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The wrong change

By IAN SANDS  |  February 11, 2009


A man driving a red sport-utility vehicle pulled up a few feet from the Cambridge Street firehouse in Inman Square. He killed the engine, put on his hazard lights, and stared out at a man in black winter clothing wiping snow off his car a little too conscientiously — running his brush along every crevice like it was a Ferrari and not the drab Volvo it actually was. The driver thought the man was a fool for wasting his time when the forecast called for more snow all week. He'll be out here again in two more days, the driver thought to himself, before pulling a red hood over his head and walking across the street to rob the Cambridge Savings Bank.

During the three weeks he'd spent casing this bank, the man had learned a great deal about how the place operated, but now all that came back to him were stupid little details that had nothing to do with the job. Like the way the bank's name was written high up along the side of the building in gold lettering, and then, redundantly, underneath on a green awning hanging just below. "Cambridge Savings Bank" must have been written 10 times on that building, he thought, as he hopped over a patch of browning snow and onto the sidewalk. At the bank's red door, he spotted a NO LOITERING, POLICE TAKE NOTICE sign inside. Just the mention of cops made the man nervous. "Relax," he thought to himself.

He'd been inside for three minutes when he emerged, moving with purpose to where his car sat blinking. As he walked, he held his hands over his pockets, occasionally stuffing their contents back down inside. He'd asked for $5000 in $100 bills — a sum, his experience robbing banks had taught him, would fit in his pockets — but was instead given $5000 in $50 bills. He hadn't the heart to chide the young woman with the long dark hair at the counter who handed it over; he was too busy feeling bad about what had happened.

What had happened was that just as he was about to present the note to the teller, she greeted him in the loveliest voice he'd ever heard, "Hey there, how's the day going?" Her tone was not robotic like so many tellers in the banks he'd robbed. She spoke as if she might actually be interested in the response.

"It's going," he said.

"What did you do so far?"

"I watched an idiot down on his knees wiping snow from every inch of his car. Going at it like it was an Aston Martin."

The teller thought before responding. "I usually look at a snow storm as a free car wash," she joked.

The man laughed, and reflected on the woman's voice. Deep and gravelly — he couldn't put his finger on why it appealed to him. He was going to say something else, but the teller spoke.

"Hey what do you have there?"

He stammered, then handed over his written demand. She took a look and that was that. No more voice.

Inside the flashing vehicle, the man sat for a full minute. He couldn't understand why he was so affected. He had experienced far more disturbing things while robbing banks. He once had to punch a male teller square in the face, for God's sake. But suddenly he wanted badly to return to the bank and tell the woman behind the counter his name. That he was 40 years old. That he had a twin he hadn't spoken to in five years. And that in private moments he entertained the idea of opening a pizza shop in the South End. He didn't do that, of course. Just drove off past the idiot, still clearing snow from his Volvo.

This is the fourth in an occasional series of small fictions based on casual observations.

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  Topics: Lifestyle Features , Short Stories
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