Her husband says they have enough. He folds his hand over hers, the one wielding the knife, and she stops slicing the breakfast bread. Their eyes meet. The word “enough” sounds foreign to her, as though it has lost all meaning. They eat one lightly buttered sandwich each and drink substitute coffee.
All day long, the ghost of his hollow word haunts her around the store. Her husband is a grocer, and she works, unpaid, as his clerk. She counts the crates and customers, weighs their provisions, compares their ration tickets to their needs. Since the German occupation, everything seems contaminated with the opposite of her husband’s word.
At night in the kitchen, she runs short, not because he’s a bad guy, but because he is good. Too good. His helpers in the store all cheat—he’s caught them in the act—yet he won’t allocate an extra portion to his own family. He won’t take advantage. Enough is an abyss in which hope and reality disappear.
She starts off with a wedge of cheese on a cold November day. It’s not much more than a rind, and she chews it slowly. She helps herself to a handful of raisins later in the week. While cutting ham for a man with a paunch, she embezzles a tranche for her Saturday soup. She takes an apple or two, a scoop of peas, a gray bun, a bonus bit of lard, which she licks off her thumb. She steals, she pilfers—she devours. The only thing she considers enough these days is the duration of this horrible war.
Her husband detects discrepancies at times. She watches his honest hands tallying the tickets and measuring the flour sack on the scales. His hands work without ulterior motives, like they do on her body in the dark. She cares about his integrity—her guilt is solid—yet she does not care enough. She always cares more for what’s growing inside of her, this small, greedy, unnamed being she feels forever compelled to protect from hunger.
“Inner Thief” first appeared in FlashBack Fiction, 2018.
IMAGE: Luis Egidio Meléndez “Still Life with Bread, Ham, Cheese, and Vegetables”, 1772. Museum of Fine Art, Boston.
Claire Polders is a Dutch author of fiction and nonfiction. Her latest of five books is A Whale in Paris (Simon & Schuster, 2018), a historical novel for younger readers. Her short prose has been published in literary journals such as TriQuarterly, Prairie Schooner, Tin House, Electric Literature, Denver Quarterly, and Fiction International. She’s currently finishing a speculative novel for adults, writing a memoir about elder abuse in Florida, and putting together a short prose collection. Please find her online on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, or at www.clairepolders.com, where she publishes book recommendations, craft advice, travel stories, and more.