Once a Thief

I sit back in my well-padded crimson chair and allow my eyes to drift for a moment over the city below me as Douglas J. Finnerman begins to speak about emerging markets and growth opportunities. My boss, Rowland Everett III, nods with great enthusiasm, and I give them both a smile that conveys approval and warmth. My job is to appear helpful and gracious at all times. It sucks, but it’s a living.

A good living.

It beats tending bar, waiting tables, and washing dishes. Of course, I did supplement my living by dipping into the pockets of the unwary and unsuspecting. My college years were something less than a blast. Even working my ass off, it was never enough. So I was a thief. A good one. As they say, I had the touch. In and out before the mark even knew I’d been there. Cash only, please. The trick was to blend. I used to hang down at the financial center in my second-hand suit. Lunch time was the best. All those self-satisfied business types pouring out of their offices like big, fat tuna just waiting to be hooked.

I usually limited myself to three wallets a day, depending on my haul. Sometimes I’d hit a jackpot: a money clip packed with fifties and hundreds. But I was smart. I never went on a spree. I’d put it away and be back on another corner the next day.

So today I sit enjoying the view and a nice dry martini. My lunch will be paid for, and life will be good because even though I’ve already lifted Mr. Finnerman’s money clip, he’ll pay with his triple-titanium credit card. He won’t even know he’s light a few thousand until he’s back at his office. And he certainly won’t consider that well-mannered young man from Everett, Brookstone and Blackwell as a suspect.

If only he knew, right?

Yeah, I should probably give up the dipping. It’s a dangerous game, but what do you do for fun when your life is a spent as a yes man to an old blowhard? Anyway, it’s not like I have family to worry about.

Eventually, I’ll move on, and maybe I’ll become so important, I won’t need the rush. I’ll be able to afford my own helicopter or be able to travel the world or climb Mount Everest.

For now, though, I’ll settle for giving half of Mr. Finnerman’s big wad of cash to the homeless shelter and adding half to my collection. I like to think of it as my super secret retirement account. On my next vacation I’ll go to the Cayman’s and add it to my account. Then I’ll swim with the stingrays.

You only get to live once. You might as well enjoy it.

The Ghost in Aisle Three

I see you over in the produce aisle picking out a perfect bunch of grapes. I linger at the meat counter trying to decide between the organic chicken and a T-bone. I go for the chicken, and duck around the corner before you see me.

It’s not that you wouldn’t be gracious should our paths collide. You’d hug me, and we’d exchange banalities. You’d ask about my kids, and I’d ask about yours. We’d tell each other how great we look, and one of us would say, “Let’s do lunch.” But, of course, neither of us would.

It’s funny how we let go of people. It’s usually a slow ungluing. We’re so caught up in our hectic lives, that we don’t notice the passage of time. Often the distance grows from a crack to a chasm, and we don’t realize it’s happened until one day we look across the aisle at the grocery store and see a face from a time long past. A happier time.

I tell myself I’m not rushing as I go through the aisles and toss my items into the cart. I’m sure I’ve forgotten half of what I need, but I can always come back. I pay and scoot out to my car. Once I’ve packed the car, I take a minute to sit with my eyes closed and my head against the steering wheel.

That was silly, I tell myself. I could have reconnected for a few moments.

I start the car and pull out of the parking lot. Silly, perhaps, but what would be the point? I’ve already disappeared from your life.

Better to remain a ghost.

Just Another Lunch

Ellie is twenty minutes late, and I stand just inside the doors of the restaurant beside the glass walls of the fireplace trying to appear nonchalant. The hostess gives me a quick look over the rim of her rectangular black glasses and smoothes her sleek asymmetrical black bob.

“Your friend will be here soon?” she says with a slight clip to her voice.

“Any minute. Traffic,” I say.

She gives me a brisk nod and guides a couple into the dining room. Ellie sweeps in, her gold bracelets jangling as she waves to me. She talks into her mobile phone.

“Have to go. Lunching today. Toodles.” She disconnects and gives me a wide, white smile. “Sorry I’m late, darling. It’s been a hellish morning. The decorator never showed up with my swatches. I don’t know how I’m supposed to redo the little parlor without swatches, though I picked out the most gorgeous wallpaper. Donald’s in a snit because it’s three hundred a roll or something, but it’s just amazing. White silk with a very thin ecru stripe. You have to see it.”

“I can’t wait.”

The hostess returns, and Ellie announces that we need our table at once.

“Oh yes, Ma’am,” the hostess says.

I take a breath. Ellie has a way of steam rolling people, but today I don’t mind.

Ellie leans closer once we’re seated. “So, how are you?”

“Well, I—“

“Oh, damn. That’s my phone. Just hold that thought.”

