Well, well, well. You sure are a sticky-fingered bunch, aren’t you? This year’s writing contest theme, “I Stole It and I’m Glad I Did,” elicited over 85 entries—a new record. We’d hoped for 25, maybe 30 entries. Eighty-five? Boy, do you people like to steal.
Among the irresistible items stolen in the submissions we received: money, paintings, a screenplay, a car stereo, a bag of weed, a soul, a dog’s soul, a child, bodies, love letters, ideas, heroin, chocolate cake, a silicone breast, flowers, the election, a podiatrist’s wallet, someone’s identity, a subway advertisement and many, many others.
Two stories mentioned the greatness of the Bohemian (aw, shucks), two mentioned masturbating (there’s usually more, actually) and one was about the 1994 San Francisco 49ers. Only one of them literally made no sense whatsoever; all of them were an absolute hoot to read. Needless to say, picking the winners was very, very hard. Here’s to our five honorable mention winners, whose stories we’ll include online: Christy Borton, Elizabeth Pinto, Joe Houle, Caitlin Park and Laura E. Rodriguez.
As we do every year, we’ll throw a party and reading with the winners, this year slated for Wednesday, Oct. 19, at 6pm at Copperfield’s Books in Sebastopol. It’s free, it’s open to the public, and it’s at one of our favorite independent bookstores. We hope to see you there—that is, if you haven’t been booked for grand larceny.
Thanks to everyone who entered. On with the winners!
By Veronica Weaver
“Where did you get that?” Creamer asked, eyeing the mangy kitten suspiciously.
“I stole it, and I’m glad I did!” I declared, holding out the kitten for my nanny to inspect. “Isn’t she something?””Mmmhmm, sure.” Creamer scowled at me long and hard, sinking my elation like one of those stones I’m always skipping. “You know better than to steal, Remuda. Besides, your mother would never let you have her, even if you had paid for it proper.” She had used my actual name, implying that she meant business and wouldn’t listen to any amount of pleading on my end. That didn’t mean I wouldn’t try.
“Awww,” I whimpered, tucking the tiny calico inside my loose overalls. “But Old Piggy Ray’ll just drown her!” I shuddered as I pictured his stubble-covered, slack-jawed face and dark eyes.
“Mr. Ray has the same freedom you do in this country, Rhemmy, and that cat is his property, so he can do whatever he pleases with her. Now go on with you. I have a lot of work to get to.”
I sighed, realizing Creamer had come to her final judgment and I would just be digging my own grave by pestering her further.
“She doesn’t know how mean Old Piggy Ray is, now does she?” I asked the kitten, heading out the kitchen door toward my treehouse in the backyard. I could feel the warmth of summer burning at my skin, and my elation returned full-force. I felt no remorse at my thievery; I’d seen Ray drown all sorts of things in the wooden rain barrels behind his house. At school, we’d all heard the whispered rumors about his deal with the devil. No one would believe I’d actually been brave enough to sneak through the barbed-wire fence surrounding his property to rescue the kitten.
I carried the kitten up into my personal sanctuary. “You’ll be safe here,” I murmured, pulling the kitten’s claws out of my shirt. She blinked her blue eyes up at me, and her mouth opened in a wide yawn. I smiled and placed her lovingly in a heap of old towels I’d been collecting.
“Sleep well.” I’d saved my first soul. I stared out the window towards the overgrown property belonging to Piggy Ray, and I knew it wouldn’t be my last.
When Luis died, I tried to gather up your sadness like I gathered up the newspapers that piled up on your doorstep, but I couldn’t cancel your subscription.
When the sky opened and rain fell, it reminded me of your loss, which knew no bounds. The water kept rushing against gutters, spilling into your untended yard, washing out the bulbs you planted in the spring, in the days when Luis was alive and you were happy, in the days before grief broke into your home.
Over time, like the pressure building up between the oceans and the sky, coalescing into moisture in the clouds, I decided to become a vigilante and steal your grief. I picked the lock in your back door, slipped into your unkempt kitchen, tiptoed down the empty hall to your bedroom where you curled up on your side of the bed with grief pulled over your head. I snatched grief, shoved it into the knapsack I carried, and darted down the hall as you screamed, “Give it back! It’s mine!”
