Kate never paid for medicine, clothes and most of her worldly goods. Why? Kate was a kleptomaniac. Her life was bliss and rather profitable, until one day she stole from a gypsy vendor. By the time Kate realized what this meant and tried to give it back, it was too late.
They say kleptomaniacs are born that way – like being a redhead or freakishly tall. But I think that Kate just took a liking to stealing until she couldn’t help herself. She stole everything she could, whether she needed it or not. Clothing, jewelry, cheap costume jewelry not diamonds and gold. Money, shoes, food – you name it. Nothing was safe from her. That is how she earned the name Klepto Kate! Well it was the name she gave herself anyway.
Weekdays Kate was at her current job, working the till in a bakery. Kate ate pastries all day long and never paid for a single one. Often the money ended up in her pocket and not in the till. She knew it would only be a matter of time until they realized that she was eating and stealing their profits and get rid of her. She didn’t mind, she had her eye on an open position at the stationery store in town. She needed to stock up!
It was her Saturday off work and Kate was wondering around Olde Street in a timeworn part of town near the docks. The shop fronts were unfamiliar and smelt musty. Kate was excited – no-one knew her in this part of the city, she could “shop” to her hearts content. A quaint shopfront caught her eye. The “Treasures and Trinkets” sign creaked and groaned in the salty breeze. Pushing the door, a bell tinkled way in the back. Kate looked around, taking advantage of the fact that she was all alone. Kate quickly pocketed a silver spoon and handmade wooden bowl.
Hearing someone coming, she turned and pretended to be looking at an old painting. The fisherman had a long, grey beard that was blowing in the rain, but his eyes… they mesmerized her. Bluer than the ocean, his piercing stare scared her as if he knew what she had done. She walked backwards away from it bumping into a crusty, wooden table.
“May I help you?” a kind voice asked. Kate turned and stared into the same blue eyes in the painting. “That’s my father” she said. Kate stared at her, she was so unusual. Her silver hair floated down her face. Wrinkles gave her skin character rather than making it look old and she had the most beautiful hands Kate had ever seen.
“No thank you” Kate said politely. “I’m just looking”. Wondering deeper into the shop, Kate found a trunk that looked like it came from medieval times. It squeaked when she opened it, stale air hitting her nose. Books and old carpets filled the box. Kate came across something wrapped in a faded ivory cloth, it was an old stone knife. It was exquisitely made and engraved with tiny symbols. Turning to make sure the old lady wasn’t watching, Kate slipped it into her pocket and quickly closed the trunk.
Wandering towards the door, Kate pretended to look at several more items before making a beeline. A beautiful hand, closed on her arm. “Is there something you want to buy child?” she asked kindly again. Kate shook her head.
“Are you sure child?” whispered. “Definitely” she retorted rather rudely, pulling her arm away and quickly leaving the shop. The tinkling bell rang in her ears as she left, almost running.
She couldn’t wait to get home and examine what she had taken. Looking over the spoon and bowl she decided that they would make a great set, she washed them and put them in the drainer to dry. Taking out the knife she examined it, turning it over in the lamplight. Oily colours ran across the silver as if it had a life of its own. It felt warm and cold at the same time, alive and flowing.
Kate spent the afternoon watching TV. She munched on pastries stolen from the shop and on fruit juice she took from the corner market. It was a good day.
That night she had a dream about the old woman. She was cackling and holding Kate by the arm in a vice-like grip. “Let go of me old woman” she screamed. “Let go”. Kate woke up sweating and rubbing her arm where it had been held. It was itchy and burned a little. Kate put it down to the dream and fell into an uneasy sleep.
The next day was full of sunshine and Kate hopped out of bed and into the shower. Shocked she noticed that her arm was red and swollen in the shape of a hand. An old woman’s hand! “Don’t be stupid” she berated herself. She carefully washed it with disinfectant and slathered it with cream. She decided against a long sleeve blouse, rather to keep it open and in the fresh air. Although uncomfortable – Kate carried on with her day. She swiped sweets and rolls from the large market up the street and a red cashmere jersey from the friend she popped into to say “hi”. Another successful day.
On her way home Kate found herself scratching at her arm. It was really burning now. Kate saw tiny red blisters forming. “What did that bitch do to me?” she wondered angrily. Putting more antiseptic on just made it burn like hell and Kate quickly washed it off. “Damm” she said blowing on her skin. “That hurts”. Kate battled to sleep that night with her arm on fire. When she did, her dreams were dark and terrible. She woke up feeling exhausted.
Kate went to work but left at 11 o’ clock telling her boss she was sick. At the doctors waiting rooms, she examined her arm. The little blisters had grown and were pus filled and wet. She caught a whiff of something dead. Leaning closer she realised it was her arm. Feeling sick she couldn’t wait to get to the doctor now.
He stared at her arm. “I’ve never seen anything like this” he said puzzled. He took a swab, Kate gasping in pain. It came away bloody and smelly. “I will have the results this afternoon and give you a call” doc said. “In the meantime, here is a script for strong antibiotics and a steroid cream. Kate nodded her thanks and left.
