Nick Winkworth and Mary L. Tabor

Winkworth Tabor R

Nick Winkworth
The Burglar

Made using Mary L. Tabor’s story (below) as inspiration

The Burglar
By Mary L. Tabor

Excerpted from The Woman Who Never Cooked: Stories, Mid-List Press, April 2006. First published by Chelsea.

Ruth had found one silver earring lying on her bureau, opened her jewelry box, and discovered the burglary. She’d opened the top bureau drawer and saw, instead of the little white cardboard box, a faint outline of dust where the box had lain, and she was stricken with loss. The items in the box had belonged to Ruth’s mother. The wedding band etched with forget-me-nots, the gold locket, the ivory cameo with the raised but barely etched body of a woman, the choker of pearls. In the burglar’s hands. Ruth could not touch them, could not put on the gold chain with the wedding band askew, a circle off center as it hung on an angle from the chain. Lost. Another part of her mother who had died the year before. More loss. More than she could take? And then the fear. The burglar. Who was he?

Ruth and Ben, her husband, had come home from visiting their daughter at college, a train trip from Wesleyan in Connecticut. Ben had found a window jimmied open in the sun room and called the police, who said the usual things: A professional job. Be glad the house wasn’t trashed. Recovery? Unlikely. We’ll call you. Yes, a security system might be a deterrent—Chevy Chase is an easy hit, close to the District line and you’re only one house from Connecticut Avenue—as if they should have known better when they’d bought the house. As if the burglary were their fault.

Now, when Ruth would come home, she would stand in the doorway and yell, “Anyone here?”
Recovery? Unlikely?

The policeman’s words.

Now, questions in Ruth’s head, whenever she took off her clothes to shower, while she studied her small breasts in the mirror and saw, instead, her mother’s large, soft breasts that her mother had said she’d ruined by binding them when she was young in the 1920s when her full-bosomed top and round bottom were anything but the flapper’s desirable flat shape.

Ruth was often naked with her mother. When her mother was young, she’d be naked—to keep her clothes dry—when she’d bathe Ruth. She was an efficient, practical woman. She’d straighten the linen closet naked. She could be seen changing a light bulb naked. If something needed to be done, Ruth’s mother did it. Nakedness had nothing to do with what needed doing.

The burglar, Ruth thought, was efficient, practical, neat. He’d not taken any of her costume jewelry. He’d not taken the cheap silver earring she’d found on the bureau.

One night after the burglary, while she stood naked, while she looked at her breasts that her husband and other men had touched—her breasts that none of these men had spoken of, her breasts so unlike her mother’s—she wondered what she’d feel if a man, if Ben, found words. Or was this moment, while making love, this moment of body, of mind, of touch—ineffable?

“Recovery. Unlikely,” she said out loud. And then, “The burglar.”
The burglar, who was dissatisfied with the contents of the little white box that he’d tossed into his briefcase at the end of his search. The burglar, who touched the old items and assessed their value—less than he’d hoped—an 18-carat gold locket (in the shape of a fleur-de-lis, oddly sealed with black glue where it had been opened, something inserted inside), an ivory and malachite cameo, an 18-carat gold ring (size 6), a small 18-carat gold chain, a string of pearls.
Ruth wondered what it would have been like if she had been home when the burglar arrived. Would he have seen her naked? Would he have admired her breasts? Would he have thought her old? She did not think of rape or violation. She saw the burglar’s hands, her mother’s cameo with its bare-breasted woman carved in ivory—in his hands. And there Ruth was in the cradle of her mother’s arm. But her mother is old, her hair is white. There Ruth lies, inside the crook of that old arm. Did her mother fear that she might drop her? In the mirror Ruth saw her mother’s drooping, comforting breasts in her own small ones that lay against her own chest, her breasts that no longer stood. Out loud to the mirror, to the burglar, to the man who had her jewels, who could give them back if he chose, she said, “The test of time.”
The burglar wore a pinstriped suit. He was college educated. He’d gone to law school. His life was like a game, entering other people’s houses, neatly removing valuables, understanding something about them. He stole for fun at night, practiced law at his leisure in the daytime. He loved a married woman and did not feel the need to be faithful to her, but did not sleep with anyone else. He hadn’t found anyone else he wanted to sleep with.

He decided to give the pearls to his girlfriend, to fence the rest except the locket. He didn’t know what to do with the locket—identifiable, old, probably not valuable because of the crude seal. He knew jewelry and he knew the pearls were old, also not very valuable, but also not identifiable if he removed the clasp. The turquoise and gold clasp was gaudy, but at least the special clasp was a sign of a jeweler’s hand in the stringing of the pearls—a good sign, a nice offering. The pearls would be his first gift. Would she take them?

She said he didn’t exist. That she’d made him up.

