Banking for the Dead
They turned into the bank parking lot just as an Anglo woman appeared behind the glass door. She wore a long red blazer over a dark brown tartan skirt and her chestnut-brown hair was frozen into a dome over her head. Teresa watched the woman look down at a large ring of keys and select one and shake the others out of the way. She worked the key into the lock and the glass shimmered as the door shook. The woman looked up as she pulled the key from the lock and frowned in their direction, at the little gray sedan easing into a parking space facing the doors. Then she turned and retreated into the shadowed interior, like a colored trout disappearing away from the surface of a still pool.
“Perfect timing,” Marcus said. “No one’s here yet.”
“Hmm,” Teresa said.
Marcus looked at her. “What?”
She shook her head.
Teresa was carrying a large manila envelope in her lap. She handed the envelope to Marcus, then they stepped from the car, and Teresa released little Raysie from her car seat and carried the drowsy girl across the asphalt. Marcus pulled open the glass door and Teresa thanked him as she stepped inside. She looked for the splash of red that would reveal the woman in the red blazer, but saw only brown and gray and green.
“I’ll go ask a teller how this works,” Marcus said. “I’ll probably have to talk to a manager or something.”
Behind the counter across the room were two female Spanish tellers and one male Anglo, all dressed in somber colors, all bent over their work, hands moving down out of sight, eyes tracking their hands. Marcus carried the manila envelope across the gray carpet and wound his way through the empty queue that snaked toward the tellers. He approached the first one, a middle-aged Spanish woman, and she looked up and smiled. She had a broad face and a mouth full of large yellow teeth. Marcus held the manila envelope before him as he spoke to her. She raised a hand and gestured off to her right. Marcus glanced in the direction she indicated. Then he nodded at the woman and appeared to say a few more words—thanking her, Teresa guessed. The Spanish woman smiled again.
On his way back across the gray carpet, Marcus bumped one of the chromed poles that suspended the black nylon belting that marked the queue. The male Anglo teller looked up and frowned as Marcus put out a hand to steady the pole. An ache started in Teresa’s shoulder so she shifted Raysie over to her other side as Marcus approached. The little girl squirmed and settled back in and rested her head against a pressure point in Teresa’s neck. Teresa shifted the child down to draw her head away and relieve the pain.
Marcus stopped in front of Teresa.
“I have to talk to the customer service rep, but she’s not in yet. She should be here in half an hour.”
“What did you say to the teller?”
Marcus looked over his shoulder at the Spanish woman he had spoken with. He tapped the manila envelope against his leg.
“Just that I want to deposit an unsigned check.”
Teresa looked up at the clock mounted high on the far wall, behind the row of tellers busy at their stations. The clock said 8:33. She looked down and her eyes settled on the male Anglo teller. His head was bent over and his bald spot gleamed like it was coated with wax. Teresa brought her eyes back to Marcus and frowned at her young cousin.
“Is there someone else you can talk to? There was a woman in a red jacket. She unlocked the door. I think she might be the manager.”
Marcus looked over his shoulder at the tellers.
“I dunno,” he said.
“She wasn’t one of the tellers.”
Marcus turned back toward Teresa. She looked at his eyes and they were focused past her, out the door to his car in the parking lot.
“You think I should ask for her?” Marcus said.
“Why not? I’ll bet the customer service rep is just going to bump you up to the manager anyway.”
Marcus brought his eyes back inside the bank and nodded at Teresa.
“Good point,” he said.
Marcus made his way back around the black belting and the chromed poles to the first teller and she smiled at him again. She listened to what he said, then raised a finger in the air before she turned and retreated deeper into the building. She was back in a few moments, but instead of returning to her station and Marcus, she went down to the end of the row to the male Anglo teller and spoke with him. He glanced at Marcus and said a few words. Then the Spanish woman went back to where Marcus waited and shook her head as she spoke. Marcus nodded and turned away from the teller and came back around the empty queue to Teresa.
“We just missed her,” Marcus said. “The manager. She opened up and left for a meeting. She won’t be back till this afternoon.”
“Tell me about it.”
Teresa frowned and looked past her young cousin. She watched the Anglo teller steal a glance in their direction.
“That Anglo one,” Teresa said. “You think he’s in charge right now?”
“Yeah, that’s the impression I get.”
“Why don’t you ask him what you should do?”
Marcus lowered his voice.
“You mean other than he looks like a jerk?”
Teresa smiled and laughed a little. Raysie shifted her weight and threw Teresa off balance. She changed her footing, planting her feet a little wider.
“Yeah, other than that,” Teresa said.
She bounced Raysie gently up and down, coaxing her into a different position, till the little girl was placed comfortably again.
“Okay, here goes,” Marcus said.
