A Short Story
By j.e.c young
I am a petty thief.
I like to steal. I don’t need to, but I like it.
I only take books, but it’s enough to make me feel like I’ve had a rebellious phase. I walk through bookstores and I look at the names of dead authors and I think about how shitty it is that Random House and Penguin think they can own the words of Virginia Woolf and then I pull out the waistband of my pants to slip To The Lighthouse against my thigh or my crotch and I make a controlled dash to the car. The last time I stole something I was twenty-four, so I have no excuses, but that’s alright because I wouldn’t make any anyway (and if you expect one from me I’m going to ask you why you like spicy food and you’re going to realise how silly you sound).
I’m not telling you about stealing because I’m a Marxist who wants to help you realise the health benefits of redistributive labour, but rather, it happened and there’s no point in me hiding from myself. I started stealing when I was eleven (or maybe twelve) and I’d decided then that it was part of who I was, and who I was going to be. I think that happens more often than people let themselves admit; that we will ourselves into being- and at eleven I had decided I was a petty thief.
The first thing I stole wasn’t a book, it was porn from the top shelf of CNA. I stole imported FHM’s from Exclusives, and I stole hustlers and playboys that I wrapped around my leg before going to find my family where they were having coffee in Hyde Park and telling them that I wanted to go home.
I hid them in the cupboard under the bathroom sink, and years later when builders smashed the tiles off the walls they were greeted with the dusty covers of my vintage stash.
It taught me a few things, like to trust what you saw in the corners of your eyes and how to smile at shop assistants despite the fear that a glimpse of thigh or cleavage may appear from beneath the leg of your jeans. I learnt some wrong facts about what women really wanted and I learnt a sex position I’ve never been able to understand the mechanics of.
I also learnt to masturbate.
In a pink tiled room, with the chemical smell of bleach stuck to Hugh Hefner’s glossed fantasies, I silently discovered a process that my biology teachers had always spoken about as if it were the only organ that operated through magic (dark magic, but magic none the less). I sat on the closed toilet seat, I silently turned pages, I came, and then I cleaned up.
Afterwards, I would open the door of the bathroom to make an excuse about an upset stomach to disguise the time spent in there, and to build an alibi in case of interrogation.
I was a criminal, a sexual bandit, an outlaw. I was breaking the rules set out in the church pews at my school and I was breaking the rules that seventy-year-old women made up in sex ed classes that were mainly laminates of STI’s and slut shaming, encouraging us to marry a virgin and not to believe in the female orgasm. Every time I unlocked the bathroom door, I felt I needed to check out a window to see if god’s inevitable fireball had snuck out from behind the star it hid behind.
I was young and I had learnt to keep things a secret locked in the box marked old electrical cords tucked in the back of my mind, and I don’t blame porn or petty theft. For all the faults of porn, making me feel guilty for wanting and needing and expressing desire has never been one. I learnt to fuck silently because of classrooms, bible stories and the fact that I had never had an honest conversation about sex with someone who wasn’t my age. At eleven I willed myself into being a thief, and I’m not embarrassed now telling you about it, but lust has always been an accident, like the birthmark on my left arm.
At fifteen I would have had my first kiss, at seventeen my first sexual experience, and at twenty-one, I would have lost my virginity. Each time I would close my eyes- they would glow pink, I would smell bleach, and I would be hiding something beneath the bathroom sink, a falling star just out of sight.