By Tina M. Johnson
You walk out of the bank and slide gingerly into your car. It resists turning over in the cold, but you keep trying. If you had left at 6 p.m. as you usually do, the car would have started immediately. But now it is midnight. When it finally starts you sit there, letting the engine warm up. The troopers didn’t ask if you were okay before they left. You’re not okay, but you sit in the frigid car trying to be okay. Your hands are shaking. You study the time and temperature sign across the road. It is blinking erratically, a frantic heart trying to calm itself.
When the two men push their way into the bank, you don’t scream. You smell the booze on them, the woodsmoke and sweat, the sour dirt on the balaclavas they wear over their faces. They look like terrorists, but it is the smell of the booze that frightens you. And the gun. They wave it in front of your face, then shove it under your nose until they see you understand; they would love to shoot you.
The heavyset man grabs your arms and yanks them behind your back. He uses pain to steer you to the safe. When the men see the cash inside, they yip like coyotes. They shove you in a corner and start stuffing packets of twenties and fifties into their jackets and down their pants. The yipping and cackling . . . one of them sounds like a guy you knew in school. He was awkward then, moon-faced, and ugly. Well, he’s rich now, you think, and a squeak of hysterical laughter escapes like a hiccup. He walks over and stares at you. Another hic of laughter. He kicks you hard in the ribs.
You think how nice it is to be alone in the bank. It is quiet and peaceful now that the day’s work is done. In a moment you will get into your car and drive to your house, a tiny dwelling tucked inside a nook of bull pines along the river. Yet, you linger. You love your home, but the empty bank is pleasant in a different way. The furnace clicks on with a blast of heat you don’t have to pay for. The lobby still smells of the morning’s coffee. A blanket of darkness begins to mingle with the streetlights, softening the room’s sharp corners. There is one last thing to do before you leave: you must lock the safe. But first, you walk to the window. There is a bank of altostratus clouds in the sky and snow has begun to fall in lazy, angel-winged flakes. You stand at the window, taking it all in. You feel sorry for the two men crossing the street with their covered faces, their bodies bundled up like Yetis against the cold.
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Tina M. Johnson is a poet and recent convert to flash fiction. Her poem, “Rift”, won first prize in the Idaho Writer’s Guild 2020 Writing Contest. Other poetry has most recently been published in The Bellingham Review and Inkwell. She resides in Star, Idaho.
Triptych by Tina M. Johnson — what a masterful, understated unfolding of events in this powerful story. I love how it makes us think of memory and time, of knowing and not-knowing, of revelation. Thank you!