He made his way around to the Anglo teller. The man looked up and frowned, turned one ear toward Marcus, then shook his head while he spoke and went back to his work. Marcus stood before the Anglo man for a moment longer, then turned and went back around the empty queue to Teresa. He stood close and spoke quietly.
“Yeah, he’s a jerk.”
“What’d the jerk say?”
“He says wait for the customer service rep.”
Teresa looked at the Anglo teller again. He was speaking to the teller next to him, the one in the middle, a thin little Spanish woman with dark gray hair.
“What’d you tell him?” Teresa said.
She looked at Marcus and waited for his answer. He shrugged.
“Same thing I told the other one,” Marcus said.
Teresa looked back at the Anglo man behind the counter. He was watching the gray-haired Spanish woman and appeared very bored by whatever she was saying. Teresa looked up at the clock and now it said 8:37. Then the minute hand clicked forward and it was 8:38. She looked down at the Anglo teller and he was bent over his work again. His waxy bald spot gleamed.
Teresa looked at Marcus and pulled her lips into a smile that said we’re running out of options.
“So whatta ya wanna do, young buck?”
He shrugged and smiled back.
“We already killed about five minutes, right?”
Teresa glanced at the clock again. Still 8:38.
“So let’s sit and wait. We leave now, we’ll waste more time coming back later. And then we could wind up waiting longer anyway. This way, we’re first in line.”
Teresa followed Marcus to a seating area close behind them, off to one side of the door as you entered the bank. They sat in the gray scoop-shaped chairs and looked out across the room. Marcus tucked the manila envelope between his right thigh and the side of his chair. Teresa leaned back so Raysie could lay against her. The little girl wriggled around on top of Teresa, working into a comfortable position again, and in a moment the child was asleep. Teresa watched the tellers finish setting up their stations. Soon the two Spanish women were chatting together and the Anglo man was drinking from a Styrofoam cup and talking on the telephone. Raysie’s slow, steady breathing made Teresa’s eyes grow heavy.
The sound of Marcus coughing brought Teresa out of her doze. She blinked her eyes open and was surprised to see customers standing before each of the tellers and two more waiting in the nylon-belted queue. She turned to her cousin. He was looking past the customers and the tellers at the clock on the wall.
“So where’s that service rep?” he said.
His voice was thick. He coughed again. The clock said 9:05. Teresa’s arm, the one buried under Raysie, began to tingle and sting. She sat up and shifted the child across her lap and the discomfort in her arm changed to a burning sensation. She moved the arm around and the burning intensified before it faded away. Teresa felt dampness on her shoulder and knew Raysie had drooled on her.
“You wanna go, tía?” Marcus said.
Teresa looked at the clock again. Now it said 9:06.
“Give it a few more minutes,” she said.
Marcus slumped back in his chair and closed his eyes. Teresa watched a customer leave the queue and move to the first teller, the Spanish woman with the broad face and the yellow teeth. The customer who had just finished up with the first teller came around the queue and went past the seating area and out the door. A minute later, the door opened again and two more customers entered. Then another one left.
The clock said 9:08 when a thin, young blond woman in a tailored blue suit appeared behind the tellers. Teresa watched the woman saunter down the line and stop behind the male Anglo teller and lean close when she spoke to him. The Anglo man turned his head and answered over his shoulder. The blond woman leaned away so she could look past the Anglo man and across the room to where Marcus and Teresa and sleeping Raysie waited.
“I think your service rep is here,” Teresa said.
Marcus opened his eyes and looked at Teresa, then sat up and watched the blond in the blue suit saunter back up the row of tellers and disappear into the inner reaches of the bank. A few moments later, she emerged from a cluster of cubicles off to their left and approached the seating area. She stopped in front of Marcus and clutched her hands together in front of her and tilted her head to one side and plastered a smile across her face and leaned forward slightly when she spoke.
“May I help yewww?” she said.
Teresa looked across the room and saw the Anglo teller watching them, his chin down and his lips parted and his eyes squinting out from under his lowered brow.
I bet you know what this is about, you son of a bitch, Teresa thought.
Marcus lifted the manila envelope and rose to his feet. The blond woman straightened her back and arched her pale eyebrows up high on her narrow forehead and reduced her smile to a polite, concerned twist of compressed lips. Marcus looked down at his sleeping little girl folded against Teresa. Then he looked steadily at the blond woman and spoke in a low voice.
“My wife died recently.”
The blond woman blinked and her smile was gone.
“I am so sawry to hear that,” the blond woman said.
“Thank you,” Marcus said.
He held up the manila envelope.
“I have my wife’s last paycheck. She never signed it. I have all the paperwork I think I need to prove, that, um . . . that we were married and that . . . that she died.”
He raised his empty hand and coughed against it.
He cleared his throat.
“Can I deposit the check into our account?”
The blond woman chewed her lip and turned her head toward the Anglo teller. Teresa followed her eyes and saw the teller was busy with a customer. The blond woman looked at Marcus again.
