Collectors
by Rosanne Griffeth

After all, it wasn't as though anyone had been in these houses in recent memory. It wasn't like anyone would notice anything missing. We weren't really stealing and it could hardly be called breaking-in since the locks had long since fallen to the ground in a heap of termite poop.

You did have to be careful. Those old places were overgrown and snakey.

Choosing the house took time. We drove around for months watching and dreaming of the treasures surely tucked inside these leaning old gentlemen. A piece of Edgefield pottery, an Indian basket, Carolina Dispensary bottles—once I found a White Rock Table Water advertising piece keeping company with tintypes of some dead man's ancestors.

We got caught once. But she'd taught the officer in second grade.

"Mrs. Niver, what in the world do you think you're doing?" he'd said while I, wide-eyed and shamefaced, sucked the ends of my pigtails.

She came waltzing through the brush, stepping over shards of picket fence, like he was her prodigal son returned from the war. She leaned the crowbar against a blighted mulberry tree.

"Why if it isn't little Dickie Johnson! Why…I haven't seen you in a coon's age! How's your Momma?"

He took off his trooper hat and wiped the sweat from his brush cut with a bandana, blushing. "I go by 'Richard' these days, Ma'am."

"Well, of course you do! Look at you! You've grown into a fine young man!" She grabbed him by the arms like she was feeling up turkey breasts. "So big and strong! My Lord, how does time fly! I remember when you were just a bitty thing--but smart, oh my, you were so smart!"

She looked at me as though I could learn a thing or two from Officer Dickie Johnson. I sucked harder on my pigtails.

He hung his head, thumbs stuck in his utility belt. The radio in his patrol car crackled.

"Do you need to get that?" she said. "I hope we aren't keeping you?"

"Uh, no Ma'am. Somebody called in something about prowlers around this old house."

"Isn't that the funniest thing?" she laughed. "Dickie—Richard, did you know that this old house is, historically, the oldest whorehouse in Jasper County? Oh yes, it is. See how many doors are on it? That's so the gentlemen callers could leave should a swift exit be called for."

She was right. The three-room shotgun shack had eight doors and we were prying open the back one.

"Uh. Uh. No Ma'am, I did not know that." Officer Johnson's eyes bounced around avoiding Momma's—like discussing the finer points of cathouses might not be appropriate with one's second grade teacher.

She stood back as though all was explained. "Well. Now you do! History is so interesting, don't you think? Do give my warmest regards to your mother, okay? And you take care of yourself, you hear?"

Officer Dickie Johnson climbed back into his patrol car and drove off, just as easy as that. All of her old students were a bit in love with her, and sometimes, I felt like I had to share her with them.

"Bless his heart. Dickie Johnson always was a tad slow. Sucked his thumb through third grade." She pulled my braid out of my mouth. "Stop eating your hair and come help me get this door open."