Authors: Steph Bowe
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction
‘Sure,’ he says, and it takes him a moment to realise she means someone with a PhD in crazy people, in people who only communicate with Conversation Hearts. He lowers his voice. ‘I was planning on taking her to a counsellor.’
‘Ah,’ says Ms Stanthorpe. ‘It’s good to know her parents are on board. She is such a bright girl.’
Yes, and then her mother left and her father totally lost it
When he gets off the phone, the creamed rice is burned onto the bottom of the pan. He turns off the stove and takes ten deep breaths, his hands gripping the cold metal of the sink, all the time repeating in his head,
I’m okay, I’m fine, everything will be all right
. Then he pours what’s left of the rice into two bowls, dripping it on the bench in the process, and takes the bowls into the living room, where Monica is sitting on the couch, legs crossed, staring at yet another cooking show on TV.
Spencer hands her a bowl. ‘Did you hear that?’
Monica gives a nod, so slight that maybe it’s not a nod at all, but she keeps staring ahead at the screen. Until their mother left, Monica only existed on the periphery of his life. She took too long in the bathroom in the morning, and at the dinner table she talked loudly and annoyingly about all the inane things that happened at school, as if they were of huge importance. Her existence was tiresome, or inconvenient. She just happened to be there, and Spencer only took notice when she was being irritating in a way that directly impacted on him. As shrill and exasperating as she could be, that Monica was definitely preferable to this silent Monica.
Now that they only have each other, and she doesn’t speak, it’s like she’s disappeared inside herself. Maybe he’s disappeared inside himself, too.
‘I don’t see how they can suspend you—you’re doing your work, right?’ Spencer asks. ‘You should start carrying a notebook, to write messages to people. Maybe that would piss Ms Stanthorpe off less. Those hearts are so misleading. You’ve told me to
so many times it’s lost all meaning. And they don’t taste too good, either. Not that you’d be able to eat notebook paper. Well, you could if you really wanted to. It tastes worse than those hearts, I’m sure. But we’re talking about effective communication, not edibility, so I think a notebook would be preferable, don’t you?’
Spencer doesn’t usually talk this much, but when you’re the only one to talking in a household of three, you say three times as much, to make up for the words the others aren’t speaking. He needs to hear them. As long as his mouth keeps moving and words keep pouring out, they’re not stuck in his head. And right now, there’s nothing worse than thinking.
‘I’ve got a shift at Maccas tonight,’ he says. ‘Dad’ll be home, if you need anything.’ He knows that’s a lie. His father might be here physically, but he’s definitely not here in spirit. He doesn’t know where his father’s head’s at, or where it’s been for the past four months, or how the hell he’s going to try and pull him back into the real world. His family is not going to suddenly come together and become whole again. Spencer is the only one who still has his head above water. Barely.
‘And I’ll probably be out for a bit today,’ he adds. ‘I have to go to the bank, do some shopping. Dad will be home about six, I think. You’ll be right here on your own for a couple of hours? You could have a friend over, if you want.’ Spencer knows very well this won’t happen. She stopped talking to her friends when she stopped talking, and twelve-year-old girls move on quickly—no one seemed to want to salvage the friendship or find out what was wrong with Monica. He always knew they were little bitches.
Monica is watching the TV chef fry chicken in satay sauce. It’s as if he had spoken underwater. He feels like the loneliest person alive and, just as he has every day for the past four months, and the months before then, he thinks about Nina. He remembers her laugh, and her did-you-knows, and her lack of judgement. And how he felt around her. He tries not to think about her leaving.
If only his family drama could be wrapped up neatly, like in the epilogue of a novel, or the last scene of the film, where you realise that every little thing that happened meant something, happened for a reason. He wishes all this could end, that everything could be all right. He wants to know that all the pain he’s been through—and the pain experienced by his sister, his father, and his mother (his mother most of all)—wasn’t in vain. That it wasn’t just sloppy plotting, or drama for the sake of drama, or some random bit of scriptwriting inserted at the last minute to make the audience more sympathetic towards him—he needs to know there’s a reason behind it all.
