Everything, she thought, is an accident of where you are.

The desk drawer housed hundreds upon hundreds of cap erasers, stolen one by one from the supply closet when no one was looking. Matte and pink, they pointed upwards like small animals begging for direction. She had arranged them painstakingly into a map of the world, Africa looming large in the center and Japan hanging like a question mark.

STEALING HOME BY KAY BONTEMPO

34THPARALLEL MAGAZINE ISSUE 7834THPARALLEL.NET


Two bell peppers, Muenster cheese. Cauliflower, a pack of Newports, Tampax. Martinelli’s apple juice. Paper towels two-ply. English Breakfast tea. Boil-in-a-bag rice, paper clips, ramen noodles. Maybe some ice cream if there was money left over. America’s Choice vanilla, eaten straight from the carton. It wouldn’t be bad.

With an uncomfortable pop, he pulled out of her and lay beside her, breathing hard. It was 11.52pm. She wondered if the Shop’n’Save would even be open.

Lucas was 23, like her, and also graduated from the local college. He had a calm assurance that things would be the way they were forever. In his apartment he had hung the same basketball posters and St Pauli Girl beer sign that had adorned his dorm room. In the corner, a Yeti cooler-fridge hummed, relentlessly content.

She liked him, she thought, in the way that she liked cereal—enjoyed on occasion. Some things changed from week to week, from moment to moment, but raisin bran was perpetual, and so it seemed was Lucas.

She rose and dressed, and slid out of the apartment with a noncommittal goodbye. He didn’t see her swipe the mini cactus from the corner of his dresser.

Back at home she fiddled with the hundreds of assembled trinkets on her bedside table and wondered what she would tell the next boyfriend about him. Maybe about his impressive collection of polo shirts. Or that his favorite TV show was The Mindy Show. The Mindy Show Guy she would call him to the next boy and they would laugh without shame but also without malice.

She had carved Lucas’s cactus into the exact shape of the State of Texas.

Her office cubicle had three walls the color of unpolished pewter and a divider she shared with Marcia, a heavyset woman who typed with two fingers and gave off the ever-so-faint scent of mothballs.

Her desk was mostly bare, save for a too-smiley photo of her and Lucas that he had put there himself. In it, he was wearing a turquoise polo shirt and giving a thumbs-up; her eyes were half closed, something she had pointed out to him and he had ignored.

The desk drawer housed hundreds upon hundreds of cap erasers, stolen one by one from the supply closet when no one was looking. Matte and pink, they pointed upwards like small animals begging for direction. She had arranged them painstakingly into a map of the world, Africa looming large in the center and Japan hanging like a question mark.

She wondered what it was like in Japan. She pictured bamboo reaching toward the sky, TV-inspired images of temples built like layer cakes.

She had sent 27 emails on this Monday, more than usual for a Monday but fewer than on most Wednesdays. The average hovered around 12, with exceptions for days when she felt unusually productive. One day last month, exceeding all expectations, she had sent 39. The next day, however, crushed by the precedent she had set for herself, she had sent no emails at all.

“Did you send me those reports?” Marcia was talking to her. She had not. She responded mechanically, letting her co-worker’s words wash over her, as she stole a box of mints from the edge of Marcia’s desk.

One day, she thought, she would visit Tokyo.

“How was work?” Lucas was driving her home. He had picked her up in his navy-blue Toyota Camry. He had thought about springing for the Avalon, but decided against it. As far as she was concerned they were exactly the same.

“I have to go to the supermarket.” She cracked her knuckles, she knew this made Lucas wince.

“I thought we could have dinner together. Maybe a nice night out?” He ran a hand through his dark, curly hair. She felt a rush of misplaced affection. He was acceptable sometimes, pleasant in small doses.

She wasn’t going to make it to the supermarket. She pictured the America’s Choice vanilla ice cream being bought by someone else, someone who would put it in their cart and go home in a different car to a different street or town. She nodded, thinking how little of a difference it made.

