My Dinner with a Thief
I was looking for something for my wife I couldn’t afford. That’s when I first saw her. A younger-looking version of my wife. A customer had left a diamond brooch on the glass top and she pocketed it like a Three-card Monte pro. Her gray eyes clocked mine and said: No one likes a snitch. You don’t owe the jewelry store owner nothing. Anyways, the place is insured up the wazoo. Besides, you don’t have the stones. C’mon man I dare you. Say it out loud.
I stood there gaping and glimpsed, or imagined glimpsing, various futures. Maybe I was being overdramatic, but they all led to an unhappy end: divorce, suicide, or opiate-induced oblivion. Because I’d said nothing. Because she’d exposed my shame. Because the Greeks had it right: character is fate. So, I went after her like my life depended on it and cornered her in the alleyway behind the store. Her smirk said: Seriously? What? What you gonna do? Beat me up? Shake me down? Fucking loser. I knew you had no balls.
I put up my hands and said, “No, it’s not that, you got it wrong.” And I asked her to go out to dinner with me. She said, “Weird flex, but whatever, sure.” Maybe curiosity got the better of her. Maybe she had some pride about honoring her word. Or maybe she just wanted to fuck with me, because she showed up on time with the brooch pinned to her slinky dress.
I ordered the wine and food and did most of the talking. I asked her whether she thought our thoughts die when we forget them and when we pass away, like a flame getting snuffed out. Or if they have half-lives? A kind of dwindling existence that goes on forever? She said she didn’t know but had read somewhere monks long-ago thought reflections, memories, and images weren’t alive or dead. They were something in-between.
“Is that what you asking me? If you’re quasi-existent? An image?”
I said, “I don’t know. Maybe … but aren’t we all images, I mean, if you believe in God?”
“I don’t believe in God.”
I broke some bread and took a sip of wine. I told her how I’d got some tattoos after the cub tiger I kept in my basement drowned because I’d forgotten to close the storm doors. How I had dreamt about that cub every night, about its choking coughs, the deep scratches on the bars of its cage. How I had got it tattooed on my shoulders to stop the dreams.
She said, “That’s dark. I’m sorry. Can I see the tattoos?”
I shook my head.
“Why you telling me this?”
I told her how she’d stolen something from me and I wanted her to know how much it really cost, because thieves should know the true cost of the things they steal, and while there was no obvious connection between the brooch she’d stolen and what had happened in my life, she had connected them by making me complicit in her act, and should therefore know when my dog died how I’d dreamt about all the rooms in my neighbor’s house, even though he had never invited me over, not once in twenty years, and how I knew from those dreams he had a basement that went down two miles into the earth that joined a coal seam that went under the Atlantic Ocean all the way to the Bay of Biscay which petered out in Scotland and Andalusia, and how, afterwards, I tried to peel off the winter moonlight shining on my bedroom window and stick it under my blanket, because if I could have gotten it to shine under the blanket, I could have wrapped the blanket around my shoulders like a glowing cape and gone into my neighbor’s home, down into the coal seam and brought my dog back. But I was too afraid to go there without that light and this is what in a way she had taken from me, although I didn’t expect her to understand this, I just wanted her to know about it because maybe one day she would understand it, and she began to weep and I realized afterwards she was crying about my dog, not about what she had done, that she hadn’t really understood what I was saying, because she asked, “When did it start, the loss, the pain?”
“When I was a child,” I said. “With a spiderweb. It spanned the entire top of the shed door. You couldn’t imagine the work that had gone into it. The ceaseless labor. It trembled in moonlight and … I do not know how to say this … but in the pitch of those quivering threads I knew the stability, no the measure, of our lives and home hung. The web made a kind of music I thought everyone could hear. It was protecting us. I knew this in the way children understand things about the world until the world numbs them. Until my father took a broom to it and crushed the spider under his boot.”
She nodded, as if she understood everything now, and got up. Said she’d be a minute, had to wipe her cheeks, fix her hair, go to the bathroom. She never came back. When the waiter brought the check, the brooch was pinned to it.
David Luntz’s work is forthcoming or appeared in Pithead Chapel, Vestal Review, Reflex Press, Scrawl Place, Best Small Fictions 2021, trampset, X-R-A-Y, Fiction International, Janus Literary, Orca Lit, Ellipses Zine, Rejection Letters, Atticus Review, Heavy Feather Review, SugarSugarSalt, and other print and online journals. Twitter: @luntz_david.
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