William J. and the Stolen Name
Will paced outside, watching the moonlight flick from one puddle to another in the alley behind Smithe’s. It had been exactly eight hours and twenty-five minutes since he had last allowed himself to pee, and when this exact number became eight hours and twenty-six minutes, he couldn’t help himself any longer.
“Hurry up!” he whispered. He wasn’t sure if he spoke at the right volume. Part of him calculated that a voice of his timbre could resonate far enough for his partner to hear, but not far enough for anyone else – namely anyone who could threaten the security of their operation.
Smithe’s was the last shop at the end of Greenwood street in their hometown, and he had remembered passing by it in elementary school every day. The long, barely maintained street was one notch away from being a dirt road, and Smithe’s looked as if it hadn’t been repaired since it’s grand opening forty-years earlier. Even the lettering of the building was beautiful – an old calligraphic script that read Smithe’s across the top. William especially liked the curve in the letter e and how it complimented the flourish in the S.
The owner had rationalized that the building was a pharmacy, and that a family-owned pharmacy should have a specific, conservative look to honor the town’s past. William thought the man was an idiot, but the pharmacist’s alleged idiocy was inconsequential to tonight’s success. He wasn’t even named Smithe, thought William. He wondered where the man had stolen the name from in the first place.
When he was a child, he would walk past the letters and trace the air with his fingers. He would count the letters and use each one to spell different words in his head, which was right around the time he learned the words anagram and palindrome. His favorite rearrangements were:
The last one made him think of a woman, a den of thieves, and a very funny German swear his grandfather had taught him.
It was in those moments when he was rearranging letters and calculating new possibilities that he felt most comfortable in the world, most at home, and suddenly all those moments when people had treated him as if he was different, strange, or stupid melted away. He felt at those times like he was actually very much like other people, despite the fact that most people treated him otherwise.
Eight hours and twenty-seven minutes. Will climbed the ladder to the top of the shop to see if Reed had taken the right equipment.
“Is it done?” he asked. “Have you got it.”
“Two minutes,” said Reed, putting the last of the tools away. “This is illegal work, but it still takes time.” Reed looked up for a moment, seeing a look of disbelief in Will’s face.
“What is it now?” he asked Will.
“My bladder will explode.”
“That’s your fault. You and your rules about using the bathroom before a job.”
Will crossed his arms, teetering back and forth before sitting on the edge of the building, his feet tucked in and facing Reed. “You act like I do this all the time.”
“You do it before tests,” said Reed. “And before interviews, and before important conversations. And I’m sure you did it last week before talking to those girl’s at Kelly’s”
“I like the pressure,” said Will. “It makes me think.”
“It makes you nervous,” said Reed.
Will watched as Reed packed up the last bag. There were eight bags altogether, some of which would fit into the two larger backpacks that Reed and Will could carry respectively. They had planned it so that if someone saw them walking down the street, they would look like two boys returning home from college, which was in fact what they were. But this week, it was Will’s birthday, and Will rarely asked for anything. Reed was happy to oblige. He tied up the last sack.
“Why don’t you just pee behind that dumpster.”
“That’s illegal,” said Will. “And immoral.”
Reed opened his arms as if to point at all the bags around him.
“Well,” said Will. “I’d rather wait.”
With the last of their loot packed away, the two of them made their way down the street, careful not to call any attention to themselves. When they made it to Will’s parent’s place, up the stairs, past his parent’s bedroom, past his old childhood bedroom and into the attic, they began to unpack their spoils.
He laid each bag out in front of him across the floor as if they were presents on Christmas Day. While he unwrapped each one, his heart raced more and more. There they were, each one beautiful in its own way. He read them: S m i t h e ‘ s. He could arrange them into any word he wanted, he could look at them whenever he felt alone, and when the world was unbelievable crazed with some new fashion, or person, or phase, he could find order here. He was so relieved.
And he knew now why so many people around him had their obsessions – his father and mother with their TV programs, his brothers with their football fantasies and baseball collections, and even those long lost connections who rearranged the people in their lives to fit into their own doll-house inspired realities. Now he could do the same, just once-in-awhile in the attic, or in the dorm if he ever figured out how to sneak these letters back to school. But most of all, now that they were home and the job was done, he could use the washroom.