Lucas pulled the Camry into the parking lot of a Mexican restaurant. The walls inside were a forced cheerfulness of fake red and yellow stucco. Visit Cancún! exclaimed a garish, vintage-style poster beside their table. Lucas took the booth seat, she took the window.

She slipped a fork into her back pants pocket. With a tine bent out to the side it looked a bit like Minnesota.

She took out Marcia’s mints, arranged them into a near-perfect outline of Central America. At the right-hand border she could just make out Cancún, a place she had never been to. She had never been anywhere except for New Jersey. That was the problem.

“What are you doing?” Lucas asked. Then a waiter came by and he ordered two Mexican beers. She hated beer no matter its nationality.

Everything, she thought, is an accident of where you are.

The empty church smelled of incense and self-importance. Had it always had that air?

She knelt on a hard wooden board, wondering if physical discomfort was meant to be part of the experience. She did not like the idea of organized religion.

Then again, she did not like the idea of emails, and she had sent 17 of them that day.

She wondered if a godly robed figure would appear and inquire as to why she looked so lost. When one did not, she was unsurprised but also a bit let down.

She wondered what Lucas was doing. Probably watching basketball, she thought not without fondness, and drinking St Pauli Girl. She wondered what kind of person Lucas would have been if he had never gone to college.

A silver crucifix on the back of the pew was shaped, she thought, rather like the country of Argentina. She wrested it off and put it in her pocket. She wondered if this was sacrilegious, and how long it would take to fly to Argentina.

Lucas was angry that she had not seen him at all this week. She would have known this even if he had not sent her 15 texts saying as much, which he had. She certainly had not been too busy for him; she had sent barely as many emails this week as she used to in a single day.

Marcia had left for the day, yet she remained, still and introspective. She fingered the stolen silver crucifix in her pocket. It felt expensive and wanted. She imagined people were looking for it, that they were looking for her, that a search had begun. They would know who she was, they would call her a thief. Outside the office a police siren sounded. She felt sure it was intended for her.

She closed her eyes and jabbed her finger at the map in her desk drawer, knocking several cap erasers askew. She dumped the erasers into the trash.

Carefully and without hurry, she arranged her belongings on her desk, one by one: the spoons bent into the outlines of provinces and States, the trinkets and buttons and cufflinks she had pilfered over time from Lucas’s bedroom and carved into coastlines and Pacific islands. She wondered if without them, she would remember even wanting to visit those places at all.

She left the crucifix on Marcia’s desk to confuse whoever might be on her trail.

She drove to the bus station, rain pelting the windshield of the car. She squinted to see through the falling drops and the rivulets they formed down her field of vision.

An oversized bus, heaving and groaning, pulled up to the station, and she boarded it, leaving her car where it was.

She sat down beside a boy who was very blonde, who looked like a surfer. “I used to date a guy whose favorite TV show was The Mindy Show,” she said to the boy, as the bus pulled away from the station toward another.

KAY BONTEMPO

In my spare time I have sold my soul to pseudo-90s grunge rock.  To that end, I’ve intermittently been front woman and guitarist of the band Bon Tempo, opening for Rainbow Kitten Surprise and performing with Todd Rundgren and The Cars.  I played at Lollapalooza, but am most comfortable in a small Midwestern sports bar where the audience is drunk and happy.  I make music out of a desire to rage against the machine and end for all time the use of synthesisers. I have also been a late-nite radio shock-jock (88.9 on your dial but #1 in your heart, baby), a NYC fine-dining waitress, and a summer-school kindergarten teacher. I write a lot and sometimes people read it.  I have been published in PopMatters and literary magazines Re:Visions and The Juggler. From 2019-2020 I was a Fulbright Scholar in Naples, Italy, where I directed and produced a documentary film on the European migrant crisis, interviewing African refugees and hiding under tables in textile factories to document the working conditions. I wandered the Pignasecca fish market and wrote moody poems about Mount Vesuvius. I fell in and out of love with the city and would be there still had the State Department not forced me to evacuate when the coronavirus hit.