Home Page Photo

The Big Stupid Review

Archives

American Dream Serialization (Early Chapters)
Introduction to Jim Chaffee's Studies in Mathematical Pornography by Maurice Stoker
Introduction to Jim Chaffee's Studies in Mathematical Pornography by Tom Bradley
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: American Dream Title Page by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 1 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 2 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 3 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 4 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 5 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 6 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 7 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 8 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 9 by Jim Chaffee
01-01-2015
Modern Tragedy, or Parodies of Ourselves by Robert Castle
01-11-2014
Totally Enchanté, Dahling by Thor Garcia
01-04-2014
Hastini by Rudy Ravindra
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 5 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
01-01-2014
Unexpected Pastures by Kim Farleigh
10-01-2013
Nonviolence by Jim Courter
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 4 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
07-01-2013
The Poet Laureate of Greenville by Al Po
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part VI by Thor Garcia
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 3 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
04-01-2013
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part V by Thor Garcia
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part IV by Thor Garcia
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 2 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
01-01-2013
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part I by Thor Garcia
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part II by Thor Garcia
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part III by Thor Garcia
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 1 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
10-01-2012
DADDY KNOWS WORST: Clown Cowers as Father Flounders! by Thor Garcia
RESURRECTON: Excerpt from Breakfast at Midnight by Louis Armand
Review of The Volcker Virus (Donald Strauss) by Kane X Faucher: Excerpt from the forthcoming Infinite Grey by Kane X Faucher
01-07-2012
Little Red Light by Suvi Mahonen and Luke Waldrip
TEXECUTION: Klown Konfab as Killer Kroaked! by Thor Garcia
Miranda's Poop by Jimmy Grist
Paul Fabulan by Kane X Faucher: Excerpt from the forthcoming Infinite Grey by Kane X Faucher
01-04-2012
Operation Scumbag by Thor Garcia
Take-Out Dick by Holly Day
Patience by Ward Webb
The Moon Hides Behind a Cloud by Barrie Darke
The Golden Limo of Slipback City by Ken Valenti
01-01-2012
Chapter from The Infinite Atrocity by Kane X. Faucher
Support the Troops By Giving Them Posthumous Boners by Tom Bradley
01-10-2011
When Good Pistols Do Bad Things by Kurt Mueller
Corporate Strategies by Bruce Douglas Reeves
The Dead Sea by Kim Farleigh
The Perfect Knot by Ernest Alanki
Girlish by Bob Bartholomew
01-07-2011
The Little Ganges by Joshua Willey
The Invisible World: René Magritte by Nick Bertelson
Honk for Jesus by Mitchell Waldman
01-04-2011
Red's Dead by Eli Richardson
The Memphis Showdown by Gabriel Ricard
Someday Man by John Grochalski
01-01-2011
I Was a Teenage Rent-a-Frankenstein by Tom Bradley
Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Fred Bubbers
10-01-2010
Believe in These Men by Adam Greenfield
The Magnus Effect by Robert Edward Sullivan
Performance Piece by Jim Chaffee
07-01-2010
Injustice for All by D. E. Fredd
The Polysyllogistic Curse by Gary J. Shipley
How It's Done by Anjoli Roy
Ghost Dance by Connor Caddigan
Two in a Van by Pavlo Kravchenko
04-01-2010
Uncreated Creatures by Connor Caddigan
Invisible by Anjoli Roy
One of Us by Sonia Ramos Rossi
Storyteller by Alan McCormick
01-01-2010
Idolatry by Robert Smith
P H I L E M A T O P H I L I A by Traci Chee
They Do! by Al Po
Full TEX Archive
Side Photo for The Big Stupid Review

The Theft of the Magi

By Gregory Anthony Schneider

Issey was a lousy thief, but a good son. The vases always found their way to his mother's doorstep; the few items he did sell, Issey got gypped at the pawnshop. The rare high-end hot stuff, what he couldn't pawn, went to his fence, but the fence was an informant, though on a similar level of competence. And Issey kind of knew anyway — he just wanted to help out the guy. So, he never did much time in the clink (as no one called it except him) and the informant was eventually retired in the good ol' cold meats fashion.

