Husband entered the house, his mouth a straight line. “The garage door must not have closed before we left. It was standing open just now.”
“Really?” I tossed aside the stack of mail I had been flipping through. We had been gone for hours, and all the while, our garage had hosted a free rummage sale for the neighborhood. “Any of your tools missing?”
“No. But two bikes are gone.”
Ricka flew down the stairs from her bedroom. “Whose bikes, Dad?”
“Your sisters’. Yours is still there.”
“Hm.” Dicka shrugged. “I needed a new one anyway.”
Flicka sighed, her shoulders collapsing. “I kinda liked mine.”
Husband nodded toward a foreign bike, ditched in our driveway. “And they left their old one behind.”
I squinted out the window and shook my head. “Lovely.”
Weeks later as I trimmed the grass behind the garage, I thought of the bikes and also the red and yellow solar lanterns that had disappeared a day earlier from the plant hanger in our front yard. Just then, my neighbor Vincent drove through the alley. He waved at me, stopped, and then rolled down his car window. As usual, we tossed a few neighborhood stories back and forth, and I mentioned my missing lights.
“I can check the security cameras,” he said. “Maybe whoever took them passed by my place. It’s a long shot, but who knows?”
Years earlier, Vincent had installed six cheap security cameras from Best Buy and programmed them to cover every inch of his property. To help him narrow his search, I estimated the time of the lanterns’ disappearance.
“I’ll check tonight.” Then shaking his head, he clicked his tongue. “It’s too much, the stuff going on around here. At one point the other day, I looked out at my back yard. I had a hanging flower pot out there—you know, the kind that’s already blooming. Paid $25.00 for it. Anyway, an hour later it was gone. I went back on my cameras’ footage and saw a guy going through the alley like our backyards were a shopping center. He was picking up whatever little things he wanted from anyone’s yards. I saw him take my flowers.”
“No kidding.” I swiped my arm across my forehead.
“I drove around the alleys near here, and sure enough, there was my flower pot in a back yard. So I went to the house, and when the guy answered the door, I said, ‘I saw you on my video camera.’ He didn’t say anything, and so I took my flowers home with me.”
Later that day, Vincent told me he had buzzed through three hours of footage looking for my lanterns, but his searches came up empty.
Another day, returning home from an outing, Husband pulled the car up to the curb in front of our house, and my gaze flitted to our front yard hosta garden.
“Seriously?” I narrowed my eyes, zeroing in on an empty spot. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
I climbed out of the car and walked to the garden. Someone had removed a plant, patted the soil back into place, and spread the wood chip mulch over its absence. Only the tag—like a tiny grave marker—remained, its text needling me with three facts: my Ligularia ‘Little Rocket’ was really gone; I had purchased it at my beloved Bachman’s; and yes, I had paid the full price of $9.99 for it too early in the season to qualify for any discounts.
This wasn’t the act of a squirrel. I had seen the city rodents’ messy heists before. They scattered crumbs and clues everywhere. Whoever swiped my perennial knew a thing or two about plants. Maybe they had noticed it was different from the rest—the only kid “doing his own thing” amongst a choir of hostas. Maybe they had admired its jagged, dark green leaves and golden blooms like I had. And maybe they had strolled by several times before finally uprooting it and taking it home.
For a while, dark thoughts bruised my upbeat opinion of the neighborhood. But our stories were trivial compared to the neighbors’. On Christmas Day one year, someone trashed Dallas’ back door and lifted his TV from the living room. Another time, a thief slithered in through Glenda’s porch window and absconded with her laptop, digital camera, a diamond bracelet, and both her mother’s and great-grandmother’s wedding rings. No one had snatched our electronics or heirlooms. We had lost only some small things—bikes, lanterns, and a plant—that make life sunny and threaten to sour our attitudes when they’re taken away.
I tried to force the neighborhood thefts into a lesson for the girls. They shouldn’t take things that weren’t theirs, but they already knew that. What else could I tell them? “Don’t steal someone’s joy. Give compliments when they’re due”? Or, “Don’t steal someone’s time. Be punctual”? But those loftier lessons didn’t apply. Instead, I spoke to my audience of three, pinpointing one of life’s simple, hard facts: “Some people steal things.”
For a while, the memories of missing stuff robbed my thoughts, but eventually, louder truths broke in: no lives on our block had been stolen; the decent ones in the neighborhood far outnumbered the thieves; and we shared our corner of the city with good people—and their security cameras and empathy.
We tried to hold our possessions more loosely. But we also learned to make sure the garage door stayed shut when we left the house and to transfer the pretty things out of the front yard. Because sometimes removing temptation helps.
*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date
*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.