Fiction · 04/10/2019



Here’s what I found:

  • A pith helmet. As a child I thought the name was pity helmet, which is what my mother called it each time she spotted our neighbor — a divorced man with custody of five — wearing one.
  • A paper bag filled with assorted tin cans (though dominated by my favorite vegetable, fiddleheads!). Labels only partially soaked off. Some peeling was most certainly necessary, and I doubted would ever be completed.
  • A pen knife. (There was a time when I didn’t know what a pen knife was. Those were the days.)
  • A lollipop of a gourmet savory variety, saffron perhaps or maybe rosemary sweetened with sugar water. It wasn’t a flavor I particularly liked, but I continued to lick it down to the cardboard stick out of laziness of stopping. I wasn’t sure how long it had been there, and I figured someone ought to eat it. It did occur to me about the detritus. That an empty stick was evidence of breaking and entering. For a while, I had trouble deciding if it was better to leave the stick behind — hoping when it was discovered the finder would think it nothing more than a bleep in the brain, “Did I eat that lollipop?” — or overlooked all together, perhaps scooped up with a paper towel along with dust and cat hair and thrown in a plastic bag in an attempt at spring cleaning in late December. The other option was to take the stick with me, place it in my front pants pocket where it surely would have gathered lint, coarse black strands that could be mistaken for small animal whiskers by an unknowing party. It wasn’t the idea of a sticky stick in my pocket that deterred me, I am most certainly not a neat freak by any means, but if I took the stick, I realized it would be stealing. Stealing may sound like a strong word for carrying a cardboard stick out of house when one could take something like a stereo or expensive cutlery set, but it was stealing nonetheless. Though I had my reasons for breaking into a house, one not much unlike my own — everything is prefab these days — and belonging to a man I’d never understand, stealing was not something I could justify, so in the end, I left the empty stick, hoping if it was noticed it would simply be thought of as the remains of an eaten treat long forgotten. And let me note: I did carefully consider the question of the lollipop head itself. I determined it had been simply consumed, and not stolen. Had I taken the candy out of the house and then eaten it, it would be classified as theft. However, the lollipop was eaten within the limits of ownership (I’ve dabbled in legal matters) and therefore, no theft occurred. This, I was certain, would stand up in any court of law.
  • A pillow, in good condition. Decent condition. One appropriate for a guest, if the guest were to see the pillow without the fabric case. No water stains, no fraying fabric. The pillow is where I rested my head. I hadn’t been feeling well. Nothing serious, but I had those fever dreams of chameleons jumping in my bed and soap suds coming out of my television set again. Nothing to worry about, I assured myself, fatigue had probably just gotten the best of me.



The day I broke in I had decided not to worry ever again. Not to worry about the chameleons, about the passenger door of my green Dodge that didn’t shut. Not to worry about the dentist’s late notices for the tooth that went bad anyway, or my overdue produce-of-the month bill (they were threatening to take back my navel oranges from January. I had already juiced half of them!). I had decided I’d had enough of the What Ifs as my mother used to call them.



I thought no one had seen me, but I guess you can never be too sure of these things. The last thing I needed was a smudge on my record. Now that would really be something to worry about.



The invisible idea came to me earlier in the day when I got a call, a wrong number from a horse breeder looking for feed at a discount. Was I perturbed! He had interrupted my morning routine with no regard. No regard at all. I lost count of the seconds I had been sudsing my socks in the bathroom sink. “I’ve got hungry horses. Hungry horses,” he said. I hung up and thought about how this invisible line, this phone connection that seems to be coming out of nowhere could connect two people, even if they don’t want to be connected. I was thinking that if a phone line could reach into my house, uninvited (granted you may argue that by picking up the receiver, I was inviting the call, but I will rebuttal and tell you that it was necessary as the incessant ringing had become a nuisance!) then why couldn’t I reach into a home? I wanted to do it without the wire. I felt it was only right. A hand should have as many rights as a manufactured wire, surely! If a caller could reach into my home at any time (I WAS SUDSING MY SOCKS FOR GOD’S SAKES!), then why not I? And I’ve already determined that a wire was by no means necessary. All of this reminded me of my father who used to tell me over the phone — because he moved out of state when my mother took up with the man with the dachshunds — that he would drop an apple, a coin or once, a pony, through his receiver and it would make its way through the wire, across the country and out my receiver.

