Mr. Epstein, who owned the stationery store, was a cold man — brisk, officious, dismissive of the children who came in with hands pressed tightly around the inevitably sweat-stained change they’d been saving for God knows how long. No, he didn’t like children, that was clear. Nor did children like him. His features were pointy and cruel, and he was bald. They found the crown of his head, as shiny as a waxed apple, inexplicably terrifying. Did it represent for them what it would be to get old? Hard to say. All Michael knew was that it was nearly impossible not to stick his tongue out at Mr. Epstein.
Which was why one Wednesday after school he decided to steal a piece of bubble gum from the jar on top of the front counter. If Mr. Epstein was nice, he reasoned, there’s no way I would do this. And it turned out to be so easy to slide the candy right into his pocket when Mr. Epstein’s back was turned, the proprietor busy entering receipts into the store’s ledger.
But one deception frees the way for another, and another. Michael decided that his getting away so handily with stealing the bubble gum was a sign that he was meant to do this, that the universe had offered up its tacit approval of his misdeed. Soon he began to see himself as a sort of Robin Hood, taking from the stingy Mr. Epstein and magnanimously sharing his bounty with ever-growing numbers of neighborhood kids. Of course kids will talk, and eventually Michael got caught.
Now, as an adult, he practices the art of deception with the kind of care born of years of experience, and he never shares. There’s more for him that way. The world is his oyster, and if others don’t appreciate that? Well, he’d pity them if he weren’t quite so busy relocating their possessions.
written in July, 2008