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Wes Rehberg

The treasure easily slides out of the pocket into my hands.

Maybe the pocket of that person hanging onto a subway strap, his eyes meeting his own in his reflection in the train window, tunnel lights flashing by, stroboscopic. Or the three others crowded together near the pole by the train door, all four wearing coats. All I know is the pocket I reached into, jostling as if to move people aside so I could pass through, the pocket my prey.

I wonder what I've retrieved as the bunched few shove to exit the door as the train stops. A rush of air sweeps in from the subway station. Its sounds invade my curiosity for what I garnered. Stolen. New passengers take their place. Which one of those who left did I pickpocket? Does it matter? I'll imagine it the man looking at his reflection.

The train lurches and I spin and face a slim elderly woman older than me, face heavily lined, standing because no one would offer her a seat, then another lurch, a bump, and I almost knock her down. I grab the overhead bar with one hand, her arm with the other, and she is stabilized but glaring. I shrug as if to say, what do you expect, it's the subway, this is the city. Don't let go, she seems to ask with her eyes.

I nod my head toward an empty seat. Another man taps her back. Take the seat, he says. He escorts her. I watch and smile feebly. The man ignores me. The woman leaves the train at the next station and smiles at me. The man leaves, too.

Stations go by and the train now is almost empty as it halts again. I exit. I'm parked along the river. I need a drink and pass a neighborhood bar. Go in? No. Cross the river to head back north. Why did I park here? A whim, the same spontaneity that led me to attempt to pickpocket. I had walked to the highly touted art museum exhibit, got bored, left, strolled through midtown, thought about a movie, a theater matinee, no not these either. I touch the treasure in my pocket as I muse about this. It feels like something folded, hard, cardboard. I can't look yet. It will ruin the surprise. There will be no disappointment. I imagine I'm stealing a dream. I'll make of it what I want.

I drive out of the city and reach a long grade upward into the mountains. It is night as I pass through villages and lighted exit ramps, easing higher, now curving along a river, dipping and rising and turning through light wisps of fog and fewer exit ramps, my headlights and those of the rarer other vehicles the road's illumination.

My smart phone sounds: A text message from my spouse: "Are you still in the city? How did it go?"

I phone.

"I'm about an hour away. I felt aimless there. The museum did nothing for me. The subway did."

"The subway. I'm anxious to hear."

An hour later, I turn off the highway and up a steep rutted road to a small house amid trees and bordered by a shale ridge and a swamp. The motion detector light switches on as I approach the door and step inside the warmth, into the orange wood paneled room, and breathe the fragrance of basil, onions and curry. We greet, hug and kiss and I tell her I pickpocketed on the subway. She laughs and pretends a look of awe, then of rebuke. I say, from a coat pocket, as I remove my own coat.

"You didn't get caught." She smiles.


"That's so unlike you, picking pockets," she says. "But not surprising."

We remind each other of that time in a shelter for street children in Honduras where we watched young teens secretly picking each other's pockets to practice their skills, a young girl whimsical about each of her successes. We stayed wary of our own pockets there. We wore money in passport holders under our shirts, too hard to get at.

"I could never do it that well," I say. "It was almost an accident. Moving through the crush of passengers, I let my hand enter into a coat pocket and I pulled out a piece of folded cardboard. I put it into my own pocket as the train lurched to a stop."

I also tell her about the woman I bumped into. She nods impatiently as if to say I should get on with it.

"What is it?"

"I haven't looked yet."

"No? Let's see."

"I pretended I stole a dream, that I took it from a man who kept looking at his reflection in the subway window glass."

I remove the cardboard from my coat and we gaze at it: it is a folded picture postcard showing the city library. I unfold it and there's a name, address, a canceled stamp and a message:

"Daddy, please come home. Janie."

We are stunned and sit on a couch.

"You did steal a dream."

"I have to give it back."

"Mail it, anonymously."

"I'd like to see who it was."

"You can't."

"I'll imagine it the man looking at his reflection in the window. His image now has a new meaning."

She smiles.

"So will the absence of the postcard."

Wes Rehberg is a long-time social justice activist, writer and journalist, retired pastor, and also produced video art works and documentaries. He has a Ph.D. in philosophy, interpretation and culture from Binghamton University in NY. He recently began fiction and poetry writing as well, publishing in these areas. He is married to Eileen Rehberg, a social policy analyst who has collaborated with him on several projects. They currently live in Chattanooga, TN. Their home page is http://www.wildclearing.com

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