The pen hadn’t been worth stealing. Just a biro, maybe worth fifty cents new. Second-hand? Nothing. Literally worthless.
She tossed it onto the coffee-table and slid her hands into her pockets to clutch a tissue in one, Chapstick in the other.
A pen’s worth everything, Ben would have said. Worth the words you write with it, and you can write the world. General “you”; she’d done nothing but written her name in a few dark places, so the world would know she’d lived. Names and dates, like students carved into desks since time immemorial. Black Sharpie on tube station walls, toilet doors, the corner near the ceiling at The King’s Arms, in the hall back from the bar.
To her it was all the same, all a way of saying you’d been there. Names, poems, polemics. Stealing, too, in a way, though she hadn’t quite worked out how. She felt, when she lifted something, like she was making some kind of impact on the world. Like she’d be noticed by the absence of some item or another.
But this was just a cheap pen, the kind that seemed to go missing on its own. No one would even notice it had disappeared.
One day, she would find Ben again and ask him why she did this. Ben was clever; he had Thoughts. She was clever, too, she felt, but not in the same way. Her own mind wasn’t something she could untangle.
There were other bits of flotsam on the coffee table. Keys. Coins. Solitary earrings that sat together in a pile, as if seeking comfort from one another for their missing mates. The biro sat among them, dull blue plastic surrounded by glinting metal. It was almost sad.
She went out again that night, unable to stand the sight of that pen among her treasures and fighting some weird urge to apologise to it. For what? For stealing it? For setting it among the trinkets? It must be a sad life, being a biro. So easily discarded, lost, forgotten. Ending your days under a couch or in a gutter. A sad plastic pen, unloved, unappreciated. She would find it a friend, another biro – in red, maybe, or green – and they could sit together on the desk, pretending to be useful.
It was late and the pubs were closing, sending staggering drunks and the enthusiastic young out into the streets to find their nectar elsewhere. She picked a group of men, 20s, loud and exuberant as they talked of ways to beat back the dawn.
She floated after them, a quiet shadow in the urban half-light, and with phantom fingers slipped the watch from one’s wrist. Then she stepped back, melding into the gloom of brickwork. The men disappeared into the night, their laughter echoing after them.
The watch was steel, and looked more expensive than it was. Few men in their 20s wore watches now, at least, not ones that couldn’t send an email. The hour was checked on glowing screens, along with news and friendly greetings. A keepsake, maybe? His father’s watch, she decided. A sad thing to lose.
She felt a pang, sorrow or guilt, but a voice within her whispered that he would miss it. Yes. He would notice it was gone.
She slipped it into her pocket, and drifted back towards home.
Perhaps one day she’d give it back. After he had notice, and missed it, and had begun to believe he’d never find it again. She’d give it back to him, and he’d notice her for a second time.