Helen, moving briskly, trips on a crack in the cement sidewalk. She picks up her bag and stands up, looking around her as she does. She wonders why she was walking so quickly to begin with. She tries to think back, but can’t bring herself to recall where she was headed in such a hurry. She feels a tear slide down her cheek, and she wipes it away. She doesn’t feel the least bit sad, and wonders why she may have been crying.
Helen feels a buzzing in her pocket, and pulls out her phone. It’s lit up, with a new message reading: “Don’t forget to ask for twenties at the bank. See you at dinner tonight. –D”. Now she remembers. She was out running errands, and the last thing on her list was to grab some cash from the bank on her way home. David wanted to use it to buy that used couch on Craigslist; the one with the ugly green and white stripes and that stain on one side from god-only-knows-what. Honestly she thought it was a hideous old thing, but David seemed set on it.
Reaching the end of the block, she smiles to herself as she walks up the steps of the bank. David had always had odd tastes, but she loved him for it.
Stepping into the building, she notices just how old it looks. It’s ancient, and there is the faint smell of mildew in the air. Helen wrinkles her nose, and concludes to try and finish up here as fast as she can so that she can start making the short trip home.
She sighs when she notices that a line has formed in front of a lone, rather flustered-looking teller who appears to be about as old as the bank itself. Helen steps into line, and closes her eyes for a moment, letting the sound of an old Sinatra song fill her ears. The music is low and the bank’s speakers are tainted with just a bit too much static, but the feeling it creates inside of Helen is a good one.
She still can’t remember much from the earlier part of her day, but she feels like it was stressful. Her mind drifts to David and the kids, and she sighs again. She hates being stuck here in line. She wonders why the bank can’t afford to have more than one employee at a time, and instead makes everyone wait around for ages just to withdraw a little money.
Her eyes open quickly as she hears the loud slamming of the doors behind her. Entering through the doors are two men, both wearing dark masks. One is tall and thin, and the other is shorter but just as thin. In each of their hands is a gun, and they’re pointing them forward.
“Alright everyone, hands in the air- I want to see palms!” shouts the taller one. Everyone raises their arms above their heads, and Helen follows suit. “Now down on the ground! Easy does it!” The shorter man is yelling now. He has a strong New York accent, unlike the other man.
“We don’t want anyone doing’ anything stupid, and getting’ hurt”. They walk past Helen and the others to the front counter. The taller one faces the teller while the short one keeps an eye on everyone on the ground.
The tall man speaks again. “Alright grandma, I want you to unlock every register behind the counter, and load everything into this bag. I want every cent, so don’t miss a goddamn thing- you got me?” The teller nods, tears streaming down her wrinkled cheeks.
The shorter man continues pointing his gun at the small crowd of quiet customers. Helen can feel her heart racing, and her hands shake in front of her. She presses them firmly against the ground to steady them. Sweat trickles down her forehead.
“Come on, we’ve got to move! What’s taking so long?” shouts the shorter one. The taller man slams his fist on the counter. “Hurry up, you old hag!” The shorter man turns his back to Helen and the rest of the customers, now pointing his gun at the old woman behind the counter.
Suddenly a man toward the front of the line leaps up and runs forward, tackling the shorter man to the ground. They begin fumbling over the gun. Everyone else jumps up and starts running for the exit. Screams of panic and fear fill the air.
Helen grabs her bag and races after the others toward the big double doors. Her hands grasp the wooden handles and she pulls hard, when “Bang!” a terrifyingly loud sounds fills the air. Helen stops, and lets go of the handles. The short man and his assailant cease fighting over the gun, and let it drop to the ground with a heavy clank.
The taller man pulls off his mask, a look of shock on his face. Helen can see that he’s young, much younger than she would have thought. “Joey, what the hell man? You told me you were using blanks! I thought we agreed no live rounds. This is exactly what we were trying to avoid… dude, what have you done?” he asks.
His partner doesn’t answer for a second, and when he does, his voice is shaky. “I… I didn’t mean to. The guy who sold them to me, he told me they were fakes… said they wouldn’t really even go off…” His words trail off.
Helen can feel her body start to quiver. She raises her hands to her face, and they’re covered in red. The blood drips off of her pale fingers, and she feels cold. Her lungs are heavy, and taking breaths becomes more difficult.
She drops her bag, and a small picture tumbles out. Four smiling faces look back at her: one her own, the other three belonging to David and their two little girls. Helen thinks back to the day that picture was taken.
David spent the afternoon complaining, talking about how the tailor-made his suit pants just a size too small. Helen thought it had less to do with that and more to do with how many of her snicker doodle cookies he had been eating. She felt it best not to mention that to him though. She had always prided herself on her aptitude in marital diplomacy. Then there were the girls. They wouldn’t stop fidgeting with their dresses, and kept complaining about how itchy they felt in them. On the way to the photo shoot, Helen had nearly had several exasperated don’t-make-me-pull- this-car-over moments. It had been a crazy day, but the pictures had turned out so beautifully.
Helen takes another look at the picture, and smiles. She tries to chuckle but can feel liquid in her lungs, and begins to cough. Blood trickles down her chin and splatters onto the floor below. She crumbles to her knees, and then falls onto her side, resting on the cool linoleum.
She can see the two men still arguing with each other, but she can’t hear what they’re saying. Their voices sound so faint. The man who attacked the shorter one had fled, though Helen didn’t notice him go.
She reaches out for the picture, and clutches it tightly in front of her. She coughs again, and another small tide of crimson pours out of her mouth. The blood drips onto the image, covering her likeness in thick red.
Now only David and the girls are still visible, with blood obscuring her in the shot. She tries to wipe it away, but it only smears and makes the picture harder to see. Helen begins to sob now, feeling tears flow down her cheeks onto the bank floor. Gradually her breathing slows. She closes her eyes, and won’t open them again.
She can faintly make out the sound of humming, but from where she cannot tell. It sounds to her like a tune her mother often used to sing to her before bed a long, long time ago, when she was just a little girl.
Suddenly there is a flash of pure white. Then there is blackness, and the sensation of falling. And then there is nothing.
Helen, moving briskly, trips on a crack in the cement sidewalk. She picks up her bag and stands up, looking around her as she does. She wonders why she was walking so quickly to begin with. She tries to think back, but can’t bring herself to recall where she was headed in such a hurry. She feels a tear slide down her cheek, and wipes it away. She doesn’t feel the least bit sad, and wonders why she may have been crying.