There’s a bank branch I like to go to.
A little off the beaten path. Good neighborhood. Good folks running the place. It’s probably one of the few remaining Mayberry-style branches left in Orleans Parish. Especially after Katrina. The type you can actually talk with your teller without having to stick your lips up to a tiny crack in the glass. No barriers at the Mayberry branch. There, banking is still personal.
It takes a special type of person to be a teller.
First, you gotta know how to count. An unconventional, lightning-fast type of counting. More often than not, you hear the bills but never see them. Second, you’ve got to be honest as a mirror—can’t ever slip yourself a 20, or 220. But maybe most importantly, one must be confidential.
“Little Old Mrs. Shoemaker came in today and deposited $3,000,000. Would you believe that!?”
“Not in a million years.”
Nu uh, can’t do that. Before you know it, they will have found Mrs. Shoemaker duct-taped to a chair in her kitchen, her house turned upside down.
My friend Ashley over at the Mayberry branch does it all real well. And always does it with a smile on her face. She greets every single person that walks through those doors just the same. Damn near blows my eardrums every time.
“Welcome to Mayberry Bank!!!”
Just like that. Every time. Except on Tuesday. So, upon seeing my buddy behind the counter, I take it upon myself to do the greeting.
“Welcome to Mayberry Bank!!!” as if she is now my customer.
Hands around the room immediately jump under desktops. I presume that’s where the big, red buttons are located that would allow me to meet the NOPD SWAT Team. I quickly decide not to ever yell in a bank again. Lesson learned.
Ashley gets the humor, though. Returns my greeting with her usual star-white smile. The tension in the room unwinds.
“What’s going on today?” I ask her, stepping up to the counter.
“Oh, nothing, just hoping the weather holds off for the weekend.”
Yeesh. It’s a Tuesday and she’s already talking weekend weather. I’m thinking that if I don’t get these checks cashed, I may starve before then.
“Ashley, how many times have you said that today?”
“I dunno. Maybe five. Six.”
She’s still smiling.
“Tell me something I wouldn’t know,” I tell her. ”Or ask me something. Anything.”
She tilts her head. It’s filled with wavy, long dark hair. Ashley reaches for my checks and driver’s license atop the counter while she thinks. She then picks up the ID and looks it over as she buys herself a little more time.
“Well, okay…” She looks up from the driver’s license. “Read any good books lately?”
Yeah. Just wrapped one up, actually! ‘Bout this guy. Down on his luck, walks into a bank…
I decide not to say it. The jeopardy players around the room are waiting for me to give them a reason to slam those little red buttons.
“Yeah. I’m reading one now. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter.”
Ashley pretends to be doing two things at once: Acting interested in our conversation, all the while scanning my checks to verify that they weren’t fabricated on my 3-in-1 printer earlier that morning.
“What’s it about?” She asks.
“I don’t know yet… But I’m sure somebody’s gonna die. Isn’t that what happens in every book?”
Ashley smiles wider, then reaches for a drawer just below the counter. She starts pulling bills from a fat stack of Benjamins. (Ok, not really… But maybe someday.) Her response is a bit delayed.
“I guess so,” she says apathetically, counting out the cash. “Anything else I can do for you today?”
“Nah, that’s all, really.”
Her smile breaks for the first time. Her words stop me, cold.
“I really am worried about the weather, you know. I’m having a birthday party Saturday for my 3-year-old. It’s gonna be outside, with all that blow-up stuff in the yard. You know what I’m talking about?”
My eyes sink to a pair of folded female hands resting on the teller’s counter. They’re too young to carry the weight of a 3-year-old. They’re too young to carry the weight of Ashley’s own world. I notice one of the fingers is missing a ring, as well.
That old familiar taste of crow seeps up my gut and onto the back of my tongue. There is nothing left to do but to turn for the door. I hope like hell it doesn’t storm Saturday.
* * *
For someone, somewhere, here or gone, the day you were born was the most excruciating day of her life. Most undoubtedly, it was the greatest day of her life, as well. Unfortunately, you know now it was only the first of many more excruciating days to come.
For years, she held up her head and her end of the bargain. She set the dinner table and settled the scores. She loved you when you were right and she loved you when you were wrong. And that can only make sense because, in the end, she is mom.
She saved you and bathed you. Clothed you and made you. Drove you and showed you. And better than anyone, she knows you.
She’s planted dreams and flowers. And with a smile, she’s worked hard for countless of hours. Because when it came to keeping her baby safe and warm, you knew if she could, she’d try to stop a storm.
Grant Cassidy is a native of Shreveport and a graduate of Tulane. He currently lives and works in New Orleans in finance, while pursuing his writing craft. Of particular interest to him is the nineteenth century vignette.