Half Fired - story snippet

I don't feel.

I don't feel pain from his grip on my hair, even though my spine is arching back with the force. I'm too scared.

I don't understand why he has to shout near my ear to the rest of the people that stare back at him as if he's speaking another language. It's not the shouting they are staring at - it's the gun.

I don't really feel anything. I suppose I'll feel it later.

In that echo after his last scream and the pause that follows, I have a few seconds. Only a few. My first thought in that crazy calm is, I've never liked banks.

Not for the reason that I think they're an institution made to take peoples' money and turn it into profit for themselves - although if you get me started, I'll make a good case. I don't like banks because I don't understand them. My finances are, and always have been, automatically dealt with - somebody else's problem.

Rarely do I have to go into a bank and stand face to face with a nice teller as she tells me why I've filled out my deposit slip incorrectly. Well of course I filled it out incorrectly, I've never had to do it before. I don't understand them. I don't understand numbers. I'm a creative person. I like music, writing, reading. I like my plants that I tend for a living. I like nature. I like New Age, but only the more earthy variety, none of this crystals-with-silver-dolphins-stuck-on-them crap.

I even went on one of those Tibetan tours; the kind that is populated with mostly white, middle-class people. A Shirley MacLaine sense-your-aura, learn to slow yourself down, spiritual discovery-type tours. I walked up the mountain, got sick as a dog, saw what I thought was my aura, but had to vomit, so it didn't last, slowed time in the fact that I don't remember half the trip because I was in a fever-induced daze.

I ate five Snickers bars when I got back; a desperate need for sugar, the Western kind.

I don't understand numbers and forms and rigidity. I don't understand why, the one time I go into a bank, two men decide today is the day to make their own cash withdrawal.

I don't smell his breath when he's that close. I know most people say that in movies and novels: "The robber had fetid breathed that washed over them in warm, panting waves..." Not this guy. But his voice is so loud it makes me dizzy when he yells. My ear goes beyond ringing to a slow buzz. His voice sounds like feedback as he continues to scream after that insignificant pause. Distorted.

He shoves me down onto the floor (my knees slam against the tightly-weaved carpet and I still don't feel it) and places his gun to the back of my head. He lets me go, but I'm not going anywhere. He knows that.

I feel urine run down my panty-hose. I am irrationally glad I am wearing my panty-hose because I think maybe it will soak most of it up before it gets to where my knees meet the floor and starts to pool. I am also irrationally glad that I went to the ladies a few minutes before the men entered the premises.

There isn't much urine, I think. Be grateful.

The man behind me is screaming at people to get down. A security guard's eyes hold all the fear of the patrons, all the helplessness. His gun is down. He is just a customer like the rest of us, now. Outside, I hear tires screech, see the lights. It is like an episode of NYPD Blue; images I have seen many, many times before. I am immediately comforted by this familiarity. I know that in the episodes, once the cops are there, the hostages are fine.

In those episodes, the gunmen are killed or they are talked down by some handsome negotiator who cares so deeply for his charges, not like the other callous and jaded police that he calls colleagues.

I don't relax, but I do feel hope that everything is going to be fine.

"Get the fuck down! All of you. Or I will shoot this woman and then I will start shooting you! GET IT!?" He sounds like a child; petulant, demanding, relentless in his need. His friend is over the counter, still grabbing for money. I wonder why he's doing this when there are police all over the building. If I remember my television correctly, there are snipers moving, crouched, to their positions on the opposite and adjacent buildings. They are getting a bead on the front door. They are marking the ally-ways. They are watching the back.

The robbers should get out now - or give up. They are not taking that money anywhere.

His friend throws a bag, a sports bag, over the counter and it lands near us - me and the shouting robber. Don't they realize it's over? Haven't they seen the movies? Shouldn't they be panicking and answering that phone that's started to ring?

Apparently the shouting man's friend has that idea because I feel the man's knee in my back as he takes a step and screams, "Leave it! Leave it! We'll get out without talking to the fucking pigs!"

No, no you won't.

With that step I can almost see him. His dark brown hair is only a flash of greased locks that have clumped together in long spikes. His eyes, I think, are a ferocious and verdant green as they turn back to me for a split second before stepping back behind me - to where he can no longer view me as human, but as a bargaining chip for himself and his friend.

One woman starts to sob. She is about 35 years old and clutching a cheque-book in her hand. The man next to her, not her husband, asks for shush. I know he's not her husband because he doesn't know how to touch her. His hand slips on her elbow, then favours a hard grip rather than a supportive caress.

"Shhhh!" He whispers and everyone hears it, which is ironic, as he is requesting silence. She looks at him and mouths, between gasps, 'I don't want to die.' Her tears well at the corners of her eyes like a cartoon.