He liked her for this ruse, this game. And he wondered if he did exist. He lived a double life: the law and its violation. “Who am I?” he’d sometimes ask himself when he moved from one life to the other, and then he’d laugh, for that question struck him as a joke. A question people who took themselves too seriously asked. “As if there were an answer,” he’d say. He didn’t need the answer to that question. He needed to exist.

Stealing affirmed his presence. The woman whose jewelry box he’d opened knew he existed. Of that he was sure.
The next night when Ruth got home from work, when she yelled, “Is anyone here?” Ben was in the kitchen sorting through the mail.

“I am,” he said, “I’m here.”

Ruth said, “‘Here I am,’ said Adonai.”

“You’re making fun of me,” said Ben.

“No,” Ruth said, “I’m afraid.”

“Of the burglar?”

“What else?” But she wasn’t afraid of the burglar. This she knew now, after she’d stood last night in front of the mirror looking at her breasts.

“We’ll get a burglar alarm,” said Ben.

And Ruth said, “Yes, an alarm.”

And then to herself, this, What would the burglar advise?

The burglar was interested in stealing and ethics. Although he did not believe in giving to the poor, he did believe in stealing from the rich. And he wondered if he should ever give back anything he’d stolen. Become Robin Hood, revised. The burglar thought the Robin Hood of the old tale was a hypocrite. Giving to the poor—as if he were a god, as if he could right a wrong, decide what was just or unjust. The arrogance of it appalled him.

He mailed to all his friends on the Internet what he called “a personality test” about Robin Hood, Marion, Little John and the Sheriff. He called it that because these days, everyone loved these kinds of tests that defined what they foolishly thought made them unique. He made up his test, his retelling of the story, to reveal their ethics—the story beneath their choices. What he learned made him feel he had an edge, and that edge of knowing made him feel he existed.

His message said: “Take this test. Do not cheat by looking at the answers. (He wondered how many did cheat; his guess was, not many.) Just write the four names down on a piece of paper and let’s compare. Here’s the test and, remember, this is a different sort of story from the old story you know.

“ ‘The Sheriff of Nottingham captured Little John and Robin Hood and imprisoned them in his maximum-security dungeon. Maid Marion begged the Sheriff for their release, pleading her love for Robin. The Sheriff agreed to release them only if Maid Marion spent the night with him. To this she agreed. The next morning the Sheriff released his prisoners. Robin at once demanded that Marion tell him how she persuaded the Sheriff to let them go free. Marion confessed the truth, and was bewildered when Robin called her a slut, and said he never wanted to see her again. At this Little John defended her, inviting her to leave Sherwood with him and promising life-long devotion. She accepted and they rode away together.’

“Now in terms of realistic every-day standards of behavior, put Robin, Marion, Little John and the Sheriff in the order in which you consider they showed the most morality and honesty (from ‘most’ to ‘least’). There is no ‘right’ answer.’”

The burglar believed this story revealed Robin Hood for what he was—a foolish, self-important moralist. That was all he needed to know. He hadn’t bothered to score the test.

The married woman he loved scored the test this way: The Sheriff, Little John, Marion and Robin.


Winkworth_Tabor I

Nick Winkworth
Ruby Slippers
Inspiration piece provided to Mary L. Tabor

By Mary L. Tabor

Last week I reminded my husband from whom I am separated—let us call him D.—about Canada and he answered, Clive Owen. One of Owen’s movies we both love is entitled Duplicity. No one is who they seem to be.

When we were together we often spoke in code to one another. For days on end we couldn’t remember the name of the actress in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, a movie we both love because no one is who they seem. We’d come up with Lee Remick when it was Eva Marie Saint. From then on whenever either one of us couldn’t remember something, the other would say “Lee Remick,” and we’d laugh as code for the problem and the movie we both loved.

Neither of us is who we seem: separated and free to choose. Learning this has been a journey that seems a bit like The Wizard of Oz, the movie most of us grew up with where Dorothy wears ruby slippers, magical shoes that she does not learn until story’s end will send her home with a click of her heels.

It was August when D. asked me to go to Canada with him: French Canada: Montreal, Quebec. We entered the elegant Hotel Nelligan on the old street near the water, 106, Saint-Paul Street West. French spoken everywhere. Five days there, evenings sitting on their upper deck trying to remember Clive Owen’s name.

We ate soft boiled eggs in the morning, croissants that we tried unsuccessfully to resist and drank good French wine, ate good bistro steak salads or Asian salmon in the evenings. We slept in the double sheeted bed on 400 thread count linens. In the best hotels, your blanket lies inside a duvet with another flat sheet on top so that all you feel are the crisp clean sheets each night you climb into bed.

