The teller


Some mornings, I wake up and think about makeup and hairspray and deodorant and whether my legs are hairy, and I’m glad I’m not a bank teller.  A bank teller from Ohio or Illinois or one of those other voweled states in the midwest.  I would wear tight little suits in pastels and answer the phone in a flat nasal voice.  I would march in short quick steps in mid-height heels and knee length straight skirts from station to station answering questions of each junior teller in turn.  I would advise the public as needed.  I would be energetic and sincere.  I would not be much like me.

Me, I would watch the eyes and throat of the midwestern senior teller from the line where I wait, for secret signs of rebellion or discontent.  I would want to know that she bites in bed, and that she often wants to kick and scream.  I would want her to have a powerful revelation, an epiphany or sudden orchestral understanding of her true purpose in life, the life where she is the homecoming queen, lustrous in chiffon and chenille, dancing with her football hero to the Captain and Tenille.  Then twenty years later reaching into her pocket for a Fisherman’s Friend to soothe her throat while she is sitting on the naugahyde sofa in the waiting room of some sad dirty little office and her sweaty thighs are sticking to the furniture, but she’s nowhere near the bank with its row of bright lighted signs this-lane-open-closed-open-open-open and endless photo IDs and signature cards.  She doesn’t drink light beer or chardonnay, a little Wild Turkey every now and then, and she doesn’t own pantihose or a two to three-bedroom mortgage at River’s Edge.


Katherine was a bank teller from Acron, Ohio. She took photos on the weekend. She only took photos of things that were temporary, that would not be there if she looked a second time. She had photos of spiders moments before the pesticide hit, of paints in mid-oscillation, their colors dancing together, not yet spun into one.

She liked best to look at them at night, under the covers, with the book light clipped on to her photo album. She lived with her mother, and this was a habit from childhood that had started as a flashlight after lights out had been called. Her mother realized once, when Katherine was around 30, that she was still reading under the covers at night, and told her “For heaven’s sake, Katherine, you’re a grown woman, you don’t need my permission to stay up late.”

But Katherine continued to look at books and pictures from under the covers anyway, and it was much easier with the clip light once she’d thought of that, because she liked the safety of the lit tent of sheets, her knees making the shape, the sound and warmth of her own breath, how sweet and low her voice sounded in her own ears as she looked at her photos and hummed. Not brittle and thin like at the main branch where she worked. This voice that went to bed with her rolled like a cat and licked itself clean and dreamed of hunting, of being a leopard, a snow tiger, an ocelot. This voice paused and growled and pounced and slept deep in a forest miles away from the prime rate, the interest-free checking, all the tiny little deaths behind the counter, and this voice stayed awake with her, no matter what, for always and forever, underneath her printed sheets. 



4 Responses to “The teller”

  1. 1 Agnes of God April 16, 2007 at 8:43 am

    hey teresa! I love that katherine takes photos of life about to be obliterated, her fascination with the temporary, even as she cultivates the habits of childhood past their usual endings. Does she pay her mother rent? Does her mother have coffee waiting in the morning? What if she took a picture of her mother doing dishes, right before a car crashes through the kitchen window. A psychic gift is suddenly revealed but katherine is terribly scarred. If she hadn’t been taking the picture maybe she could have tackled mom out of the way, etc. Your stories, as usual, leave me filling in future details that I think might be better left to you…xox

  2. 2 Teresa April 16, 2007 at 9:54 am

    Thanks! When I was putting it together I saw that my brain was playing with spiders, spinning, tellers, time — the classic elements of traditional storytelling. I need to send Katherine out to finish telling her story.

  3. 3 Tek April 17, 2007 at 11:55 am

    “She lived with her mother, and this was a habit from childhood…” I like that thought although when I finished reading the sentence I realized that it referred to reading under cover with the flashlight. on fourth thought, it still could refer to living with her mother.

  4. 4 Teresa April 17, 2007 at 12:16 pm

    I noticed that too, and thought about shaping it, but decided it did refer to both.

    I’m looking for two other stories that I’m pretty sure are this same character, one from her childhood and another from about this same time. My filing system involves a large box labeled “miscellaneous”. darnit.

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