Ellie pulls out her phone. “Hello, Hello. Oh, yes. I can talk. No, nothing important.”

The waiter comes over to take drink orders. I order a Sauvignon Blanc, and Ellie waves her hand to indicate she’d like the same thing. I sit back as another waiter fills my water glass.

“What is this for?” Ellie holds out her hand and studies her nails, admiring her fresh manicure. I fold my hands together. I could use a manicure. I could treat myself to one so at least my nails would look decent before all my hair falls out.

“Is that right?” Ellie says. “Well, I hate the idea. I don’t want to host anything. Why don’t you ever offer up your house?”

“Well, if you must know. We’re redecorating, and we couldn’t possibly. It’s a tremendous burden. Yes. I have a hard time picking the kids up from school too.”

Ellie smiles at me, and I smile back, trying to look sympathetic. I haven’t even thought about picking up the kids. Who will do that if I’m too nauseated to drive?

“I suppose I’ll have to let Donna get them. Last time Donna drove she nicked the fender of the Mercedes.”

Donna is Ellie’s au pair. I’d like an au pair.

“Well, that would be nice if you want to have them over some time. I’m sure they’d love it. Yes, do stop over and see what we’re doing. We’re opening the pool at the end of the month. It’ll be great.”

I visualize floating in a pool of warm water and try to tune out everything around me, but Ellie’s voice breaks through.

“No. Of course, I’ll be glad to help with the faculty luncheon. I’ll just pull some volunteers together like always.”

I won’t be one of Ellie’s super-reliable volunteers this year. I’ll be getting my monthly chemo treatments starting in two weeks, but why remind her? She’s smiling at me with that anticipatory gleam in her eye while I take another sip of water. The waiter arrives and plunks down our wine. I take a long swallow.

What’s the theme?”

What is the theme? Survival. My youngest is only in fourth grade.

“I think we could do something with yellow and violet. That would be lovely. I’ve just got so much on my plate right now, let me think about it.”

The walls in my doctor’s office are painted soft yellow. He believes yellow is an positive color. He tells me it’s important to keep a positive outlook.

“Well, let me know, dear, and I’ll get back to you.” Ellie clicks off, and says, “Now what were we talking about?”

“Your wallpaper.”

She frowns. “No. I’m sure there was something else.”

I shake my head. I’ve already swallowed half a glass of wine. “No, Ellie, really. Tell me about you.”

Weird Science

“What d’ya think they’re doin’ up there?” Thelma scratched her head and stared up the road at the big factory at the top of the hill. A big sign read: New American World Hunger Elimination Program—NAWHEP—Keep Out. One side of the building glowed orange-red like the devil himself had come to brew some mischief. The other side loomed dark against the purple gloom of evening. Above a green streak splashed across the sky. God’s paintbrush, she thought. The bright pinpoint of light glowed about the house.

“Dunno. Don’ wanna know. It’s scientific business.” Elmer shook his newspaper and hunched over it. “Just want me boiled beef and taters.”

Thelma thought he was beginning to look like an old goat every day. Hair sprouted from his ears, and his shoulders slumped, and his voice had started to take on an annoying whine. “Elmer! Just come look at this.”

Sighing, Elmer stood. He shuffled to the door. “Dang it, Thelma. Can’t a man get any rest?”

“I’ll fetch your beef and taters in a minute,” she said. “Just take a look.”

“Fine.” He threw open the door and stepped outside. The wind began to stir up, and Elmer put his hands up in the air. “Sure is warm tonight,” he yelled. “Shut that door, Thelma. All the dust’ll blow in.”

Thelma closed the door and returned to the window. She wished she could what was happening, but the fine dust whirled in circles. Only that light penetrated the gritty air.

“Oh my,” she gasped before a white light seemed to shoot straight through Elmer and pin him to the ground. Thelma screamed and buried her face in her hands.

When she looked again, Thelma saw that Elmer was gone. She opened the door and ran outside but only an old white goat remained in the spot where Elmer had been standing.

“Elmer?” she said.

“Maaa, Maaa,” the goat bleated.

A man in a black hazmat suit waited in the field as Thelma came panting up.

“We warned you people. We warned you that the area was unsafe. NAWPEP still has kinks to work out.”

Thelma nodded meekly. “Will the effects wear off?”

“We don’t know. Probably not. Will you sell now?”

“I’ll sell, but what about Elmer?”

“We’d better keep Elmer.”

Thelma sighed. “Well, he’s extra. And you better remember to feed him good. He likes his beef and taters.”

The man in the hazmat suit smiled. “Don’t you worry about Elmer, ma’am. We’ll take real good care of him. Why don’t you come with me up to the main building, and we’ll get you your money?”

