The Banker - P. A. FARRELL
The morning air is heavy with the sticky heat of summer. The window shades refuse to move, not refusing but unable, crippled. Not a single breeze. Quiet gloom, hot. Sweat is the sole relief.
Stealthily, she moves as a thief toward the dresser. A white envelope stands out in its starkness in the heavy wooden drawer as she slowly opens it. The envelope lies atop the carefully tatted, gifted hankies and the half-empty box of Fatima cigarettes.
On the envelope’s front, in clear, unmistakable penciled Palmer script, are the words, Don’t Touch.
An emotional shock jolts her as she hesitates while the blankets behind her rise and fall in slow rhythm. The years have been ones of never refusing an order, never asking, “Why?”
She knows she is now about to disobey the rules by which she was raised. Her heart is beating faster. The sweat beads transform to small rivulets on her face.
She must push the penciled mandate out of her mind. Years of unquestioning acceptance is willfully erased with force from her mind. She slips the envelope open carefully, not knowing what to expect.
Inside, ten slightly crumpled hundred-dollar bills. Where did she get this money and why was it to be left untouched?
Unexpectedly, the familiar yet feeble voice behind her asks, “What are you doing?” Riveted in place, she is stunned, and, in a panic, freezes, her hand still on the bills. The voice fades. The medications are working.
Was this what her sister was talking about? Their mother was holding money for a neighbor’s funeral expenses. Mary, the indigent neighbor diagnosed with a fatal illness, hid her money until she found a “banker” whom she could trust, someone who would never reveal her secret.
The envelope is her burial money, now safe in an old, wooden second-hand dresser in her dying mother’s bedroom. It must not be touched but kept until needed when the neighbor’s family will know to call for it.
Emotion is a black pit in her stomach. How empty she feels. Months of suffering and nights of watching life slip away have eroded all feeling. What is left is a yearning for it to be over for everyone, but primarily for her mother who was always there for anyone who needed her. Now, her mother needs her in a way that most may find unacceptable; she wants her mother to die.
Only an hour ago, she was making what some dark humorist might call her drug run. So clear in her mind, she could pull it all back now.
The car is slowly moving along, creeping. On the dashboard a rusty tire iron lays, waiting and serving as a signal, a warning. Keeping a distance that allows for a quick turn, she drives with resolve.
A small red canvas bag has two carefully wrapped brown bottles containing the precious liquid. She must protect it. People would kill to get it. She knows this like she knows a mother will protect an infant. Now, she is protecting her mother. She clutches the wheel tighter and stares straight ahead, neither looking right nor left. No sign of weakness or wondering must be given should anyone be watching. It’s important to look strong, tough.
With a prayer for protection there is also one for death, a release from pain and from a life of emotional twists. Not for herself but for the person awaiting her delivery.
The delivery is made, the extra-strong potion prepared and soon there will be relief in a coma that pushes all sounds into the darkness of eternal sleep. It won’t be long now. The nurse has come and called an ambulance. The hospital room awaits. The ambulance leaves in haste as though on an emergency call, but this is no emergency. It is the last car trip her mother will make.
Hospitals are formidable fortresses that promise relief and life, but today a group of daughters assembles for a different kind of relief; one that promises an end, not a continuance of life. Silently, the women are led to a small room outside the nursing station. It is the room assigned to those who are dying and require immediate attention for their final moments.
The circle of quiet women, almost like strangers, without a word or a touch between them, gathers; all eyes are on the woman in the bed. The chest moves almost imperceptibly with low, rumbling sounds signaling life, but only barely. The next deed will have to be done as quietly as the breathing.
“She’s got pneumonia, do you want me to treat it?” The young physician looks at the women for an answer and one signals nothing is to be done. No words, no muffled discussion, nothing, and it is done.
“All right, then, I’ll make her comfortable.” The unnerving, almost imperceptible sound of a needle being prepared and pushed into the IV tubing hits everyone’s ears as loud as a drumbeat.
The physician slips silently out of the room as though by magic. She vaporizes down the hall in the shafts of very early morning light. Barely a hint of dawn is showing as the floor-to-ceiling diaphanous curtains lift in a bowing gesture as she passes.
Minutes seem like hours as they watch silently. Not a move, not a word. All eyes are on the bed where the raising of the chest slows, until it stops.
One eye is closed, but one remains starkly open, staring straight at the daughter who is the red-bag courier. The light hazel orb continues the fixed stare. The task of holding the thousand dollars for burial of the neighbor has been passed.
A nurse glides into the room, extends a steady hand, one finger outstretched, and brings the open eyelid down. The warm room is stirred by a cool breeze.
A mist is sweeping over the bed, or is it a figment of imagination? Out the doorway it trails down the hall past the curtains that begin to fly up, French doors opening and shutting suddenly. In moments it passes, the curtains fall back against the panes, but the courier feels a coolness in her nostrils, filling her lungs.
The others seem unmoved as though they saw nothing. The sweat glistens on their brows as they sit like statues.
But from somewhere in the hollows of her soul, the red-bag courier feels the stirring of life as an unmistakable keening begins. Her throat refuses to contain it. Unnerved, the women glimpse at her momentarily, shuffle a bit and return to stiffness once again. Then, all is quiet.
But the red-bag courier knows she is the banker now.
P. A. Farrell is a licensed psychologist and a former Associate Editor of PW and King Features Syndicate. She has published with McGraw-Hill and Demos Health, writes for a number of publications on Medium.com, and has published several self-help books. She lives on the East Coast of the US where her passion continues to be writing, photography, and musing about the many times she cheated death as a psychologist.