By my third visit to Dr. Peragua, I had decided on what I was going to steal. There were lots of candidates. His office is full of keepsakes from his travels to meet shamans, whom he says are his professional colleagues. There are a lot of objects small enough to slip into my pocket, but I decided on the dish for paper clips that sits on Peragua’s desk. It was in the shape of an open, upturned umbrella.
By the fifth visit, I had a plan. Dr. Peragua knows that I steal things. He even knows the kinds of things that I steal: small objects of no great material worth. I’m here to talk to him about my stealing. I’m here to get my father off my back.
On week six, I arrived chewing a big wad of gum. Before we started to talk, I stood up and tossed the gum at the wastepaper basket behind Dr. Peragua’s chair, and missed. The gum stuck to the wall above the basket. “Oops,” I said, and Dr. Peragua took a tissue from the table between his chair and mine. He pulled the gum from the wall and dropped it in the basket. Perfect. Each week since, I have come in chewing gum. I spit the gum into a tissue and throw it into the basket.
Before we start today, I take out the gum and toss it, unwrapped. “Oops,” I say. Dr. Peragua frowns, reaches for a tissue, and turns. In three heartbeats, I have crossed to his desk, pocketed the little umbrella , and returned to my chair before Dr. Peragua has finished cleaning the wall. “Sorry,” I say.
“Hm,” says the doctor. He looks around the room as if doing inventory. “You don’t really want to get better, do you?”
He knows that I’m here only because my father said that if I’d see a therapist for ten weeks, at my father’s expense, my father would stop mentioning my habit.
“Taking things makes me feel good,” I say. “And it’s not as if I’m taking things worth a lot of money. Where’s the harm?”
“You harm your relationships. Whether your victims know what you’ve done or not, you know that they can’t trust you. That limits your opportunities for intimacy.”
“I have friends.”
“Well,” he says, “let’s talk about those friendships. You know, everything, even what you see as a one-sided transaction, is a kind of exchange. So let’s talk about what you give and what you get in your friendships.” That’s the start of our session. He asks questions, I answer. At the end of the hour, he glances at his watch and says, “That’s about all we have time for today.” He asks about a further appointment. But today I have fulfilled my half of the bargain with my father.
“Goodbye, Dr. Peragua.”
“Goodbye, then,” he says.
I leave the umbrella and paper clips in my pocket. The walls of my living room are lined with shelves. When my father visits, he always asks me how much of what is on those shelves is really mine.
All of it. And now he can’t ask any longer.
I reach into my pocket. Something jabs my fingertip. A burr. My pocket is full of sharp little burrs. Where are the paper clips? Where is the umbrella? But then I find that the umbrella is there, a little metal figurine with no moving parts. Only now, it is closed.