Nothing ever came.



We live in the same town so I didn’t need to go far. It’s a walk around the block. Not far at all though I had to step through a sea of cats to get there. The main population of this town are the feral cats with oversized heads who can quickly roll their sturdy bodies under the carriage of cars like stunt doubles on set. There are more cats than people here. I don’t have figures, but that’s one thing we can all agree on. I can only guess the cats are hoping to get a lick of food they smell under the rusted cars. You can tell all the cats here are related. They’ve got the same coloring, and that strange feline look that says We are family. Some of the townspeople have tried to take these cats in, but you can imagine how well they fared. Me, I got one as a kitten before it couldn’t adapt to indoor living. That’s the only way to do it. Otherwise, you find yourself with a cat sitting out in a cage in a garage with a sign on it that reads Feral Cat. Do NOT Pet and you and the cat both feel trapped.



I was certain why he had moved to this town. People venture into our county for one reason: The Tweedle-Dee Amusement Village. Tweedle-Dee was built in 1973, and as far as I know in over forty years nothing has changed except the price of admission (we’ve all heard the stories about how entry was once a nickel, though records clearly indicate admission started at $1.75 a head, large or small, no matter). The main attraction at Tweedle-Dee (which in its entirety, spans the size of a small parking lot) is a dwarfed Ferris wheel-like structure named The Bonanza. The Bonanza has less height than a minivan and consists of four small caged cubes that twirl on rusting spokes at a pace too slow to comfortably record with a wristwatch. In my head, I call it The Flytrap and on Dec. 18, 1992, my letter to the Editor of the Sentential, suggesting the name change, was published (and, as you may have heard or seen, unfortunately met with ridicule expressed in a counterargument letter to the Ed written by the then-acting Manager of Rides at Tweedle-Dee, Lee A. Asphalt, who stated, and I quote: “The proposed name change is not only ludicrous, but a sacrilege to the history of one of America’s finest entertainment activities housed in one of the counties, if not state’s, most-visited amusement sites. Though we do not know the origins of the naming of The Bonanza, one must make the assumption its moniker was not only bestowed with care, but with local, historical and social significance.”)

Instead of a height requirement, an age limit (six years) is posted on the entry sign. I myself have never gone on the ride (you do the math). My one attempt was thwarted by a pimply teenager dressed in an official Tweedle-Dee polo shirt who pointed at the sign. I tried to argue that even though I clearly exceeded the age limit, my slight build and less-than-aggressive demeanor made me a perfect candidate for the empty cube. In addition, I voiced that it would not only benefit me in terms of recreational enjoyment, but the greater good of the park’s eventual long-term financial standing, and in addition, it would be energy efficient to accept my ticket and grant me permission to ride as opposed to running the machine with a vacancy. The teen, who wore a name tag that read “Barton,” told me to “get a life,” if I remember correctly, to which I replied that I had a life, quite a life indeed, and gave a brief, yet complete summary including where I market, who I know, and my top ten favorite films. I can only hope that in time that young Barton will learn that rules are not always meant to be followed.



But I digress. In his kitchen I immediately took note of that fact that he used much too much plastic wrap. A small round of goat cheese (encased in its original plastic and the very brand I favor!) was wrapped in a square-foot of plastic wrap, folded over several times. I made the assumption that the goat cheese had become so large and unruly in the cheese bin (perhaps swatting the also-overwrapped feta each time the wrap became loosened), that this was the reason for several rubber bands wound around the synthetic package, and not as additional sealage or a cautionary method to guard against the growth of mold. Please be aware my deduction about the plastic wrap was not based on the cheese alone. I do not and will not consider a solitary object as evidence of a greater lot. No, my deduction was based on a long list of items, all near-hermetically sealed, such as two leftover pieces of bacon, one half kiwi, a leftover chicken taco, and an unidentifiable moist packet. All were victims of the rubberband method.



In my experience, you find things when you least expect to find them. Of course I am not under any delusional idea that I am the first person to think or say this. I know I am one of a kind but not some sort of philosophical genius. This I have understood for a long time.