He dressed in what he considered the mode of classical thief: Slimming gray jacket with epaulettes, high black ankle boots with a zipper on the ankle, sheridon scarf, double gloves of veal. In similar classical mode, he took on a relationship with a police lieutenant, but the famous Inspector Bread had no idea who he was. When he joined his contemporaries on Sunday afternoons in the grand hotel, they often teased him and removed the julep from his drink or, instead of allowing him equal voice in their Grüppe, on the merits of this or that critique featured in the Sunday literary reviews, they flung at him a copy of New Gents Magazine. This, after one particularly telling prank where Berger had tricked Issey into admitting to reading the work of an author who never existed.

So New Gents it was. Eventually, he became a regular reader. (He stole a subscription copy from some domicile, and then sent in a change-of-address form, as he had done with his other magazines.) He read:

"Where to get Laid — Without Spending Your Money!"

"Important Museums."

"Undress Her With Your Eyes. And Hands."

"Is your son a Pussy? 10 Tips for Curing Weakness"

"20 20th Century Architectural Tragedies: Who, Why, and How."

And it was the latter among these untutored articles where he found Mary Anne Loggia, who ranked number two in the list for the collapse of her Water Towne University Academic and Student Tower:

She let down a lot of people. 2200, in fact… In addition to her employees' lack of faith under this arch queen of incompetence, Loggia's firm was also behind-the-times, using derelict computers and dated, flawed technology — if any at all. Hers was a warehouse of not only architectural relics — parallel bars and rusted protractors — but of potential violence that represented her personality as a hamfisted aggressor: T-squares cracking on drafting tables like a hatchet, three-sided rulers thrown as assassin stars, and a maulstick that, according to one former employee, Loggia posed on her shoulder rifle-style when marching up and down the dusty studios with all the paranoia of a power-crazed kommandtrix.

During break-ins, he often thought about her. There were pictures of Loggia in the article and she looked like the type of woman who wouldn't like him. As he clipped the wrong wires in an apartment building (he meant to cut the telephone line, which was lousy practice anyway in an age of cell-phones), he imagined her all delicious. Straight black hair, a fussy little mouth, red wine lines and bad-luck laugh lines. In the photo of her seated at the Minters trial, he sussed that she had a large rear end. This apartment had no good vases. He tried another. With a bust, he could go either way. A lot of men liked a big bust. He needed to steal something. This apartment felt too fragrant and weak. That apartment too sinister and private. This apartment had a dog and that apartment had a cat and the cat purred because cats trusted him. From his pocket, he pulled out some treaties and the cat ate them out of the palm of his vealskin gloves while Issey surveyed the living room. There was some unread mail on a side table. A letter that looked too personal. Junk mail. Jury duty notification. Once the cat finished, he would steal that. That would have some consequence — like the young days, "le petit jours," he said aloud, the days when he had no system, pushing his mitts into Old Man Brill's box. But a big rear end, that meant something. Putting your hands on a big rear end. His penis became less soft. Even though it wasn't part of the system, he still had a weakness for stealing mail — though he rarely did. Keys rattled, two bells hanging on the doorknob with a looped ribbon clanged and danged. A big rear end. He wondered what she did at night. How she walked in her black skirt. A skirt after dark; midnight at the mercy of her thick rear-end with enough straps, hooks, latticework, and trouble to keep him busy for years on end…

"Oh, God! Call the police!"

Ha-ha-ha, Issey thought, joke's on you: I've cut your telephone wires.

The woman, plump, whipped out her cell phone and the boyfriend, plump, whipped Issey with his fists and shoes. And a little bit of baseball bat.

At the end of the night, his black bag with the large, embroidered white dollar sign was empty. Some blood, but he would take that to the cleaners.

Then a wonderful opportunity presented itself: He received a call from his brother telling him that their mother had died and that he needed to get to Connecticut to "clear out these fucking vases."

Issey paused.

"Gad-damnit. I know what you're thinking."

"Thinking?"