“I’m real sawry,” she said. “But tha’s not anythin’ I ever helped anyone with before.”
She unclutched her hands and spread them apart, keeping her elbows against her sides, her hands level with her waist.
“Could you maybe come back later? When the manager’s here? She’d know all bout that. How to handle it and all.”
She clutched her hands back together again. Marcus looked down at Teresa and Raysie.
“She should be back before lunch,” the blond woman said. “The manager will. Bout eleven o’clock.”
Marcus smiled at the blond woman.
“I’m so sawry I couldn’ help.”
She leaned forward and her hands came apart again and she raised a single finger in the air.
“There’s one thing you might try? If comin’ back later on’s no good? You might go to the bank that issued the check? They might cash it fer yewww.”
Marcus nodded at the blond woman.
“Okay,” he said. “Thanks for the suggestion.”
“Oh yaw’re welcome. And I am seeewww sawry fer yawr lawsss.”
Marcus nodded at her.
“Thank you,” he said.
Then the thin, young blond woman in the tailored blue suit turned away and swung her hips and held her elbows close to her narrow waist as she sauntered back among the cubicles where she came from. Teresa looked to the row of tellers and the Anglo man dropped his head quickly and Teresa knew he had been watching them.
“What do you think, tía?” Marcus said. “Should we go try the other bank?”
Teresa kept her eyes on the Anglo teller. His gleaming bald spot made her nauseous.
“Why not?” she said.
She looked up at Marcus.
“Can’t be any more annoying than this.”
Marcus opened the manila envelope and looked inside. He drew out a large, pale blue check and examined it.
“It’d be almost funny if it was this bank,” he said.
Teresa smiled at him.
“But it’s not.”
He shook his head.
“No. But it’s not any bank I remember either.”
He raised his head and looked off into the cubicles where the blond woman had disappeared.
“Somehow I doubt blondie would know where it is.”
Teresa looked at the Anglo teller.
“I bet baldy knows,” she said.
Marcus looked down at Teresa, then followed her eyes.
“Yeah,” he said. “I bet you’re right.”
He looked at the customers waiting in the queue. A few had come and gone while Marcus was talking to the customer service representative. The door opened and another rep arrived. Then a second pushed the door open again. Now four people waited their turn.
“I’m gonna cut the line,” Marcus said.
He started around the poles and belts toward the Anglo teller. The gray man saw Marcus coming and froze for an instant, one hand in the air, then he flashed a smile at the customer standing before him, the first smile Teresa had seen on his gray face. Suddenly he worked hard at engaging his customer in conversation.
The bank that issued Jeannie Stone’s final paycheck was at the other end of all the strip malls and office parks that formed the local business district. Marcus turned into the bank’s parking lot and groaned at the number of cars already waiting there.
“Not good,” he said. “Not good at all.”
He found a spot hidden between a spotless red pickup truck and a dented white Suburban. Teresa handed the large manila envelope back to Marcus; they stepped from the car, and she released Raysie from her car seat and carried the little girl across the pavement. The building was sheathed in smoked glass. As they drew close to the bank, they could see inside, to the line snaking toward the tellers. When they stepped from the asphalt up onto the broad concrete apron that fronted the bank, their footsteps became harder and reverberated back at them off the glass.
“This is one ugly bank,” Marcus said.
Teresa had to stop and laugh. Marcus turned and grinned at her.
“Come on!” he said. “We have to hurry up and go wait.”
Teresa laughed again and followed after her young cousin. She lifted Raysie up high and hugged her close and the little girl kissed her cheek. Teresa kissed her back.
“Your daddy is funny,” Teresa said.
They clacked their way across the cement and went in through the double glass doors. The air inside was stale. Before them was another large room of muted colors. Bored faces waited in the queue. Tellers bent over their work.
“What a party,” Marcus said.
Heads turned when Teresa laughed. Marcus smiled at her.
“Let’s see what we can do to scare up someone important,” he said.
Teresa followed her cousin across the room, toward a young Asian woman seated at a desk in front of a cluster of beige cubicles. She was tapping slowly on a computer. Marcus stopped before the woman and waited till she looked up. He raised the manila envelope in the air.
“I need to cash an unsigned check made out to my dead wife.”
The woman blanched. Marcus smiled.
“Can you help me with that?”
“Um . . . one minute?”
The woman jumped up and scurried off. Marcus turned to Teresa.
“We’ll never see her again,” he said.
Teresa choked back another laugh and shook her head.
“Stop it. You’re making my sides hurt.”
In a minute the woman returned.
“Well looky here,” Marcus said. “It’s a miracle.”
The young woman clasped her hands together and gestured with them as she spoke. She reminded Teresa of a televangelist.
“Our customer service representative will be with you just as soon as she can.”
She released her hands and used one to gesture toward the front of the bank.