But real life’s not like that. There are no conclusions, and things don’t happen for a reason, and the only guaranteed ending is that, sooner or later, everybody dies.
The job shouldn’t take more than ten minutes. Twenty at most, if Sophia takes her time, which she’s prone to do. They will be long gone when the police arrive.
The thing about smaller banks, regional banks, is that they’re more lax on security measures because they don’t expect to be robbed. There are no armed security guards or vault doors that need to be blown up. Nina knows her mother would love to include the thrill of explosions. But explosives lead to collapsing buildings, and you never really want a roof falling in on you. Of course these smaller banks have less money, too, but the family encounters less drama than they would in city banks.
Nevertheless, they are in a town where people still leave their back doors open and their keys in the ignition of their cars. Sophia is making them rob a bank where people are innocent and trusting and don’t expect bad things to happen, not to them, not to people they know.
If Nina had the option of choosing between different methods of robbery, she would definitely use a note. All you need is a bit of paper, a pen, a banana in a brown paper bag, and you’re set. She’d write something like,
Everything from the till into the bag, please, and I won’t shoot anybody. Have a nice day.
A bank robbery done by note is subtle. You don’t get as much money, only the contents of one till, but you don’t attract attention to yourself. No one gets hurt. And the other customers often don’t even realise there’s a robbery going on.
Of course, if it was up to her, she wouldn’t rob banks at all, subtly or otherwise.
Nina can’t help but feel that she’s contributing to making the world a more hostile place. The fact that she’s holding a gun to someone’s head is probably indicative of that.
She accidentally makes eye contact with a teller, a middle-aged man, his face shiny with sweat. She looks away but wonders about his life. Does he have kids, a wife? Would his family even consider robbing a bank? Would he be able to empathise with her, understand why she has to do what she’s doing? She doubts it. At least it’s a quiet bank. Only a dozen lives ruined. Including Spencer’s.
Not ruined, she hopes. They’ll be able to move on from this. Surely?
Maybe the terrifying experience will compel them to live life to the fullest. Maybe they’ll have stories written about them in tacky magazines, with titles like
Being taken hostage in a bank robbery changed my life…for the better!
If she turns it around like this, she’s practically doing these people a service. Next week they’ll go skydiving and unashamedly declare their love for everybody. Will one of them someday write a brilliant account of this turning point in their lives?
It’s more likely that they’ll have nightmares for the rest of their lives. Maybe they’ll wake up in a cold sweat at three a.m. every night for the next decade, thinking someone has a gun to their head.
How could she do this to Spencer? Her arm’s starting to get sore, holding the gun up to his head. His breathing is shallow. She can’t speak to him properly out here.
There are two other tellers in their crisp black bank uniforms. One is a young woman, perhaps only a few years older than Nina. She’s wearing blue eyeshadow. Her name badge reads
. Amanda’s back is pressed against the wall, and she’s staring at Nina and Sophia, wide-eyed. The other teller is an older woman who’s opening the tills for Tom. Her blonde hair is pulled into a tight bun. She looks tired more than anything.
Paul has already taken the bank manager to the vault and, apart from Spencer, there are seven customers on the floor. Sophia has herded them into a group near the back wall of the bank.
If only these people did their banking on the internet. Why did they have to turn up as soon as the bank opened? Why can’t robbers call ahead? ‘We’re coming down in an hour; going to wave some guns, clear out the tills, the works. It would be nice if you didn’t have any pesky customers in the way. It can be somewhat traumatising for them.’
There’s an elderly man in a Hawaiian shirt and white shorts, his skin weathered. Sprawled on the ground, he looks anxious and uncomfortable. There’s a rotund, older woman with her head in her hands, her hair dyed the same shade of red as Nina’s and falling in a veil around her face. A short, wiry, dark-haired woman has her eyes shut and her arm around a boy who couldn’t be more than ten. Only a little younger than Tom. He’s wearing a
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
T-shirt and his hair is uncombed.
There’s also a kid with dreadlocks who looks barely older than Nina. He also looks stunned by it all. The last two customers are a couple—he is bald and stocky, covered in tattoos, and she wears glasses and perfectly styled hair. They look strangely calm.
