I was a single mom, six months pregnant
when thieves stole my station wagon.
The rusted, sky-blue vehicle cost
four hundred dollars, and
its back seat and floors
were covered three inches deep
with plastic thrift-store toys.
My driver’s side lock
didn’t work. All you had
to do was yank the door open,
break the flimsy plastic
around the steering wheel
and pull out the universal
ignition switch. Then you
could stick a screwdriver
or a butter knife in the
metal slot, and the engine
roared to life. That vehicle
always started. Datsuns
were reliable. One morning
I went out to my car
but there was a wide, dark space
where I had parked it:
an absence of form where form
once stood. I kept looking,
as though my gaze could cause
the vehicle to materialize, but
my vehicle stayed away.
The police officer told me
that stolen cars were
rarely found, but he
would take my report anyway.
Three days later, the phone
rang at six in the morning.
A jovial-sounding man asked
whether I owned a stolen car.
My auto had been recovered
in a BP parking lot beside
SeaTac airport, driven by four
teenaged runaways on their way
to California. They hadn’t made
it very far. Lawlessness hovered
above them like a cloud of mosquitoes,
attracting the attention of two cops
who had also stopped for fuel.
If I hurried, I could get there
before morning rush hour.
I splurged for a cab, arrived
at seven. My car was
still parked by the gas pump,
with all four of its doors
wide open. Four teenagers
stood beside a nearby squad car,
looking dejected. They’d
fucked up real bad this time,
and were either going to jail
or back home. They weren’t
sure which option was worse.
“I guess this is your car,”
an officer said. “I think
they’ve been living in it.”
The seats and floor were covered with
fast-food bags and discarded socks.
A sour smell emanated
from the carpet. One of the teens
hovered to my right, clutching
a teddy bear. She looked
no older than fifteen.
The second policeman
was gruff but gentle, told the kids
to get in the squad car. Three
of them complied, fastened their
seat belts. One boy stared at me
through the back window,
mouthing apologies while
gesturing wildly. His uncombed
greasy hair flew around his head,
and his body trembled with remorse.
I couldn’t hear what he was saying.
The fourth teen threw himself
on the sidewalk, began to twitch
violently like he was having
an epileptic fit. His arms
and legs vibrated with simulated
spasms, and a small trickle
of drool ran down his chin.
Both cops stared at him
with astonishment, until one
of them remarked, “He’s full of shit.”
The kid was faking a seizure
to get out of an arrest.
The hospital would have television
and the food there was better
than it was in detention.
It was worth a few bruises.
“We can’t take him in,”
the cop continued. “His parents
could sue us for ignoring a
medical issue. We’ll have to call
an ambulance.” He spoke into his
radio, voice acidic with disgust.
Soon, a sinister carnival atmosphere
prevailed at the gas station:
the strobe lights of the cop car
and the flashing of the ambulance —
on, off, on, off, on, off.
It was enough to give anyone a fit.
The first cop shook his head.
“Do you know how much
this is going to cost the state
of Washington?” he said.
“If they just helped these teens
in the first place, it would be way
cheaper than taking this boy
to the hospital. Our country
does everything wrong.” Suddenly
the kid sat upright, and one of the aides
asked, “Are you sure you need help?”
The cop sighed. “For what it costs
to put three kids in juvie, and one in
the emergency room, we could
take care of their families for a year.
Counseling, food, rent, everything.”
He had the rarefied air
of a priest or a philosopher,
and seemed deep in thought
as the sun rose behind his head.
“You might as well go now,”
he said gently. “Your keys
are in the car. Drive safely.”
I walked to my vehicle, then turned around
like Lot’s wife to look at the scene.
The young man resumed thrashing,
and the aides strapped him to a gurney.
They pulled him into the ambulance
and slammed the doors shut.
I fired up my car and tooled out
of the lot into the morning
rush-hour traffic, turned up the radio
and tried to ignore the smell.
It was still early enough for me
to catch a couple more hours sleep
before I needed to figure out
how I would ever raise the money
to fix my broken steering column
and the driver’s side lock.
My mother once said that no one
was better at stealing from the poor
than another poor person, but I still
think the rich have them beat. The
thefts of the wealthy are invisible,
and they’re clever enough
not to get themselves caught.
At least they can afford car alarms.
With the way things are going,
they’ll need all the help they can get.
Leah Mueller is an indie writer from Tacoma, Washington. She’s the author of two chapbooks, Queen of Dorksville (Crisis Chronicles Press) and Political Apnea (Locofo Chaps), plus two full books, Allergic to Everything (Writing Knights Press) and The Underside of the Snake (Red Ferret Press). She was a winner in the 2012 Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest and a featured poet at the 2015 New York Poetry Festival. Her work appears in Atticus Review, Blunderbuss, Memoryhouse, Outlook Springs, Remixt, Your Impossible Voice and many other anthologies and magazines.