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July 13, 2016 Fiction


Christopher DeWan

Stolen photo

Her car was stolen. She'd stepped into the store for a few things and when she came out, it was gone.

Her first reaction was to laugh: "That's so like you, Camilla, to lose an entire car." She thought she remembered leaving it in the third row, near the lamppost. But maybe she remembered wrong. Maybe that had been some other day.

Where had she parked?

She walked up and down the lot until her heart quickened and she realized: her car wasn't there. Her car was gone.

"My car is gone" she said to a woman who drove by in a wood-paneled station wagon. "Hello!" she called out to the teenager herding the train of shopping carts back to the store, but she couldn't get his attention. She walked back to the spot by the lamppost—there was a minivan there now—and she called Jeremy.

"My car is gone."

"What do you mean gone? Did you look for it?" He couldn't come to help her. He had a meeting.

"That's okay."

An hour later, the police filled out a report and drove her home.

In her apartment, she dropped her now-useless car keys into the bowl by the door and set down her bag of groceries. Her lettuce was wilting from the heat.

What sort of person steals a car? She imagined right now they were racing it through the streets, drinking and smoking, running traffic lights, aiming for trashcans, hopping curbs. Or they were in a garage, stripping its parts and rummaging through her things. By now they'd found the $20 she kept for emergencies, the chronicle of receipts she'd filed from every gas station, the bag of low-fat cookies she used to reward herself when traffic was bad, the empty cups from so many lattes, the gum wrappers and lip balms and bobbypins, the yoga mat tossed in the backseat and forgotten.

They had her address.

She realized it with a sudden chill: her address was on the car's registration. She jumped up and bolted her door. Then she ran to her bedroom to retrieve the pepper spray from her bedside table, and listened for any sounds of footsteps in the hall. She dialed Jeremy again. "If you get this, call me back."

Who steals cars? These are valuable assets. We depend on them. It's not like people can just buy a replacement. Who? Was this one person or more than one? Were they young or old? Had they stolen cars before? Were they in it for the money or did they do it just for fun?

What else did they do for fun?

Were they selfish, or were they cruel?

Had they found her address?

She looked at her phone. Jeremy would be at work for another few hours. Maybe he would take her out to dinner, to comfort her. Maybe he'd invite her over to his place.

She settled in front of the TV with a glass of Chardonnay, wondering if she might hear about her ordeal on the local news. But she couldn't find local news in the afternoon. Instead she switched on a talk show with a host in a pink jumpsuit and with a bejeweled microphone set with rhinestones, to get her mind off things.

It wasn't even a nice car—just an old hand-me-down sedan from her father. Had they singled her out for some reason? Had she left the door unlocked? Did they think she looked like an easy mark, because she looked simple and unsophisticated?

I'm not unsophisticated. They're unsophisticated. It's uncivilized, stealing someone's car.

She heard footsteps in the hall outside and froze silent, but the people shuffled past and walked upstairs.

It was probably all for a joyride. They stole the car to see if they could, then they drove it until they got bored, and then left it in some alley. Love 'em and leave 'em. Probably the police had already found it.

Why hadn't anyone called?

Everything takes longer than it should.

She poured herself another glass of wine.

Would it look different when she got it back? Would it be scratched? New stains on the upholstery? Would it smell different?—cigarettes or cologne or some odor she couldn't place, almost unnoticeable: the smell of thieves.

And she'd never be able to wash it out.

Maybe I don't want it back.

She imagined her car, windows down, speeding through the streets, leading a twenty-car chase. She smiled at the idea: Today, her Toyota was having the day of its life. Today, it's letting its hair down. Today it's going to get ridden hard and put away wet. This very minute, it's idling outside a bank, the getaway car, the Bonnie to someone's Clyde. Or it's getting spray-painted into a new disguise. Mustachioed. Incognito. All dressed up, nowhere to go.

Ha, my car is having a more exciting life than I am.

She's pouring a third glass of wine when the knock comes sharp on her door. "Camilla?" It's a man's voice. "Camilla Moss?"

The peephole is blurry and dark, and all she can see is the shoulder of a black puffy jacket. "Who is it?"

"I'm here about your car," he says.

She peers again through the peephole. It's murky, like it's been smudged with dirt or grease or time. Maybe it's always been that way. She glances at her phone, across the room. She knows the safe thing to do would be to call Jeremy or the police, call for help. She knows she should tell the man outside her door to go away. She should tell him she has pepper spray. She should say she has a knife.

"You're here to help?" she asks.

"Yes," the man says. "I'm here to help."

Her hand hovers over the deadbolt and she considers her life.

She considers for a moment and then she unlocks the door.


image: Christopher DeWan