Carol decided to burglarize her neighbor’s house. She was a friend of the family, but there were things she wanted that the family had. She was tired of seeing the things, leaving them for the family. She wore a ski mask and used a flashlight. She went in late at night, when no one was home, except the husband. The wife and the kids were out of town visiting with relatives. They would not be back for days, and Carol knew it, so she could take her time getting the things she wanted. Sometimes when the family went away, they left her in charge of the dog, so she had a set of keys that the woman had made for her years ago.
The dog greeted her when she opened the door, its tail wagging. It was a big dog with a dopey disposition—the kind of animal that always seemed to be smiling at his own thoughts. Carol fed it treats from her pocket as she made her way through the house. First she went down the hall to where the children slept. In their room two walls were painted pink, for the little girl, and the other two walls were painted blue, for the little boy. Carol had a gigantic garbage bag. It was the kind of bag you use for things that break through lesser bags. She went to the beds and put all the things that kept the children warm at night into her bag. She took their pillows and their blankets. She took all of the stuffed animals that had been tucked underneath the covers. She took the nightlight, too.
From there she moved into the bedroom that the woman and the man shared. There were things in that room that she wasn’t going to leave without. The man was where his wife had left him, tucked underneath the covers of their bed. He didn’t say anything to Carol when she came into the room, he just watched. The woman’s jewelry box was on the dresser, and it was the first thing Carol went to. It was pink, with satin inside. She took the woman’s precious things from it. She put the diamond ring on her finger and watched it sparkle in the light. She smiled in the mirror when she saw how it lit her up. She opened the drawers and emptied the silk panties into her bag. She took the nightgowns, and the old flannels too, for when it got cold.
She went into the closet and took the shoes. She took some of the woman’s clothes, and then, in the back of the closet, she saw the thing that she wanted most: an old shoebox. Carol had had boxes like this herself, and she suspected that the woman would have one too, only she didn’t know it’d be this easy to find. She sat down on the floor and opened it. She started to read through the love notes and cards that the man had written to the woman over the years. There were cards for the woman’s birthdays, cards for anniversaries, and cards for Mother’s Day—all with special messages in the margins going on about what their love felt like to the man. Then there were pictures of fresh newborn babies, and pictures of the man and the woman going back to when they were very young—at their wedding and holding hands on the beach. Carol touched the pictures and her fingers left marks on the gloss. She dropped the things into her bag, one by one, and when she did it, there was a tickle in her stomach like when she was in her car going too fast down a hill.
She went over to the man and looked at his pretty face. She wanted to tell him that she was all ready for them to leave, but she had a sense that there was something more in the house, that there were things she hadn’t found yet. She went through the house with her flashlight, moving fast now, from room to room, looking for what she might have missed.
She felt something inside her again when she went into the kitchen. There was a smell in the air that had to do with cookies. The woman must have baked cookies before she left. The smell made Carol feel enraged. She grabbed for it. She wanted to take it in her hands, and put it into her bag, but her hands stayed empty. She thought to try to swallow it. She opened her mouth. She opened the cupboards and smashed the glasses on the shelves. She broke the dishes into tiny pieces. She was so mad; she broke the china. Her hands were bleeding now, but she didn’t mind the blood or how it looked on the woman’s kitchen floor. She took the leftover lasagna from the fridge and dropped it into her bag. The woman had cooked it for the man before she left so that he would have something good to eat while she was away. She took the pots and the pans so that the woman would not be able to make anything more. She took the spices and the sugar. She took the salt.
She went into the bathroom, and she took the little mirror and put it into the bag.
She went back to the bedroom where the man was still in the bed. She told him she was ready to go now, and then she folded him up neatly and put him into the bag too, with all of the other things. She took the man. She took the father. She took the husband. She took the memories. She took the peace. The things she took were things the family would not be able to get back again, ever.
But the smell was still there. That smell! All around the house the smell was there. It was in every room as she made her way out of the house dragging the heavy bag behind her. It was so sweet and so homemade. She had tasted the woman’s cookies before and she knew how good they were. She knew how it made you feel to eat them. You felt the woman’s love when you ate them. She wanted to take the smell out of the house once and for all. She wanted to take it from the woman too. She opened all of the windows and she opened the doors. She cheered as a breeze came in, hoping it would carry the smell away. The dog ran out into the road and was hit by a car. The car stopped. A woman got out and offered her apologies. She offered to pay the vet bills. But it was too late, the dog was dead.
This was a relief. Carol’s bag was full, and it would have been hard to fit the dog anyway.