I would have liked to have given him the benefit of the doubt, a chance to defend and or explain his actions, but I have flip-flopped his hypothetical case and have found no just cause. The items I discovered were undeniably mine. Upon stumbling — literally, it was strewn on the living room floor — on the first item, the pith helmet as you may recall, I began to question my very own sense of sanity. If you have ever been in a similar circumstance, you can understand how preposterous such a moment is. You of all sound body and mind are questioning yourself due to the nearly unspeakable acts of another. As you can garner, I hold some resentment that I have logged to be disassembled at a later time. 

I refuse to use the word victim so let me state it this way: I was the recipient of a theft.
This, my friend, was no accident. Let me return to the pith helmet. Yes, it is highly plausible that he would also own a pith — a distinctive and often celebrated style choice — but upon lifting the helmet, I found all the evidence required. The homemade label I had affixed with adhesive indicating ownership to myself was nestled under the rim where I had carefully determined it to be not only the most logistically comfortable placement for a paper-based label worn in a headpiece, but a discreet locale as well.



Let me digress yet again for a minute. I can only hope that such a digression will not only help to “fill in the blanks” so to speak, but provide a respite, albeit brief one, from this rather unpleasant account.

I have always been known for my character.



The socks. Though these are not on the original list, they were also part of the evidence. Exhibit “F,” if I may. It was an oversight on my part — I’ve never boasted perfection! — as to their lack of inclusion in the foremost documentation. It is ironic that the one thing I have failed to mention were the socks since I found their discovery the most jarring, as I am sure you can imagine from my previous account of the great care I take sudsing my footwear. White, athletic of the typical variety but striped with a unique, and I must say rather striking, band of gold color not found in these parts. The socks had been obtained on a miserable, yet productive, possible business venture trip years prior. I had taken the utmost care to retain their elasticity in the ankle area as well as their prominent whiteness. In case you do not understand, I not only purchased these socks out of state (hence increasing the value of said item calculating an appropriate percentage of gas money, hotel bill, and cost of food consumption on said trip), but provided a near maternal care for them in the goal of preservation, in which I was undoubtedly successful. I wore the socks on the twenty-sixth day of each month (for the less detail-oriented, or perhaps hasty, please do not mistake this for every 26 days as such a miscalculation would lead one to believe I wore the socks 56 times per year as opposed to 12. A vast difference! Just thinking about it makes the gold begin to fade for me.)



We can tell a lot by our surroundings.

The tulips had lost their petals and were sprayed over the table. Why white? White flowers seem like gray doves. I had once read about a celebrity that made her assistant send for eight different shipments of white flowers, convinced each shade looked dirty. Now that’s the life.

But I digress and this time without warning. He was stealing from me! Yes, I had unknowingly stumbled upon the theft, and at the time I happened to be breaking and entering, if we must get technical, but I was certainly by no means the perp.



Correspondence. Why he chose to pilfer my mail, I do not know. The pith helmet, socks, and other items all retain monetary value. How my flyer from Dodge Ford, a survey on the avocado, and a postcard announcing the Grand Opening of the China Buffet on Route 8 were any of his business is undeniably unattainable in the brain. However, it is the gigantically proportionate invasion of privacy that really gets my pants in a goat.



They did not ask for proof. I was prepared to return to the scene and document each item with 360-degree photos, separately of course, and triptyched together — I not only insinuated, but clearly stated that I was able and willing to complete this undertaking in a timely manner so justice could be swiftly served. My suggestion was denied, and I was asked to return to my place of residence. I have never questioned authority and did not want to risk an interrogation into my role as the breaker and enterer in the criminal account, God forbid he decided to press charges in some sort of misguided retaliation. I simply stood from the stiff wooden chair, gave the main officer a knowing look (you know what happened and you know I know), gave the secondary officer a pity look (you must follow orders of first officer even though you agree with me, but let’s face it, can I afford to feed your children?) and left.



That night I awoke from a startling dream. No, not the chameleons and soap suds. I dreamt I was an animated figure in a computer game. I dreamt my life was not real, but the mere creation of human at machine. I did not truly exist. I woke to a rapid breathing and found my bed sheets soaked in a sweat. As I stepped out of my bed and walked to the living room my heart rate began to slow, and I was calmed by the idea of a cold cup of water. I flipped the light switch and, to my alarming dismay, found myself, once again, smack in the middle of the scene of the crime.


Anna Mantzaris lives in San Francisco. Her work has appeared in publications including Ambit, The Cortland Review and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. She has been awarded residencies for her writing by Hedgebrook and The Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts. Her website is: