Monday, October 20, 2014

Another Day at First National

It had rained. Steam lifts off the sidewalks like exorcised demons. Reuben, the guard at First National, stares at the damp and trash-littered sidewalks over the hill of his belly. He is trying to will the center button of his gray, polyester uniform shirt to not pop. He thought he could succeed, but then he sees something pass through the sunlight, and he jumps from his chair. He presses his fleshy arms against the glass to see if it is her, Jennifer, his daughter; she is gone. Carol has run off with her. But the door swings open, and it is only a rusty hinge of a man. Reuben turns back to the window, and the sidewalks, looking for the ghost of his daughter.

The teller, Susan, motions for the old man to come forward. He puts a gnarly finger to his pursed and worn lips, raises his 12 gauge Mossberg, and fires. Reuben jumps, turns from the window, and pulls his best Barney Fife as he fumbles for the glock in its nylon holster. He fires, but the rounds careen past the silver-haired stranger his shotgun still pointed north, smoke rising from it like an entrance to Hell.

Reuben’s hands get less shaky because he starts breathing just like he learned in that internet course that was mandatory when he signed up to be a bank guard, but Reuben is not thinking about his time on the range or even “bullet time,” but he is hoping for one more shot – where did Carol go? And before the old man can pump the shotgun, Reuben squeezes the trigger one last time.

The bullet knocks the old man back against the lobby island. The shotgun spins out of his grip and skitters across the sandy-colored tile to the huddled patrons. Susan runs and grabs the shotgun. Reuben holsters his glock, dashes forward, and pins the old man. Sound crashes in the bank like a tidal wave, but it is only Reuben’s pulse. He keeps breathing as he waits for the police to arrive. He is smiling – just another day at First National – but when Reuben goes home, after the interviews, he would still have no one to tell his story to.

At home, he grabs the red and black checkered suitcase from under the bed, packs it with whatever he can grab, and sits next to it on the bed with his phone in hand. I’m a hero now, he wants to tell Jennifer and Carol, but he doesn’t make the call; he can’t because she never left a number; she didn’t even leave a note. He had woke up and they had been “erased” from his life. He wants to believe his relationship with Carol is salvageable, but he never knew it was ever in distress. He stands up, sets the phone on the bed, and opens the suitcase. He looks at the jumbled pile of shirts and books and socks and boxer briefs and ties Jennifer had bought him, and he closes the lid. He looks at the mirror, which is slightly askew, but he can see himself. He knows the score, now. He pushes the suitcase off the bed, curls into a ball, and tries to relive that moment at First National. If he closes his eyes hard enough he can almost feel the tension in his shoulders when the shotgun went off.