From Kafka's Diary—Eileen Cowin
—Michael P. Lauer
She says that we are not the thieves. Yet we are the ones who waited until nightfall for the family to leave. And we who approach the house dressed in black, ski masks covering our faces so we’re not familiar to the neighbors. She’s spent the last few days trying to calm my nerves,
reassuring me with lies that you can’t steal what’s yours.
At the front door, she tries a key.
“He changed the locks,” she says, twisting the doorknob like a knife.
“Can we go home now?”
“No. Let’s try the side window.” There, the glass slides up and she lifts me.
I climb inside and freeze at movement across the room—a mirror on the wall has caught my reflection in the prison of its frame. My heartbeat drowns out my footsteps as I navigate the darkness to the door and let her in.
“Get the food,” she says. “I’ll find the safe.”
“I have to go alone?”
“Do you want to starve?”
She bounds upstairs like she’s done it a thousand times.
In the light of the open fridge, I examine the collection of novelty magnets on the door. Under one is a recent wedding photo featuring the family. I see myself among them, smiling beside their little boy.
My conscience eats at me. I replenish the fridge. I am not a thief.
Upstairs, she’s in the parents’ bedroom, where she has dug through drawers, dismantled lives. She’s kneeling outside the closet, punching passcodes into a small safe and cursing when it denies her.
“I think we should go home,” I say.
“What’s the password?”
“What’s in there?”
“My money. Enough for our new life. Tell me and we’ll leave.”
“The password’s my birthday.”
The silence of her hesitation is shattered by the sound of car doors slamming.
“You said they’d be gone all night,” she says.
“You made me spy. Every weekend. They’re going to hate me!”
We race downstairs. She’s cradling the safe. We’ll escape through the backdoor. The family enters through the front. My mother hides outside. I run for the fridge.
Inches from the exit, I’m captured in the sudden brilliance of the kitchen light. From across the room, my stepbrother and I consider each other, his look of terror mirroring my own concealed face of fear.
I’m yanked outside as he begins to scream.
By the time his parents come to his rescue, we thieves—my father’s ten-year-old son and ex-wife—vanish into the night, my mother guiding me back to our life as I stuff the wedding photo into my pocket. My father rushes outside and sees only the safe, abandoned in the grass. He carries it inside to the disarray of a home broken-into before consoling his family. And every time I revisit the stolen photo, I am reminded of the love we’ve been robbed, and that we are all as much victims as we are thieves.