‘Probate’ by Joyce Carol Oates
From Fifty-Two Short Stories:
It was the third day of her new life. This life was diminished as in the aftermath of brain surgery executed with a meat cleaver yet she meant to do all that was required of her and to do it alone, and capably, and without complaint.
She was in Trenton, New Jersey. Whatever this terrible place was—the rear entrance of a massive granite building, a parking lot partly under construction and edged with a mean, despoiled crust of ice like Styrofoam—and the winter morning very cold, wet and windy with the smell of the oily Delaware River a half-mile away—she was struck by the fact that it appeared to be an actual place and not one of those ominous but imprecise nightmare-places of the troubled sleep of her new life.
In a brave voice she said, a little louder: “Excuse me?—I’m sorry to trouble you but is this the rear entrance to Probate Court?”