"You're thinking how you're going to steal some way of getting up here. That you're going to follow some people until you find someone who has travel plans to Connecticut and that you'll wait until they're out or until they put a briefcase down or sling a suit over a chair with tickets in the inside pocket, and then you'll steal the tickets. It'll never happen."

Issey looked around his apartment, furnished with other people's things that he called, and made, his own. He couldn't resist tilting his head at the Murano glassworks, a surprise, a gift by all means, that he had stolen for himself during Christmas in July.

"I'm going to email you a roundtrip ticket."

"Couldn't you just put them in the regular mail?"

"The funeral's in four days. When the fuck did you plan on getting here?"

"Hmm. Why so late?"

"We're not postponing Madison's Halloween for this."

"Ah, well, there you have it, I could drive up. I could hot-wire a car."

"You don't know how to do that."

"I do."

"Fuckit. Just go to the ticket counter and they'll be there in your name."

"Oh — thanks, brother!"

He paused again.

"You're pausing again."

"If you could…I'd really prefer the train. Classier, gentlemanly, with lovely tea carts and sliding compartment doors. And I've recently acquired the most stunning indigo suitcase."

"It's not Murder on the Orient Express, you idiot."

"Then air travel it is! Aeromobile! Up, up and away."

His brother ended the conversation, and Issey returned his phone to its cradle and for a moment circled the rotary holes with his sort-of manicured finger.

"And Mary Anne lives in Connecticut. What a delicious coincidence!"

Of course, the thought never occurred that his mother didn't need to die for him to travel to Connecticut to meet this woman. But Issey viewed this as a kind of cosmic ticket — "sweet Ptolemy!" — and he returned his neck and hands to the sheridan scarf and veal gloves. A weak rain beetled on the eaves, so he reported to his brolly stand and chose according to occasion. Onyx handle for Mary Anne's many merry moods and gray nylon for his mother's death — he was, after all in mourning, and would be stealing an urn — but what a wonderful mourning this was!

And Connecticut! What a swell place to die! His childhood was a fond recollection, and he set aside time on the plane for nostalgia — the worrying country roads that were unlighted, the barn-trousers, the choo-choo mailboxes that he had marked as a teenage novice. Perhaps one day in his twilight years he too would die peacefully in Connecticut. He and Mary Anne, together, holding hands on the hardwood floor, those last moments together on the death rattle — these thoughts warmed him.

At the airport bar, he ordered a finger of port but was given a small sandwich instead. He ate in tidy bites and thought of Rohel. The eleven-year age difference between them — this was deep fortune. Sure, Issey understood that he was something of an error (his mother was forty-two on the mid-afternoon of his conception), but from all that sick, orange treacle came the smoothness of distance. And no loyalty — a quality Issey did not possess and never thought about one way or another. Besides, no one likes to be called names, and, at the last wedge of his sandwich, he sighed out of sympathy for the people in his brother's life. Because his brother was no good, and wasn't even good at that, since Rohel advertised so much of his cruelty, had become a caricature of cruelty. He was rotten and mean and straight in the worst way possible. But he and Issey did share a common trait: Neither ever weakened. The difference here was that Issey considered his a good life and the world a good world. Sans souci, he was a silly toe! Ah, that was good — even if the sandwich sucked. He stole the bartender's tips and a carry-on bag from an airport boutique. The flight was delayed and during the wait, he organized the new bag with its fresh new bag scent with magazines, candy, and a stuffed animal for his brother's daughter, all of which he had stolen during the delay.

At the luggage carousel, Issey said: "I brought this for your little girl."

Rohel scrutinized the gift. "Gad-damnit. I told you not to give Madison your stolen crap."

Issey took his indigo suitcase and one random black suitcase. He tapped the black suitcase.

"Is Handy's Pawn and Gun Shop still around? I'll slide you a percentage."

"Why would? I'm senior partner— just get in the car. And put that back."

The funeral was the following day. Issey was proud of his urn. He showed it to his brother's wife — an idiot — who couldn't look at it. The daughter was something of a dolt, too. They ate dinner in a cold, echoing room.