After getting her meds which unfortunately she had to pay for, she went home, ate, took her meds and lay down, shivering from pain. The doctor called just before 5 o’ clock and the news wasn’t good. “It’s a form of old-fashioned “Impetigo” which we haven’t seen in decades”. He sounded quite excited. “What’s that?” Kate mumbled cradling her burning arm. “It’s a type of skin infection from contact with usually something dead or very old and infected. It causes pus filled blisters that burst and infect the skin around them. Its highly contagious so stay away from work and family until the antibiotics work”.
“Thank you doctor” she mumbled and put the phone down. Feeling very queasy and dizzy, she tried to sleep. Dreaming again of the old woman she woke with the hideous sound of her cackling ringing in her ears. “What have you given me old woman?” she moaned.
Morning brought no relief, in fact her arm was worse. Kate’s pyjamas were wet and stinky with brown and yellow pus, she felt nauseous. Carefully she peeled off the bandage and climbed into the shower holding her arm under the gentle, warm water. It felt like needles pushing into her skin and she sobbed with pain. It smelt better after the shower and Kate managed to get a bandage on, sucking air between her teeth to stop from crying out. She knew she had to go and see the old woman.
Clasping her arm gently across her chest she left. It seemed to take forever to find the road, the shops and the shopfront. The sign still screeched in the wind sending a chill up Kate’s spine. She pulled on the door with her good arm – it stayed shut. “Hello?” she knocked loudly, peering through the dust into the shop. “What!” she gasped in absolute horror. “It’s fucking empty? I was here 2 days ago.” Crying in frustration Kate tugged and tugged on the door. Suddenly it opened sending Kate to the floor with a hard thump. She put her arms out to stop her fall and screamed in pain when her bad arm hit the floor.
Blood seeped through the bandage. Kate staggered through the shop sobbing in agony. “Hello? Old woman? Are you here? I… I need help? What did you do to me?” Kate called looking around, her voice echoed through the empty shop. “Hello? Is anyone here?” the shop was dust angels and nothing else. No shelves, no knickknacks, nothing.
“I’m gonna die” she sobbed falling into a puddle in the middle, bawling like a little baby. Kate lay there for ages wondering what the hell to do. She barely had the strength to get here – how was she going to get home. A fresh flood of tears started.
“Hello child.” Kate sat up wincing when she used her arm. The old woman was sitting on an ancient chair in the corner. Dust fairies floated all around her. Blue eyes pierced her own and Kate was ashamed. “What did you do to me?” she demanded. “Look at my arm!” The old lady looked at her for a long time. Kate lost her bravado, the pain was intense and she felt sick.
“Is there anything you want to buy child?” she asked. “There’s nothing here” Kate said looking around confused. The old lady waited. Her grey hair shone silver in the dusty sunlight, suddenly she didn’t look that old. Kate understood.
“Yes please I would like to buy a silver spoon, a wooden bowl and an old silver knife whose colours run like oil”. She smiled. “Of course you can. Just bring me the items to price. Pay. And they are yours. Then your arm will heal child. If you don’t, you will rot away like a piece of old meat until you die”. Her blue eyes looked evil, but Kate smiled a tearful thank you and with renewed strength left to go and get the goods. The trip back took forever, Kate was terrified that the old woman would move on and knew that she had to hurry.
Turning the corner to her building, she saw several police cars and wondered what was going on. Getting closer she overheard 2 policemen talking “Yes she has thousands of dollars’ worth of stolen goods in her apartment. Can you believe someone so young…” Kate stepped back out of earshot. “What the hell do I do now” she wondered terrified. She knew that if she didn’t get the goods back to the old lady that she would die an agonising death. She had to risk it.
Pulling her hood up she walked with renewed confidence into her building, taking the lift past 3 policemen to the floor above hers. Knocking on the door of the apartment directly above hers she gave the tenant a story about forgetting her key. Although suspicious, she let her in and Kate rushed to the window and down the fire escape. Her arm was burning now and Kate could see the blisters creeping out from under the bandages, they were growing along her arm. She felt sick.
Kate peeped around the window frame into her lounge. There were several policemen there and she was stuck. She would have to wait it out. They took their merry time while Kate sat on the fire escape wishing they would leave. She was thirsty, needed to pee and had to get to a pain tablet. Kate reflected on her life and wondered how the hell she had gotten there.
Finally, they put the lights out, locked the door and left. Yellow police tape was stretched across her front door and everything went quiet. Kate managed to push her bedroom window open, the lounge one was stuck fast. Falling onto the floor, she had to stop herself crying out in agony. Quickly Kate drank a glass of cool water and 3 pain tablets. She peed with great relief.
In the kitchen she chucked the sugar out of the bowl into the sink, putting it with the spoon and knife into her bag. “What do we have here?” she heard a man’s voice. One of the policeman had returned. “Good thing you left your gloves here” another said. Kate turned to run but it was useless.
“Please, please” she begged. “if I don’t take this stuff back now, I will die”.
“Don’t be so melodramatic” the policeman laughed. “We book you tonight and you will be out tomorrow but you are going nowhere now.” Screaming Kate tried to get away but one of the policeman grabbed her arm and the fiery pain made her black out. She awoke in a prison cell and knew that it was too late.
She woke up in hospital handcuffed to the bed. It took 6 agonising days for her arm to rot and another 33 for the rest of her body. In every wave of pain, Kate saw the old woman’s face and heard her laugh until the end. Only when she breathed her last did the pain stop.