THE DROPLIFTER • by Christopher Owen

Rose was a droplifter.

I must admit until I met her, I’d never heard the term. She introduced me to it when we were on our first date at Starbucks. We’d met on a dating site, and after we’d had our venti cappuccinos, she got up from the table and went to browse a bin of CDs that were for sale near the counter. I watched her as she idly thumbed through the bin, then reached into her coat pocket and pulled out a CD. Placing it in the middle of the bin, she then pushed the other CDs back in place, turned and walked toward the door, giving me a ‘let’s go’ nod.

“What did you do back there?” I asked when we emerged into a gray and rainy Manhattan afternoon.

“I droplifted.”

“What?”

“Droplifted. It’s the opposite of shoplifting.”

“Okay, please explain.”

“Shoplifting is stealing something from a store. Droplifting is leaving something in the store, as if it were a product to be sold.”

“Okay, I understand, I guess. But why?”

“Why not? I like doing it. It gives me a little thrill. When I was a teen, I shoplifted a bit. I liked the thrill it gave me. But I didn’t like getting caught, which happened once. Between the cops and my abusive stepfather, well, it just took all the fun out of it. Then I discovered droplifting. Same thrill. No risk. I’m not breaking any laws.”

“And that CD?”

“A demo from some musician friends. They gave me like twenty to spread around the city. Gives them a little free publicity.”

Rose, I discovered, was an artist of sorts, and droplifting was one of her artforms. Over a crab dinner later that night at South Street Seaport she told me of her escapades. Sometimes she droplifted little figurines that she created into curio stores. Other times, she would print postcards of her paintings and leave them in the stands that always line the entrances to souvenir shops. She liked to sew, and often her garments ended up on the racks at fancy stores like Bloomingdale’s and Saks.

Her greatest droplift, she told me, was when she wrote an eighty-thousand-word novel in the style of J. D. Salinger, then had ten copies printed as little mass-market paperbacks at a local printer. She’d designed the cover so that it looked like a book from the fifties, complete with Salinger’s byline, then she aged the books by baking them at low temperature in her oven for several days. Then she spent a weekend driving around the five boroughs, droplifting the copies into used bookstores.

“About a month later, the Salinger forums on the web started lighting up,” she told me. “People went crazy. Til some real critics actually read it. I’m no Salinger, I guess. They knew it was a fake. But it was fun. Nobody’s figured out where they came from. They’re quite collectible now. One sold for like a grand on eBay. Wish I’d saved one.”

“You could make more, right?”

“Sure, but that sort of goes against the true spirit of droplifting. I just couldn’t.”

I decided her droplifting habit was weird, but after some of the women I’d met online, it seemed harmless enough. After dinner and a couple bottles of Chardonnay, I grew bold and invited her to my apartment. She agreed, and when we arrived, we had another bottle of wine. We then fell into an embrace, and later, my bed.

***

Deep in the night, I awoke. The rain had moved on, and now moonlight shone through my bedroom window. Rose was moving about my room naked, looking at all my little knickknacks here and there, as well as all the books that lined my shelves. “Everything okay?” I asked.

“Yeah. Just looking around. Hope you don’t mind.”

“Not at all.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t steal anything.”

“I’m not worried about that. But hey, maybe you’re gonna leave something here. Droplift, as it were.”

“Maybe I already have.”

“Yeah, like what?”

“Hmm, my virginity, maybe?”

“Oh, Rose. I didn’t know—”

She laughed. “Kidding. I reckon I droplifted that long ago.”

I was silent then, and she continued to move about the room, her body bathed in the wan moonlight. “You sure seem to like books,” she said at last.

“I do. Gotta collect something, right? I’ve got a couple first editions, but mostly they’re just pulp. But, they keep me company on rainy days when there’s no droplifters in the house.”

She chuckled, then came back to bed, and we cuddled and soon I was asleep again. Yet when I awoke in the morning, she was gone.

I got up, put coffee on, and poured myself a cup when it was ready. When I went to the living room, that’s when I saw the book on the coffee table.

I picked it up. It was a brittle and yellowed paperback novel titled The Girl in the Trench Coat by J. D. Salinger. There was a handwritten note in tucked within.

It read: So, you’re cool, James, but I’m not really the dating type. Some friends goaded me onto the dating site, and all the others sucked, but our date was nice. You didn’t treat me like a weirdo, and that was a great change of pace. But, like a certain reclusive writer, I work better alone, just me and… my art. And… I lied. I still had one Salinger book left. Couldn’t think of anything else to droplift to you, and you like books, so… voila! You can recoup your expenses (and more) for that fancy crab dinner if you sell it, or maybe you’ll keep it. Little memento of moi. So… bye.

I opened the cover to the title page, where she’d written: To James, hugs and kisses, J. D. Salinger. She’d dotted the ‘i’ with a heart.

And so, my book collection grew by one more book. I decided I would treasure it. I already missed Rose very much.


Christopher Owen has recently moved to Colorado where he lives with his wife and two cats. He is proud to announce that his first two novels, Faith and Euro Spree, have been released this summer, as well as a short story collection called Drinking Tales. Over the years his short fiction has appeared at Daily Science Fiction, Every Day Fiction, Mirror Dance, Eleven Eleven Literary Journal, New Myths and other places. He is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and the Yale Summer Writers’ Conference.


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