"Did you score well on Hallow's Eve?"

The little girl picked her nose.

Issey asked his brother, "Is Old Man Brill still alive?"

"Gad-damnit! What the fuck is wrong with you?"

"Rohel," his unhappy wife said. "Not in front of M-A-D-I-S-O-N."

No conversation will work here, so he thought about the next step. He was already in Connecticut. Now he needed to meet her. That couldn't be too hard. Of course, he hadn't considered the size of the state, but in the past his plans consisted of nothing more than his smile, repartee, and optimism — qualities that won out.

"Ah. Wonderful meal." (It wasn't.) "Brother Rohel, perhaps the gentlemen could retire to the sitting room for cognac, cigars, and a game of cribbage?

"Piss off."

The funeral was on the small side, small attendance, small flutter, child-size casket. Old Man Brill came — the family neighbor. Issey said, Hello, Mister Brill, and Old Man Brill, who really was an old man now, with a tank and tubes and wheelchair, phlegmed:

"You ruined my credit, you little asshole! I know it was you who stole my mail!"

The procession brought them to a cemetery. This confused Issey. Apropos to their mother's fear of being alone and her fondness of smoking one cigarette after another, Issey had assumed she would want to be burnt up and urned-in, but Rohel had made other arrangements. Issey twisted his head. Rohel kept his hands crossed behind his back, the little girl picked her nose and found some to eat, the unhappy wife cried for no reason. Phony crying, fraud crying. Rohel's wife may have customed her own unhappiness over the years as a kind of lived-in thing, but Issey's mother suffered from true sadness, true loneliness, and he wanted her in the urn. She'd never be alone again, certainly not in her new state of non-living — and certainly, certainly! not in this pisshole cemetery. He was hurt. The only gesture available to him was to rest the urn on the plot, next to the flowers and an old door wreath, which he did. His brother made some swear words out of it. "Get that the fuck offa that." Rohel picked up the urn and threw it away in the distance.

Issey turned away from them. He went unnoticed.

In the parking lot, he stole his brother's Mercedes. See? — as it happened, he could hot-wire a car. To pay tribute to Rohel, Issey decided that later he would set fire to the car.

He awoke in a hotel room that he had double-doored sometime after midnight when the night shift was on the wane; awoke and cheered for the day, said, Yes! — this day for the taking.

He maintained his early fragrance. Everything about him was early. His hair shined with crème de menthe, some dream sprites still in his mouth as he tranted from block to block, gumming the heels of his slick boots, in the search for her apartment. It was happening. Almost every other apartment had a turret and that warmed him, but soon the turrets ended and the chain fences began, and he was confronted with her neighborhood which looked like a cheaper, crueler version of the neighborhood with the turrets, on the wrong end of an art district where the boys wore T-shirts whose designs were only slightly more distressed than their owners' lives. The eaves were rundown. A shutter was missing. The doors without numbers. Inside, he was surprised how much mauve she used in the interior make-up — mauve, so many seasons ago. Uncomfortable: Mary Anne's objects were far too personalized, engendered with resentment; they represented not moving on, not getting over it, and giving up. Utensils whose handles didn't match. A silver lever corkscrew on the counter with the cork still in it. Several unopened boxes in the corner, sun-stained. An apartment like this, with the single bowl and the single plate and the sofa that was overused and a fireplace with burnt wood that had no smell and a mantel that had no pictures and an uneven drape swag and the remote controls at opposite ends of the sofa and the unopened mail — an apartment like this was not an apartment to apply his craft. He hadn't set fire to his brother's car yet. He decided against the idea.

Of course, he wouldn't wait for her to return. That would be absurd — he'd look like a criminal!

He found an unaddressed, unsealed, bulky envelope and used his pen knife to unfold a letter she had written, dated two days ago.

