A Thief Like Me
John A. Ward
Dorsal winner

The photographic atlas of human anatomy was missing. It had color photographs of cadaver dissection and of injection molds of the blood vessels of organs, the arteries red, the veins blue. They appeared as the branches of a tree, stripped of its leaves. This was not a simple theft.

Common thieves do not steal books. Books have no value beyond the paper. This thief shared my love of the intricate art of the human body and the attempt to represent it for the consumption of the senses. This thief probably spent hours in the library as I did as a boy, reading every book I could get on the science of living things. This thief loved books.

"What's wrong?" said Raul, my student lab assistant.

"One's missing," I said. "Did you see it?"

"No," he said. "What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to ask that it be returned."

"Good luck. Thieves usually don't return things."


At the next lab session, I put it to the class. "One of my books is missing. This is not one of the college's books. It's one of my own books that I put here to share with you. It's a special book, because it was given to me when I left my last job to come to you. It's one of my memories. I know it's not stolen. I know that you just gathered it up accidentally with the rest of your books when you left class last week. Now you're probably embarrassed to return it because you feel I might think you meant to keep it. Don't worry about that. Just bring it back. There will be no penalty. It will be here for you to look at whenever you want. If you want to remain anonymous, just slip it onto the desk when no one is watching, or when the room is empty. Now, let's get on with the lesson."

After class, Raul said, "That was good. Do you think it will be returned?"

"I don't know, it's like putting a note in a bottle and tossing it into the sea."

"What will you do if the thief confesses?"

"If the book is returned, there is no theft."


At the end of the next class, a young man stayed behind. He opened his book bag, withdrew the atlas and handed it to me. "It happened just like you said," he told me. "I discovered it when I got back to the dorm."

"Thank you," I said. We talked about the book and books in general. We talked about sharing.

When he left, Raul said, "Do you believe him?"

"Who knows? It doesn't matter. His actions made it true."

First published: May, 2003
comments: knobs@iceflow.com