The Shief (Sheet Thief)

He wanted her to stay when she came back. Didn’t want her to get any funny ideas about running again. She was always running–from what, he couldn’t say. Herself, the world, the past. Things she couldn’t ever possibly outrun, yet still tried to nonetheless. It was an inherent part of who she was, and why he loved her. That’s why he was so understanding whenever she took to the not so friendly skies to escape–disappear into–another city. He was constantly worried about her. Couldn’t imagine how she could fare out there without ever really knowing where her next source of money was coming from. Sure, he tried to throw her some of his own every now and again when he could, but it would never be enough for her needs. He got the sneaking suspicion she was doing something sinister in order to make some fast cash. Something she would never admit to, even if he asked. He never did. There was something better about not knowing, about leaving her that mystery. For mystery was what she traded in. Her greatest cachet and allure. He often wondered if that was at least half the reason he remained so obsessed with her. Obsessed enough to want to take the risk of going into the store and stealing the bedding that would make her return to a comfortable sleep situation. For when she last left, the bed was little more than held together by spit and glue atop a paint can. To boot, the sheets felt like crepe paper, and he couldn’t really say where or when he had gotten them. They were likely an inheritance from the previous tenant, who had absconded to somewhere like Thailand. Or some other such place where white men liked to drop off the face of the earth. Or what they deemed to be the face of the earth: America. For Ava, it was anything but. She preferred to be amid the castles of Europe or the palaces of the Far East. The U.S. looked and felt so quotidian–so utterly blasé–in comparison. She couldn’t fathom how anyone could be so content with staying there. But they were. And Damien was one of them. Or at least made himself out to be from where she stood, high above him on an airplane. Their first encounter, in fact, was on a plane. He was coming back to Boston from visiting a cousin in California, while she was simply stopping through Logan Airport on a layover to Barcelona. They got to talking while seated next to each other and neither one had forgotten about the other since. But Ava had warned him that domesticity wasn’t really the area where she had been known to receive a shining gold star. He ignored her warning and had her moving into the apartment with the crepe paper sheets within months of that first encounter. It didn’t take long for her to get bored and start making excuses to go on trips once she had made enough cash. Always taking up some part-time or “odd” job, but never committing to the full-fledged tangibility of something more corporate. Something that could tie her down. Least of all expensive sheets with high thread counts. 

The first time she left, it wasn’t so bad. He could rationalize it then. They had only just started their relationship and maybe he had rushed in. Maybe this was a chance for him to back out of the whole thing. It only took a few days of her being gone to realize how much he hated being alone. Without her. Two years in, and she hadn’t managed to kick her habit of wanderlust. It was the drug that propelled her. He wondered if she would even be able to function–to see a reason to function–without it. She would be an entirely different person then. And maybe not so desirable. In the meantime, he had to do everything in his power to show her the allure of the stationary life. Getting new bedding–already inherently more decadent than what they had at the moment–was essential to this. The problem was, he wouldn’t be able to buy regular groceries if he got the sheets (sold in the same store thanks to the one-stop candy shop nature of U.S. commerce). It was a peak catch-22 moment. He had to do both, and he had to find a way to, whatever the cost. Which, for the sheets, would have been the ghastly sum of $59.99. For two goddamn pieces of rectangular cloth. It seemed more criminal to pay for them than to not. So he finagled a system in which he would pay for the food items while obscuring the neatly packaged sheets away from the vision of the cashier, instead putting it in his tote bag (which he had no abashment about carrying) ahead of time and then placing it in the cart nonchalantly along with all the other items he had picked up to prepare Ava a sumptuous dinner of chicken parmigiana with a side of zucchini and salad, with, of course, red wine to round it all out. He could almost taste it as much as Ava’s lips on his while he neared the finish line of this endeavor called discreet sheet thievery. He walked out the automatic doors certain the sensors wouldn’t go off. They did. Sweating heavily, he feigned nonchalance and continued walking as though nothing was wrong. No one stopped him. He was still going to be on schedule for transforming the apartment into an oasis of comfort. 

He started right away upon arriving back home, putting the groceries away before he proceeded to pilfer through the tote bag and pull out the sheets to unwrap them. As he spread it out on the bed, he was horrified to unearth an unfortunate reality: it was merely a duvet cover. He didn’t even have a fucking duvet. To add to the botched larceny, the cover was too small for the bed, and couldn’t, at the very least, be faux repurposed as a workable sheet to temporarily place upon the mattress. By now, the crepe paper sheets were practically crumbling apart anyway, and couldn’t be viably put back on. He refused to put them back on, to have Ava walk once more into an apartment with bedding of this disgusting variety. It was no wonder she preferred to rough it out there rather than remain with him here in unglamorous in every way Boston. Specifically in this ramshackle of an abode in Roxbury. 

As he stared hopelessly at the too small duvet cover wondering if he should just get started on that chicken parm and worry about it later, a knock at the door caused him to bristle. She was early. He was completely unprepared. How was he going to make her see that she should stay here with him forever if she didn’t give him the goddamn time to make the joint look presentable? He sighed, smoothed the front of his shirt and went to let her in. The problem was, the person behind the door wasn’t Ava, but a plainclothes cop who had followed him the several blocks from the store, to say, “You’re under arrest for petty larceny.” Damien tried to protest at first, but he knew he had been caught red-handed, and that the security footage would corroborate everything.

How was this real? How could his noble act, which he had already failed at, result in this much of an unstoppable landslide? Was he being punished merely for being a resident of this neighborhood or did this cop just have a quota to fulfill for the day? He wondered all of this in a dazed furor as he was escorted out of the building. The duvet was left in a pathetic heap on the stained mattress. It was this that greeted Ava when she arrived back home, questioning, indeed, if this was any home at all. Meanwhile, Damien was quickly becoming quite amenable to the sheets in his cell. 

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