Dear Kaci,

Wish I could open with a college memory or something that could reunite us. Can't. But I want you to get this letter, because I'm a little lonely. This isn't to say that things aren't going well — they're not — but I'm drinking at this nice upstairs bar and it's all a little filmy and in the thousands. I've been through the hand and you were the girl who knew me best before I was this woman, and I've spent my day here thinking about this cumstain magazine, thinking about this amateur plumber writer who missed the fine details. What he got right, he got right broadly. First: Okay, what do you expect? My firm did go bust. Any firm — but what sealed the nail in the coffin were all the people I took to court. That was an error. Loggia v. Minters Engineers (which resulted in a countersuit by both the structural engineer and the geotechnical engineer); Loggia v. Handles Contractors (ditto on the countersuit); Loggia v. the City of Water Towne. Given the chance — since this was a telluric episode — I would have sued the Atlantic Ocean. The disaster was the ocean's fault: The soil wasn't stable; the concrete never cured; the reinforcing bars never had a chance; the nanotechnology used today is not the nanotechnology used then. Blame could even go to the interior designer who chose chalcedony over agate quartz for lab classroom countertops (chalcedony! Can you imagine!) And fibrils! You want to talk details — you talk fibrils! Whatever. But when an article like this is written, years later, when maybe the world has forgiven me, maybe given me sympathy for my cause, when I read this, everything is noise, and all of humankind, nature, water and sky, ipso facto, are against me.

Lucky! Haven't written a word in 20 mins. Fun what just happened — just when I was getting all cranky — I was recognized. By a man. Because of the article. He was a New Gent if there ever was one, mid-ish 20s, still believes the city is his college campus, dressed in museum black-and-rose, but all hate underneath. Some of that good, thick hate. He approached from the opposite end, said, Hello in a kind of feeler way and I said Hello back.

There was some fluffed up story about a girl and that he had mistaken our 2 faces, but I assured him that it was me he had been thinking, recognized, had come over for. I reminded him that I had been on the news for a few years, I showed him the article with The Tower and my picture (I look really good in my black courtroom skirt).

New Gent: "Oh, I remember. When I was in high school, I wanted to go there. Good thing I didn't, I suppose."

M.A.: "Good thing."

He asked me why I was only no. 2 on the list, and I told him that no. 1 placed because of the parochial mentality of this country since his mega-church had killed five hundred attendees, whereas mine dropped like over four times that!

The guy looked a little starstruck, so I signed my name over my picture and gave him my copy of the magazine. But I missed something, because next thing I knew he was gone.

Then Ron the bartender told me: "Mary, that guy said for me to tell you to have a drink on him. Oh, and is this your magazine?"

Please write! Lots of love to you and your children (if you have any).

M.A.

More pathetic than Issey would have liked, but, with a pluck of an eyelash, he reminded himself her fall from grace. This was a woman after all who, because of her prodigious talent, had cut a lot of ice. Yet, even though Issey's penis always became less soft when he thought of her, she did look like a tragedy in her courtroom clothes.

The letter mentioned an upstairs bar. An upstairs bar with a bartender named Ron. Also, he would have to look up the word telluric. But how important was this? Very, he decided — it might come up in conversation, as words do.

So: to the bibliotheca!

Then, the department stores, where he stitched the thoroughfare cheek-to-jowl. "Ah, the pantomimes of gentility!" he said, clapping his gloved hands, an old phrase he borrowed for this most important article: an overcoat with notched lapels and breast darts. And that wasn't too difficult.

The bar was empty, and she was there. And she was just as pretty, just as fussy-mouthed — but from the angle, he couldn't see her derriere. Even so, his imagination, which up to this point had been bulging from the photographs in the magazine, now intensified — the woman of his dreams, in real life! Sitting alone, writing and drinking and smoking cigarettes!

In a casual, preoccupied manner, he removed his new Black Forest overcoat and took a seat four stools away. He ordered a finger of port and was given a basket of fries. Since he was trying to watch his chin he left the fries alone.

"Pardon me," Issey began. "You're Mary Anne Loggia, the architect."

She didn't look up from her paper and cigarette.

"And?"

"Yes. I recognize you."

She put her pen down, but kept the cigarette. "Look. The last guy who recognized me made me look like a fool."

