It's a Thursday afternoon I am watching my children play and sitting on my porch shelling sugar peas. The sun is bright, but not overwhelming and there is a soft breeze that makes my hair tickle my shoulders and sends a little chill that erupts through the heat of the afternoon. The clouds make their lazy ways across the sky and settle in a soft patch above the mountains. My oldest child is picking flowers while the younger ones are examining tadpoles in their murky puddles. Afternoons like this make me feel the worst. They are enough to make me want to shove my head into the oven instead of a pot roast. As I sit, I imagine slicing open my wrists and letting the blood rush out until every wretched secret and abysmal episode runs in scarlet swirls down the drain of my tub.
Why? Why on the outside do I sit shelling peas and humming a song from a Disney movie while the inside of my head is a mass of disconsolate muck? Because I am a thief. I have unjustly claimed this life as my own. I am 32 years old. I have stolen every kiss I ever received.
I wasn't always like this. There was a time when my smile seemed to say all the things that my heart needed, everything it wanted. I used to be beautiful. Everyone said so. My legs were long and lean and I would hang them off the bridge and watch the boats pass by. My hair was long and just the right shade of strawberry blonde to set off my green eyes. I can remember dressing in the morning and kissing my reflection in the mirror before heading off to my job at the dentists office. Those legs, that hair, those eyes are all misshapen and faded. The kisses are gone. I barely look in the mirror at all anymore. I'm too damn scared by what I see.
I am terrified by almost everything these days, but live in the most fear of the bridge that leads to my property. Every other Tuesday afternoon, my heart beats uncontrollably out of my chest as a big black car rattles its way across the old wooden barn beams of that bridge. The children run to that car and I feel for a few minutes that I might actually be happy. A beautiful man steps out of that car and rushes to me and picks up my children. I watch him as he rumples their hair and pulls them to his chest. They kiss him with legitimate love and I know that they are so beautiful they cannot be mine. Pushing this thought from my head, I join them in their game of patty cake or their silly little song and I continue my thievery. Night falls on these blissful afternoons and we put the children snugly into their beds; each one sleeps soundly in the notion that Daddy is home for the next three nights before returning to the railroad to work. I take my stolen lover to bed. I know that what happens between us is wrong. I know that his lips are not mine to kiss; his body is not mine to touch. Each quiet moan is not really meant for my ears, but I savor them anyway. We have three days and then Friday morning comes and shocks my senses.Â It's like waking up in the middle of a winter night because the furnace went out. I cook him breakfast and the bridge lets him get away. Its very disheartening to have a bridge like that. I spent these past ten years expertly thieving a perfect life, yet that bridge always lets my best treasure, the reason I started stealing, get away every time and then I have to wait two whole weeks to steal him back. I'm afraid that one day that bridge will let him go and he will never let me steal him again.
I've often thought of asking a lawyer about the statutes of limitations regarding stolen goods. Surely at least my children are mine by now. My name is on the birth certificates, so I think that they're mine fair and square, at least mostly. The beautiful man is another story entirely.
When I was growing up, we bred Holstein cows. We showed them at state fairs and sold them to raise money for 4-H. The name of the owner always appears on the registration papers. No one disputes this. I will always have to steal that man because the name on his papers is not mine. I never see the ring and I don't know anything about who I am stealing from except that her name is Loraine. I hope that she doesn't know that I have been stealing from her for over a decade and that I have the children that she allegedly cant have. I try so hard not to let myself think of her. It breaks my heart to think of what I am doing to her. I love her because he loves her. I have never even seen her and I know that she is a much finer woman than I am.
I'm finished with my peas and I run out to the shed where the beautiful man is fixing the lawn mower for me. One more service I have stolen. I grab the kerosene can and take it to the bridge. Within minutes, the whole thing is aflame, its ashes floating across the creek and turning the water a murky gray. I figure if Im going to be a thief, I should hold on to what I steal. The beautiful man and his children come running to the smoke and my sobs. I steal just a few more kisses. Its my final crime.