a harsh voice called out. The girl seemed to shrink into herself. Traci looked into her eyes and saw hurt and shame and fear. She saw herself just a few short years ago. Then she understood. Traci handed the purse to the little girl.

“I think this is supposed to be yours now.”