March 21, 2005
A Piece of Short Fiction
By Tom Bevan

Chuck started hearing the voices on the day he graduated from college. They were haunting voices of people he thought he once knew, calling for him to come home and return from the darkness. But that was many years ago and the voices had long since disappeared.

Chuck had gotten his diploma along with all of his classmates, striding up onto the dais in his robe for the ceremonial handshake with the dean. It was the only clear memory he had from his four years at school.

In an instant Chuck was back in his hometown in Missouri where he started work as a teller at the local bank. It was a good, solid job that took up most of his time and energy. Chuck was very good at his work and he quickly became the favorite of the bank manager, Mr. Crowley. At the end of every day Mr. Crowley would pull him aside to dispense praise and tidbits of wisdom about the industry that Chuck eagerly accepted and filed away.

For two years Chuck lived inside the walls of Missouri First National, serving his usual stream of customers. There was Mrs. Handon; a widow who came in every Friday at noon to deposit her Social Security check. She would wait patiently in line until Chuck was free, and spend more time than necessary telling him about the latest doings of her five cats. Mr. Jones was another of Chuck’s favorites; a retired auto worker with big thick glasses and an even bigger belly who came in daily to verify the status of his savings account. Chuck enjoyed the routine - relied upon it really - as the days came and went.

At the end of each day Chuck would empty his till, organizing the bills in to neat little stacks and begin counting them. The coins he would set aside until the end, for they were his favorite. With the utmost care Chuck would funnel the coins into the counting machine and when each penny, nickel, dime and quarter had finished plunking its way down to the bottom, he would wrap them into tidy little rolls and lay them side by side in his tray until it was full.

Finally, when every cent had been accounted for, Chuck would record the total in his nightly register and carefully transport his deposit to the main vault. Though he tried, Chuck could never resist the urge to stand in the vault for an extra minute or two, close his eyes and fill his lungs with air scented of money, and dream about what he would do if he could take it all for himself. It was a silly thought, of course, and Chuck never indulged the fantasy for long because he really didn’t need it. The life he lived was the life he had chosen, and he was truly happy here.

Two years turned into five more. Then one day, after Chuck had been feeling extremely lonely and sad, she came through the door. Chuck saw her standing in line and made sure he finished with his customer just in time for his window to come free. Maribel McEwen was her name. She was new in town and needed to open an account, though from the moment Chuck looked into her salty green eyes he knew she was there for him.

Maribel and Chuck married one year to the day they met. The ceremony was small and private, with only Mr. Crowley, Mrs. Handon, and Mr. Jones attending. It was held in Chuck’s favorite place of all, the bank vault, and their vows echoed off the thick steel walls. A tear fell from Chucks’ eye as Maribel slid the solid silver band on his finger. He swept a lock of her strawberry hair aside and kissed her gently on the forehead before they turned and left the vault as silently as they had entered.

Sara was born the following year. She was more precious than any money Chuck had ever handled. Late at night, Chuck would pace the floor with Sara held tightly to his chest and let her little breath tickle his neck. Sometimes in the morning Chuck would place the little angel between he and Maribel and study her features for hours while she slept. In his daughter’s sleeping face Chuck found a happiness he had never known or imagined was possible.

On the day Sara spoke her first word Chuck heard the voices again. Late that night standing alone in the vault they came to him in a rush, sounding more sorrowful than he ever remembered. The voices whispered to him that they were so very sorry, that they were there to ease his pain and horrible suffering. Startled, Chuck spun around to leave. But there, at the entrance to the vault, Maribel stood holding Sara. They were both crying. Sara buried her face in Maribel’s shoulder. Maribel raised a hand and through the tender tears racing down her cheeks over her lips, blew her husband a kiss. Chuck’s money tray crashed to the floor and the rolls of coins, that for so many years always remained neatly packed, burst forth and skidded across the floor of the vault.

Now lying face up on the floor of the vault, Chuck felt his body rise toward the ceiling. Instead of slamming into the steel his body passed through it, racing faster and faster from the darkness of the vault toward the light of the clouds.

Spinning now, tumbling forward head over heels, Chuck finally came to rest again on his back in a room that felt very much like the vault he had just left. He did not open his eyes or utter a sound, but he could hear the voices clearly now, sounding as real as Maribel’s or Mr. Crowley’s ever had.

“We’ve turned off the respirator. It shouldn’t be long now,” a somber voice declared. “You folks made the right decision. Your son will be much happier where he is going.”

“It’s so hard to let go after all these years hoping and praying for him to wake up. To watch him suffer in this bed with machines keeping him alive.”

Faintly, behind the noise of the machine pronouncing him dead, Chuck heard a baby in the hall cry like Sara.

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