“Won’t you please have a seat in the waiting area and I’ll come for you when she’s ready?”
Somehow it sounded like a threat of damnation.
“Just don’t forget about us,” Marcus said.
The young Asian woman cocked her head and smirked at him.
“Oh, believe me, sir. We won’t.”
The “we” made Teresa’s skin crawl. Teresa followed Marcus back toward the front door to the waiting area. They sat next to each other on a low-backed sofa. An older man sat across from them in a matching armchair, reading a Spanish-language newspaper. He watched them over the paper and his eyes followed Teresa. She was busy shifting Raysie into a comfortable position on her lap. Marcus leaned close to his cousin and spoke into her ear.
“You have an admirer,” he said.
Teresa finished with Raysie and looked at Marcus and followed his eyes to the man across from them. The man put his gaze back on his newspaper. Teresa smiled at Marcus.
“Oh, shut up,” she said.
Marcus grinned and looked away. A moment later, he turned back and spoke to his daughter.
“Come sit in daddy’s lap. Give Tía a break.”
Raysie crawled over to her father and Teresa winced when a little elbow caught her in the ribs. She glanced at the man across from them, and he was looking at her. His eyes darted back down to his newspaper. Raysie settled into her father’s lap. Marcus turned to Teresa.
“Thank you, tía. For coming with me to do this.”
Teresa smiled at her young cousin.
“I really appreciate having you here.”
He grinned at her.
“It’s almost been fun.”
“Right,” she said. “A barrel of monkeys.”
Marcus laughed quietly, just a chuckle back in his throat. Teresa felt the man across from them watching her. She kept her eyes averted. He turned a page and went back to his newspaper. Little Raysie yawned and Teresa watched Marcus stroke her hair.
“She’s quiet today,” Marcus said. “Sleepy.”
Teresa remembered the little girl wanting eggs at breakfast.
“She’s growing,” Teresa said. “Eating like crazy.”
Marcus looked up and looked around. He found what he was looking for on the wall above the tellers. Teresa could tell without looking that his eyes had found a clock.
“Could be lunchtime before we’re done here,” Marcus said.
“Yeah. Could be.”
“Like you said. It’s gonna take all morning.”
Teresa shook her head.
“I thought I was exaggerating.”
“Yeah. Me too.”
The older man across from them turned another page of his newspaper. Teresa felt his eyes on her again. She imagined how things would be if her husband was here. Chuy’s strong presence would make this stranger keep his eyes to himself. She wondered what the stranger would do if they were all still sitting here when he had turned all the pages in his newspaper.
Maybe he’ll pretend to read it again, Teresa thought.
She smiled and wanted to share these thoughts with Marcus, to laugh together over them, but it seemed like too much to explain in whispers.
Little Raysie yawned again. Before she was done, Marcus was yawning too. Teresa raised her hand to her mouth as the feeling built inside of her. Then her eyes were closed tight and her jaw ached from her muscles pulling it tight and her breath rushed and her ears roared. When it passed she blinked her eyes open and they were moist. Marcus turned to her.
“What do they put in the air in these places?” he said. “I can never stay awake in a bank.”
Teresa was yawning again when the young Asian woman came scurrying toward them. Marcus had his eyes closed and Raysie was almost snoring. The older man across from them was reading the final pages of his newspaper. He had his legs crossed and Teresa saw he was wearing argyle socks. The Asian woman stopped in front of the sofa and looked at Marcus.
“Sir?” the Asian woman said.
Marcus blinked his eyes open. The Asian woman clasped her hands together.
“We can see you now,” she said.
Marcus pushed himself upright and shifted Raysie in his lap.
“Let me take her,” Teresa said.
Marcus rolled his daughter over to Teresa. She caught the girl and used the momentum of her shifting weight to carry them both up from the sofa. The Asian woman started to lead them back across the room. Teresa turned her head when the older man spoke.
“Joven,” he said.
Marcus stopped and turned. The older man nodded at the sofa.
Marcus turned back to retrieve the manila envelope.
The two men nodded at each other. Teresa felt a pang of guilt for having ridiculed the older man in her thoughts. Then Marcus and Teresa followed the young Asian woman across the room and back into the beige cubicles past where they first found her. She waved them into a cell against a smoked-glass wall where a black woman in her thirties rose behind a cherry-veneer desk. She was tall and round and wore a light gray suit.
“Hello,” she said. She smiled and gestured across her desk at two chairs placed side by side. “Please have a seat.”
Marcus moved the nearest chair so it was easier for Teresa to maneuver into it with Raysie in her arms. Then Marcus took the other seat and they smiled across the desk at the customer service representative. She smiled back and folded her hands together on top of her desk and leaned toward them.
“My name is Christine,” she said. “How can I help you?”
Marcus raised his manila envelope.
“I need to cash a check that doesn’t have a signature.”
The black woman frowned. Marcus lowered the envelope.
“My wife died recently. It’s her last paycheck.”
The black woman pursed her lips together.
“I’m terribly sorry,” she said. “For your loss.”
Marcus nodded at her.
“Thank you,” he said.
The black woman glanced at Teresa, then looked back at Marcus.
“Have you been waiting long?”
“Long enough, I guess,” Marcus said. “Fifteen, twenty minutes.”
The black woman looked down at her desk and nodded. She pursed her lips together again. Then she unfolded her hands and lifted one in the air.
“I’m afraid I’m not authorized to handle this problem. We’ll have to get you in with the branch manager.”
She folded her hands together again.
“Do you mind waiting a little longer?”
Marcus and Teresa looked at each other.
“What do you think, tía?”
“I think we need to get this done.”
They turned back to the black woman across the desk.
“We’ll wait,” Marcus said.
The black woman nodded. She cut her eyes toward the interior of the big room, toward the tellers and the snaking queue of waiting customers. She raised her voice when she spoke.
“Ann?” she said.
In a moment the young Asian woman was back. The black woman raised her eyebrows and looked directly at her coworker.
“Will you please see that these nice people get in to speak with David?”
The Asian woman blinked and pulled her head back. The black woman raised her eyebrows a little higher. Teresa suspected that meeting branch manager David was not going to be fun.
“Yes,” the Asian woman said. “Of course.”
She made a tight smile at Marcus and Teresa.
“He’s in with someone now,” she said. “But they should be done soon.”
Then she turned and left. Marcus and Teresa looked at each other, then at the black woman. She smiled at them.
“If you’ll just have a seat back in the waiting area, Ann will get you in with our branch manager shortly.”
“Thanks,” Marcus said.
He sounded unsure. Teresa shifted Raysie in her lap and tried to stand up. She had to sit back down and try again.
“Here,” Marcus said.
He put the manila envelope on the desk and bent down to lift his daughter. Teresa rose to her feet and picked up the envelope, smiled at the customer service representative, and followed Marcus back past the customers waiting in the winding queue. Marcus stopped and turned back, then saw the envelope in Teresa’s hand.
“I forgot it again,” Marcus said. “Thanks.”
They continued on to the waiting area. The sofa was still empty. The older Spanish man and his newspaper were gone. A gray-haired Asian man dressed in traditional clothing sat there now, reading a newspaper covered with Asian characters. At first, Teresa assumed the man was Chinese, but then she wondered if he was from Vietnam. Marcus had told her there was a Vietnamese community nearby. Teresa wondered if his draping clothes were made from linen. She could imagine that as a young man he would have looked like the Vietnamese soldiers she had seen on television when she was a teenager, during the war.
Marcus leaned close and spoke into Teresa’s ear. “Looks like the older gents come here to catch up on their news.”
Teresa smiled a little and lowered her head. After her regret for her thoughts about the man who sat in that chair before, she wasn’t eager to joke about this one.5
“Let’s switch,” Teresa said.
Marcus poured Raysie into Teresa’s embrace and took the envelope from her hand. The young Asian woman was halfway back across the room before she noticed she had lost her charges. She stood with her hands clasped and the prim smile constricting her face and waited for them to catch up. They followed the scurrying woman past the cubicles to an office tucked back into the corner of the building. The smoked-glass exterior wall ended where the office began. The Asian woman stopped just long enough to wave them in through the open office door, then she scurried off again, seemingly in a hurry to get away from what waited inside the corner room. The office was large but felt small and cramped after the expanse of the big room and its smoky glass skin. An Anglo man of about forty with sparse, black hair and black glasses and a pinched face sat behind another cherry-veneer desk. He did not rise as they entered or invite them to sit down. Marcus and Teresa looked at each other, then took the two chairs before the desk.
“How can I help you?” the Anglo man said.
His words were fast and clipped. Marcus raised the manila envelope again. This time Teresa thought the gesture was like a matador waving a red cape before a bull, given how the man behind the desk glowered at the envelope.
“I need to cash an unsigned check,” Marcus said.
He lowered the envelope. The Anglo man’s eyes followed it down, then he narrowed his eyes at Marcus.
“My wife died recently,” Marcus said. “It’s her last paycheck.”
Air hissed, as the Anglo man drew it up into his long bony nose. His words came even faster and more clipped than before. Teresa heard—
“Diya Havana cown tear?”
—before she deciphered his speech into:
“Do you have an account here?”
“Then why are you here?”
“Your bank issued the check.”
One side of the Anglo’s man mouth curled up toward his bony nose.
“I’ll have to speak with the payer. The account the check is drawn on.”
He stared at Marcus and made no effort to do anything else. Marcus stared back.
“Your wife’s employers,” the Anglo man said.
His tone said he thought Marcus was too stupid to understand his meaning without that further explanation. His tone also said he thought it was quite generous of him to bother to attempt to explain. His tone said many things and all of them were ill-mannered.
The Anglo man tilted his head a bit to one side. He continued to stare at Marcus. Marcus continued to stare back.
“That will take several business days,” the Anglo man said. “To confirm with the payer. Maybe a week or more.”
Marcus shook his head.
“That’s no good. We’re leaving in two days.”
The branch manager stared at Marcus for another five seconds or so. Then he raised a hand and waved it around while he spoke.
“Leaving on vacation? Leaving the country? Leaving all this behind?”
Marcus continued to stare at him.
“Not that it’s any of your business. But we’re moving out of state.”
“That’s not our problem,” the banker said. “You should have taken care of this sooner.”
Marcus made a vicious smile.
“Tell me then. What is your problem?”
The Anglo man made a thin, ugly smile and lifted his chin about an inch.
“No need to get nasty.”
“So, why did you?”
The thin smile disappeared. The Anglo man adjusted his glasses.
“The account that wrote the check. That’s my problem. We execute their wishes. They’re our customer. You—are not. If they want us to cash the check, then we will. Otherwise . . . ”
He raised his hand and waved it around again.
He lowered his hand onto his desk.
“Maybe you’d like to take this check to your own bank. Where you have your own account. Where you are the customer.”
His smile was bone thin.
“If, in fact, you have an account somewhere.”
He raised his hand in the air again.
“I presume you do.”
He put his hand back down. Teresa shifted Raysie to one side and leaned across the desk and took a business card from a little brass holder.
“And why would you want that?” the branch manager said. “I’m sure you don’t think I’m going to change my mind later.”
“I want to spell your name right when I write to your superiors.”
Teresa looked at the card.
“And who would that be . . . ”
The card said David M. Swim, Branch Manager. Teresa raised her head and bore her eyes into the Anglo man simmering behind the desk.
“Who would that be, Mister David M. Swim, Branch Manager? Who should I write to so your employers can know how rude you are? Maybe I’ll just start with your bank’s public relations department. I think they’ll be interested to know that my cousin just lost his wife, and that his little girl was with him, while you were rude and dismissive and not-so-subtly insulting. I think they’ll see a potential public relations problem. Maybe even a public relations disaster. The three of us being brown people and you being so white—that won’t help. And then maybe they’ll solve that public relations problem by demoting you. Or maybe this isn’t the first time someone like us has complained and they’ll decide you’re just not worth all the trouble you cause. And then they’ll just fire you. And that will be exactly what you deserve.”
Teresa smiled at David M. Swim, Branch Manager.
“I can see that happening. Can’t you, Mister Swim?”
The Anglo man’s long bony nose twitched. One eyebrow went up and down.
“Excuse me,” he said.
He jumped up and strode out of the room. He walked as fast as he talked. Marcus grinned at Teresa.
“Now I’m really glad you came,” he said. “That was incredible.”
Teresa smiled and felt warmth in all her muscles and bones.
“Did I really just do that?” she said.
Marcus raised his eyebrows up high and nodded his head in a big broad arc.
“Oh yeah,” he said. “I’d say you about completely just did that.”
The branch manager strode back into the room as Marcus finished speaking. He stopped behind his desk but didn’t sit down. He tapped a finger on the desk while his words came out even faster than before. Teresa heard—
“Ike in hantheltran sackshin thirsting Tim arrow mirning.”
—before the rush of syllables sorted themselves out:
“I can handle the transaction first thing tomorrow morning.”
Marcus and Teresa looked at each other. After a moment they turned back to the Anglo man tapping his finger on the desk.
“Really,” Marcus said.
The Anglo man’s nose twitched. He looked like a rat sniffing.
“I spoke with the account,” he said. “They authorized me—”
“Are you sure about that?” Marcus said.
The branch manager froze. Marcus cocked his head to one side.
“Because I never showed you the check. Or told you who my wife worked for. So you didn’t know who to call. And even if you did, you sure as hell weren’t gone long enough to get much done. Not everyone talks as fast as you do.”
The branch manager’s eyes cut to Teresa and back to Marcus.
“My assistant told me,” the Anglo banker said.
Marcus shook his head.
“Not even a nice try. She doesn’t know either. I showed her nothing and told her nothing.”
The banker finally stopped tapping his finger.
“Well it doesn’t matter. Anyway—”
Marcus cut him off.
“I’m not gonna sit here and call you a liar,” Marcus said.
He rose slowly to his feet.
“I’m gonna do that standing up.”
He pointed the manila envelope at David M. Swim’s chest.
“You are a stupid lying sack of shit. If I come back here tomorrow and you don’t keep your word and cash my wife’s check . . . ”
Marcus moved the envelope in a broad arc till it pointed at Teresa.
“Then I’m gonna sick my auntie on yer lyin’ ass.”