But I didn’t listen. I stole it and I’m glad I did.
The next day, when I walked past your house, the curtains had been pulled back. The day after that, the lawn had been mowed and the garden had been weeded. A week later, the gutters had been fixed.
Through a friend of a friend, I heard you’ve cut your hair and started dating. You’re back to work at the gallery on the coast where you sell original oil paintings of the sea. You’re better than you ever were, from what I’ve heard.
That’s why I don’t mind hanging your grief on the back of my front door. When people ask about the oppressive shadows it casts against the floor, I don’t bother to answer. I let them wonder why something so tattered and battered and ruined lives in my house where it doesn’t belong, because I know without it in your life, you’ve found peace.
Marvin in Love
I’ve loved Liz since the seventh grade. We were in Mrs. Cole’s class and won the Bay Area Math-athon. We were more like best friends then, and in eighth grade, too. That’s why it’s hard to make my move now. She sees me as her best guy friend. I see her slim legs pouring out of denim shorts.
Last night, I couldn’t stand just texting. Hauling my chemistry book, I walked through Montgomery Village past the church were Liz’s dad is minister, to her house. I’d surprise her. I knocked. Mr. Excitement himself answered.
“Hello, Mr. Ross. Is Liz home?”
“Yes, she is.”
“May I talk to her?”
“No, you may not. She’s studying.”
I waved the chemistry book. “I was thinking we might study together.”
“Goodnight, Marvin. Nice to see you.”
He looked at me funny. The door slammed. I always feel like Mr. Ross is privy to my thoughts and dreams. In dreams, Liz’s long dark hair serves as our blanket. I sink into her skin. What’s bad about that? Wasn’t Mr. Ross 15 once? Now that I think about it, that’s probably why he hates me.
Last night, walking home, I cut through the church parking lot. I was pissed off. Three identical little beige Chevys were parked behind the darkened church. Passing them I slapped an antenna that wob-bobbled in response. I liked that. I slapped the next antenna. Something inside glinted. Keys. I heard drumbeats and saw Mr. Ross’s fake smile. Next thing I knew, I was in the driver’s seat.
I heard my voice mimic Mr. Excitement’s: “No, you may not.” And: “Nice to see you.”
The engine started with the first turn of the key. The drumbeats grew louder. I was careful with blinkers and drove the Chevy with the windows open. I stole it and I’m glad I did.
I drove to Sonoma, by far the longest I’ve ever driven, taking gulps of fresh October air. For a second I thought I smelled the mango-scented cream Liz uses. I was kind of crazy for a while, seeing her smooth legs. I went to a self-wash and cleaned the Chevy inside and out. I dumped it at the Plaza, hitchhiked back to Santa Rosa.
Tonight, I’ll go to Liz’s again. When Mr. Excitement answers the door, we’ll see if he can read my mind. As to my dreams, wish me luck.
Ross E. Lockhart
Jamie was a klepto. There’s no nicer way to put it. If it wasn’t nailed down, it was hers.
I met Jamie at one of Mark Hardon’s parties, three years back. She’d bumped into me as I was angling my way toward the keg line, lifted my wallet. She was obvious about it, unabashed, her fingers spiderwalking into my pocket as she said “Excuse me.” She winked, and my pocket was empty. I split the line, chased her through the crowd and grabbed her wrist, demanding my personal property back. She kissed my cheek on tiptoes, called me one smart rube and gave the wallet back.
When I got home, I realized I was $67 poorer. And one phone number richer.
I called Jamie, of course. We dated. She’d leave restaurants with silverware, bookstores with first editions. I didn’t care. I had a pretty redhead on my arm, raccoon eyeliner highlighting absinthe-green eyes and blood-red-painted lips, all courtesy of her five-finger discount at the local five-and-dime.
