"What's the world for you if you can't make it up the way you want."

-Jazz, Toni Morrison

Reality Check

Reality Check

It was an ordinary Psalm Sunday, church and brunch and a few too many glasses of white wine with relatives I’ve never cried in front of. Except for the end, when my mother hands me a gift wrapped box and says it’s what Nana was doing two days before the stroke, making this for me. Pink and blue pieces of plastic stare up at me as I take a look later that night, open the eggs one by one and there they are, four checks covered in chicken scratch that only I could identify without hesitation. She’d said she’d been having trouble reading, controlling her hand, and fuck me because I should’ve known. Alongside the money, Kit Kat bars and a rabbit figurine the size of my thumb. A handmade heart keychain with google eyes, watching me pick him up and wonder what kind of story she would have told me about him. Maybe she’d picked it up off the floor of the market, simply because it looked sad all by its lonesome. Maybe I’d made it decades ago, for her, and she was giving it back. Maybe she knew what was about to happen.

I tried to deposit the checks, each cashing in at one-hundred and twenty-five dollars, a cool five hundred. Although this, of course, is simply the instant payout. I never did understand lump sums, an inheritance now awaited my command, when the only thing I’d asked for were the ashes.

I go to the bank because I want to get my hair done at one of the places that serves the complimentary merlot and that’ll be at least two hundred. I’m thumbing at the checks, the yellow paper wearing thin and I consider pulling my sunglasses off my head and over my eyes to cover the emotion. That might be a bit suspicious though, so I don’t, but I wish I had when the woman behind the glass raises an eyebrow at me.

How can I help you today? she says, this is when I realize I’m at the front of the line.

I’d like to deposit these checks. I tried to do it online, but you see, the writing’s a bit, uhm, skewed. I say, and I’m crying again. She takes the first one from where I place it under the window and turns her nose up at it, gives me a startled look.

Do you even know what this says? she asks.

It’s one-twenty-five. There are four of them, so five hundred. They all say the same thing. I say carefully, thinking of bank accounts not yet closed, her will that doesn’t matter at all because she only had two kids and three grandchildren and we all love each other, there’s nothing to fight about. But the clerk doesn’t know that, she continues to stare at the check.

I’d like to keep them, afterwards. You can put an X through it, or do it the online way, right? You could even tear it in two. I just need to keep it. I’m looking at her desperately and can already tell this isn’t going to work. Nana’s handwriting was never this bad, I always deposited her checks through the app on my phone then kept the physical copies in a box, because she’d draw little pictures on the memo line. Witches on halloween, hearts on valentine’s.

I’m sorry, we can’t do that. she doesn’t look up, just begins to process the check, scan it through the machine.

Wait! No, I need those checks, you can’t do that.

I’m sorry, there is no other way. What’s wrong with these,anyways?

Fine. Give them back. I need them back, give them to me. I say, my voice two octaves higher. I stick my hand through the hole and motion for her to place them there.

Miss, you can’t keep these checks if you want to deposit them, the only way to do that is online and God knows that won’t happen with whatever kind of problem this person had making them out—

Give me the fucking checks! I say before dropping my head into my hands and openly weeping. At last she slides them through the window, I curl my fingers around them possessively and walk slowly out the door, meeting each customer’s eye, a challenge as much as a declaration that I do not care what they think of me, that everything is gone anyways.

There were no notes on these checks, no witches or hearts. She could barely sign her name. It’s the last thing she wrote, and it’s worth far more than five hundred dollars that couldn’t even begin to bring her back to me, bring back the faith I once had that if you loved someone enough it wouldn’t matter if their kidneys failed. I walk outside for hours. 

Courtney Camden is a DC based writer whose work was most recently seen in Flying South's 2017 Edition. She is the recipient of the 2013 Rocky Memorial Scholarship and in her free time enjoys face-timing her cats. Instagram: @akfccam

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