She looked in the full-length mirror and a podgy, wonky-legged middle-aged woman pulled a face at her. She adjusted her cat suit and sucked in her bulges. Five seconds later, they were back. She let out her breath with relief. Her legs were bent at the knees, shaking. She pointed at herself. One last time Lesley. And then you can stop.
“Have you heard the one about the overweight disabled robber?”
She gave a hollow laugh.
“Didn’t think so.”
She had to do this – being able to stand and walk short distances meant that the DLA deemed her fit to work. She wasn’t fit for anything, but just writing ‘fatigue’ on the form left people rolling their eyes and thinking ‘lazy’. They had not idea what it was like to walk through stiffening jelly every day, or have to lift invisible bricks off your legs to just get out of a chair.
Before the diagnosis, when everything had gone bad, she’d been agile – able to scale walls, run over roof ridges, duck under infrared sensors, roll under partially lifted windows. She had been a very successful thief, only taking from crooked businesses, never from upright people.
She never dreamed that it would all go wrong because of this. She looked at herself again, then reached for the mask and turned away. She pulled on a purple tracksuit to hide the lycra, shoved her mask into a handbag, grabbed her blue badge, lifted her walking stick and went out to get the car.
This one was easy – only five minutes away, and manned by the most incompetent security guard she’d ever come across. She’d been in the town museum a few times this past year, allowing him to give her his arm and guide her to a chair beside it. Today would be no different. At the beginning.
She checked her watch – perfect – it was nearly closing time. She parked in the convenient disabled space just outside and slowly made her way to the door. She leant on her stick and looked over to check everything was as it should be.
“Well hello, dear. How are we today?”
Mentally punching his patronising pasty face, she smiled at him and sighed,
“Oh, I’m just worn out Harold. All I need is a wee seat for now.”
He nodded and patted her arm before leading her to the usual bench. She settled herself on it and prepared to wait.
The clock chimed five, and the few visitors there filed out already thinking about dinner. Lesley left too, but just before the door she ducked into the toilets. She put the toilet lid down and sitting on it she awkwardly pulled off her tracksuit. She got out her mask and stuffed the clothes she’d just removed into her bag. She folded up her stick, leant back against the cistern and waited.
Harold was whistling round the rooms, checking everyone was gone. He called in to the toilets, but didn’t come in. All the lights were flicked off then, apart from the exit signs. Lesley lit up the face of her watch and counted the minutes.
One hour later, she heard the ping of Harold’s dinner, and the rustle of papers as he settled down at his chair again. She stood up, hid her bag behind the toilet, and crept out. His station was round the corner from where she wanted to go. She gingerly placed one foot in front of the other. It would take twice the number than before. She could only hope that she would be able to keep in a straight line – another challenge now. But then, she was there. She looked over at the light shining where Harold was and was relieved to hear him singing loudly and out of tune to the walkman she’d given him as ‘a thank-you present’ a month before. She turned back and faced her target. She had spotted it the very first time she’d been, and knew it would solve all her problems. She put her gloves on and reached over. Two things happened: Harold sneezed and she jumped, nearly knocking over her prize. She caught it, put it under her arm and stepped back.
Once she got back to the toilets, she put her tracksuit back on, stuffed the stolen goods in her bag and grabbed her stick. She left the toilets, lay down and called for help.
It took a while for Harold to hear her, but she was in no hurry.
“Oh Harold, thank heaven you were here! I got stuck on the toilet, and when I tried to walk, I just fell.”
Harold exclaimed, and helped her up.
‘Do you need me to call an ambulance?”
“Oh no no, if you could just help me to my car, that would be wonderful.”
Harold walked Lesley and the stolen property through the front door and into her car. She waved shakily and reversed out. He opened the gate for her, a benevolent smile on his face.
“See you later, sucker!” Lesley shouted as she drove away.
Later, with her feet up and pyjamas on, Lesley sipped hot chocolate and smiled at Harold on the news, pointing up to the roof where he guessed the robber had escaped. She looked over, ran her hand along the Ming vase and smiled.