Petty Thefts

Petty Thefts

by Julie Brooks Barbour


Dollar signs, dollars watched,
black and white labels in the pantry—

I knew what I couldn’t have.
At friends’ houses, I coveted their possessions:

magazines addressed to them, porcelain dolls
I couldn’t touch. Out shopping, I watched a friend

add to her collection of small purses.
Because I knew it was wrong,

I hid my first theft under my bed
then started collecting. It went on

until returning them seemed pointless.
One afternoon I slid the stolen

library magazines into a garbage can
in the tool shed, burying them

among food scraps and withered napkins
before my father came home.

When I heard his truck pull into the driveway,
my face turned red. I hurried to the basement door

where I could enter the house unnoticed.
Never caught, I’d do it again,

this time from a department store
where my mother worked. I concealed

a tiny colored pencil in my hand, part of a set,
a trinket I wouldn’t keep. Something struck me

before we left the store to wander the rest of the mall
and I dropped it on the carpet, a tiny sound

my mother heard and spun around to catch me.
I was punished: grounded for two weeks.

I erased my mistake with baptism
and was praised, given gifts, taken out

for steak dinners. Perhaps I knew
the price of what I wanted.


-refers from the word “driveway” in Martin Ott’s story The Interrogator’s Last Question

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