By Nathan Bachman

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Every time she brought out the box and handled each object, it was like releasing a type of magic, traveling through an unfamiliar past.

The small motor purred away from the bay. Fiona looked back into the still night, the houses, boardwalk markets empty of tourists, and down the ramp to the soft rocking of the yachts and their sleeping travelers.

No witnesses.

Above, the moon was a silver ring, the water an ink well. For 20 minutes, she headed north toward the delta. When she was far enough from shore, she put the skiff in idle and crawled around the wheel.

Fiona opened one of the black trash bags and stared at the paper mâché bust of Lincoln—or maybe it was Washington—the finger art turkey, a few little league trophies, two dozen army men crudely pressed in plastic. Julian had abs; she remembered the way he gleamed on the dance floor. Didn’t use his hands quite right, but then he was only 23. She remembered that last night at his place. They had already broken up a few weeks before, but it was a Friday, and she was drunk and wanted to see his place one more time. That was her excuse, anyway. Afterwards, when he was asleep, she rummaged through his closet. She didn’t know what she was looking for exactly. He was already dating someone else in his cohort, and she didn’t want to leave empty handed. 

His room was a mess—heaps of dirty clothes, school textbooks, fast food remains, and in the corner, a stack of used-up deodorant sticks. She waded to the back wall and dug around in his closet, tip-toing to reach an old box. Inside, a heap of childhood mementos, report cards and school art projects, a glass mug from Niagara, on top of it all—a Christmas ornament of a toothless toddler, circa 1997. She touched Julian’s younger self, so many years prior to when he would collide with her in the hall.

She took it all.

She took the Lincoln/Washington bust, the Niagara souvenir, the toothless toddler, the plastic army—the entire hoard of childhood mementos.  She loaded them into her car that very night and absconded.

Julian never called again, but she was worried he would, once he found all his keepsakes missing. Why didn’t he? She felt a little guilty, but it was exciting too. Every time she brought out the box and handled each object, it was like releasing a type of magic, traveling through an unfamiliar past. She turned over a plastic hotrod and spun its wheels. The memories each item had the power to conjure for Julian, now hers.

The skiff rocked gently. Fiona choked the plastic neck of the bag and twisted a knot. Then, steadying herself, she lifted Julian’s junk over the water and let go. It sunk fast.

She opened the next bag: Brian Jacques novels, a petrified chunk of redwood, a broken X-wing, pictures of a tiny boy with his dad on the edge of the Grand Canyon. Evan. He was sweet at first. Timid with glasses and freckles, egged on by friends to ask for her number. The sex was surprisingly great too. She still felt bad for taking his stuff—he didn’t cheat or disappear, just didn’t have the balls to stick up for her around his buddies. Fiona versus Evan and his friends, a tug-o-war that ended with her in tears outside his place. Not her proudest moment. Especially when she kicked a dent into his car door.

She reached into the garbage bag and dug out a cross country award. She remembered taking the medals before they officially broke up, just in case. Then, she couldn’t stop. She took a few merit badges from his Scout’s uniform, a photo album of a family vacation, Polaroids of a now deceased dog. As their relationship frayed and unwound, she took more. She wanted him to ask about the missing items, to talk about why he never became an Eagle Scout or how a broken X-wing might fly with its missing limb, but Evan only talked about what his friends talked about.

By the end of a month, she had taken just about everything he had stashed away from his childhood, even a coin collection his grandfather had given him. When Evan told her they had to talk, she wasn’t sure if he was confronting her for theft or ending their relationship.

The bag was difficult to lift, and Fiona had to lean the contents against the rail before tossing it over the bow. It disappeared below the bay with a burble, vanished in a way she didn’t like. After all, it was a lot like losing her own keepsakes. Fiona had had them for so long. She even had favorites.

How many times had she held Evan’s miniature dream catcher and wondered if the boy had nailed it above his bed, if he looked through it in the mornings for the remains of his dreams? When did he finally take it down because he thought it was stupid?

Then there was Vince’s spelling bee ribbons, blue and shiny like wrinkled velvet, but smooth. Did Vince run his fingers down the tails? Did he spell the words again with satisfaction? Did his friends ever tease him for hanging them on a bulletin board in his bedroom?

The wind made a cry, and she glanced around her quickly, but there was no one. Just the sky, some stars, and the roiling surface. She felt the sour tissues of her dry tongue in her throat. She should have brought some water. She held on to the sides of the skiff for a moment and caught her breath—four more.

Adrian was next. A frat pig who had great arms and could hold her up without pause. He would sweet-talk her all the time, which was the first red flag. Adrian had other girls on the side; she knew about some of them, but assumed he was cutting them off. He said he was, and she thought about pressing him for details every time they slept together.

Inside the bag were stolen baseball cards, miniature skateboards for two fingers, and a construction paper book about Egypt for Ms. Gilsdorf’s second-grade class. Fiona tried imagining Adrian coloring the pages—the buttery sand and golden pyramids. Why did he color the sky purple? She wanted to know. She rifled through the bag and pulled out a Las Vegas snow globe, shook it, but there was no longer any water. She swung the bag over and grabbed another.

Soon, she’d be done. No one would ever know. Ten years of sentimental treasure, sunk under the pressure of 10,000 tons of Atlantic. Then, she’d have to return her father’s skiff and jog home. Take a shower and pretend nothing was missing.

