Kleptophilia


The first time I saw you, you stole a sandwich, ham and cheese on white in a triangular plastic container.  It was at the 7/11 near school.  You slipped it into your purse, the big corduroy bag every girl in our class had.  (You'd stolen that, too, I later learned.) I was getting a coke—you must have waited until the guy behind the counter was ringing me up—and I thought why would anyone want one of those, even if you weren't going to pay for it?  But your face was serene, like the sandwich belonged between your science book and hairbrush and you were just helping it find its place in the universe.  Outside, you were leaning against the wall and smoking.  You looked very small in your hooded sweatshirt—your brother's.  I wanted to say something, ask about the sandwich, but your head was lowered towards me and you flicked ash in my direction.

In school, you hung out with the Renaldi twins, who ate apples for lunch, and Merlin Feingold, science fair king.  Your hair was a mess, even though I saw you had eight combs in your locker.  You also had about fifteen library books in there that you hadn't even checked out.  They were catalogued as missing.  I wondered if you had taken anything from me.

You wore a lot of jewelry, probably stuff you stole from cheap places the middle school kids shopped.  On one of the desks in English class, someone had used a blue pen to write "Molly is a dyke," and someone else crossed out "dyke" and wrote "slut" instead.  For a while I didn't go near you, just watched during math class when you would sit in the back and reach your hand into the backpack of the person in front of you, extracting a pen or bottle of water or magazine like you had permission.

You didn't cheat on tests.  Maybe you weren't interested in the intangible.  We were asked where X was.  Where could it be if you couldn't curl your fingers around it and slide it into your pocket?

I worked at Otis's Market on weekends.  One Saturday Mr. Otis came over while I was stocking jars of pickles.  He kept sighing and tapping his finger against his mouth.  He had a mustache that made him look like Hitler.  We used to make jokes about it in the break room while he was up front being passive-aggressive with the cashiers.

"You know, Eddie," he said, "we've been having a problem lately."

I didn't know if he meant 'we' as in the market or 'we' as in him and me.  I kept quiet.

"Inventory," he said.  "We're missing more than usual.  We're going to have to beef up security."

I bet later he told the girls he needed to pat them down before they left.  "Right."

"Keep an eye on the kids who come in."

So when I saw you, I was kind of doing my job.  You took some canned peaches in syrup and a box of steel wool.  I followed you until you were in the parking lot, where you turned around like you were going to punch me.

"What is your fucking problem?" you said.

"Nothing," I said.  I told you Mr. Otis knew someone was stealing things and he was going to crack down, so you'd better be careful.  I wasn't going to bust you for stealing canned peaches because I didn't care all that much, and Mr. Otis was a douche, and besides, they weren't really selling anyway.  You didn't smile but I thought you wanted to.  You mumbled thanks and walked away, hands shoved into your deep pockets as you crossed the length of the parking lot.

The next day after school you were standing by my car—my brother's car, but I used it while he was at college.  When I unlocked the doors you just got in like it was something we did every day.  You told me to drive to the mall.  As we walked around, I felt like I was in a different country and you were my guide.  Don't attract attention, you said.  Look natural.  Misdirect.  You demonstrated all of this with a lemon-scented candle and two travel-sized bottles of shampoo.  Afterwards, you threw them into the trash.  I asked if you ever stole stuff you actually wanted and you looked at me like I didn't know how to dress myself in the morning.

I dropped you off at your house, a split-level ranch with a basketball hoop outside.  I'd thought you'd live on the edge of town in a trailer park.  "Thanks," I said.  "See you later."

"Uh-huh."  You slammed the door.

At school you didn't acknowledge me.  I kept watching you sneak things from classmates.  One night, I found a keychain in my backpack that didn't belong to me and I wanted to call you up and thank you.  The next day I tried to smile at you during math but you wouldn't look at me.

When you didn't show up two weeks later, it was because someone lost their cell phone and blamed you.  I guess I wasn't the only one watching.  The principal went through your locker and probably thought he'd find bags of pot, but it was just a bunch of a useless stuff.  They put all the things they couldn't return into trash bags and tossed it all.  The last time I saw you, you were coming out of the vice-principal's office with your parents, both tall and blonde.  Your face was drained, like you'd been through chemo.  I said your name and although you didn't look at me, I could see your face harden—you probably thought I told them it was you.

Apparently your parents put you in boarding school in Montana, a place for problem kids.  At night, I like to think of you on a ranch, hiding bits of rope and sagebrush under your pillow.  

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