Shame, shame. You know my name.

There’s nothing quite so pitiful as a dried-up dead spider with its legs in a bunch. I found one in my post today, between a Pizza Hut flyer and a bank statement. It was tiny. I doubt it got to live long, at all.

What do you call it when you use genuine ill health to get out of doing something you could do, but don’t fancy doing? Is that still malingering, or has it its own word?

I used to be a brazen thief. Between 1987 and 1996, I stole thousands of books from libraries across Britain and Canada, mostly school libraries. I read them and hid them around the house, and I never returned them.

I didn’t discriminate, when it came to what I’d snatch. I’d take anything that caught my eye. I took mysteries. I took a calculus book. I took St. Bede’s Church School’s entire Geoffrey Trease collection. I put those on my parents’ roof, and the rain washed the pages out. It papered the front walk with them. I nearly got caught.

By the time my parents found out what I’d done, I was seventeen and living in Texas. Mother threatened to fly down and shout at me. Apparently, she’d decided to clean out the basement, which was where I’d been keeping my stash. She was too embarrassed to return it, so she threw it away.

I’m still not sure why I did that. It wasn’t for the thrill, because there wasn’t any. Books are easy to steal. I’d slip them in my binder and walk out with them. Nobody challenged me. No-one looked my way. It was like they didn’t know there was a thief, but they must’ve done. I took so many books.

Maybe it was revenge. I started stealing in, oh…well, I’d have been eight years old, about to turn nine, which would’ve put me in fifth grade. In fourth grade, I was accused of stealing a watch. I didn’t, but I couldn’t prove it, and I was branded a thief. For the rest of that year, and indeed, all through primary school, every time I had something good, kids would run to the teacher and say I took it off them. The teacher would make me “return” it. I lost my jacket that way. I lost my glitter pen. I lost my Benji toy, my keychain, my hairpin with the peacock feathers. And for everything I lost, Mother gave me hell.

It probably wasn’t revenge. It was probably pettiness. I was a forgetful kid. I always returned my library books late. I had to pay for them out of my lunch money, which I liked to spend on sweets, which I ate while I read my library books. I probably started stealing to avoid the fines. I’m sure I told myself I’d sneak the books back in when I was done with them. I’m sure I even meant to. But I never did.

That’s not the worst thing I’ve done. My worst sin, let’s see—well, this one time, I caught a liver parasite, but I thought it was cancer. (Thanks, WebMD!) I figured I was dying, so I tried to get back with my ex. I didn’t want to die alone. The minute I found out it was just, y’know, parasitic cysts leaking pathogens into my organs, I dropped him like a hot rock. Never spoke to him again. (He didn’t go for it, anyway. I have this skin-crawling suspicion he saw right through me. God, I hope he didn’t. I’d be mortified….)

Anyway, what a berk—I stole books from kids. I stole a lot of bad ones and stupid ones, but I stole good ones too. I stole a lot of Evelyn Waugh, Charles Dickens, Isaac Asimov. I stole out-of-print books, outdated texts and early editions. I made a special trip to St. Catharines to steal “The Satanic Verses.” (I had to lift that from a shop. I had to ask for it, take it to the reading room, then zip out while the clerk was busy. They thought that book was dangerous, back then. Like you’d be buying it, and someone might shoot you. They kept it under the counter, off the shelves, and you got a funny look when you asked for it. It felt like buying drugs, like hey, man, you got any, uh…you got Salman Rushdie back there?)

I stole so many books.

I had book kleptomania.

So far, I’ve written twelve novels suitable for children, and many more decidedly not. I wonder how long I’d have to live, to replace every book I took out of circulation with one of my own….

Back to that dead spider, though…the way their legs dry up and curl in…. It’s like they were clutching at life, but it slipped through their…their…what do you call those hairy bits at the ends of their feet? Claws? Pokerets?

Ah, fuck spiders.