When you hear the word “addiction” you will instantly think of addiction as a continued use of a mood altering substance, such as alcohol or drugs. That is the kind of addiction, people mostly hear and talk about. But addiction can also be something you develop through time, a consequence of things you might have experienced or simply just a fun little habit, which has gotten out of control.
When I first laid eyes on the title of this story, I suddenly thought, that it might be a crucial horror story, about a person who sacrificed poor victims to some Satanic God, whom the main character believed in. And I wasn’t that wrong. Surely, the story is not about a cold-blooded murder, who murders to please his or her Master, but it still is about a person, who collects things – material things, not dead people – so she can sacrifice them to the dark gods, so they will leave her alone and not hurt her. If you try to look at Helen as a person who knows her, but doesn’t know her dark secret, you’d probably think of her as the woman who has everything. She has a lovely, strong husband, some happy children and a job where she gets to help bewildered teenagers. The family is a family of virtue and wealth. Her husband is a lawyer; therefore he values morality and legality. He’s a man of principle of firm opinions. He’s the caretaker in the family. Maybe it is right to say, that Helen has everything, but she doesn’t have the “perfect” life. We wouldn’t even think of her life as an ideal life. The kids, the job, the wealth and the husband, yes maybe, but we wouldn’t want to be in her position. We wouldn’t want to live the way that she lives – constantly frightened of the dark gods. Spending every living moment to think of what she has to steal next to please them.
You could look at the text with your Super Natural Goggles on, and say that these dark gods might actually exist in this fictional world. Helen describes them very well. But these so-called dark gods, are the only supernatural things in this text, and I believe it’s all a part of Helens imagination. These dark gods could be a result of her OCD. An explanation of her actions. It doesn’t say anywhere in the text, that Helen suffers from OCD, but it’s quite obvious to me. Surely, she could just be a kleptomaniac, but the way she describes this need for stealing points me to the conclusion of a mental illness, rather than a lust for material things. And the fact that she’s stealing for the dark gods also tells me, that there’s something wrong with her. She gets panic attacks, when the time is running out. At the restaurant where she’s having dinner with her husband, her husband’s client John Stanton and his wife, Barbara Stanton, she’s about to freak out because there’s almost no time left to steal the items. She’s seeing potential gifts to the dark gods in everything. The knifes, the plates, the napkins. She must steal something, but she can’t, she doesn’t get the chance, something always gets in the way. Helen has a pattern when it comes to stealing. She has to steal at least two items every week. The items have to be from the same store, on the same floor, and they have to be different. She has to make it before 3pm on Fridays. Otherwise the dark gods won’t be pleased. The thoughts she has are typical for a person with OCD.
OCD is something you’re born with, but it doesn’t always show in the early years. Often it’s triggered by something that has a huge impact on your life. “She can’t remember exactly when it began. It was soon after Chloe and Nick left for university, when she quit her job at the advertising company. When she became, as Daniel describes her, a lady of leisure.” Her children moved away and she quit her job - her life changed. And I think she started to steal as a result of her husband’s words. One thing she lacks is independency from the hands of her husband. You could say, that he’s the breadwinner, the supporter of the household. After she quit her job, her husband told her, that she didn’t have to work anymore. They could easily afford it. She was now a lady of leisure. There’s another passage in the text, that can support my thoughts of the husband being the trigger to this shop-lifting; “’Busy day?’ he asks. ‘Hair appointment?’ He laughs. There’s a strange pride in the way he teases her about her empty, frivolous days. He is the sole breadwinner now.” Also the story tells us, that she’s tutoring troubled kids in the small charity-run literacy programme in the suburbs. Helen thinks about the people in the literacy programme. “Young and old, struggling with so many demons….. Daniel knows little about the literacy programme. He believes she teaches pensioners how to use a computer. He would not understand Amanda, the girl who carries a kitchen knife to make small cuts in her wrists when she is stressed. Or Zak, the boy with HATE tattooed on his forehead.” Helen refers to these young people, as mentally disturbed people, haunted by demons. Not “real” demons like Helens, but demons inside of them. Helen believes, that the dark gods are real. In the story it says, that she knows, that it is the dark gods who turn the wheels of a tricycle and send the toddler screaming into the traffic. To her, the dark gods are real. I think she helps these children because they’re like her. Like it says in the text, Helen hasn’t told Daniel – her husband – about the literacy programme. Or at least not what it really is about. She has told him, that she teaches pensioners, and not that she helps troubled kids. I think she’s afraid of what he might think of the young people, if he actually knew what was wrong with them. The similarity between the young people from the literacy and Helen is quite big and I think she knows that. I think she’s frightened of how he would judge them – and by that also judge Helen. She hasn’t told Daniel about her “little problem,” because she knows that he won’t be able to understand it, and that’s also why she keeps the details of her work as a secret.
The end is quite strange, I’d say. Not what I would’ve expected. After what the text says, Helen will stop stealing gifts to the dark gods. Something happened at the restaurant, which made her realize, that what she does is complete lunacy. What happens is that a few minutes to “deadline,” she’s still an item short. She still needs to find another item, so she steals a vase. A vase filled with water and flowers. The water has made everything in her bag wet. “She thinks of the mess inside her bag. She imagines her wet driver’s license, her sodden checkbook, the photographs of her children, the card from Chloe, all destroyed by the water from her vase. It is lunacy. Helen stops.” What I get from this part of the story is that Helen finally realizes, what’s going on. She thinks of the mess inside her head. How this illness – the dark gods – can destroy her life. If Daniel finds out, she will lose him and her children and she will also lose her life as a wealthy wife and mother (the photographs and the checkbook.) If she gets caught, she can get arrested – lose her freedom (that’s why the drivers license is mentioned I think.) So that is why she goes back to find Barbara’s card. Barbara is the only person who knows about this, and she figured it out by herself. Helen wouldn’t have to sit down and explain everything to her, so maybe Helen sees it as way to finally talk to someone about these demons, that she struggles with.