*previously published in American River Review Literary Magazine
A tall man and a little girl walk into a bank on, say a Tuesday, although it should be a Saturday with all the teenagers milling around the parking lot among the Priuses and the Volvos, sporting CoExist bumper stickers and spilling out gaggles of children. So we’ll make it summer in one of those Northern California coastal towns where the women wear long, flowing skirts and the men sport long, flowing pony tails and the kids have perpetually dirt-smeared faces and eat gluten-free bread.
The tall man wears polyester pants and orthopedic shoes. He is the guy in the grocery store who sings For Sentimental Reasons off-key but it doesn’t bother you because you can just tell he has this magnificent love story inside him and you’d give your last ten bucks to sit with him on a park bench and drink in his story. The little girl, marveling at her black patent Mary Janes, the lace ruffles, trimming her socks, bouncing with each skip, reaches up and takes the man’s hand while she converses with her imaginary friend named Fred who always wears green stripes and only eats ice cream.
They should be having one of those Norman Rockwell kind of days. You know what I’m talking about. Those kind of days that you didn’t recognize as particularly special until they were behind you. They’re the days compiled of colorful snapshots that sneak up on you when that certain song plays on the radio, or the smell of freshly mown grass wafts in your direction. A day you cling to as your loved ones move away or pass on. A memory that slips in bed with you when you’re sick or makes you miss the exit on the freeway.
Yeah, let’s make them have one of those kind of days.
They fall into line between the velvet ropes and wait their turn while the little girl spins in circles, her yellow dress flaring wide and twisting against her waist as she stops short, slapping her shiny shoe on the carpeted floor, asking the tall man if this is the house where money is made, and if it is, could he please buy her one because her friend, Elsie, needs a giant birdhouse for the blue jays in her backyard that get cold in the morning.
Now let’s say there’s ANOTHER man in the bank who’s pacing and sweating as the banker lobs phrases at him comprised of familiar repeats like I’m sorry sir and my hands are tied sir and the man’s face and eyes are red. His khaki Big Ben work shirt is dark with sweat down his back. His Levi’s are held up over hips too thin that hang by a belt that’s down to its last hole. Words like divorce, repossession and bankruptcy dive bomb him from all angles like a swarm of angry yellow jackets. He smacks the desk, screaming about working hard his whole life, about needing just a few more days, about harassing phone calls and notices, about calling an attorney everyone knows he can’t afford. He collapses into the black leather conference chair, the one with the shiny, wood veneer frame where loving, young couples celebrate as they sign mortgage papers for their first home, where eager teenagers nod in agreement as their parents co-sign on their first car, where his final attempt at redemption hangs asphyxiated as he bends forward, his elbows digging in his knees, his head sinking in his hands, where he sobs openly in public for the first time.
Then let’s have the tall man nod to the little girl and watch as she slips beneath the velvet ropes because she sees the clear crack in the man’s heart, in a way only children can. So she approaches, without any fear that the angry yellow jackets striking him might sting her too.
Now I know that it’s highly unlikely that the tall man steps over the ropes and whispers for her to go ahead but this is our story and we can change the ending. We can remove the gun that the man slipped in between his waistband and the small of his back when he left the house this morning. We can crawl inside his pocket and tear up the suicide note he’d written to Lucille and the kids. We can erase the balding county coroner, in his signature navy windbreaker, who might, in say an hour, sign off on six, make that, seven bodies.
Yes, we can have that little girl who believes fairies are the only ones who place dewdrops on giant green leaves in the morning; who whisper dreams in your ear at night just before you fall asleep, reach out to him, a stranger, and squeeze him with all she’s got, her face scrunching and smiling because she knows that he needs a piece of her heart to mend his.
Let’s have that little girl reach into her purple purse and remove her clear plastic smiling frog, the one with the tiny red heart floating inside, and fold it into his hand as she forces eye contact and tells him, with a truth in her eyes that is hard to disbelieve, that Mr. JoJo will make everything better. That she wants him to have it because she knows it works because Sarah Perkins stopped picking on her the first day she took him to school. Because Mr. JoJo helped her find the ring her grandma gave her, the one with the balloons on it, the one she thought she’d lost, under the beanbag chair in the living room. Because he was with her last Thursday, when Mrs. Simperelli gave a surprise quiz on the most ridiculous spelling words and she got 100%.
Because, sir, you cannot buy luck like this even in the house where they grow money.
Remember, this is our story. Won’t you just believe with me, for a minute, that a plastic Mr. Jo Jo and a long hug from a little girl with ruffles on her socks can posses the power to pull a man free from the bottom of his black hole? That a kind of magic could envelope and blanket his khaki clad shoulders and completely erase his troubles. That innocence could triumph over pain with one touch, one gesture.
Just for today, on this Tuesday that, remember, should really be a Saturday, can we give the three of them, and maybe even ourselves, this one magic moment, that Norman Rockwell snapshot, to hold onto and believe in? I’m telling you it could happen if we just make it so.