Three weeks in, Jamie called me, crying. Said she was getting kicked out of her place. Maybe she could stay with me awhile, at least until she got back on her feet. She’d sleep on the floor, she offered. She didn’t. That night, she climbed into my bed, and we made love. Then she stole the blankets, leaving me to shiver in wonder beside her.
Months passed. We went to see this queercore band, Kneel, Patrick Harris, and while I was buying drinks, Jamie sauntered up to the stage and started talking to the band, charming as ever. That night, as we walked home, she carried a guitar case. I confronted her when we got back to the apartment.
“I stole it and I’m glad I did,” insisted Jamie. “Besides, it’s for you.”
Six weeks later, driving back from yet another dive-bar rock show, cops pulled us over. While the bald one made me walk a straight line and touch my nose with fingertips, Jamie flirted with his partner, Freddie Mercury. They let us off with a warning. Jamie showed me the gun when we got home. “He wasn’t using it,” she insisted.
Jamie left me, of course. One morning, I woke up to an empty apartment. No guitar, no silverware, no blankets. No Jamie. I never understood why, and I never saw her again.
[on the monkey bars at 3am . . .]
At 4am, they decide to stop monkeying around and walk to the doughnut shop. It’ll open in an hour. There’s nothing quite like doughnuts at 5am; doughnuts so soft and warm you can crush them with a sigh.
Half an hour before opening and two toads later, he’s put his socks on his hands. She’s a bundle of wild snickers, and he’s trying his best to make his sock-puppets seem natural, but it’s difficult to take seriously when one of them is a recovering helium addict. It’s good to see him laughing in his sweatshirt like a rusted hinge.
Fifteen minutes before the shop opens, and they feel as if something strange is about to happen. It makes their elbows tickle. Their buttons seem unusually squirrelly.
They try to ignore all this. No one else is awake and they are young. The sky is this record of light playing for them.But at 4:45am, they can’t ignore it any longer. In a storm of suddenness, it attacks.
Time. Rudely sitting on them. It’s a static moment where nothing happens except the press of time in an orderly fashion. It feels to her like they are facing a mean little school teacher.
Their feet grow thick on the pavement. Their spines begin to furl. They are heavy with air tasting of lemons and ghosts. Time is passing, and it’s eyeing them. Compulsively, obstinately, it’s planned this moment, to remind them, and there isn’t really anything a person can do to fight a compulsive planner that’s always been.
Eventually, time moves on. They remember themselves. Their legs. Their shoulders. His sock-puppets. They remember the doughnut shop, and go there. The egg-colored lights in the little shop comfort them. They share a dozen. He grins. Something in the beautiful rebellion makes it come into focus.
They’ve known each other longer than either of them have ever lived.
Tonight that mean little school teacher finally caught up with them, slapping at their wrists, reminding them whose classroom they’re in, but they’ve been sharing these tigerish smiles, and she’s looking at him like this yarn all unraveled, and he’s just one blueberry word away from unmuzzling and saying over and over and over again, “I stole it! I stole it! I did! I stole it and I’m glad I did!”
I Stole it and I’m Glad I Did
Marilyn worked nights cleaning the autopsy rooms at the local morgue. She liked the invisibility of it. The grey and silver colors of the exam tables and other equipment suited her mood. She found particular pleasure in the feel of the cold steel as she wiped it clean.
She didn’t have to hurry here. There was no one shouting orders or customers complaining about their ill prepared food. She always smiled when she pondered the current crowd that she served. They were most quite. One might even say polite as they said nothing and went were they were taken without protest.
There was one aspect of the job that did bother her. It was the smell. She couldn’t quite describe it but it clung to the interior of her nasal passages and distorted the scent of everything else around her.She accepted it though as it formed a force field of protection around her as she walked home. She appreciated anything that kept thegeneral population at bay.
She had no need for social intercourse. What she craved was silence and predictability. She sometimes wondered why her life turned out this way. School was a drag and she had put forth just enough energy to bepassed along to the next level. Waiting tables allowed her to go into a predictable routine. And now, 30 years later, she finds peace cleaning the workstations of people who perform the necessary human butchery to determine cause of death.
