The Boiler

Zach VandeZande

A NECESSARY FICTION

For a while I broke into people’s cars. I mean it wasn’t a thing that I thought about, seeing as it was a sort of getting-by strategy that I only used when I got real desperate. I would say to myself, “Well, the world bares its teeth,” and then I’d be out there in the night in some parking lot busting out a window with a screwdriver. When I said that, I was probably talking about myself, but also the world. Like I’m biting back, biting first.

Look, some things feel good as long as you never think about them. Like when it was just me and an object and a sharp crack. Or sometimes just lucking out in trying the door. As much as I liked smashing my way into a car, it was better when the door just opened. The clean sensible feeling of that click, like maybe something better was coming for me, or at least I was more blameless, because whose fault is an unlocked door? Not mine, you know? And then I could picture them, finding fault with themselves instead of getting harder against the world. Just regretful about the dumb thing they did, then going out to buy some new CDs.

And so when I had to, I’d go poking around these small apartment complexes on the north side of town. A lot of those smaller places, the parking’s in back, and it’s not well lit, and if people in the apartments see you out there, they figure you’re just a dumb neighbor that they haven’t met.

I should say that I never made much money from doing this, and none of the pawn shops would even take whatever I had for them, as most of the people who own pawn shops are the type to get wise to someone in a hurry. I kept doing it anyhow. I guess I’ve got a wolf in me.

The last place I picked out had about eight covered spots behind the building, and the apartments all had a little fenced-in patio that kept them from looking out and seeing me. I find myself out there and I see that this car, this mid-size sedan with one of those Coexist bumper stickers, well, it’s unlocked, and the door opens with that nice firm click, which feels good, and I’m in there, and I’m looking around, seeing if maybe the stereo is worth prying out, which it isn’t, so I take the change from the cup holder and get out again to check the back. This is when I look up and she’s there.

She’s there with keys in hand looking all personally hurt, and I’m like oh shit, and so I say, “Oh shit,” but for some reason I don’t run, and I don’t even really know why, and I’m thinking like, Hey you should be running. Hello, legs, nobody wants to be arrested today, and finally I’m like, “This your car?” And she’s like, “…” and I’m like, “I guess I thought it was mine. I guess I’m confused.”

Does she believe me? No, Of course not, but that’s okay, which is what she says, but also not okay, not with the inherent threat of me and of men in general, and I wanted, like, something else to be happening, something good, like maybe we meet and I say something about her hair because it’s rich and brown and looks like it might be its own alive thing, and she forgets for a second about the threat of me and of men in general and takes the thing I said as the world noticing her for her goodness.

Or even: we are together and don’t want to get out of bed and instead we talk about dreams we’ve both had that night and in our childhoods and her foot is touching my foot in the middle of the bed and she is seven weeks pregnant and we are both a little bit terrified but the moment is too gentle and sun-strewn for either of us to confess the fear.

I admit I feel a little lousy that this is the life we get, the one where I’ve opened up her car like it was whatever and then said I thought it was mine, which now strikes me as my true and honest feeling about the matter.

I mean, I don’t like being a wolf, I guess. But there it is.

So I’m watching this girl with her throat-caught breath standing in front of me and then she’s holding out her keys like a gift or a cross against a vampire, i.e. me, i.e. the sharpened tooth of society, but I’m like, okay. And I take the keys, even. That’s all it takes for two people to no longer be people. To not ever connect. And I’m all like Well, man, I guess you’ve come this far. So I get her wallet, too. An antique ring. A cell phone. Her sense of place in the world.

But what if this could happen: what if I could just say I’m sorry in a way that communicated my own weakness instead of the weakness of the act of saying sorry. Like I’m sorry for being a robber, not I’m sorry for robbing you. I’m sorry for this hard place we’re in, I’m sorry for the world, for living in it how I do. I’m sorry for bad neighborhoods. I’m sorry neither of us get to be human right now. That it’s so hard to stay human all the time. To remember.

And then the awkward returning of keys, of wallet, of other things. And the running off.

And which did I do?

This is where I tell you that the first thing I said, you know, “For a while I broke into people’s cars,” which implies maybe that this was in the past, was a lie, which I’m guessing you maybe saw right through. I like to think that I can’t help myself, but probably that’s not really true, because this was tonight, this just happened, and in a way it’s still happening, and now I don’t know which thing it is that I did. I’m so full of things I can’t seem to remember. I need to tell them all. And it’s not like it matters to who, except that they listen, but also I’m starting to notice that you look a little like her, or: you are her. Like truly her, and I’m here deciding, and also back there deciding, and this is the story. I want to put myself aside—the fear in me, and the threat—I want to be done with it. I want you to not be looking at me like that, and I want to deserve you not looking at me like that. Mostly I just need to be telling, to have it told. And then maybe you can decide for me what I did.

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Zach VandeZande is the author of Apathy and Paying Rent (Loose Teeth, 2008). His work has recently appeared in Portland Review, Atlas Review, decomP, Bop Dead City, Necessary Fiction, Hot Street, Crack the Spine, and Punchnel’s, and is forthcoming in Gettysburg Review, Passages North, Thin Air, and The Adroit Journal. He holds a PhD of fiction from the University of North Texas. He likes baking bread, hammocks, and people who bring their dogs.