The banker’s eyes twitched back and forth between Marcus and Teresa, flickering behind his black glasses. Marcus slowly lowered the manila envelope and held it down by his thigh. He poked his chin at the Anglo across the desk.
“Now what do you say, banker man?”
David M. Swim, Branch Manager, lowered himself into his chair. He found a pad of paper and a pen and clicked the little button that ejected the pen’s writing point. He raised his eyes to Marcus Stone.
“What’s the payer’s name?” the banker said.
Marcus burst out laughing as they started back across the hushed, big room. Heads turned toward them. The gray-haired Asian man in the waiting area lowered his newspaper to look at Marcus. Little Raysie pulled her head up off Teresa’s shoulder.
“What Daddy laffin’ at?”
Teresa started laughing too. Little Raysie frowned at her.
“What you laffin’ at?”
The customer service representative stood up in her cubicle over by the smoked-glass wall to see what was going on. Teresa turned her head toward the black woman and they smiled at each other. The black woman raised a hand to wave and Teresa did the same. Then Teresa turned her head forward again and saw that half the customers waiting in the queue were staring at her and Marcus. Heads tracked their progress across the room. Then they pushed through the smoked-glass double doors and stopped out on the broad concrete apron before the bank, and howled their laughter under the blazing sun. Customers inside turned so they could watch Teresa and Marcus laugh together outside through the smoked-glass wall. Teresa saw their faces turned in her direction and wondered what she and must Marcus must look like to these strangers.
“What so funny?” Raysie said.
Teresa stopped laughing long enough to answer.
“It’s hard to explain,” Teresa said.
Marcus nodded and grinned at his daughter.
“Just funny to adults,” he said.
They laughed together again, then their laughter ebbed away. But when Teresa and Marcus looked at each other, they started all over again.
Raysie pointed at the bank.
“You laffin at dat man?” she said.
Marcus and Teresa nodded and their laughter went on. Raysie gave up on any better answer and put her head back down on Teresa’s shoulder. When the adults regained their composure, they found the little gray Honda and drove away from the bank and back out onto the boulevard that ran between the strip malls and office parks. Then Marcus looked at Teresa with a lopsided grin and they started laughing all over again.
“That was fun,” Marcus said.
Teresa shook her head slowly and smiled at her young cousin.
“I still can’t believe we did that.”
They pulled to a stop at a traffic light. Marcus glanced at the clock in the car’s dash, then drummed a few beats on the steering wheel.
“Little past ten thirty,” he said. “Coming on eleven.”
He looked at Teresa.
“Are you game to go back to the other bank and wait for the manager to show up? It doesn’t make any sense to go home. We’ll just have to turn around and go back out.”
Teresa snorted and shook her head.
“I don’t know. If we make another scene like that one I might piss myself.”
Marcus laughed again and Teresa joined him.
“Yeah, I’m game,” she said. “Let’s go see what more damage we can do.”
Marcus nodded and grinned.
“All right,” he said.
The light turned green and they continued down the road. Three more traffic lights, and about ten minutes later they were parked back in front of the first bank they had visited. Teresa carried Raysie in through the glass front door and thanked Marcus for holding it open.
“Grab a seat,” Marcus said. “I’ll go tell them we’re here.”
Teresa carried Raysie over to the waiting area and lowered herself into one of the gray scooped chairs. She counted five people waiting in the queue. Marcus was gone for about fifteen seconds; then he took the chair next to Teresa.
“Here we are again,” he said. “Déjà vu.”
But this time their wait was short. The big clock on the far wall said seven minutes had passed when an Anglo woman in a red blazer appeared across the big room behind the three tellers.
“That’s her,” Teresa said.
Marcus turned to his cousin, then followed her eyes.
“How do you know?” he said.
“I saw her unlock the door this morning.”
A minute later the young blond customer service representative came to take them to the branch manager. She led Marcus and Teresa to an office back through the cubicles. The woman in the red blazer stood behind a walnut-colored desk.
“Please,” she said. “Come in and have a seat.”
Teresa followed Marcus inside. The branch manager remained standing till her customers were inside the room, then the three of them sat down together. Teresa shifted around in her chair till she and Raysie were comfortable. Then she looked at the branch manager and saw sadness and concern behind the Anglo woman’s guarded eyes.
“How can I help you?” the branch manager said.
She looked at Teresa, then her eyes settled on Marcus.
“My wife passed away recently,” Marcus said.
He raised his manila envelope.
“I have her last paycheck, which she never signed.”
He lowered the envelope into his lap.
“I need to deposit it into our account.”
The Anglo woman bowed her head toward Marcus.
“Please accept my condolences for your terrible loss.”
The Anglo woman hesitated and looked at Teresa, then at Raysie, before she looked at Marcus again.
“I’ll need to see quite a bit of paperwork, I’m afraid. Her death certificate, her will—I hope she left a will?”
