chew iron, not ice!

I

He tells me to keep a look out, but I calmly say, "No, darlin'; My eyes don't adjust to this type of darkness." He seems a bit angry, but I can sense that he understands.

The woods are alive tonight with sounds neither of us recognize. I feel like if only I had gotten more education, I could rattle off terms like a pro. Terms and rules and guidelines that would keep us safe tonight. And he'd be impressed. But I'd be modest. I'd act like it was no big deal. I'd act like I'd found myself in this situation countless times. Even though I hadn't. Even though I don't steal.

II

He knows I don't steal. Hell, he doesn't steal either. But I've always imagined that if anybody ever was a stealer, they'd look like him. Of course I never told him that. Nah, he wouldn't agree anyway. He would probably reply with something like, "No. I look like my father. My father is a banker. I look like a banker." It's not the case, though.

But he wouldn't be the kind of stealer that hides himself. He'd be the kind that, deep down, wants to get caught. Only tonight, he doesn't. And I've got to make sure he gets what he wants. What he needs.

III

When we left that afternoon, he said we'd need pillows. So I grabbed a whole bunch. I wanted him to be proud. But we arrive at out destination, and it turns out, we only need pillow cases. So we have to undress the thick pillows. And in doing so, we create our own forest sounds. I hear scraping sounds that sound like a warning to quiet down, and soft thumps as we drop pillow after pillow into the mud.

IV

He's got long legs and long, skinny fingers. The small fat around his belt line had yet to roll of of the top of his corduroys. His eyes are round like small quarters and are filled with the type of brown that tells you it's not his fault, he was raised that way. He's got wisps of creamy brown hair, which I learn to cherish, because I know he'll start balding soon. His skin is thin and dark and dirty. And everything about him is perfectly made so that he'd be an outstanding contestant for the life, status, and profile of a stealer. One that always gets caught, but doesn't mock or trick those that are trying to catch him.

V

I don't exactly understand what he's doing tonight when I'm supposed to be keeping look-out. But I can't see him. And I don't feel unknowing or abandoned because I feel like he's always teaching me something. Something that can't be learned in school, which I quit just a month ago. I don't think he'd be happy to hear me say that aloud. He's always telling me I shouldn't say what I don't feel, I should say what I feel. But I feel so many things all the time, it's difficult to pinpoint something. So usually, in my mind, I slowly eliminate my many options. I erase the obvious ones first.

VI

One time, when I was over at his house a long time ago, his mother told me that she felt like she was his project. I knew what she meant, but didn't speak up about it. I've learned by now, though, not to dwell on that. It's come to the point where I don't feel any lesser than him. Especially tonight.

Especially tonight as I help him steal. I'm done being "look-out" now, and he wants me to help. Gladly, I comply. I feel like, if I had not come tonight, he would have been hopeless.

I cannot see the outline of anything, not even the trees. But helping to pick up the invisible pillow cases is not problem. Soon we are carrying them. He's hauling more over his shoulders than me, I can sense it. I don't feel sad when we finally get to the old hole. There are aluminum cans and barbed wire sprinkled carelessly around the rim. I don't know when this was dug, or who did the job, but it was a mighty one.

VII

He no longer lives in the house that he grew up in. So I no longer go there. He no longer sleeps on the holey couch covered in dirty sheets. So neither do I. But I can tell that his mother calls every day. Probably just to check up on his. Because every time I step into his apartment, he assures me it's safe.

VIII

I don't even feel sad or afraid or sorry as we throw the pillow cases into the hole, one by one by one. I know what we've done. We've robbed Mother Earth of everything she holds precious. Everything that she's gotten close to. The only things she's dared to get close to. Usually, I can sense what he's feeling, even when it's black like this, but tonight I cannot.

At the end, when all the cases are gone, we do not cover the hole. I knew we wouldn't. I follow him back to where we started. The pillows are still in the mud. He begins picking them up, so I do. He says we'll take the bus home. I believe him.

IX

We lay our heads against the cozy pillows as the bus rolls on. I look at him with his eyes closed, and there are so many things I want to say to him.

First, I want to ask him why none of the street-lamps are on as we pass through the city. He would know the answer. He's more educated than me. Second, I want to call him a stealer. A big fat stealer. But I doubt there would be any reaction. And then I want to make it clear that I am no stealer. Not a dirty rotten stealer like him. But he'd probably just frown and tell me I should say what I am, not what I'm not.

But to my surprise, he speaks up before I can say word one. He pries his eyes open the tiniest bit and says in a voice that sounds like it needs clearing, "We should quit the things that aren't good for us. Me and you should quit smoking. I should quit walking down the streets at night. You should quit not taking your iron vitamins."

I blink and it all the sudden becomes clear. I realize how dirty the situation itself is.

"One day, I'll quit you," I say, "You can do so much better than me, anyway." He doesn't reply. And it breaks my heart.


epilogue

(like those birds' bones in the cases)