How to Stop a Thief

By Elizabeth Morse

When I moved to my own place, I was a refugee from my family. My father managed to draw blood when he hit me. My mother told me he was right to do so.

My sister never got hit. She was blonde, a stellar student who didn’t get bullied. I was the opposite: blue-black hair, dark polish over bitten nails, sharp font of dismal grade reports. It made all the difference.

So, I started stealing from my parents and my sister. First, I took a magnifying glass from my mother and a pair of scissors from my sister. I loved to see them pawing through every drawer and closet as they were screaming.

Amazingly, I got away with it. Pilfering just became part of the evil person I was.

Once I lived on my own, I got all new furniture, all new clothes. At first, the sumptuous reds and blues thrilled me. But they weren’t quite right. What I had was tainted just like I was. My couch, table, silverware and earrings were all hexed.

So, I started stealing from friends, starting with Nicole. I took an oversized turquoise and silver pen and had my eye on a watch with tiny dials and a bulky face. Nicole also had great earrings: silver, gold, emeralds. I could graduate to these. I felt bad about it, since Nicole was the kindest person I knew. But I couldn’t help myself.

I’d been to twelve-step programs and thought about character defects. I had plenty of those. I’d quit drinking years ago but was too ashamed to go to meetings.

What I could do was give something back, placing it surreptitiously in a drawer. Then I could make up for it by removing something else. I’d still be a thief who was as no-good as my family thought I was. My identity wouldn’t be violated.

Next time I visited, I deposited the pen in the desk and took off with the watch in my coat pocket. Simple.
Nicole called me a couple of days later. When I saw her number light up my phone, I cringed. Surely, this was going to be a showdown. She’d never speak to me again.

We’d laughed together, listened to each other with rapt attention. We’d told crazy stories about knives and forks having conversations and cats who danced the night away, not to mention swapping the best recipes. Her coconut cream pie was the tastiest. She was one of the few people who had empathy for my family situation. Her father had tossed her down the front steps of their house when she was seven. I’d tried to be a good friend, except in the one way I couldn’t.

Face everything and recover. That’s what they said at AA meetings.

Sucking in my breath, I answered the call.

“You’re wonderful, Mina! You just bring good luck.”

I gasped. She must have gone crazy. But this could just be the wind up to a confrontation.

“I found the pen I lost. It just showed up like magic after you left last time.”

I wanted to hang up. Confrontation I could deal with, but this was too confusing.

“Come over tomorrow at seven,” she said. “We can talk better in person.”


The next night, I went to her apartment. She threw her arms around me. “Great to see you!” she said.
I immediately let go. This would be the last time she spoke to me. I had to be prepared.

She brought coffee in dainty blue and white cups. As we spoke, her hair caught the light and her sweater had a pale glow.

“The pen we talked about. I wanted to get rid of it, actually.”

“But you were happy to have it back?”

“I just wanted to know where it was, so I could give it to a thrift store. I didn’t want it floating around my house.”

In a minute, she was going to confront me. Pushing my glasses up, I crossed my legs and sighed.

“It’s bad luck because it used to belong to my ex,” she went on. “I was going to return it, but I couldn’t stand the idea of seeing him again.”

Her ex had hit her at least once. Anything he owned, I didn’t want.

“I still have his watch somewhere. That I haven’t been able to find. When I do, that goes in the giveaway pile as well. More bad energy.”

“Listen,” I said, reaching over to touch her arm.

She turned. “What is it?”

I was going to have to tell her and take my chances, even if I had to stop stealing altogether. I’d have to sacrifice. She was too important a friend.

Grabbing the watch from my pocket, I deposited it on the coffee table. She smiled as I waved my fingers with their chipped black nail polish.

* * *

Elizabeth Morse is a writer who lives in New York’s East Village. Her work has been published in literary magazines such as The Raven’s Perch and Hazmat Review, and anthologies such as Crimes of the Beats and The Unbearables Big Book of Sex. She has her MFA from Brooklyn College and supports her writing with a job in information technology.

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