Thursday, March 31, 2016

Thief, Katy Comber

The Bowling Shoes

The night I experienced the high of small scale kleptomania in the name of “character development research,” something magical was set in motion in my small Chester County town. Something that years later, whenever I tell this story, people shake their heads and wonder if I’m telling one of the tall-tales I generally save for the page. For some, this story just affirms their belief in a higher power, God as Author, writing one hell of a micro-story. For others, it is just another example of how damn small the world truly is and how fortunate my 17 year old self was to have pulled off The Great Bowling Shoe Heist of 2000 during a time when the world wasn't so serious.
The story is set in a local bowling alley called Fraser Lanes. Fraser Lanes had its glory days when the place would be packed with leagues and birthday celebrations and kids who had nothing better to do on a Saturday night. That night in particular, wasn’t one of them. The place was empty. I had been in the middle of writing a short story when my friends talked me into a night out. The story centered around a man named Al whose hands produced a sticky glue-like film whenever he neglected to steal something. Al hated stealing, but he was in love with a girl named Rhonda whose idea of romance was holding hands in the park and sweet pecks on the cheek, and boy his hands needed to be primed and ready for holding Rhonda’s because they were the smoothest and most delicate hands in the universe and Al loved them. I didn't say it was a great story.
That night, my thoughts stuck with Al. I thought about how his hands were cursed by a wiccan librarian because he’d once found stealing pages out of reference books thrilling. The thrill was unfamiliar. How could I write about a thrill I had not experienced for myself? I looked down at my shoes. This was a thrill I would know. I formulated a plan.
Moments later, I walked out of Frazer Lanes with my head held high and falsely confident. The bowling shoes were still on my feet. My converse sneakers were clutched in my right hand as I swept through the door. My friends ran to the car, and before I could go with them, a girl my age cleared her throat behind me.
“Excuse me? Those shoes. You forgot to return your shoes.”
Forgot? “Oh. Right! Ha. I just thought that since it’s such a nice night, I’d change my shoes out here.” That is so stupid. Katy. Come on.
“Oh, okay.” The girl turned back to the door. No way did that work.
“Wait a min-” The girl blushed, and as the lameness of my excuse to get the shoes outside occurred to her, my friend drove his car around to get me and I jumped in before the girl could even finish the word. I stole a quick look back. The girl’s shoulders slumped forward and her mouth gaped as she faded from view. My friends and I laughed in disbelief, and I had a new pair of shoes.

Two years later, the shoes sat in a box in my dorm room and I had become a person who attended a weekly co-ed collegiate Bible study. Regularly. I loved it. It was a small study, so when new people arrived it was easy to introduce them around and get to know them. One night, a newcomer named Susan walked in. Susan had an easy smile and I liked her immediately. When she mentioned that she’d attended my high school’s rival school, we started listing people we knew and common friends and marveled at the smallness of our world. As the night progressed, Susan became more and more familiar to me. Where had I known her? Where had I seen her before? I couldn’t focus. Then, Susan’s posture changed. Her shoulders slumped forward and her mouth opened in response to a story being told across the room. The girl. The bowling shoes.
“Susan?” Susan looked over at me and grinned. “Did you ever work at a bowling alley?”
“Frazer Lanes?” Susan responded. Crap. The shoes.
“That’s the one!” I exclaimed, but could not venture further. The rest of the night, I held my truth in tight. My boyfriend looked over at me on the drive back to my dorm in such a way that the entire story swiftly tumbled out. I cringed until he responded with a laugh. What are the chances, we both wondered out loud.
The following week, I wrapped the shoes and bought them to the study. Before the evening discussions began, I pulled Susan aside and gave her the gift. Her smile wavered a bit as she curiously looked down at a gift given randomly by a girl she’d only met a week ago.
“I’ll explain everything after you open it.” I promised. My heart thumped heavy and quick. The unwrapping was swift, but seemed to take years. When Susan lift the lid and unveiled the pair of bowling shoes I’d stolen years ago, she looked up at me in immediate recognition.
“You!” She stopped. She looked at the shoes. She looked at me. “That was my first day!” She looked back down at the shoes. The silence that followed was broken by my boyfriend’s hushed retelling of the story in the next room and a bout of laughter. I looked at Susan. Susan kept looking at the shoes. When she finally looked up at me, the shock of the moment broke, and she began to laugh.

The years that followed had so many ups and downs. The boyfriend who took me to Bible study became my ex-boyfriend, then friend, then boyfriend again. In fact, one of the only constants seemed to be that if I ever went home to bowl at Frazer Lanes, the shoes would be there, reserved and waiting for me behind the counter. And when the boyfriend became the fiance, Susan was invited to the wedding. Her gift to me? A beautifully wrapped pair of size 10, worn out, red and blue bowling shoes.


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