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.

Orange Crush

By Laurel Osterkamp

It was the strangest coincidence.

First, a burnt-sienna colored Volkswagen Rabbit tore through Country Club Plaza. The exact same kind of car that she’d driven in high school sped recklessly and thank God, Anne was out of its way and on the sidewalk.

Then, another flash from the past. Anne smelled Jake before she saw him. How strange that after nearly twenty years he would have the same citrusy scent that he’d had, back when he’d begged her to stay and then broke her heart.

Whenever she thought about Jake (which was often) she couldn’t escape that last, horrendous memory of right before she left for college. He’d asked her to marry him, for God’s sake, and when he’d gotten down on one knee, she’d laughed because the whole idea was so ridiculous. Her bags were packed, her new Laura Ashley comforter for her dorm room bed was selected, and she’d enrolled in all her classes.

“Are you crazy? I can’t drop everything and marry you. That would be, like, a death sentence.” How his face had crumpled, but his tearful pleas quickly turned to angry insults.

“I’m glad I cheated on you with Shelly Walker,” he’d said. “She’s way better at sex than you, and you’re a ruthless, bitchy whore.”

His harsh words made her feel like one of those cartoon characters with her head bashed in; she saw stars, and the sting and pain nearly made her pass out.

Despite all that, over the years she found herself thinking of Jake, of their John Hughes movie marathons, or how he’d taught her to skateboard, his hand gently resting on the small of her back, guiding her as she balanced and glided down the suburban sidewalk. She thought of their first time together, and how she’d cried that she would always love him. She thought of how when he laughed, his left eyebrow rose slightly, and when he kissed her, he always closed his eyes before pursing his lips.

At the time, she didn’t know how special he was, but she also had no clue about Shelly. She certainly hadn’t realized that she’d never find another guy who smelled as good as Jake.

Anne had never quite figured it out, how it was always like he’d just eaten an orange. Was it his shampoo, or the fabric softener his mom used? Anne smelled it now. It was everything. It was his essence. Sharp yet subtle, with a quietly refreshing strength.

She was window shopping on the Kansas City Country Club Plaza, nicknamed the “City of Fountains”. It was still a cow town, but the expensive stores were the same here as they were anywhere. Right as that dark orange Volkswagen sped by, Anne saw that the Lululemon had in their new shipment of yoga pants.

Then, she felt a presence behind her, and her nostrils tingled with his familiar scent, sending her suddenly back to high school as if she’d never left. “Jake?” She said his name before turning around, completely confident that once she’d pivoted, his blue eyes would meet her browns.

“I thought that was you. How are you, Anne?”

There was no recrimination in his voice, no trace of the verbal assault he’d hurled the last time they’d spoken, so many years before. It was like they were two acquaintances chatting before a PTA meeting.

Not that Anne had kids. But did Jake? Had he married Shelly?
She tried to subtly glance at his ring finger, but his hands were in his pockets.

“I’m good.” She laughed though she found nothing funny, not really. She had been haunted by his ghost for years and now here he was, in the flesh. “It’s amazing to see you, Jake. It’s been so long.”

“Are you here visiting your mother?”

“Yeah. I would have let you know, but I don’t know how to contact you anymore. You’re not even on Facebook.”

Anne cringed, realizing that she just admitted to seeking him out, to thinking about him, to wanting to reconnect. Jake shrugged. “I’m not really into social media.”

He was balding and paunchy. She could still see the boy inside the middle-aged man, but neither were aging particularly well. And yet, he still smelled so good.

“Okay. Well, give me your number and I’ll text you. We could grab a drink. I’m in town for a few more days.” Anne held her breath, waiting for Jake to respond, and when he did, her exhale came slow and stilted.

“I can’t. Super busy this whole week. You know how it is.” He removed his ringless fingers from his pocket, clenched them into a fist, and gave her a playful punch in the shoulder. “Good seeing you though. Maybe next time you’re in town?”


He strolled away without asking for her number. Anne watched him go, and then, distracted, she stepped into the street, her eyes still on Jake’s receding form, her nostrils still clinging to his citrusy scent.

