Bill had a little over eleven thousand dollars in a certificate of deposit, even though the interest was minimal. But the main reason he kept the money there was that he had nothing on which to spend it.
One day, he attempted to log in to his account when a notification in a box popped up and informed him that his account was suspended.
He called customer service. After fifteen minutes, a man with a southern accent came on. He entered Bill’s information; he then whistled softly and explained that the account had been put into dormancy because there had been no activity in it for over two years. Bill said that there wouldn’t be; it was a CD; except when the renewal date rolled around, he couldn’t even make a withdrawal without incurring a penalty. Hmmm, the man said. Bill said that he’d had this CD for years; was this a new policy? The man hemmed, said he’d check with someone. Would Bill mind holding?
Five minutes later, the man came back and said that Bill had to go to his local branch and sign a form; his account would then be activated. Bill said that the nearest branch was twenty minutes away; could this not be taken care of over the phone? The man said something about the bank’s policy. Bill sighed, thanked the man, and hung up.
He called the nearest branch. He listened to the menu of options until the automated voice said that he was to press three to speak to a representative.
After another minute, a woman came on the line.
Bill explained his problem. The woman, whose name was Jennifer, told him that she was sorry; that this policy was for his own protection, but that he’d be in and out in minutes; it was only one form.
Her voice was warm, friendly. When their business concluded, Bill found himself reluctant to end the call.
After he hung up, he stared at the floor for a moment. He checked the time: almost five. He was relieved, for making dinner would give him something to do.
Lying in bed, Bill thought of Jennifer. He wondered what she looked like. He hoped that she’d be working when he went to the bank.
The next day, when he got home, Bill called the bank. Knowing to press three, he bypassed the automated message.
On-hold music played, before Jennifer answered. Bill hung up. He felt guilty, juvenile. He went into the bathroom, gargled mouthwash, combed his hair. He looked at himself in the mirror.
Three people waited in line. Two tellers worked. Voices echoed against the high ceiling, like in a museum. Bill walked over to a mahogany table encircled by four chairs, behind which were cubicles partitioned by glass. He glanced around. He felt conspicuous.
Can I help you?
The woman had brown hair and wore a light gray suit. Her name tag said Jennifer.
Bill regarded her, reconciling what she looked like with how he’d imagined her. Then, as though to compensate for this silence, he, quickly, explained why he was there; he mentioned—affecting to glance again at her name tag—that he thought he’d spoken to her on the phone.
Of course, Jennifer said. She asked him to come into her office.
In one of the nondescript cubicles, Jennifer sat down behind her desk and told Bill to take a seat. She typed something on her computer. She then stood and told Bill she’d be right back; if he could get out his ID.
Bill felt comfortable, albeit he was hungry and tired. He scanned Jennifer’s desk: no pictures of a husband, family, children.
Here you are. Jennifer handed Bill a form; he caught a waft of perfume: a mixture of lavender and vanilla. She took Bill’s driver’s license, waited as he filled out the form.
All right, she said. She typed something, handed back Bill’s license without looking at him, typed again, and turned to Bill. You’re all set.
He was about to say something—he wasn’t sure what—when Jennifer said, The form went through; your CD’s active again. But it’s going to ask you to change your password. Once you do that and log in, you’ll be able to see your account.
Bill nodded, could think of nothing else to say.
Anything else I can help you with?
Longing coursed through Bill. He swallowed and shook his head.
If you need assistance again with anything, feel free to reach out. Here’s my card.
For the rest of the weekend, Bill would often take the card out and read the words: Jennifer Bermudez, Branch Manager. Yet he didn’t know what to do—or didn’t want to think about what to do. He told himself that the bank was probably closed Saturdays and Sundays, and even if it were open, a manager most likely only worked Monday through Friday. And upon deciding this, Bill was mostly able to dispel any presages of future regret.
But Monday, portentous urgency pulled, enveloped him; he sensed that, like so many times before, he was on the brink of falling into desolation as a result of inaction—or inept action. He felt suspended and sensed that the more time went by, the more desperate the possible outcomes would be—unless, by some miracle, he could act differently.
When he got home, he drank a glass of wine. He poured another, the alcohol hit him at once. Imagining a tightrope walker’s wavering with only a few feet before reaching the platform, Bill took out Jennifer Bermudez’s card.
This is Jennifer.
Bill squeezed the phone. His chest felt tight. He opened his mouth, but couldn’t find the words.
In one breath, Bill stated his name and said that she’d helped him Friday. Jennifer’s voice became warm, pleasant. She asked if he’d been able to access and see his account; he told her he had, thanked her. She said he was more than welcome; what could she do for him?
Phone to his ear, Bill looked out the window at the patio, and then at his kitchen.
I . . . He took in the desolate floor, the counter. I . . . want to ask you something, Jennifer.
S.F. Wright lives and teaches in New Jersey. His work has appeared in Hobart, Linden Avenue Literary Journal, and Elm Leaves Journal, among other places. His short story collection, The English Teacher, is forthcoming from Cerasus Poetry, and his website is sfwrightwriter.com.