I’ve never been caught stealing. I’ve gotten away with it every time. Except the last. But I wasn’t stealing. I was just accused of stealing. And I got caught in the whirlwind of accusations because I thought about stealing, and I was so used to dong it, but I didn’t. I’ve been wrongly accused. But I’ve never been caught.
I’ve stolen from men as if they each were a blind clerk, running a convenience store, or a shopping mall, or a Tiffany’s. I manipulate them to give me what I want. Or, I simply take it. I smile, twist my hair around my finger, and stair up with my wide blue eyes, and I rob them hollow. But this last time, I smiled, twisted my hair around my finger, and stared up at him, and I thought I saw magic. I started to deceive him with my trick when I stopped, because he gave me flowers that he pulled from his hat. What I didn’t realize, though, is that they were fake flowers. I only realized when he was gone. Once he left me with the condemning evidence.
I read a story once. About sunflowers. A young girl was growing them and smuggling them to her neighbors. The story took place sometime in the future where love is all but lost and Big Brother is a term no one dared to hint at. The world had turned grey and hard. Cold even. Like concrete in the winter. The girl smuggled sunflowers for love. To spread joy. Life, I guess, in such hopeless, mindless wanderings. But, like me, she was caught. The police took her and sentenced her to a life in an even smaller world of cold, monotony. She sat in her walled cell, her legs spread long in front of her and her arms resting like limp petals at her side. The girl found virtue in this place, though. The way she serenaded her sunflowers and willed them to grow, she sang lullabies to herself and kept her eyes closed tightly, fighting back the only way she could—in her mind. Over time her legs grew thicker and her toes grew long, branching down and through the concrete. Her arms stretched wide, pushing the limits of the dull, cell walls. And her neck lengthened upwards, turning her nose towards the sky, where she had always imagined the sun, or heaven, might be. The walls bent and cracked and the concrete crumbled into ashes. She was free. Free to grow. Free to love. Free to spread joy. Free to create life, again. And that’s where the story ended. But, I wonder, what did she see when she broke from the concrete? Did she find her sunflowers had done the same thing—willing themselves to grow, and immersing themselves in battle against authority? Or, did she find something worse than concrete and fiery eyes of numb power? Maybe she saw nothing at all. Not even shadows. Not even concrete. Was she alone? Without her sunflowers? And, without her oppressors?
I felt a chill against my shoulder. The fog had started to roll in. We drove upwards, towards the treetops. But I was all too aware of our place on the ground. He smiled and asked me a question that I ignored. His smile was one of sympathy. I responded with a short and heavy word. Turning towards the window, hoping the movement behind the glass would slow to a stop, a saltwater thief crept from the corner of my eye. I reached up to wipe it away.
“Are you crying?”
I closed my eyes, holding back the others criminals, hoping I would wake up somewhere else when I opened my eyes once more.
But he pushed harder. “Jessica, what’s wrong?” He took his eyes from the road and placed them on me.
“I just don’t feel very strong today.”
We drove silently the rest of the way up the hills and into the redwood forest. He took hold of my hand as we began walking down the dirt path, deeper, into the shade of the trees. He began talking to me. At me, maybe. Suddenly his tone shifted and became darker, deeper. I froze and he didn’t, only noticing my lack of movement and statued frame when the shift in momentum pulled our hands apart. He turned and I stood still, trying to fight the damage that had already been done. He didn’t think I’d notice that he’d started to cut me, from the middle of my thigh up. But, the woods only became red when he shed my blood on their bark.
I sat at the edge of the Bay, wondering where my life was heading. I had been sentenced once, for a crime I never committed. Well, in that instance. My life had morphed to shambles. Blackberry bushes on a hillside. Full of ripe and bursting purple, but tainted with thorns and made a home by spiders. I plunged my hand into the brambles, reaching for the perfect bunch of berries, and I was bitten. Some combination of the surprise, the pain, and the sheer disappointment caused me to lose footing. I stepped back, a human instinct, and tumbled down the hill. I rolled over rocks and sticks, my body trampled a small patch of sunflowers, and I was poked in the eye by the grass, on my way down.
“As you wish.”
I recalled the line from the Princess Bride and laughed in humble shame. True love doesn’t exist.
I’ve been robbed.