This is the night I’m at 41 Marks Grove. And I’ve done the usual, watched it for a few weeks, monitored who’ll be home, their normal habits. First rule of robbing a house, choose a house with a few people living in it that weigh the same as, or more than, you do. Choose bigger people because they’ll make the floor creak and the walls move as much as you might once you’re inside. Choose people who regularly get up in the middle of the night, or people who work strange hours.
So this is the night, 41 Marks Grove. I’m outside, my car just a few doors down. The house has gone dark. Three people live here, a couple and her brother. He’s about twenty-five, the couple look a bit younger than that, but they’re married. They are average, go to work, watch movies, stay in on a Saturday night, worry about money. Tonight the brother has gone out, always out on weekends. He comes home late, or early, however you look at it. Oh, and just to help your mind, I don’t have a mask on. None of us ever wear masks, regardless of how many times you’ve seen it in the movies.
Once I’m through the door it’s all outlines and shades. The next rule of robbing a house is as soon as you get inside, act casual, don’t try to hide your footsteps. Walk straight to the toilet. Most people go back to sleep if they hear you go to the toilet, because then it has to be someone who lives there. What sort of stupid thief uses the toilet? Now you’re free to make a little noise, because they no longer suspect the floorboards and things moving. Of course, you can’t do too much, don’t go overboard.
I open the door, my hand in a glove and reaching out in front of me. Make sure you turn the light off before you open the door. My hand grips the doorway and I guide myself out and run straight into something. Something that wasn’t in my plans. Something that is a person. The wife, in her night gown which is all lacy and folded from where she’s been lying on it, hung loosely over her shoulders and breasts. Her eyes are not quite open, she holds her curly, shoulder length hair back with one hand, her other on my chest. She blinks her eyes to adjust and takes a step back. My hand crunches into a fist and my heart stops.
Silence. Her eyes move up and down me.
‘You’re a robber?’ She whispers, amazed, pointing vaguely. I say nothing, tighten my fist again, push my nails into my palm. Inside my chest, my heart still feels swollen, still. She looks back over her shoulder, then steps forward to my face. And kisses my lips. Her hand moves down my clothes and I hear her husband shift noisily through his snoring in the nearby bedroom. I can see where he is, looking over her shoulder as her kisses move down my neck and up to my ear.
‘Take me.’ Her lips touch my skin as her breath tingles inside me. She takes my hand, loosens my fist, and moves it down, under the fabric, along her smooth thigh. Her other hand runs along the hairs on my lower stomach and unclips my belt quietly. She takes off her night gown, naked, her skin white like an angel. She pushes my pants down to my knees. Her tongue touches mine and the cold of her wedding ring slides down my back as her other hand puts my penis inside her, and she releases a slight sound. As we have sex in her hallway, against the wall, which creaks and shifts, I watch her husband sleep deep, making sure he doesn’t wake up.
She opens the door to the night, still naked as she leads me out, smiling and giving me a slight kiss on the cheek. Her body disappears into the shadows as she closes the door behind me.
* * *
Inside my car is hot and the seats are sticking when I see her come out of her office. She walks confidently, laughing with a friend, in her maroon skirt. I get out and follow her, always two steps behind her shadow. Third rule, if something goes wrong, get away from the area, keep away for a while. Make sure there is no chance of the person I.D.-ing you. Do not, under any circumstances, ever go after people who are your targets. She gets onto a train and is swallowed by a group of black suits and newspapers.
She gets home on time, tapping along the footpath towards their home, 41 Marks Grove, and I click my tongue to imitate the sound of her feet. Her eyes look over my car for just a moment. She takes off her heels at the door, her husband, still in his shirt and tie, gives her a kiss on the way in. My hand crunches into a fist again. I drive home to plan my next job, the sight of her naked body playing on my mind like a perfect ghost. A dream. Sarah is her name.
