By Megan Peterson
Owen is six years old when he steals for the first time.
It is almost too easy. Swallowed up in a faded blue bean bag, he feels hidden away from the rest of the classroom. All the other kids are pretending to read their books for silent reading time, glazed eyes flicking over pages way too fast. Owen’s first-grade teacher, Ms. Flores, doesn’t even notice as his hand sneaks out of the beanbag and snags one of her many clear mason jars from the nearby shelf. The jar is full of small erasers. This one specifically holds the round, yellow smiley face erasers, and when he sticks his fingers inside, it reminds him of Winnie the Pooh’s hunny pot.
He only takes one smiley face, plucking it from the jar upside down so that it looks like it’s frowning at him. He can always get more next time. Stuffing it into his pocket, he quietly twists the lid on and puts the jar back on the shelf. He nudges it back in line with the others, all filled with their own colorful pencil toppers. The smiley faces are next to the jar containing the pink, triangular strawberries, and next to those are the little orange popsicles. The jar farthest away from his bean bag has lime green dinosaurs, and they’re all the way on the top shelf. They will be the hardest to steal, but already Owen is scheming how he will do it.
The erasers are for help counting when the class struggles through math problems. For counting six smiley faces plus seven apples minus two blue elephants, or something like that. He’s no good at math. But he likes the erasers a lot.
When Owen shows his dad his prize at home later that day, pressing the sweaty smiley face onto his knee as he talks, the man doesn’t even blink, eyes glued to his phone. In his other hand is a can of beer, drops of condensation beading on the metal. But, when Owen shyly tells him he stole the eraser, his dad looks up as if seeing him for the first time, phone slipping away into the couch cushions. Then he ruffles Owen’s curly hair and tells him he’s “damn proud” of him, which he’s never said before.
For dinner, his dad takes him to a diner and lets him get anything he wants, declaring that he’s earned it. They walk out later that night without paying a penny, fries in their mouths like cigarettes, and the waitress none the wiser. Owen feels like a true thief, like a sidekick of sorts, eating stolen fries, wiping the milkshake mustache off his lips, and palming the eraser in his pocket.
Owen steals more erasers. He takes two pineapples, spiky to the touch; four rainbows, the most colorful of the erasers; and three pumpkins sporting jack-o’-lantern grins. He smuggles away red Santa hats, erasers shaped like sweaters, and green aliens with wide, black eyes. He steals erasers until Ms. Flores finally notices that the mason jars feel lighter. She never catches Owen, though, never questions the bulkiness of his jean pockets, and the near escape feels thrilling. Climbing on the school bus to go home with his pockets overflowing, he feels like his dad must feel after Black Friday shopping, lugging in bags of gadgets and a heavy wallet. Like taking candy from a baby, Dad always says.
Owen knows it’s small, what he’s stealing. It probably costs nothing. Dad can do so much better. Dad’s even been in the news before, or at least the pretty necklace that he stole was. But Owen will get there one day, he’s sure. Already Dad’s been giving him tips, high fiving him with each new eraser. He calls him “little thief,” and Owen pretends to be embarrassed. One day, they might even be on the news together, their picture caught on the cameras like a family photo. He will have his very own scary, black mask to match his dad’s, and he will be looking up at him and beaming, because even though he knows he will be bigger and taller one day, he can’t imagine not looking up to his dad.