Short Fiction ~ Elaine Barnard
(This story is the second prize winner in the Strands International Flash Fiction Competition - 3)
I elbow the little guy beside me. “I don’t like anyone trying to jump ahead of me,” I yell at the teller. Maybe he thinks since he’s small he can get away with it. But no one gets away with it when I’m around. I sense it coming. I know by body language when someone is gonna pull a fast one. My dad always said, “Give them an inch, they take a yard,” and he sure was right.
The bank teller, Becky, her name tag says, looks at me like I’m a foreign creature, a guy from another planet.
“What can I do for you?” Becky says meekly. Like she’s afraid if she talks loud I might blow the bank up.
“Look, this guy tried to get ahead of me.”
Becky presses her lips into a thin white line. She’s not bad looking, just kinda boring in her blue tailored suit and little red tie, a white shirt underneath. Is this the Fourth of July or what? Yay, it’s the B of A, the Bank of America I’m dealing with here. One of the oldest institutions in the USA. I read where they’d been cited for corruption. Some kind of loan scheme.
Who knows? Who the hell cares? All I want is my place in line. When I should be at the front, I damn well better be.
The little guy rolls his eyes at me. They’re big brown eyes like maybe you’d see on a panda. Where did this idiot come from anyway? What the hell is he doing in my country? I bet he owns that Persian rug place on the corner or maybe that shop that sells chandeliers from Damascus. Stolen probably. Counterfeit goods. Copies of the real thing left behind when the Syrians evacuated.
I can’t stand all this new stuff in my town. All these shops selling Cuban cigars and imported dinnerware from Italy. Let Americans eat off American plates. Let the Italians eat off their own.
“What did you say your business was, Sir?”
“I didn’t say. If I’d said it you would have heard it. I don’t mumble.”
Becky looks at me with those watery blue eyes. She pushes some golden strands behind her ears. She has beautiful ears, delicate lobes of white flesh. I’d like to buy her some earrings.
“What did you say?”
“I’d like to buy you some earrings.”
“Thank you but I don’t wear earrings at work.”
“I’m not thinking of work. I’m thinking of after. After you get off. What time does the bank close?”
“Hours are posted on the door, Sir.”
“My name isn’t, Sir. It’s Howard, Howard Briar. Howie to those who know me well.”
“Well, Mr. Briar, I’d be happy to serve you.”
“I bet you would. I’d be happy to serve you as well.”
Suddenly I feel a movement behind me, a hand on my arm. “This way, Sir, I can take care of you in my office.”
“I don’t want to be taken care of.”
This guy is about my size, six feet two with hands the size of baseball mitts. He could play catcher on any team.
I try to return to the front of the line. Everyone is staring at me which I like. I’ve always enjoyed an audience. So I raise my fist thinking he’ll slink back to his office. But he doesn’t. The pressure on my arm increases. Two security guards approach in their white shirts and black pants like they’re going to church or something.
“What do you think you’re doing?” I shout as they try to force me out the door. “All I want is my place in line. What kind of country is this anyway? It’s going to hell in a handbag. Illegals on every corner. Pretty soon they’ll run this bank. It’ll be the Bank of Arabia.” I bang on the door which they lock behind me.
I get in my truck and turn on the radio full volume. From the glove compartment I extract a small vial. It’s empty. No refills. It has my doctor’s name on it and his phone number. I call him on my cell but get a recording, “Doctor Slentz is on vacation until September first. If this is an emergency, please call—“ I slam down the phone. The hell with it, the hell with everything. I don’t need my meds. I never have. They just make me sleepy. I don’t want to sleep. I want to drive like hell away from here. I rev the engine. Dogs bark. Kids cry. Old ladies drop their groceries.
I drive out the Entrance instead of the Exit. I’m hoping some dope will try to drive in and I can ram him with my bumper. But my tires catch on the grid, “Do Not Back Up.”
Then I hear the sirens. My head swims. My ears explode. As the officers approach, weapons drawn, I begin to cry. I know what’s coming. It’s happened before. Yes, I know where I need to be. It’s cold. They take your blood pressure and your oxygen level. They feed you even when you’re not hungry and change your sheets when you make a mess in your dreams.
Elaine Barnard's collection of stores from her travels in Asia, The Emperor of Nuts: Intersections Across Cultures was published by New Meridian Arts in 2018. Her work was recently featured in the New Short Fiction Series at the Annenberg Center in Santa Monica, CA. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best Small Fiction. She was a finalist for Best of the Net. Elaine received her MFA from the University of California, Irvine and her BA from the University of Washington, Seattle.