Anything Helps

By Logan Markko

The old man sitting outside the bank looked like he could use a drink. Beads of sweat dripped down his sunburned face and into his matted beard. He was at least three hundred pounds and wheelchair-bound. A miniature American flag was taped to his chair, a panting beagle sprawled across his lap. He held a cardboard sign that read: HOMELESS VET. ANYTHING HELPS.

Across the street, Dennis fiddled with his car’s broken air-conditioning knob. He quickly gave up and rolled down his window. A woman leaving the bank stopped to give the old man some money from her purse, while two men in gray suits pushed past her and through the doors of the building. 

It was nine a.m. on a Monday and Dennis was exhausted. Ever since being laid off from his job as a machine operator at the paper mill, he’d been racking his brain over what to do next. He tried to remember how long it had been since he’d last slept, thinking that if he closed his eyes, even for a second, he could sleep for a million years.

He watched the old man pour water from a canteen into a bowl sitting at his feet. The beagle leapt off his lap and gulped from the bowl. When it was finished, the dog laid down in the shade of the old man’s shadow and went to sleep.

The summer air was thick with humidity, and with no breeze the flag attached to the old man’s chair hung limply from its wooden pole. Watching the old man, Dennis thought of the men in his family, how they used to gather on his grandfather’s front porch to drink beer and swap war stories. He too, had wanted to serve his country, but the doctors said he had a leaky heart, and the Army wouldn’t take him. 

Dennis opened his wallet and sifted through the credit cards and crumpled receipts, counting each dollar he had. His mouth felt suddenly dry, as if all the saliva had mysteriously evaporated. 

He checked his watch, then got out of the car and hurried across the street.

“Excuse me, sir,” Dennis said, handing the old man a few dollars. “I wanted to thank you for your service.” 

The old man grunted. 

“Both of my grandfathers were at Normandy,” Dennis continued. “My dad got drafted to Vietnam and my brother did two tours in Afghanistan.” He hesitated. “I would’ve enlisted myself, but…”

A sharp crack echoed from inside the bank. Through the bank’s large plate glass windows, Dennis saw the two men in gray suits, ski masks now covering their faces, guns in their hands. One of them raised his weapon and fired a shot into the ceiling, while the other shoved a plastic garbage bag into a bank teller’s hands.

The beagle barked and jumped into the old man’s lap, knocking the cardboard sign from his grasp. Dennis looked around, wondering if he should drop everything and wheel the old man away. 

The bank doors swung open, revealing one of the gunmen, a bulging garbage bag in his hands.

“What the fuck, Dennis?” the man yelled, his eyes blazing fiercely from behind the slits of his ski mask. “Are you trying to get us killed? You were supposed to stay with the car.”

Sirens sounded in the distance.

The bank doors opened again, and the second gunman stumbled out, clutching his ribs. He wiped a bloody hand against his leg.

“What are you looking at?” the first gunman hissed, glaring down at the old man. He reached into his pocket, reconsidered, and turned to Dennis instead. “Have you lost your mind?”

“But he’s a veteran,” Dennis stammered. “He probably served in Vietnam.”

“We don’t have time for this,” the first gunman said, grabbing the keys out of Dennis’ hand. He hefted the garbage bag and ran for the car parked across the street. The other gunman hobbled after, leaving a trail of blood behind him. 

Dennis watched them speed away, his feet anchored to the pavement. 

He understood. Like him, they too had lost their jobs at the paper mill. 

Soon, the place would be swarming with police. Reporters from the local media outlets would follow, and by noon he’d be a story. 

Dennis felt the pistol hidden in the waistband of his jeans, solid and heavy. He could take matters into his own hands, storm the bank, wave his gun around, and make demands. Then return to his family with enough money to forget about the job he’d lost and the years he’d wasted. 

He wiped his face with his shirt, remembering distant summers as a kid spent swimming in the city pool until the sun went down and it was safe to emerge, skin pruned, eyes bloodshot from the chlorine. Once, he split his head open doing a backflip off the high dive trying to impress a girl. His friends had howled with laughter, pointing at his bloody face as the paramedics loaded him into an ambulance.

It was strange, Dennis thought, how a memory could drift up out of nowhere. 

He thought of his wife at work, answering phones, and his children, sitting at their desks at school, listening to a teacher drone on about linear equations or the Bill of Rights. 

Next to him, the old man was scratching the beagle behind its ears, whispering something to the dog. Dennis dropped to a knee and picked up the cardboard sign that had fallen to the ground. He handed it to the old man along with the rest of the money from his wallet and started to walk away from the bank, slowly at first, then faster, until he was no more than a blur.

                                                                            *   *   *

Logan Markko lives in southeastern Michigan with his wonderful wife, their toddler son, and a 100-pound American Bulldog named Sam. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Flash Fiction Magazine, Straylight Literary Magazine, Little Old Lady Comedy, and Potato Soup Journal’s Best of 2022 Anthology.

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