The summer I turned 10, lured by its promise of a better life, I took up shoplifting.


From Bardeau’s poolroom, I bettered my life with chocolate bars—from Bright's Drug Store, with ball-point pens and Popular Science magazines—from Spears’ Book Store, with Classic comics and coloured pencils—from Steadmans Five-and-Dime, with marbles, squirt guns, India-rubber balls, and countless other treasures. I bettered my life in other places, too, but mostly these. Life was good.


Then I got caught.


My plan, that day in Bardeau’s, was to stand around next to the candy bars, whistling, and at the first opportunity, slip a Sweet Marie or Mackintosh Toffee into my pocket and casually whistle myself out the front door. It was a bad plan. A whistling 10-year-old next to the candy bars in a poolroom is nearly always a thief and Mr. Bardeau was on me soon as I grabbed the bar.


"Let's have it," he said, reaching his hand across the counter. I handed him the Sweet Marie.


He asked for and wrote down my name, my grandmother's name, and our telephone number on a slip of paper, which he then carefully folded and shoved in his shirt pocket.


“Take anything else?” he asked. I had also pocketed a toffee bar but told him, "No."


It was a warm summer day and, after I left Bardeau's, I walked to the Sykes Street bridge, then down the path to the river, where I sat in an empty rowboat and opened the toffee. But I wasn’t feeling well—I’d an angry grandmother to face—and after biting off a corner, I tossed the rest of it, box and all, into the river. I remember, clearly, its being instantly set upon by a frenzy of small fish and, after that, less clearly, its being tugged this way and that as it drifted slowly away on the current. I was half-watching it, still, when the noon whistle sounded at Knight’s Lumber and, expected for lunch, I abandoned the rowboat, clambered up the embankment to the path, and headed home to face the music.


My arrival, however, was uneventful—Mr. Bardeau hadn’t called yet. Though initially relieved, by mid-afternoon I was wanting it over with and wishing he’d hurry up.  But he didn’t call that day, or the next, or the one after that and, by now, it was apparent he never would, that I’d been spared.


I didn’t think to ask him while I could, so will never know his reasons, but I think it likely that, as a young boy, he’d been caught stealing, himself, so was more sympathetic to young boys than grandmothers and had no intention of calling Gram, only of scaring me into thinking he would. I think it likely, too, that he knew about the toffee.

whistler in aisle one