One day a newspaper headline announced: “DIAMOND MISSING!” A drug mule had not only ingested his cargo but a well deserved reward (or so he thought) for the risk he was about to take. His associate had other plans and gunned him down for his self serving behavior.
Everyone, from the crime scene technicians to the homicide detectives, was questioned. The last on the list of possibilities was almost passed over. The invisibility of herself and the position she served inalmost allowed for escape.
The knock on the door was loud and clear. The door opened but aconfounding smell kept them at some distance. When questioned, the woman who liked the quite of her work place and the feel of the cold stainless steel simply replied, “I stole it and I’m glad I did.”
Is at back and watched as she walked by me, glancing over her shoulder and looking past me as if I didn’t exist. It wasn’t until today that I knew, that she knew, that I sat on that specific park bench,at that specific time, everyday, just to see her. She always wore a business skirt, and it was always grey, but not always the same shade of grey. Her dark black hair was always tied up with a brown hairclip holding it in place.
“Tomorrow,”I thought to myself as she walked away, “Tomorrow, I will say something to her.”
The days, weeks and months continued on, and feeling much like a stalker, I stopped showing up so regularly. I began sitting on that bench only once every two weeks and on different days of the week so I wouldn’t seem too suspicious or be too noticeable.
Then one sunny, yet breezy fall afternoon, I left my small apartment for the park, determined that today would be the day that I said something, anything to her. I arrived early as always and waited.Today she wore a blue skirt, and her glowing black hair was downinstead of up. My initial response was to turn away, but I couldn’t.Her angelic face held me captive for a moment until I forced myself to look away. I felt her glance at me and when she looked away I glanced back.
“What’s your name?” she asked, turning and stopping abruptly and directly in front of me. Shocked, I didn’t answer. She then asked, “Why doyou watch me?”
“I don’t watch you.” I responded defensively. “I sit here for the view, the fresh air and the sun. As a matter of fact, I don’t recall having ever seen you before.”
“I feel you watching me,” she said without accusation in her tone.”It’s okay, I like it.”
She half-smiled at me; her dark brown eyes pierced mine with fierce intensity. She spoke again softly, her red lips moved as if in slow motion as she leaned in close to me, “Stop waiting,” she said,”Steal this moment.”
I stole it and I’m glad I did.
Adventures in Freeland
My dark side blossomed at sixteen, shopping at Macy’s for the homecoming dance—my first dance with an actual date. I had spent all my meager savings on a short, constricting black dress and glossy black high-heeled shoes that made my feet swell with blood. When I reviewed my body in the dressing room mirror, the outfit didn’tseem right—I looked like a slutty funeral attendant. I was about to leave flustered, and that’s when I saw it, nestled in the jewelry display. It was a glittering brooch with jade gems that would absolutely complete my look, not to mention bring out the green in my eyes. I imagined it pinned between my breasts, sparkling at my date like bait for a fish. Something itched in my brain; it was partially desperation, mostly greed. I need that brooch, I thought. It felt heavy as I flipped it around to see the price. $75! Indignantly, I snatched it with my sweaty palm and headed to the clothing section. Ipicked some shirts out, cocooning my precious prize within the clothes’ folds. I returned to the dressing room. Heart pounding, I wedged the brooch into my bra. $75 my ass. I stole it and I was glad I did.
Shoplifting gave me a rush—I had played the “good girl” for too long. The mall transformed into “Freeland,” its department stores a habitual victim of my five-finger discount. My thievery became refined; I started wearing shirts with baggy sleeves to let jewelryslip down effortlessly while chatting up the nice smiling lady behind the glass counter. As long as I maintained direct eye contact, thes aleswoman couldn’t see my swift hands. I even brought scissors to cut the sensor tags off grotesquely expensive jeans that only rich girls with cute butts wore. Everything was mine with a quick snip, a swoosh into my purse, and a brisk walk out the double doors. I would grin as I passed through the alarm noiselessly. Even during Christmas, the time of giving, I found opportunities to steal.Somehow, I left the premises of Home Depot casually dragging apilfered tree at my side. Every time I lifted, I would be stricken byan intense paranoia, looking back expecting to see security in angry pursuit. Time after time, they never came for me. I had groomed myself into a shoplifting ninja, and I was proud.
