Elizabeth Barbee

photo by Matt Walker


Adam and I collected dishware. We hoarded drinking glasses, ceramic bowls, champagne flutes, and terracotta serving trays. Each night I carried a glass of milk to bed. My mother was thrilled. Usually I poured the contents out my window, soiled her topiary, and stored the empty glass in a canvas bag. No one seemed to notice it was missing. I stole morally, taking only generic pieces from the kitchen cupboard; nothing crystal, nothing sentimental, nothing once wrapped in silver or tied with a bow.

I wasn’t sure of Adam's methods, but his haul was impressive. He had a guitar case filled with porcelain napkin rings, jewel-toned shot glasses, and a coffee mug stamped with the name 'Kim'- a point of much curiosity, because he knew no one by that name. At the end of each week we convened in the journalism darkroom and hid our loot behind tall stacks of photographic paper and Polaroid film. At some point we discovered we had 33 breakables between us, the sum of our ages. We took this as a sign.

During lunch we padded our backpacks with newspaper and carried the dishes to the old football stadium. We were alone among the insects flitting about abandoned bleachers. I wore oven mitts and sunglasses, my hair piled high like a Hindu God's. Adam put on a pair of swimming goggles, tugged the sleeves of his sweatshirt over his hands, and grabbed a plate. Cranking his right shoulder like the handle of a music box, Adam bent the opposite leg and flung the dish toward the scoreboard. It shattered and fell to the ground, a firework exploding.

He laughed. I selected one of the champagne flutes, one of the first pieces I’d collected. It took us less than four minutes. When we were finished, we surveyed the shards of purple, white, olive green, and blue. We stared in reverence. Adam took a picture with his phone. A bell rang and we broke from our trance and walked to fourth period.

Elizabeth Barbee lives in Austin, Texas. She researches MFA programs during the day, works the front desk at a performing arts studio in the evening, and writes when it seems necessary.

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