In Possession of a Moral Dilemma

By Amanda E.K.

Illustration by Lonnie MF Allen

*This story was written with the prompt ‘My Hand Remembers’ as part of a series with the local Knife Brothers writing group


Your impractical satin sheets were the first sign—or should’ve been—that you were never exclusive. It’s not that you hid your reputation, I just couldn’t see past you and me, so I pretended I was your sole interest, or at least that I would become so.

You stroke my hair until I fall asleep and make me breakfast in the mornings. I know I’m sharing you but I want you every day.

I chase you tirelessly in my dreams, where you hide in crooked shadows. The theme is recurring but my strategy is never the same.

Sometimes I hate that I’m like this. Never satisfied, always searching.


I’ve stolen from every job I’ve ever had. Twenty-dollar bills from cookie jars. A gold chain from a jewelry store. Books and food and recipes.
     I’m in possession of a moral dilemma.


I like the men who look for that certain something they can’t live without. A grace they’ve been in search of for years. Those elusive Audrey Hepburns of the world. Though I think it’s likely they enjoy the chase more than the catch.
     I think it’s likely I do, too.


“It can wait,” you said over dinner our first night out.
     “What can wait?”
     “Sleeping together. If you think we should get to know each other better before all that.”
     “I appreciate you saying so, but I’m not interested in waiting.”
     “All right then,” you said and took a bite of chicken. You chewed fast, with a bit of a smirk, then swallowed and said, “I knew I was irresistible.”
     I smirked back. “Not to mention smug as fuck.”


We met when I’d been recently hurt by an unfaithful partner. Maybe I thought I had something to prove—that I could play the other role—and you at least were aware of my reasons for wanting to be with you. But more than that I liked you, and the intent way you listened to every word. I could tell you anything, which equally thrilled and scared me.


The first thing I stole was a shiny pencil from the bedroom of a friend. It changed colors in the sunlight—sometimes silver, sometimes red depending on its angle.
     I hid it in my pocket when my friend went downstairs for juice. I was all sweat and nerves waiting for her to return. Her desk was a mess—a Lisa Frank explosion—and I figured she’d never notice.
     I felt a touch of guilt, but I also loved the rush of stealing, the high of taking something that belonged to someone else, and was surprised at how easy it could be done. What did this say about me? Did I lack excitement, or attention? Was I a product of the Devil who always watched me, waiting for me to slip?
     I figured I’d ask God for forgiveness to absolve what I had done.
     The pencil stayed in my drawer for years, unsharpened. Now and then I’d take it out and twirl it, debating whether to return it to my friend or keep it for myself. But I waited too long and eventually threw it out when I moved to college.
     There’s something rewarding about taking stock of one’s possessions.
     I wish I would’ve learned to apply this to relationships.


“How many women have you been with?” I asked you after our fourth date.
     “At what number will you not want to see me anymore?”
     “That many, huh? I guess I’ll take my chances.”
     “Good. Because I really like spending time with you.”
     “Good. I do, too.”


We fucked on every surface of my apartment, but at your place kept to the bedroom to avoid the cat. For this reason I may never own a pet. Their constant shedding highlights my stagnation.
     During our off weekends I wandered the city taking photos to sell to magazines. Freelancing never earned me enough to get by, and to fill in the gaps I shelved books at the public library, where I made friends with an eight-year-old named Elsie. I noticed her when the Magic Tree House series began to steadily deplete. I never told her I knew it was her, just kept recommending books I liked at her age.
     In high school my best friend stole Kerouac and Burroughs out from under the librarian’s bespectacled nose. His justification was that he’d share the books instead of leaving them unknown and hidden on the shelf.
     I only took things that passed under the radar. Overstocked and unnoticed.
     Even when told, “Help yourself,” I only helped myself in secret so I could get away with more.
     If it was food, I consumed the evidence. If it was money, I spent it quickly. Whether cheap or costly, the objects in my hand all carried a similar weight: Control. As a child I had low self-esteem. I fed off secrets that no one in my small town could discover—that no one in my small household would take note of.


“Have you ever stolen from a lover?” you asked one night, after I told you about my secret compulsion.
     I said no because I still didn’t know how many women you’d been with. Also, because it was true that I hadn’t.
     “What’s the biggest thing you’ve stolen?” you asked.
     “As in size, or cost?”
     “Whichever’s the most significant to you.”
     I thought about it while straddling your hips, running my hands over your arms and chest. Our deepest conversations happened while in bed.
     “My grandmother’s buttons,” I answered.
     “What makes them so special?” you asked.
     “They’re antiques, for one. But it’s because I took them after she died, at a time when my grandfather went into rages over the slightest misplacement of her things. I was worried I’d lose his trust if he ever found me out.”
     “Then why take the risk?” you asked.
     “I’d had my eye on them for years. My grandmother would sit, buttons splayed over her coffee table, and tell me the history of each hand-painted piece. They were small enough to keep with me all the time—tied on a string around my neck as a reminder that the things that last the longest are those that we keep hidden.”
     “And do you still have them?”
     “Yes. But when my grandpa died they lost some of their meaning.”


I think the real reason my grandmother’s buttons were my biggest steal is that they were the only one that didn’t have a practical purpose. It’s not like I used the buttons to repair a shirt. Even the gold chain I stole was a way of saving money on a gift.


Two months into our relationship I asked who else you were seeing. I asked it flippantly, wanting to play it cool about our arrangement. I liked you enough to want it to work, though I had my doubts that I could manage it long term.
     You said not to worry, that your sleeping with other people didn’t affect how you felt about me.
     I think that must’ve been the second (or third…or eighth) sign that I’d never have you as my own.
     They say we don’t look for the things we don’t want to see. And sometimes we hide what we’re afraid will make someone lose interest. I was naive enough to take the risk.
     Once I’d told you about my habit I was worried you’d see right through me—unveil my subconscious need to possess you. That you’d toss me away like I did my friend’s pencil, my purpose served for your fleeting gratification.
     I wonder: is it possible to steal what I really want, and still want you in the end?
     But if I don’t try to steal you, will I get you at all?
     Call it karma, or comeuppance. But I think that I’ve earned you.

Amanda is a short fiction writer and educator originally from Iowa. She’s a member of the Knife Brothers writing group – a small collective of short fiction writers – who can be found occasionally haunting the Victorian halls of Lighthouse Writers Workshop. You can find her work in Suspect Press, Birdy, and Jersey Devil Press.

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2 thoughts on “In Possession of a Moral Dilemma

  1. Eric

    this story is fucking great. i have a long history with theft. as a kid, some of the worst punishments i ever got from my parents were for stealing things.. from them, from their (technically “my”) relatives, house guests and such. it was so fucking taboo that i couldnt help myself. i only stole from grown ups. there was no thrill in lifting shit off my peers or siblings. your perspective as an adult “thief” is terribly interesting.

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