The important thing about robbing a house is to make sure you’re not greedy. After all your planning it would be stupid to try and lift their 72cm television out the front door and expect them not to hear you. It would be stupid to walk back and forth grabbing the CD player, the computer, then the monitor, the microwave. Of course you’re going to make more noise doing this, so you have to not be greedy. Be specific. Get small things and get out. Sure you won’t make as much money straight away, but when you don’t get caught you can come back again and steal more. This is the way that all real thieves operate, which is why they never get caught. You’ll always hear about the guy who got caught with a TV on his back, a CD collection under his arm and a DVD player being dragged by its lead through the garden.
But now I am going to be greedy. And how, in all my planning, am I going to steal Sarah?
I read through my notes on her carefully, painting a picture of her personality. I scratch my head, rub my eyes to see better, tap my nails onto the table. I keep my jumper at my side, the one I wore that night. It still has her smell, and I breathe it in deep. I think of where she is now, sleeping at his side. Or worse, not sleeping at all. And I screw up the notes in front of me, throw them into the basket. I drive my car over to Grove Street, just to watch their darkened bedroom curtains, and dream of what I cannot have.
* * *
Fifth rule, make a decision and stick to it. There is no time for second guessing. You make a decision to run or stay, now or never, take it or leave it. Make the decision and deal with it. If you can’t take it, forget it.
She arrives at the house and I watch her go inside. She’s alone for now, and she walks down the hall to her bedroom. She looks through her cupboard, takes off her shirt without closing the curtains fully, her hair falls over her face as she bends down to take off her stockings. She notices that her night gown is missing. Sarah looks out the window, looks up and down the street and smiles subtly. She takes off her bra and runs her hands through her hair.
At night she cooks for her husband and they say little to each other across the wooden table. A photo of their wedding day hangs on the wall. A full plastic fruit basket sits on the centre of the table. They sit down to watch the 8:30 movie. They go to bed with the smallest kiss on the cheek and she takes out her book under the night-light. But it is not the same book she had last night. Someone has switched it. She looks, surprised, at The Great Gatsby in front of her. And she smiles, looks out the window where my binoculars can see her eyes. I’ve left a note for her in the cover. For Sarah. Her husband goes to sleep.
Sixth rule, never leave anything behind.
Seventh rule, never make it personal.
She turns the pages smiling.
* * *
While she is at work I’m walking along her carpet, touching the mirror where her face has been. Breathing in her smell. I study the wedding photo, fog up the glass over her husbands head with my breath. On her purple bed, Sarah has left a book. The Great Escape. I take it under my arm, leave a flower from the neighbours’ garden in its place. Her brother’s car crushes pebbles up the driveway and I skip out the back door, leave without him noticing.
She explains to her husband that she got the flower from a workmate, but he doesn’t seem too worried. He talks about news on the TV. He mows the lawn happily. Washes his car. Sarah reads The Great Gatsby alone, smiling excitedly at every page. I flick through The Great Escape in my car, Steve McQueen on the front cover.
A cat jumps and bounces in the streetlight, chasing nothing on the road. Sarah gets up from her sleep and comes to the front door. She sneaks out into the garden and closes her eyes as the breeze blows across her face. She looks around. Her bare feet wet in the grass.
‘Hey.’ She whispers to nothing, the trees shuffling. ‘Please. Take me away from this.’ I watch her look around some more, hope in her eyes. Then her smile drops, her lips turn in, and she walks back up to the house, her night gown blowing onto her legs.
* * *
The sun is burning the concrete, people sweating past in business shirts. My heart skips in my chest, constantly watching her office building, unable to look away. She’s three minutes late, maybe something happened. Sarah finally comes out, looking less happy than usual, clutching her briefcase and my copy of The Great Gatsby. She looks up at the buildings around her, they loom upon her, look as if they’re going to fall to earth.
I open the car door as I pull up to the curb. She has her back to me. A taxi driver blares his horn behind, which makes her turn, startled. Our eyes meet, I give her a small wave. Her bottom lip drops and quivers. Her briefcase falls to the footpath and people blow by her like loose papers in the wind. I imitate with my tongue her shoes clicking over towards me. Sitting down at my side.
She puts Gatsby down on the dashboard, smiles with her whole body.
‘I’m Sarah.’ She holds her hand out to me.
‘I know.’ We pull into the flow of traffic and drift away.