It would be a long day. Moving from one place to another was always a long, terrible day, and this was not an ideal start. Nonetheless, Fiona couldn’t imagine Richard finding her hoard. He would think it was the revenge of a slighted lover—but it wasn’t that. How could she explain?

She had gathered the stolen boyhood treasures and bagged them the day they decided to sign the lease together. It was time to let go and throw all this junk away. But she waited. She didn’t know why she hesitated, why she didn’t just haul it to some dumpster or piecemeal it into her city trashcan. As the days passed, and the big move loomed, Fiona envisioned herself tossing it all into the sea. The sea, she had heard, was mostly unexplored. Eighty percent unmapped, wasn’t that right?

“Are you going to call the Coast Guard?” Fiona shouted up to the larger boat.


Fiona stumbled back and fell into the skiff’s chair. The other boat appeared inexplicably from the east, from the open ocean. A fishing trawler, rigged starboard and port with nets and cranes, lit by a series of headlights above the aft cabin.

“You lost?”

“No.” Fiona held her hand up to shield her eyes from the illumination of the other vessel. “I’m fine.”

The man on deck was impossible to see. “I heard a splash. You lose anything?”

“Ah, no.” Fiona tried to imagine how it all looked—three black trash bags remained in the skiff. The fishing boat idled closer, and the open water between the hulls beat back and forth.

“We almost hit you,” the male voice said. “You have no lights.”

“I didn’t mean to be out this late,” Fiona responded. She wasn’t sure if the boat was leaving, so she waited. The vessel came across her bow and made a turn. A searchlight moved down the length of her boat and back into her eyes. The waves rocked her skiff. No one spoke. A silent calculation was being made by the interlopers.

“What’s in the bags?” the beam of light spoke. Fiona thought about it: money, body parts, the truth? If she were quick, she could finish dumping the remaining bags and full throttle back. Could she outrun a fishing boat? She had no idea.

There was a muffled conversation. Two or three men conferred in whispers behind the boom lights. Finally, one of them shouted, “What are you doing out here at this hour?”

“Nothing, just getting some air.”

The ocean pushed the boats closer, and Fiona heard more voices. Perhaps half a dozen men. They wanted to know her name, the registration number of her skiff, why she wore a hood. What was she hiding?

“Are you going to call the Coast Guard?” Fiona shouted up to the larger boat. Behind the lights there was a pause, some whispering, and the ocean churned and clapped.

“I think we have to call,” one of the fishermen hollered back. “If you were us, wouldn’t you?”

Fiona thought about this. Of course she would, if only to know what was in the bags. Severed limbs, drugs, money? She had no choice but to come clean.

“Wait, I’ll show you. It’s not what you think.”

Crawling forward under the blinding lights, she dragged the closet remaining bag between her legs and unfolded the knot. She pulled out beanie babies, rooks and knights, and several Super Nintendo cartridges.


The fishermen were silent, so she moved to the next bag and dug out the remains of a Lego collection and a G. I. Joe.

This time he heard a gasp, and she began to understand.

“Hey, that’s mine!” a voice said.

Fiona looked down into the pile of toys and finger art. Was this Vince’s bag or Marc’s? Were they both fishermen now?

“I looked everywhere for those.”

“I know,” Fiona spoke into the white light. “I shouldn’t have taken it.”

She imagined Julian tearing through the back of his closet in a panic. Evan losing his temper and crawling under his bed. Vince sobbing for proof of his accolades. Grown men untethered from their boyhoods.

“It deserves better than the water,” Fiona said, and she meant it. Each object had had its purpose—a Christmas gift, a birthday present, an impulse buy, a car trip toy, art created in the practice of fine motor skills. A history of growing up.

“I took it when you weren’t paying attention,” Fiona said. “You wouldn’t let me in, so I found another way.”

“It’s okay,” said a fisherman. “I deserved it.”

“Yeah, we all did,” said another voice. The boats bobbed in agreement. Far away, the sky began to blush like a ruby, golden and bright. Night was almost over.

“We don’t miss the stuff,” the men said. “We just wanted to know how we lost it, so we could stop looking and move on.”

“Yeah, we don’t need it.”

“But someday you might.” Fiona put the toys back into the trash bags and retied the knots. “For that, I’m sorry.”

When she looked back, the surface of the ocean was empty again. The horizon glowed green and warm with the dawn. She was alone.

Fiona threw the last three bags overboard and steered the boat back into the harbor. Richard liked getting early starts and would be awake soon to rent the truck. She had to hurry. She tied the lines off and unplugged the gas—stumbled out and almost fell into the water. In a few hours, her friends and family would arrive to pull and lift what remained of her belongings, to place her couch, her stools, clothes and dresser, miscellaneous pieces of herself, into a truck. A truck that would drive 15 minutes to Richard’s place.

There was no longer contraband. There would be no questions about stolen mementos, no evidence against her, no proof. It was done.

For months now, she hadn’t thought beyond this moment. Fiona fumbled for her car keys, opened the door, and paused to look out across the sea. She had to consider the unpacking. The decisions she would have to make, the geography of a new living room, bedroom, closet. More space to fill with more things, more memories. The inevitable moments within those walls, the sex, the fights, the movies, the hangovers, the birthdays. The settled dust she’d find accidently, in the corners.



Nathan BachmanNathan Bachman is a public-school teacher in central Ohio. His fiction has appeared in several places, including Ponder Review, Passengers Journal, and Vestal Review.

Header photo by anatoliy_gleb, courtesy Shutterstock. is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, art, commentary, and design since 1998.