Sarah McLaughlin ’23
I see it when I’m on the final set of stairs leading up to my building. It’s behind a bush, obviously intended as a hiding place, but the bush is thin and wiry with hardly any leaves, and there’s a yellow spotlight on the ground behind it, covered by a bit of mulch which likely obscured it during the day. But now it makes its presence known, and it lights up the skateboard like it’s the lead actor on a stage. Like it’s meant to be seen.
It’s plain and wooden and I guess that’s probably how skateboards usually are. It has bright orange wheels with blackened lines from use. I imagine they roll smoothly, soundlessly, especially against fresh pavement.
That’s my first thought. My second thought: I could steal it.
I’m not going to, obviously. But I could. No one is around, no one would see it. Someone just left it there. I could touch it, pick it up, take it into my building, and as long as its owner didn’t happen to be in the elevator, I’d get away scot-free.
The next morning, somebody would probably post online asking about it. They’d either be angry and cussing out whoever stole it or asking politely if anyone could keep an eye out. I wonder what type of person they are and how they’d respond. I wonder if it means a lot to them, and I wonder why they left it outside if it’s so important, and I wonder if it can’t fit in their bedroom in their apartment because they have a neat-freak roommate who doesn’t want something that touches the dirty pavement on the carpet, and I wonder why they wear a yellow beanie and a striped gray shirt that’s cuffed on the arm where they wear a bunch of thin leather bracelets and have short brown hair that sticks out of the bottom of their hat in soft spikes, because I don’t know who they are and I’m making all of this up in my head.
I pause for a second on the sidewalk and stare at it. But I don’t move any closer. I don’t touch it.
But I could steal it, and I considered it, even if I didn’t really, didn’t seriously, and as I walk away, that’s all I can think about. I think about how maybe if I had stolen it I’d keep it in my closet because not only do I not know how to skateboard, but I couldn’t just go around using a skateboard I had stolen, because what if it has some unique marking they’ll recognize, and I’ll get flagged down on my way to class and maybe beat up or at least questioned and then I’d be late. I think about how maybe I’d happen to know them without knowing it or meet them at some point in the future and then I’d invite them to hang out in my room and they’d see it and either they’d hate me or we’d end up having a moment of reflection about absurdity and fate.
Until the elevator startles me with its ding as it reaches the fifth floor—when did I get here?—I don’t think about how you would never steal a skateboard—I mean, you want to be a lawyer, for Christ’s sake—except maybe you’d think about it just like I did, and if you were having one of those nights where maybe you didn’t want to be a lawyer or you just didn’t know for sure anymore—maybe it was the seven hours of midterm cramming or maybe it was the philosophy lecture or maybe it was the red wine—maybe you would.
You’d take it and hold it ransom and maybe even post a picture of it on the message board with a smiley face or a snarky comment just to see what happens, and even if the owner was pissed off, they wouldn’t be for long because they’d come get it from you and offer you alcohol or drugs or even their yellow beanie and you’d laugh and they’d fall in love with you, and they wouldn’t even need to get it back because suddenly they’d have you instead; even if they didn’t, they’d have the thought of you, and I know all too well how that thought makes someone’s head spin and stomach churn faster than any orange wheels. Skateboarding seems like a rather solitary activity. They’d want to walk by your side, follow you as your heels click against the concrete, echoed by the expensive swish of your dress pants. They’d ask why you’re not just wearing sweats like the rest of campus, but they should know you’ve got some meeting or another, or at least you’re using one as an excuse, when in reality you just like the rush of power you feel when you strut into the classroom and get a once-over from your classmates. You want to shrug off a blazer and hang it on the back of a chair and take notes in a Moleskine with a weighted pen, the kind that you twist, not click or uncap.
Do you know the kinds of pens I like? The clicky ones. I like to click and unclick them subconsciously while I’m reading until my roommate gets annoyed and tells me to stop. I like to switch between different colors because I get bored of them, and I like the ones that come out thicker, because they never make that awful scratchy noise when they run dry.
I told you once. We were doing homework in the library, reading by dim lamp light in December. You wrote something in that grandiose scrawl of yours; you write like you don’t care how much space it takes up. Your pen ran out, and it scratched against the paper, and I didn’t just hear it from across the table but felt it; it sent a shiver through my body underneath my sweatshirt. You noticed and snorted with laughter, thinking it was from the cold. We got a dirty look from some poor kid trying to cram for finals. This was sophomore year: your hair was bleached blonde, you drank Coke instead of coffee, and you were wearing glasses instead of contacts because your eyes were irritated from strain. You thought your glasses made you look prudish (like your mother) and I tried to convince you otherwise, because glasses make everyone look better. This was sophomore year: I was taking Latin for some godforsaken reason, and if I had to conjugate one more verb I was going to defenestrate (fenestra, fenestrae, fenestrae, fenestram, fenestra) my textbook and then myself. You laughed at me because you thought I was cold, when in reality I was sweating, because there you were in your glasses, and the lamp light turned your skin shades of gold, and when I realized I was sweating I wondered if you could smell it.
The shiver was from the scratch of the pen. And when I told you so, you laughed again, even harder, and the kid probably gave us another look, but I don’t remember paying attention. You covered your mouth and closed your eyes, nearly doubling over as your shoulders trembled, but then you set your pen aside with a serene sort of smile and asked if I had a spare.
I unlock the door to my apartment and let it fall shut behind me.