But I felt short-sheeted on this trip. Remember that prank? Short-sheeted because I waited for D. to make love to me: We were on vacation together. We were sleeping in the same bed. On day five of the trip, I asked, “Will we make love?” He answered, “I would like to.”

But we were a long way from Paris, my metaphor for the Rom-Com ending. Give me Something’s Gotta Give with Dianne Keaton and Jack Nicholson.

This makes me think of Wendy Doniger’s book The Bedtrick, where she begins this way, “You go to bed with someone you know, and when you wake up you discover that it was someone else—another man or another woman, or a woman instead of a man, or a god, or a snake or a foreigner or alien, or a complete stranger or your own wife or husband, or your mother or father. This is what Shakespearean scholars call ‘the bedtrick’—sex with a partner who pretends to be someone else.” In her prologue she refers us to plays we know where not knowing who is who intrigues and answers: In Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac and the film version Roxanne, a movie with Steve Martin and Darryl Hannah that I love. In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, a play I often return to for Feste the jester’s words when accused by Maria, Olivia’s lady-in-waiting: My lady will hang thee for thy absence, and Feste answers, Let her hang me. He that is well-hanged in this world needs to fear no colors, with its proverbial dare and its double entendre and where the fool is anything but.

Let me embarrass D. further by telling you that he is indeed well-hung—thus, my despair in Canada.

Let us now use Canada as the metaphor for marriage.

When we return, I assume that we are reconciling. But he tells me that all must remain the same, that he is not ready. I am inconsolable. I seek counseling. That is when I began to date vigorously while also seeking an exit strategy: Emergency egress. Do not retract dead bolt.

I write him. It is a last ditch effort that speaks for its desperate self. Trust me: What follows does not speak well for me:

Dear D.,

I miss you. I’ve been missing you for a long time I now realize.

I know I am angry but I am still very much in love with you. You have hurt me so deeply that I fear I may never recover, may never be able to love another and may never be able to fully part from you. I sometimes think I am going to die from this heartbreak and what I perceive as your coolness towards me. You have been cool towards me for so long that I don’t think you even know how long. But I have waited. I was waiting. I am still waiting. I am quite mixed up and what I write will probably anger you. I fear that anger so profoundly that I hardly know where to start. But I cannot help the fact that I still must admit that I love you even if I can never have with you what I thought we once had and maybe did have.

I need to be loved again, desired again, fought for, if you will. I know that is too much to ask.

I am offering my hand to you. I know that I offer that hand with much trepidation and that I want some things to be made up to me, childish as that is.

I can no longer cry my way back to you. I have done too much of that over the years and have been deeply wounded by weeping in closets and on floors and in desperation to get you back. I can no longer have you that way. I don’t want anyone that way; I don’t ever again want to be humiliated the way I have been. But I still believe that we may have something that we built and that is worth saving. But I cannot keep trying to get you alone. I must know that you are trying to get me, too.

Eventually, I may wear out and move on, whether or not I can find love. I may move on out of loneliness. I may have to as I crave intimacy so, don’t really find life worth living without it. I don’t mean that as a threat. I mean it as E.M. Forster meant it in his epigraph to Howard’s End: ‘Only connect …’ He defines who I am in the world and who I must be. But you are inside me, and that will never change.

We will live apart. We must now. I finally understand that. But what I have written is worth saying, I think.


His reply: Of course I’ve saved it, for here is the bedtrick*:


My reaction to this is anything but anger. I don’t react angrily to much anymore. On the contrary, what you write is so heartfelt, it is deeply touching. I know I have been cool, but it doesn’t mean I don’t have similar feelings for you. I could not have gotten so deep inside you without you getting just as deep inside me. My coolness is, I guess ironically, part of my healing, at least initially. I know you are frustrated by this and want to be ‘engaged’ and part of my healing. But I am afraid—afraid of doing the same things to you that I did before.

The potential for damage and setbacks is still great. I need get to some level of confidence about myself. I don’t know that I can explain better at this point, but I hope you can somehow accept that, for now. I do want to be engaged with you, but it may be less intimate right now than you would prefer. Please know that I am aware of that—I am beginning to understand what intimacy is. And while it is not yet what you want, please also know that I am trying to get there.


I have come to understand that what I think I know, I don’t know.

Case in point: Did you know that Dorothy’s shoes in L. Frank Baum’s book were silver?**

We had been to Canada. Where is Paris? It is not on any map. That is the bedtrick.

To find Paris, ask this question: Who needs ruby slippers?

*When I told D. I wanted couples therapy not to get back together, but for an exit strategy, he said, “I don’t want an exit.” He sought his own therapist. We were then both with separate psychiatrists: Were we in a Woody Allen film? All together now, let us click our heels.

** You can follow the yellow brick road or listen to Nietzsche who says, He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.

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