This flash fiction piece was a finalist in the 2015 Central Coast Writers Conference.
Aiden lay in the car seat like a bald saint, the quilted support arched over his head like a halo.
The ATM was ten feet away, but Maria unlatched Aiden and took him anyway, because sometimes people took babies. You also had to be careful that you weren’t reported to CPS. They took babies, too. Maria couldn’t imagine losing Aiden. Two months ago he was part of her body, wedged up against her ribs, a cannonball ready to launch.
She needed cash for lunch with Angie. She pressed the baby to her swollen breasts as she slammed the door. She’d nurse in the restaurant under Aiden’s blanket.
Maria slid her card in, and steadied Aiden’s bobbling head with her chin as she reached to punch the buttons. She selected $40 and waited for what Angie called “the happy sound,” rollers rhythmically propelling the bills toward the slot.
She stared at the screen.
INSUFFICIENT FUNDS. ACCOUNT BALANCE: 0.00.
What the— Maria hit the cancel button and slid her card in again.
PLEASE CONTACT BANK MANAGER.
Graham took care of the finances. Paychecks from his high-tech startup replenished their joint account on the first and the fifteenth. Today was the second.
A line had formed behind her, so she stepped aside, her free hand cradling Aiden’s head. She took her phone out to speed dial Graham.
She heard Graham’s away message. Angrily, she hit End and called Angie. Shit. Voice mail after one ring.
Maria lurched for the door of the bank. A man with white hair rushed to open the door for her. Later, the smile she saw in his eyes would make her cry. One kindness.
She headed for the service desk.
“How may I help you?” Hello I’m Steve wore a polyester navy suit and looked like he’d just graduated from high school.
“My ATM card isn’t working.” Maria extended her card.
Steve took the card. He sat down and slapped at the keyboard. He frowned, then typed some more.
“Ma’am…I’m sorry.” She later remembered that he had looked at her with more sympathy than she’d have expected from an 18-year old male. “The…uh, other account holder has cleared out the account.”
Maria sank down into the chair by his desk.
Steve nodded toward the computer screen. “He withdrew it this morning. At 9:50, ma’am.”
Maria raised her hand like a stop sign, then hit redial for Graham. Voice mail. She tried Angie, but she knew there would be no lunch. Angie’s breathless voice said she’d return the call later.
Aiden slept. His back rose and fell in rhythm against her hand.
The world had shrunk. It was her, Aiden and Hello I’m Steve. Conversations and images from the past week flipped through her mind, suddenly decoded. The speed of it made her dizzy. She’d been blind, distracted. She felt Aiden’s oblivious breathing. She wanted his peace. And she would have it. But not today.
Maria would come to call this day one.