from the short story by Elizabeth Sims
©Elizabeth Sims 2015
I couldn't believe they used real money in class. I'd expected play money-not the kind for children but adult play money, near-real money with the basic markings that's regulation-size. Phony coins I expected, too.
But there we were, a dozen brand-new teller trainees, up to our elbows in the real thing, ten thousand dollars of it. The trainer, a bored veteran of Human Resources, had counted it out before our eyes. This was the job for me, finally. I believe that was the bank's first mistake.
Moreover, though, I thought I'd forgotten how to flirt. Lord, it'd been years, my prime sliding away from me like a wad of bacon grease across a hot skillet. But I hadn't forgotten. No, I sure hadn't.
I'd been unable to take my eyes off of Giselle Brigsby from the minute she set her sleek little butt in the chair kitty-corner from mine. Unlike the rest of the class, women who were dressed as if for hooker tryouts, Giselle wore black slacks that just missed the category of "jean styling" (forbidden), a black turtleneck against the prairie chill, and a spring-green leather belt that slithered around her hips like a friendly python. The shoes? Well-worn Doc Martens, black of course.
She was a dewy little baby dyke whose attempts at looking and acting tough made the tips of my toes ache. And on top of it all, her parents had had the miraculous sense to name her Giselle. Alva Johnson, the trainer, butchered it: "Jizzayel? Brigsby?"
"President," answered Giselle, little smart-mouth.
At break I staggered to the washroom and sat whispering, "Giselle. Giselle." On leaving, I avoided my eyes in the mirror, my accusing eyes that, had I met them, would have asked, "Who in God's name do you think you are? You've got fifteen years on her at least. Your breasts sag and your bangs are cut crooked."
Yeah, but I had a new job, one I wasn't going to blow, a job that could lead to something. My self-esteem was at a high level.
So next break, lunchtime, Giselle happened to be right ahead of me going into the cafeteria, holding the door open, and I happened to place my warm, loving hand over hers for an instant. My lips are full and sensuous, and I sort of swirled a smile right into her fresh, startled face.
From then on I noticed her noticing me. She brought her tray to my table, where I and three other trainees got to know her a little bit, mostly because I asked her questions about herself. The other trainees would just as soon have discussed their hair and "Beach Wives of Bumfuck, Nebraska" or whatever stupid show. Giselle had gone to community college for one and a half semesters, then dropped out. She lived with her mother, who worked as salad lady at Sven's Family Place but was angling for hostess because her hands were starting to react to the lettuce. They rented an apartment in The Pines, a downtrodden place next to the railroad switching yard where the price was right but the incessant ringing of the crossing gates tended to turn brother against brother. Giselle's mom was thinking of going on disability if she didn't score hostess.
I felt sorry that Giselle hadn't had more advantages in life, but deep down I exulted: the more leverage for me.
"I would so love to get out of that craphole," Giselle told our table.
Then she did an astonishing thing. She went over to the vending machine, bought a package of Famous Amoses, opened it, and placed it in the middle of the table for everyone to share. "These basically suck," she said, "but oh well." A generous girl, she was. A girl who wanted to be liked, all the while pretending otherwise.
I knew what it was to want to be liked while pretending not to. That was pretty much my life. I'd pretended not to want to be liked so expertly for so long that most people took me literally and simply didn't like me.
They had a whole fake training branch set up in Main Office. It had counters and teller windows and panic buttons and everything, plus a small lecture-seating area. In the morning we'd learned to handle cash, to double-count and stack and band, and we'd learned to align the presidents' heads with the right-hand edge of the cash slots, plus so much more. Riffling through wads of the bank's cash felt both luxurious and surreal. All this jack right in your hands: a down payment for a new Mustang, a winter in Orlando, a complete Surround Sound system. The means to all of it right in your hands, only it's not quite yours.
After lunch we practiced basic transactions like cash deposits and check cashing. Not until tomorrow would we be taught the complexities of third-party checks, inter-account transfers, and utility payments.
I saw it; I saw her do it.
Giselle and I were working at adjacent windows, and Alva Johnson had just told us to turn in our drawers for the day when I saw Giselle's hand slip from her drawer to her front pocket. She stuffed a bill in. She licked her lips. Just as she glanced toward me I looked away. A thrill ran through me. The kid's got guts.
Who knew that the day's routine would end with Alva Johnson consolidating all our cash drawers and counting the money again while we watched? She counted it once, looked up, pressed her lips together, then counted it again.
She sighed heavily and said, "A twenty-dollar bill is missin'."
No one spoke.
"Everyone remain seated, please." She pulled her chair from behind her table to sit facing us square. "Whoever has the twenty, bring it to me."
Silence. From my side-view seat I watched Giselle run her tongue over her teeth, trying to decide whether to be amused or scared.
"Class, this is disappointin'," said Alva. "We all have to wait here until whoever has the twenty comes forward."
My classmates, except Giselle, shifted and groaned. We sat in silence for six years, then I had a sudden thought. My wallet was in my coat pocket, which was hanging on the back of my chair. I made a loud, real-sounding sneeze, then fumbled in my coat pocket as if for a Kleenex. A minute later I bent down to look under my chair. "Oh, what's this!" I cried, holding up a twenty. "What the heck!"
Giselle's head snapped around, and she gazed at me in total awe.
Alva, narrow-eyed, took the twenty. "Everybody waits until I check the serial number."
We resumed our vigil.
FIRST CHAPTERS AND EXCERPTS:
The Rita Farmer Mysteries
The Lillian Byrd Crime Series