By Elizabeth Pinto
The house shook, not an earthquake, but a shattering thud. We shot up like the dead on judgment day. An auto jumping the curb? We went out to take stock, met the neighbors on either side. “What was that?” No auto, no quake, no clue.
On the way back to the house, we noticed it. A hole. Huge, between the eight-foot space from the kitchen slider to the edge of the garage. And deep! At least four feet deep. It was three in the morning and dark, but we didn’t want to look too hard. Better cover it with a tarp and wait until right and left neighbors left for work.
First coffee, then we circled the hole; reached down with a stick. Not soft. No body parts, thank goodness! Paper, lots of it. Not paper. Money! Lots of it! A fantasy come true. To the Internet for details!
Ah. A small plane carrying the spoils of a drug deal. Lost its cargo somewhere over Santa Rosa, and eventually, its engine, pilot and passenger over Bodega Bay. Bad guys. Approximately six million dollars in unmarked bills. Whoever found it should turn it in, the news said. Evidence. Keeping it would be stealing. Stealing is bad.
Took us all day to count and all night to ponder. Turn it in? Well, let’s assess: Husband lost his job ten months ago, health insurance gone, and house in foreclosure. So, keeping the money would make us just as bad as the bad guys? Like Pilot contemplating Truth, I asked, “What is Bad?” Wall Street bankers whose villainy is spread so thin as to be invisible to the eyes of the law? That bad? Ha! Hubby and I, bruised and calloused by an economy not of our making, could don that mantle with a clear conscience. We had always played by the rules, and now that the rules were fractured, we could make our own. And if that made us bad people, oh well! Call it wild justice in exchange for justice denied by authority. Call it come uppance. Call it anything you’d like, even “stealing.”
We could hardly contain our glee! We’d have to be careful, of course. No wild spending sprees, no ostentation of any sort, and for me, denying the constant urge to shout, “I stole it and I’m glad I did!” Oh, yeah.
It sickens me when things aren’t used for their purpose. Decorative candles, wick intact, home exercise equipment strewn with clothes,the myriad of gadgets and gizmos cluttering attics, garages,basements. It is wasteful, and beyond that, it is sad. Everything hasa design, a purpose, a function. For that purpose, that function, toremain unfulfilled. . . well, it really gets to me.
I have always felt this way. This was the reason I consented to piano lessons when I was thirteen, even though I had no personal interest at all in playing the piano, and would much rather have spent those after school hours playing video games, eating junk food. But everytime I looked at the old piano, covered in dust and doilies, my mind would flash back to holiday gatherings when I was still a little kid. Great-Uncle Al would bang out jazz standards while Great-Aunt Gwen sang along in her warbling old lady soprano, and everyone in the room would smile. That poor piano, it didn’t deserve the silence. So I learned to play a rudimentary version of “All of Me,” and I played it nearly every day. I even sang along in my stumbling,teenaged falsetto.
I hadn’t given this long pervasive feeling much thought until last Thursday afternoon in my new therapist’s office. He was staring atme, waiting for me to say something. I was mesmerized, fixated on thesamurai sword hanging high on the wall behind him. After severalminutes the new therapist followed my gaze and explained that hisfather had picked it up during World War II, and it had hung in hisden until he passed on some years ago.
“Neat,huh,” he said casually.
My mind exploded. Neat? Neat! This man obviously had no appreciation forthis sword, no reverence for its perfection, its brutal beauty, its potential. He didn’t deserve it. And the sword, it certainly didn’tdeserve to be pinned to the wall like that, impotent for so many years. I knew something had to be done, so that night I broke into mynew therapist’s office and I stole it. Holding the sword, feeling itsperfectly balanced weight, I experienced a peace that I had not feltsince singing “All of Me” in my parents’ living room. I stoleit, and I’m glad I did, because I am going to put this sword to gooduse.