The Good Thief

By Rose Oliver

Thou shalt not steal. It’s a commandment of the Lord posted over the blackboard along with nine others in Sister Perpetua’s third grade classroom.

“Stealing,” she said, “is a mortal sin. Children, be free from all sin. This is called being in the state of grace.” That was the state that Sister told us made God smile.

Well I was not making God smile. Already I’d stolen two dollars and thirty-five cents. I was a third grader bent on a life of crime.

It started as a nickel and dime operation. My parents were in the habit of leaving pocket change on top of their dresser. Pilfering a nickel or dime at a time, I amassed a small fortune. Each time I approached the dresser to rob my parents I confronted my reflected image in the mirror — a scrawny bird-like girl with uneven bangs. My portrait seemed destined to hang in the local post office along with the other criminals.

I was purchasing popularity. My schoolmates followed me like a gaggle of geese after school to the corner store. I bought them Mars bars, Three Musketeers, Bazooka bubble gum – whatever their greedy hearts desired. I was widely acclaimed for my generosity.

Every Saturday I kneeled in the dusty stuffy darkness of the confessional box. Father Murphy pulled aside the small curtain that separated us. It always reminds me of the start of a puppet show. “Bless me Father, for I have sinned.” I say that I am heartily sorry. I always receive the same penance – three Our Fathers and three Hail Marys.

The stealing went on unabated. The threat of hell fire and damnation proved not to dissuade me. Death and the afterlife seemed eons away. Besides, I’d have plenty of time to repent.

One day after school I arrived home ravenous. My mom was in the kitchen cooking dinner. I opened the Frigidaire and stuffed an entire hot dog in my mouth. I was in a big hurry. I needed to get to the dresser to continue my thievery before my father came home.

I couldn’t breathe. I was choking-choking to death.

My mom delivered a sharp rap to my back and the hot dog became an airborne projectile depositing itself in the sink.

“What,” my mom asked, “were you thinking?”

“Just eating a hot dog.”

“Today is Friday!”

Uh-oh. Catholics were forbidden to eat meat on Friday. It was a mortal sin.

What if I’d died with the hot dog still in my throat? I’d be spinning around forever on a rotisserie in hell. The shiny pile of nickels and dimes went untouched.

I now knew third graders could die and not have time to repent. I vowed to live a life free from sin. I doubted my biography would find its way into the Lives of the Saints.

And as for making God smile – doubtful. But I was growing more and more certain that I could make God laugh.

"flashmemoirroseoliver"Rose Oliver is a retired psychiatric Registered Nurse who lives in rural Western Massachusetts with her partner, but her heart lives in (tired cliché) San Francisco, her home for several decades. She writes poetry, fiction, and memoir. Her idea of paradise is a library.


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