Sheila decided to steal Lisa’s grandmother like one would decide to buy apples at the grocery store. As she carried the last box of her belongings down the stairs to the moving truck, Sheila stopped in the living room. She grabbed the little urn full of Lisa’s grandmother off the top of the television and dropped it in her box. The urn made a small clunky noise, like bracelets in a glass jar.
Sheila was moving out a month earlier than she had told Lisa. But that was Lisa’s problem now, not hers. Sheila liked to think of herself as a nice person, one who you could count on to watch your dog while you were on vacation or ask a loan of twenty dollars from without fear of paying interest in return.
Apparently, Lisa did not think so. She made that very clear to Sheila when she shook her awake the day after her birthday. Sheila was still hung-over, so it took her a few minutes to realize why Lisa was yelling—all she could focus on was how loud it was, like a wave of steel dominos crashing down into a cacophonous, chaotic form.
So what if Sheila had a few people over on a Tuesday night (and by a few, she really meant 10)? And so what if said people spilled beer on the carpet, decided to make pancakes at 2 a.m., and sing out of tune to 80s’ hair metal? It was Sheila’s birthday, so didn’t that give her a special dispensation to disregard the sleeping habits of her roommate for one day of the year?
Apparently, Lisa did not think so.
Fine. Fair enough. But it had only happened once. How many other times had she been helpful? How many times had she washed both their dishes, bought groceries, and cleaned cat puke off the carpet without being asked? How many times had she agreed to clean both the bathroom and the kitchen every week, when Lisa only had to vacuum the stairs? Didn’t Sheila deserve a second chance?
Again, Lisa did not think so.
Sheila had two months to find a new apartment.
It took Sheila only 3 weeks. Rather than tell Lisa, Sheila secretly packed. Lisa never came into her room anymore anyway, so it wasn’t too hard to pack her clothes and books in boxes that she had stashed in her closet. On Monday, Sheila pretended to be too sick to go to work. As soon as Lisa left, Sheila called the moving truck.
Moving out early was bad enough—Lisa hadn’t even found a new roommate to take her place yet, so rent was going to be a problem. Why then, was it necessary to steal her grandmother too?
Sheila didn’t know why she did it. As she followed the moving truck in her car, she imagined the little urn, clinking like glass beads each time the truck bounced from the craters of potholes in the streets.
“You did what?” said Beth, helping her move a box of books. Sheila had known Beth since her sophomore year at Hunter. Beth wanted to be a famous writer, or a social worker, or marketing executive—it changed frequently. Sheila had stopped paying attention, but she was pretty sure Beth was in an urban renewal phase.
“I told you…I just took it. Like that.”
“Woooooow.” Beth’s mouth made a perfect o shape, outlined by bubblegum shaded lip gloss. “That is incredible!”
“What?” Sheila looked up from the box. “Beth, I stole someone’s grandmother.”
“Yeah, but she totally deserved it! Who evicts someone the day after their birthday? That’s completely wrong!”
Sheila lowered the box to the floor. She started prying at the tape with her fingers.
“I mean,” Beth continued, “I knew she was weird when you first answered her craigslist ad.”
“Like, how?” Sheila tore the line of tape off from the top of the box.
“I dunno, I guess…When I went with you to see the place, just got a weird vibe from her. She never smiled once.”
Sheila nodded. She started taking books out of the box.
“And that one time I came over and you made grilled cheese. You used one of her pans—the one with the stains on it. After we cleaned it, Lisa said you were the one who made it dirty!”
“Well, Beth, it did look a little dirtier…”
“That’s not the point, Sheila. It was dirty to begin with.”
“I think she only freaked out because it was one of the pans her grandmother gave her…” Sheila stopped for a moment. “But…she said she hated her grandmother. Seriously, I don’t understand her.”
“Who keeps their grandmother on top of a television anyway?”
“Someone with issues,” Sheila replied. She pulled the urn out of the box.
“Is that it?” asked Beth.
“It’s a little bit small.”
“It’s only a…part of her. Apparently the whole family got a small piece to keep.”
Beth looked at Sheila as if she were describing a family of cannibals.
“Yeah,” said Sheila. “I know.” She turned the urn around in her hand. It was a light blue color with small pink flowers. “What do I do with this?”
Beth smiled. “I have an idea.”
Sheila and Beth took the subway down to the South Street Seaport and made their way to the walkway by the river. They found a spot by the railings, overlooking the dark water that shone like a wet, black stone. It was early on a Sunday morning, so only two people walked by.
“Are you ready?” asked Beth. Sheila nodded and took out the little urn.
She knew it was crazy. But as she wound back her arm, preparing to throw, she told herself that she wanted this. Lisa had ruined her birthday. Sheila had stolen her grandmother. And at least the ocean was a better resting place than a television.
Sheila threw the urn as hard as she could toward the water. It flew in a small, blue arc before landing, making a splash the size of a fist. She looked away, because if she had gazed at the water with the sheen of black ice much longer, she would actually feel guilty.