He countered with minty charm, spoke of her projects (the successful ones that didn't kill people). He then braved the subject of the Tower and made good use of that word telluric. And it was this word, which he still really didn't understand, that had her inviting him to the stool next to her — next to her derrière. The conversation was light.

"You're a thief?"

She quizzed him on the logistics of the trade — the secrets of which he kept close to his breast or at least in approximate relation to the breast darts over there; she asked him about his fence, asked him about finagling wholesale to retail markup.

"Oh, that's no interest. I have a system."

"Which is?"

"It's highly complicated, but, foundationally, I don't believe that I should have to pay for anything. I'd just as well not… you know, pay for anything."

"Just a common thief?"

"Not a guttersnipe, or a hugger-mugger, but cultured and rarefied and perhaps maybe not, as you would, in a word, un-exquisite."

She ignored all that. "But why should you have to pay for anything?"

"Correct."

She crossed her legs, thought about it and scratched her mouth. He liked that detail. "This idea of guilt and sorrow. Metaphysical and financial retribution — it's such a boring, antiquated idea. An American idea."

She picked at another cigarette and his idea:

"Paying for nothing…"

She unclasped her watch and set it on the bar, and waited. He didn't follow.

"Aren't you going to steal it?"

"But that's yours. That's not mine."

"Mine, not yours… Fascinating." Her twilight eyes traded reports between Issey's retiring manner and her watch. "Some things are yours — you, the thief; and some things are theirs — them, the owners. And some things don't belong to them — the stealee's; and some things belong to you — the stealer."

"Fully ossified. Grand!" This was, in fact, a concise version of his system. It had taken him years and reams of paper and nights over the goose quill to come up with this, and here Mary Anne Loggia summarized it in the space of ten minutes. A brilliant woman!

"Nothing ever paid for. Nothing ever, ever to be paid for." She returned to his system as if she wanted some privacy with it. Then asked if he wanted to continue the conversation…

Recalling the misery in mauve over in her apartment, he suggested his hotel.

Outside the bar in the lot where he had parked the Mercedes, Issey found shattered glass and no Mercedes. Someone had stolen Rohel's car! He laughed.

They gutted the mini-fridge. Her rear end was wonderful.

Eventually, he would have to return to her apartment, which he did — but he managed to keep several hotel rooms open. Their meetings became more frequent. Issey entered this relationship with the optimism that her less-than-agreeable traits would be outweighed by her better angels. She seemed to enjoy sarcasm — this he learned at a sketch comedy troupe's performance where not one character played it straight, everything some hammy rejoinder, then a rejoinder on top of that rejoinder. She guffawed. "It's good to laugh. These people are so right. The men at my firm — they were too square." They ate lunch one afternoon in a park pagoda. He thought it innocuous enough, but she pounded the table. "It was the pagoda — I was having a fight with my boyfriend over the phone. And he was getting on my nerves because he wanted to go to the pagoda for lunch — always the pagoda! Why don't you come to the firm for lunch? And he was an amateur plumber, this guy. He says to me: 'It's just too tense there.' And so I told him to fuck off, and right at that moment — that was when I was told about my Tower. And my first printed words — 'fuck off.' It's just unfair. To make matters worse, I was spinning a ruler on a pencil." She smoked throughout and circled the air with her cigarette to signify the mental disabilities of her accusers. The wonderful basket he had put together — organic foods, colorful probiotics, restaurant napkins — went untouched. Well, except the wine.

Thanksgiving came and went. He hadn't thought quite through the timing of meeting Mary Anne, but the holidays were fast approaching. He missed his mother — not that she did Thanksgiving every year, or even most years, but he missed her. He wondered what had become of his urn. Mary Anne didn't do Thanksgiving either. They ordered take-out Thai and the spent the night watching a grainy espionage film. She noticed certain trends in the killing of old people, "like some non-transgressive act."

"My mother died recently," Issey began, "That's what brought me to Connecticut. I was very sad. I wanted to bring her with me in an urn, but forces beyond my control…"

"You know what was the worst? For all the trials and press, this blot on my name. I never became more aware of my face than during the trials. I even consulted a surgeon about correcting my 'villainous mouth' as one amateur plumber wrote. And what happened? I was filmed coming out of the surgeon's office."