This time, when the Volkswagen came ripping around the bend, narrowly missing a fountain in the middle of an intersection, Anne was not safely on the sidewalk. Her last thought was that the car looked how Jake smelled, and how funny, that she could be hit so forcefully by two memories at once.

* * *

Laurel Osterkamp is from Minneapolis, where she teaches high school English and Creative Writing. She has self-published several novels and recently, her short fiction was featured in Tangled Locks Literary Journal and will also be published by Sledgehammer Lit in February. In August, her novel Favorite Daughters will be released by Black Rose Writing. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing through Lindenwood University. You can connect with her on her blog, – Writer, Reader, English Teacher or on Twitter – @laurellit1.

If She Goes

By Teagan Kessler

She might finally have to leave him. She sat in the darkness on her curb-alert special couch, tired feet tucked under her, and she watched the TV throw colors at the plain white walls. A laptop wobbled on her bent knees as she moved her finger round and round over the trackpad, the cursor making slow, dutiful circles on the screen. Her mind spun much faster. She had to make a decision. The affair demanded it.

Stay. Be a good wife.

Go. Make a new life.

She didn’t know. Couldn’t know.

The bottom drawer of her dresser held a plane ticket to a faraway place—maybe even that whole new life, if that was what she wanted. The more she thought about it, the more her stomach tied itself in knots, pulling tighter and tighter like a stick through a tourniquet.

She glanced at him, then balanced her wrists on the laptop, her fingers typing out “what should I do” into the search bar. Several useless random-decision generators gave her answers she didn’t like—neither option seemed right—and she gave up. She could never make decisions, and could never follow through once she did. Opening the closet in their childless second bedroom risked an overflow of unfinished projects, her lava-hot passion for them quickly cooled to a barely bubbling blackish crawl.

Forget major life decisions. She couldn’t even decide what to do in the next ten minutes. She could distract herself from the sickening uncertainty, maybe get up and go sew a few more strips to her crooked quilt, or go out and buy a few new plants for their apartment’s balcony. That would be a waste of money, though, considering the dead plants out there now. Funny that she should end up with pots full of nothing but roots when she had none of her own.

When they first met, her husband gave her the stability and big, noisy family she’d longed for her whole life, but the affair was still a fault line between them, delivering aftershocks that left them wondering if they would ever again stand on solid ground. He watched the TV, some crime show with some fake body covered in some fake red blood. She guessed the husband did it. It was always the husband.

Or the lover.

She set the laptop on the table, and she knew he saw her hands shaking.

“It was definitely the husband,” he said, putting his arm around her and kissing the top of her head. “It’s always the husband.”

A smile spread across her face, slow and sweet like spilled molasses. She loved him. She knew that. She slid sideways and rested against his body, warm and strong and hers. 


One week later, he packed for the trip, gathering clean clothes for a fresh start. They were going to be together. Always. She said she’d ordered him something special, and he felt like a kid again as the clock ticked its way toward the usual daily mail delivery. He went outside, hoping it would arrive today. They were flying out tomorrow. He grinned when he took the plain brown envelope from the ancient mailman’s hands, weathered and gnarled like branches straight out of a nightmare. But nothing could darken his mood.

He hurried inside the large apartment building, taking care not to be seen by the other residents, many of them lonely old women who liked to detail the lives of their nine billion grandkids. On any other day, he would listen and give polite nods, but his enthusiasm had him taking off down the hall like a sprinter from the line. He saw sweet Mrs. C emerging from 6D and he considered a tactical roll out of the elevator so as not to be seen, but she tottered off in the opposite direction. He slipped into his apartment and ripped the envelope almost in half in his impatience.

Something fluttered to the floor, but he didn’t look down until after he’d read her note.

His stomach went weightless at her words.

He looked down.

The plane ticket he’d sent her a week ago lay on the floor, and he slid down the cabinets to join it, stunned.

The note stared back at him.

“I’m sorry. I can’t. I love my husband too much.”

He hadn’t even known she was married.

                                                  *   *   *

Teagan Kessler is a writer, editor, dog foster, and MFA student. She lives in Oxford, Mississippi, with her foster-fail dogs, Rocket and Skip.