For the second installment of the countdown, here is a tiny story.
“Didn’t we used to have five of these plates?” She asked.
“Which ones?” He joined her in the kitchen, kissing her lightly on the temple.
“The white ones that don’t get too hot in the microwave.”
“Do we need to secure the silver?” He chuckled, moving past her to the refrigerator. She glared without heat.
“It’ll turn up.”
I’d have to be more careful. This was the first thing I’d taken that they’d noticed. The plates are so square and white and uniform, I should have known better. Once I set my sights on taking a thing, it is hard to turn aside.
In May, I took a pen. Not one they used. One of 17 pens languishing in the junk drawer. It didn’t have any ink. In June, I hit the junk drawer again, and took a menu for a Chinese place they used to call five years ago when they lived in another state. They never noticed. In July, I snagged an old issue of Current Archeology. They love that magazine, so that was a little brave. Still, they didn’t miss it.
But now, I was caught—a little—on a plate.
I watched them from my secret places whenever I got a chance. They were my family. They just didn’t know it. I took things because I loved them so much. I wanted to be close to them. I didn’t want to hurt them. I would have to be more careful.
At night, as they slept, I would creep out of my hide, and walk the house freely. I touched the chairs, the counters, the decorative ceramics they collected. Very lightly. I never moved anything. People notice when you move things.
Often, they had insomnia. He would come down and snack, then go back to bed. Her sleeplessness was more intractable. She would sit on the couch and watch true crime shows with headphones for hours. They made me hide quick, but I was good at it. Resenting my lost house time, I would retreat to my own space. Once, she came down to watch shows, and I just couldn’t stand it. I didn’t want to go back! Brazenly, I curled into a corner in the office, right next to the living room. I stayed there until dawn, watching the flickering light of the television shine under the door.
“I know I had a pair of pink socks,” hands on hips, staring at her third dresser drawer.
“Maybe the dryer ate them,” he said, dressing on the other side of the room. “Dryer’s gotta eat.”
She rolled her eyes. “The whole pair at once? Matched?” He shrugged.
“They’ll turn up.” It was becoming a familiar refrain.
I knew it was stupid to take the socks. Yes, she had three pairs of pink socks, but I knew she’d miss them. I sat, listening through the walls, examining my motives. I realized I liked it when they noticed. When they saw something was missing, it was like they saw me. I couldn’t let them see me, not ever. But I wanted to, so much.
In October, I watched them answer the door for costumed ghouls. She loved Halloween. He loved her, so he bought plenty of candy. I pilfered a little. I was behaving.
In November, they put up their little white tree and covered it with blue baubles. They were just plastic, but they were so pretty! I took one from the back. They never mentioned it.
The bauble was the best thing. I cradled it close.
I didn’t take anything in December, just watched them give one another small, thoughtful gifts. She liked to craft, so there was always a wonderful handmade gift for him. I would never, ever take those. Though I did once steal a pot of glitter.
For a moment, I thought about returning everything I’d taken, as a gift to them. My heart cried out at the very thought! I couldn’t. It was all I had of my family. Little pieces of their ordinary lives. My family meant everything to me. I shuddered and banished the thought. When they slept, I decided to return to my place, without wandering the house on my own.
I snuggled with her socks, and stroked the smooth surface of the plain white plate. I kept everything in a well beneath the house, long capped and cemented over. They’d never find any of it. These little things would be here forever, with me.