"It's a brilliant mouth."

"Then my idiot lawyer says to me, he says to me, 'You need to watch it with the expensive clothes. It looks…' And I say, 'It looks what?' 'It just looks unbecoming.' 'What the hell? A professional woman can't maintain her innocence unless she's some pauper? And look at your suits,' I say. And he says: 'Yes, but I didn't —' 'What? Didn't what?' Idiot. It's his fault the way those trials turned out."

She swirled her cigarette to include the lawyer among those who were mentally disabled.

He even missed Rohel, in his own way.

Issey never thought about her motivation to stay with him, considered their coupling a testament to his charm and young skin and witty rogue outfits. She spent long mornings suffering hangovers and others' errors. She couldn't find work. "All interview questions are really the same question," she reported, "but fuck 'em." She wasn't trying, but he kept the opinion to himself. Her apartment hadn't been tidied since the first time he had entered it, those weeks ago. The unevenness, the crimpled fabric, the purple which darkened afternoons and swallowed good fortune, the sun-stained boxes in the corner that she picked at with her eyes like a scab, sometimes staring at them without break. Two lightbulbs had gone out. One in the brief hall, the other at a desk she didn't use. It always shocked him, lighbulbs going out. These stayed out. The thought of becoming this apartment worried him, and since hers was the will that bent most of their plans, their bright future felt questionable. A future of collected corkscrews, crimpled fabric, complaints. He was stealing and eating more probiotic foods than ever. Hmm, he thought at a café, hmm. His mind's eye still narrowed to her callipygian derriere but the red wine and her long, sitting fugues had made this scrumptious feature patched and near inedible. He crossed his legs and sipped his espresso. A light snowfall was happening outside. Streetlamps clicked on. His new scarf was lovely. Couples came in from the cold, ordered their drinks, and used each other's names equally, and their voices trailed off with the questions they asked one another. He couldn't recall ever hearing his own name coming from Mary Anne's voice — a realization that occurred that same night when she did use his name, when she did ask him a question. There was even a finger of port awaiting him. And had she tidied up?

She used words like fate and retribution and applied some of his system back to him, how nothing should be paid for, stuff that's not theirs.

The tickets, the addresses, the details, blueprints, schematics, a list of items she wanted him to steal — it was all arranged. Hard drives, jump drives, files that seemed important, random office items as the cherry on the prank — anything that would inconvenience them.

"Now, it's too late in the day for you to be able to swipe anything on my Tower. Just take anything that looks important. Anything that will screw them."

"Train tickets?"

"You like the train, yes?" She poured him another finger of port. "And I booked you a hotel room. I don't want you to have to…you know."

He looked over the list and hid his skepticism in the curving purple maw.

"Issey," she said, "I trust your abilities."

Three states over, and it turned out that trains did not offer tea trays and velvet compartments, only gross people who drooled. And Water Towne, even during the winter, was nasty humid. It did not feel like Christmas. He checked into the motel she had booked for his two nights — a cottage-styled dump — and set to outfitting himself in the love: sheridan scarf, the double veal gloves, the bag with the embroidered dollar sign, his ankle boots, and a new addition to the ensemble in the form of a balaclava. Outside, he sniffed the wet, neezy air for the blooming nightfall, avoided looking at her list when anticipating the poetry of entering. He tried to trick himself into enjoying the job, but the air was too humid; twenty minutes in and he was sweating, his clothes slurry sherbet down the street.

Mary Anne had underestimated the job. Stealing from the lawyer's office was easy. Stealing from Handles Contractors was easy. Stealing from the interior designer's was easy. Stealing from Minters Engineers was hard. The corridors and desks depressed him. Little bunnies of revolt told him that something had already been stolen from the people who used these corridors and desks. By the end of the night, his clothes were drenched. In the cottage's kitchen dinette, he wrung out the balaclava like a dishrag and poured a pitcher of his night's toil from his ankle boots. These little bunnies of revolt. As far as revenge went, the job was a success; there was no doubt that he had ruined these companies. But the job was also meaningless. All that sweat down the drain. He wondered what had become of his brother's Mercedes.