Teresa’s heart constricted. She was surprised when Marcus nodded. She and Chuy were in their forties before they put together their wills.
“Are you the executor?” the Anglo woman said.
Marcus nodded again, and again Teresa was surprised. She doubted she knew what an executor was at his age.
“And the sole beneficiary,” he said. More terminology that would have been unknown to her.
“May I see what you have?” the Anglo woman said. “And I’ll need to see your driver’s license. Do you have a deposit slip with you?”
Marcus leaned forward and handed her the manila envelope.
“There’s a deposit slip in there,” he said.
Marcus leaned to one side so he could dig his wallet out of his pocket. He found his license while the Anglo woman carefully spread the contents of the envelope across the top of her desk—the check, the deposit slip, several documents, Jeannie’s driver’s license. Marcus slid his license across the desk and the branch manager slipped on a pair of reading glasses. She glanced at Marcus’s license and handed it back, then examined everything else quickly and efficiently. When she was done, she took the glasses off and looked at Marcus.
“Again, Mister Stone, my sincere condolences. Let me make copies of everything here, then the funds should be in your account by the end of the day tomorrow. Would that be satisfactory?”
Marcus nodded and smiled.
“That would be great,” he said. “Thank you.”
“Of course, Mister Stone. I’m glad to be of service.”
She glanced at Teresa again, then looked back at Marcus.
“I understand you were here earlier today. I apologize I wasn’t able to help you then.”
Marcus glanced at Teresa before he answered. His smile turned sad. Teresa saw tension around his mouth and in his eyes.
“It’s no problem,” he said. “It all worked out.”
They drove home without talking. The adrenaline and high spirits from the confrontation with the lying branch manager at the second bank had all drained away. Then came the release of tension from having finally finished what they set out to do. Now Marcus and Teresa felt tired and washed out. And there was no joy in having completed their morning’s errand. Only more sadness from another reminder of Jeannie Stone’s departure from among the living.
They returned to a house all packed up. The living room was empty, the sofa and television gone. Marcus was sleeping on the floor now. Teresa looked around and wondered what needed to be done that she had overlooked. She suspected something would surface that Marcus would have to rush to do on his last day here. He was leaving the day after tomorrow. Teresa would be gone tomorrow morning.
They made lunch without saying more than a few passing words. Raysie went to her room and played quietly when the meal was over. Marcus and Teresa sat at the kitchen table and drank coffee. When the right moment came, Teresa looked at Marcus and waited till he raised his eyes to meet hers.
“I’m impressed Jeannie left a will,” Teresa said.
Marcus frowned and nodded.
“Yeah. She insisted we put them together about three months ago. She did them on the computer at work. Her boss said it was all right.”
Teresa raised her mug to her lips. The coffee was almost cool. She drank the last of it and put her empty mug back down on the table. She lowered it too fast and it clunked loudly.
“Do you think she knew?” Teresa said.
Marcus looked at her.
“That she was going to die?”
Teresa nodded. Marcus angled his eyes away and rocked his head from one side to the other. Then he looked at Teresa again. “Yeah. She had a feeling.”
He blinked at her.
“I found her crying in the middle of the night and she told me about it. She woke up with this black feeling she would be gone soon. That she was in her last days. Then she said it was nothing and never wanted to talk about it again. But she put her will together and made me do it too.”
Teresa looked down at her empty cup.
“We named you,” Marcus said. “In our wills. If we both went. We wanted Raysie to be with you.”
Teresa felt her heart tighten in her chest, so hard and tight she almost couldn’t breathe.
“I hope you don’t mind,” Marcus said.
How could I ever mind? Teresa thought, but other words were already on their way to her mouth— “I never even met Jeannie,” she said.
She forced her head up and looked at Marcus.
“She didn’t know me.”
Marcus nodded, his head slowly bobbing up and down.
“Yeah. And it was her idea. I hadn’t even thought about it and she already knew she wanted it to be you.”
Teresa realized her mouth was hanging open. She closed it and swallowed and licked her lips. Somehow she felt that she and Jeannie Stone had known each other after all, in some way more important than in the flesh and blood. Across the table, Marcus sat up straight and filled his lungs, then looked down and let his breath rush out of him till his lungs were empty.
“I feel like I should cry right now but I’m all outta tears,” he said.
He raised his head and looked at Teresa.
“Do you know what I have to do with that money? The money from her paycheck?”
Teresa shook her head. Marcus looked away.
“I have to pay her hospital bill. I paid for her cremation with a credit card. Maxed it out. So I have to pay that off too. It’s all gone already.”
When he turned back and looked at Teresa again, she saw the sadness and defeat in her young cousin’s face and wanted to say something to make him feel better, something that would soothe his aching soul and assure him his great pain and suffering would soon pass. But Teresa was in no mood to tell lies, and she knew Marcus was in no mood to hear them.