fiction by Melanie Lamaga
This story appeared previously in “Fiction International #38, Sacred/Shamanic.”
Imagine a bank teller. You know the type: slender, blonde, luminously clean, except that her fingers are coated with invisible money-paste made of microscopic flecks of skin, mixed with dirt and oil. Still, she seems to shimmer pink and gold in the tasteful glow of recessed lights.
It’s a Monday morning and the teller is barely awake. The few customers flit in and out of her awareness like birds, a part of the landscape. Funneling money, she is a window through which power flows, more absence than object. A potential, now filled, now empty, as money passes in and out like wind, like water, like any symbol you choose.
Between customers she shifts her feet, teetering on tiny, leather-topped spines, and almost trips. Just behind her, on the floor, a large duffle bag has inexplicably appeared. She turns, bends, unzips it. Inside, a mask and a note: put this on, fill the sack with money and don’t press the alarm. We’re watching.
The teller looks around, sees no one but innocuous-looking customers and fellow tellers. Their murmured transactions hush, soothing as ocean on sand. She waits, suspended, as half-formed thoughts appear and disappear like silver fish. Is this a joke, a test, a threat? Then, a strange smell penetrates her reverie; her eyes lose focus. Vision darkening, she gropes for the mask, slips it on and gulps fresh air. All around, blurred motion as bodies fall. She eyes the red button, but doesn’t touch it. They’re watching.
She packs money into the bag, emptying her drawer, then the next, on down the line. What else is there to do? She’s not sure how much they want and she’s afraid to disappoint. When the sack is full she reads the note again, but there are no further instructions. Still, the thieves have not arrived.
Clutching the bulging sack, she floats toward the doors. Solid brass, impossibly heavy, yet they move. Pulling off her mask she steps outside, squinting like a mole in the spring sun. What now? She can’t connect these events into a recognizable pattern. Finally, the simple longing for a cup of coffee propels her down the street. Tipping on her delicate stilts, she passes granite office buildings, men in suits, a police car and the coffee shop. She doesn’t stop.
Is she an accomplice? Not in any traditional sense. There were no meetings, no phone calls, no plan. But yet, the heft of the money, pressing against her like a lover’s body, is vaguely familiar. She imagines a bearded man in an orange shirt next to a wooden boat, smiling. He’s waiting for her!
She begins to run, feet slipping and twisting, kicking off the shoes. She doesn’t question now, how this has come to pass; she doesn’t think of her husband, his tie reflecting the blue light of his computer. She doesn’t think of their condo ticking quietly behind drawn curtains, or of the microscopic new life, a space traveler, tumbling through the darkness inside her.
There’s no need for thought, at all.
She feels the air forcing its way into her lungs, jagged and pure. She feels the sack of money bang against her chest like a third breast, bouncing in glorious, painful abundance.
The harbor, smelling brackish and sharp, opens before her. No waiting man, no boat, but it doesn’t matter. The sun’s light creates a path, reflecting off floating fast-food wrappers, syringes and cans, the debris of a thousand years. She steps out, moving lightly across the swirling, dirty water. The thing that awaits her rises up, opening like the mouth of an ancient god, colors engulfing the sky.