Those same bunnies wanted to continue in the morning, but a situation fiercer, foxier dominated. This came from his ankle boots — they reeked. They were ruined. Overnight, his veal gloves had shrunk to baby gloves. Even his sheridan scarf — its personality had deteriorated, was shriveled and stiff. They were no longer his.

But they were also no longer his. When he shut his eyes, Mary Anne's face wasn't smiling. How desperate and sour-mouthed her face was during what he thought were tender moments when she confided her trust in his skills. When he returned, the holidays would be in play. Mary Anne didn't feel like Christmas. And his items — these were no longer his. They did not belong to him. It put the mince back in his step. The motel was in off season and he received off season service. He skipped the breakfast that wasn't offered, stepped over the newspaper that wasn't outside the door, and was on his way out, one day early.

Had he inquired, had he followed, he would have found that what was once her firm was now a Chinese buffet; what was once the Tower was now a parking lot, four hundred spaces; had he done the math, he would have calculated roughly five dead people to each new space, and that the difference in mourning in Water Towne was locking your keys in the car — and you might as well pack it in when you've locked you keys in the car! The math, the metaphor, the greasy pall that hung over Water Towne for the thing that wasn't there — he avoided them because the mince was back — the mince in his step that took him to a gasoline drum where he burnt his clothes. Burn, strangers, burn! The sweat sizzled, popped, and alighted gold against the already orange horizon.

Mince, mince!

While he was in Water Towne, Connecticut had received a wonderful blast of snow — and he slipped and slided his arrival in secrecy at the same hotel those many months ago when she was only a woman in a magazine. On the edge of the bed with a hotel pad in his lap, he made some calls to pawn shops that specialized in death antiquities. Each proprietor showed appropriate, morbid enthusiasm at his proposition. He checked his watch. Mary Anne would be at the upstairs bar.

He would need a new high-tone outfit, but that could wait. In plainclothes, Issey entered her apartment, walked in a straight line to her boxes, and stole what he needed. What she did not need.

The next day at the train station, he faked his arrival, and Mary Anne wore a bright neckerchief under a black wintercoat and greeted him with questions, to which he answered in the affirmative. Kisses up and down. She helped him with his bags — two new bags since his departure, both filled with those easy, meaningless items.

At her apartment, she broke open a bottle of wine and brought the bottle with her to the floor as she picked through the items. He asked for a finger of port but she didn't hear him. She sat on floor, a child ruining wrapping paper on Christmas morning, where the last good gift suddenly meant nothing in the face of the next good gift, and then that gift lacked all qualities for the next one. Issey curled his eyes to the corner where the sun-stained boxes sat, three in all, one on top of the other. They didn't look so sun-stained now. He stood, uncorked another bottle, and brought it to her.

She was in ecstatic raptus over the results, how skilled he was, how much this will screw them!

"Very good, my darling," Issey said. "I have one more gift for you. It's an early Christmas gift."

"Christmas? I didn't know we were doing Christmas — but I'll take it. It's a girl's lucky day."

"Yes, yes, over there in the corner." He pointed to the boxes.

"What?"

"Go on. Look inside."

She rose instantly, soberly. "What have you done with — " and discovered, one after the other. "What the hell is this? Where are my blueprints? Where are my notes? Where are my drawings? What the hell is this!"

"I've filled your boxes with pillows, shams, sways, valances, fringe trimming, throws — delicious accessories."

"Where is my stuff that was in here? Where are all my designs for the Tower?"

"Gone." Issey leaned back in the couch. "I sold them."

"You sold them? What? Sold them! What is wrong with you!" She screamed as she tore through the apartment in search, in disbelief. "That was everything I had left, you idiot!"

She tore the place apart, all in vain. Outside, another snowfall began and it suddenly felt like Christmas. He closed his eyes, minced his lips into smile, and waited for her to calm down. It wasn't for him, the decision to make. When she ripped open those lovely golden pillows, he kind of knew.

© Gregory Anthony Schneider 2009