“Well, if you’re sure.” Thelma looked back at the house. Men in black suits were converging on it. They carried all kinds of strange instruments. It made her uneasy, but she let the man take her arm. “I’m gonna hold on to Elmer here,” she said.

“That’s just fine,” the man said. “We’ll go together.”

“Together.”

Elmer bleated, and Thelma got the strangest feeling she wasn’t coming back. She stared at the bright light and walked towards it.

Watching the Past Roll By

It’s three in the morning, and you’ve drunk enough that you have that buzz coursing through you. You don’t even mind the shitty electronic music throbbing and pulsing because you’re mellow, and there are lots of people mixing it up on the floor. You settle back and watch because since The Breakup you don’t feel like cruising.

You watch your best friend Katie on the dance floor and think she still looks like a dumbass when she dances, but she’s never figured that out, and you aren’t going to clue her in. Anyway, you’re only a guest, and it’s her party. You’ve been BFF’s since kindergarten.

You pour one more vodka from your private pint into an orange juice and try to ignore the fact that you don’t know anyone here, and most of the people haven’t bothered to learn your name. It’s just a party. Katie’s party. You don’t really mind that she’s ignored you most of the weekend because this is her life, and you’re just visiting. Maybe you haven’t been great company. The Breakup was rough, and maybe you are a little raw deep inside. Funny how Katie used to understand that, but she’s really busy these days. You don’t want to get in the way.

You’re chilling out when the guy Katie has been trying to impress all night sits down next to you and starts to talk to you. You try to ignore his big blue eyes and thick sun streaked hair. He’s majoring in economics but speaks Russian and has minored in history. He tells you he’s not really into partying as much as he used to be.

You say, “I thought you were with Katie.”

“We’re just in class together,” he says. “Econ. What are you studying?”

You tell him archeology and expect him to laugh, but he doesn’t. He starts to talk about Japan and visiting Joman sites, and you find yourself having a real conversation. Some of the heaviness in your chest lifts.

Katie walks over. She is smiling, but you can see by the way her eyes are slightly narrowed that she isn’t happy.

“Why’d you leave the dance floor, Jack?”

Jack shrugs. “I came over to talk to your friend. She was all by herself.”

“That’s ‘cause she’s a loser,” Katie says with a small mean smirk. “She doesn’t even go here. She didn’t get in.”

You don’t say anything because you can’t really believe Katie would say something like that, especially since you never even applied here. But it stings. You’re supposed to be her guest, and it strikes you that this isn’t the first time this weekend she’s acted like an asshole.

A couple of Katie’s housemates come over to get in on the action. They join in on the “She’s a loser chant”, and you just want to get out. You just stand up and tell them to fuck off, and head upstairs. The party continues.

You’ve been sacking out on the floor in Katie’s room, but it’s easy to gather your things. You were planning to leave on the early train tomorrow anyway. You slip out the door and head to the all night dinner four blocks down the street to sober up. You want to cry, but you tell yourself it isn’t worth it. You don’t feel better.

By six in the morning, you have a headache, and you sit at the train station waiting on the six thirty seven train. Your body aches, but you have drunk three cups of coffee, and ate some scrambled eggs and bacon. You’ll survive.

About fifteen minutes ago, you got a text from Katie apologizing for being an asshole, and you’ll probably forgive her because you’ve been best friends since kindergarten. But you know deep inside something has changed. The girl who practically lived at your house, the girl who helped you pick out your first prom dress, the girl who could finish your sentences, that girl could never have treated you like shit and called you a loser. Especially not over a guy.

The announcer calls your train and you head down to board. It doesn’t take long, and soon you’re moving out of the station. Grey light has broken over the countryside. You listen to the click clack of the wheels on the tracks as the train gains momentum.

You rest your head on the cold window and watch the past roll by.

The Iroquois

I watch the city people glide over the marble floors, moving from one exhibit to another. The past is enclosed in glass with stuffed animals, fake woods, and a painted background.

“Look, kids,” one father says to his three boys, “there’s an Apache. Think he’s gonna get a buffalo?”

He does not know the difference between an Apache and an Iroquois.

“I think you made the Apache sad,” says the smallest, a blond boy.

“Don’t be silly. He’s wax,” the father says. “Look. There’re some arrow heads over there.”

The boy stands in front of me, and squints at the square legend, his lips moving as he reads. “Iroquois,” he says. “You aren’t an Apache. You lived in New York.” He smiles. “You look very brave. Did your people march on the Trail of Tears?”

I want to reach out to this boy who has come all the way downtown to visit this place, but already his father is returning to reclaim him.

“Come on, David. Come see the arrowheads.”

The boy looks back at me, and waves. I hear him say, “Dad, he’s an Iroquois not an Apache. There’s a difference.”

I want to wave back but can only watch them disappear into the crowd.