Creating a Character
I was thinking recently about a girl I knew who liked to steal things. I wondered about why folks steal. Is it the thrill of doing it and getting away with it? Is it fun? Do people steal out of necessity? Does it become habit? I really don’t know what motivates people to steal, but I was thinking about it and decided to write about it. I created this absolutely fictionalized character.
Sharlene August had been stealing since she was seven and she was not about to stop now. Her first acquisition had been a bright yellow package of Juicy Fruit gum that she had stolen right in front of a Safeway clerk whose eyes hadn’t lit down far enough to see her little hand snag the treat. She had clutched the gum in her sweaty hand until she was seated in the back seat of her mother’s silver Volvo and then cradled it there, just looking. From then she moved on to Baby Ruth candy bars, Hostess Snow Balls, and too many boxes of Cracker Jacks to count. Those were her favorites at the time.
By the time she was ten, she had taken change from her father’s sock drawer and dollar bills from her mother’s wallet. That was easy. It was harder to slide the Barbie doll into her backpack in the crowded aisle of Toys R Us or shove the shiny red slippers from the discount shoe store under her sweatshirt, but she did it, and glowed in the satisfaction of getting away with it. She would gaze in delight at the loot she had snatched in the privacy of her bedroom and if her mother saw, and asked, “Where’d you get that Barbie doll?” or “Those shoes don’t belong to you.”, Sharlene would say, “The doll’s Cindy’s, but she has so many Barbies, she let me have this one, and Louise let me borrow the shoes. Aren’t they pretty?”
She would look with wide, innocent eyes into her mother’s face that was too wrinkled, saggy, and tired to ask more. Her mother would sigh then and say, “Well, you probably ought to give them back.”
It wasn’t that Sharlene needed these things. She didn’t always even want them, but it was the excitement of carrying out an act she knew her parents would slap her fanny for doing. She knew better. They had held a tight reign over her and her brother Calvin for years and she resented it. Stealing had become a way to create her own power, and although she felt slightly depressed when she held the stolen items in her hands, or tucked them under her bed for safe keeping, she did it anyway.