Nina needs this nightmare to end, for them and for her.
Nina nods to Sophia. She still has the gun to Spencer’s head, even though she very much wants to take it away. ‘I’d like to do the vault. It’ll take a while for him—’ she nods to Tom and thinks for the thousandth time what a messed-up family holiday activity this is ‘—to get through the tills. You should get Dad to help him. Besides, I like doing the vault.’
‘Okay,’ says Sophia. ‘Do you want me to grab him for you?’ She extends her arms to take Spencer, as if Nina’s going to hand her a puppy, or a baby, or something.
‘I can handle both,’ says Nina.
Sophia trusts Nina too much. She doesn’t seem to think about the logistics of things—sure, they cased the bank beforehand, checked the outdated security system, familiarised themselves with the layout. But she overlooks things. She gets distracted, and she doesn’t think about the obvious:
Hey, maybe it’s not a good idea for Nina to bag the money from the vault while also holding hostage a boy who is most definitely stronger than she is
It is beyond Nina how anyone could ever enjoy stuffing someone else’s money into a bag, money that you can only get because you’re holding a gun to someone’s head. But Sophia smiles as if to say,
That’s my girl
. At least she doesn’t put up a fuss about changing the plan. The more banks they rob, the more times they get away with it, the less worried she becomes. She’s dancing around the people on the floor like she’s in their living room.
Nina drags Spencer through a door behind the tellers, into a narrow hallway, past a row of offices. She’s taken the gun from his head, and she’s got a firm grip on his arm now. She’s already seen the floor plan, knows where she’s going. Knows that only the bank manager has the authority to open the vault. She is convinced that’s too much power for one person.
She just needs to keep it together until they get to the vault. The walls are beige and the carpet is dark blue and Nina is struck by how ordinary the venue is for her extraordinary situation.
‘I bet this isn’t for real,’ Spencer mutters, as he stumbles along. ‘I’m impressed. Such a coordinated effort. All those people seem genuinely scared, but there’re just very good actors, right? This is a TV show. This is like
but with real people, isn’t it? I’ve figured it out. This is just reality TV. Really elaborate, confronting reality TV. I’d watch it. Not so much fun being part of it. Now I know how Jim Carrey felt in
The Truman Show.
‘No,’ says Nina. ‘It’s not. I’m sorry.’ They’re at another nondescript door. She pushes Spencer in front of her, presses the gun to his back.
‘I bet we’re in
, then,’ he says. ‘Have I taken the red pill or the blue pill?’
‘Please be quiet for a minute. Open the door.’
It’s a handful of steps to the vault. It’s a short trip, but it feels like forever.
Nina gets to the vault just as the bank manager opens it. He’s shaking on the spot. He’s a middle-aged man with a receding hairline, and does not look unlike the bank managers she has encountered before. But doesn’t he also look like someone she knows? But doesn’t everyone look like someone else? He and her father turn and look at Nina and Spencer. Her hostage. The bank manager appears to become even more alarmed upon seeing Nina and Spencer.
There’s so much in her head right now that it feels as if it weighs ten times as much as the rest of her body. She feels as if she’s tipping, and all of her memories are about to spill out of her head onto the carpet of the bank. It’s the sort of carpet that you get in an RSL club, in the area where the pokies are—navy blue and burgundy diamonds. She imagines all of her memories falling out and being able to leave the bank and start afresh.
‘She said I could do the vault,’ Nina says to her father. Nina continues to hold the gun to Spencer’s back, but she’s more relaxed about it now, just keeping her hand there for show. Her father has a sawn-off shotgun pressed into the bank manager’s back. And yet somehow he manages to carry on a conversation as if neither hostage were there. He has a couple of empty sports bags hanging from his other hand.
Nina notices Spencer and the bank manager are staring at one another, terrified. The bank manager’s eyes bulge.
‘Really? You’ll be all right with that?’ Her father looks surprised. Sophia has always said that Nina would come around to the family business sooner or later. Right now, it looks like her dad was expecting it to be later. ‘She’s relaxed today, isn’t she?’
‘Do you want me to grab this kid for you?’ He glances at Spencer.