Iowa Writes

KERRY EGAN
from Chapter 23 of Fumbling


In a small town on the end of the meseta after León but before the mountains separating the plains from Galicia, an ATM machine ate Alex's bank card. It would not give him any cash, but neither would it give him a receipt explaining what was going on, or most upsetting, his card. The screen simply flashed an error warning and then went blank.
        "Huh. Lumpy, you'll have to go in there and tell them their machine ate my card."
        "Why do I have to go in there?"
        "Because you're a girl, and people always pay more attention to girls. And you're much more charming than me. People always like you better."
        "I don't want to go in there. Besides, it's your card and your account so you have to talk to them."
        "I don't speak Spanish. Come on Lumpy . . ." Alex started wheedling.
        "Uggh. Fine."
        When I approached the teller, hunched over a ledger printout, he said there was nothing he could do to help me. I went back outside into the bank lobby, where Alex waited in front of the machine, and told him the bad news.
        "That's ridiculous. We need the card if we want to eat for the rest of the trip. It's not like it fell down a volcano. They just have to open the machine and get it. Go back in there and ask to speak to the manager."

In a small town on the end of the meseta after León but before the mountains separating the plains from Galicia, an ATM machine ate Alex's bank card. It would not give him any cash, but neither would it give him a receipt explaining what was going on, or most upsetting, his card. The screen simply flashed an error warning and then went blank.
        "Huh. Lumpy, you'll have to go in there and tell them their machine ate my card."
        "Why do I have to go in there?"
        "Because you're a girl, and people always pay more attention to girls. And you're much more charming than me. People always like you better."
        "I don't want to go in there. Besides, it's your card and your account so you have to talk to them."
        "I don't speak Spanish. Come on Lumpy . . ." Alex started wheedling.
        "Uggh. Fine."
        When I approached the teller, hunched over a ledger printout, he said there was nothing he could do to help me. I went back outside into the bank lobby, where Alex waited in front of the machine, and told him the bad news.
        "That's ridiculous. We need the card if we want to eat for the rest of the trip. It's not like it fell down a volcano. They just have to open the machine and get it. Go back in there and ask to speak to the manager."
        Why couldn't Alex just do this himself? Why do I always have to be the one to deal with strangers? Why do I always have to be the one to pay the pizza delivery guy or tell the cabbie where to go? Why do I have to be the one to talk to the bank manager? But I went in and asked to speak with him. He politely listened to the problem, and then said he was too busy to do anything about it, and shooed me away with the back of his hand, as though wiping crumbs from a table. He went back to his reading. Back in the lobby, I told Alex.
        "What's he doing?"
        "Umm, it looked like he was reading."
        "Oh, but he can't come out here for thirty seconds and give me back my card, a card that his machine swallowed with no provocation or reason? Tell him we're not leaving till I get my damned card."
        I sighed and walked back into the bank. Before I could even get the manager's attention, though, a ruckus erupted from the lobby. Alex was bludgeoning the ATM machine with his fists.
        "What! What is going on?" The manager jumped from his desk and, with clenched fists and arms straight down by his sides, strode out. I followed.
        "What are you doing? What is he doing?" The manager yelled at me and pointed at Alex as if Alex was my dog.
        "Alex, what are you doing?" I asked.
Alex started kicking the machine with his heavy boots like an unruly but determined toddler. "I'm getting my card," he said.
        "He's trying to get his card," I reported to the manager.
        "Tell him to stop this!" the manager said, jabbing his finger at Alex so I would relay the message as quickly as possible.
        "Alex, stop this!" I said to Alex.
        "Not till I get my card. Tell him I'll stop when I get my card.  Gimme my card!" Alex kicked and smacked the console even harder. I could see by the tightly repressed smile breaking out in the corners of his lips that he was enjoying this completely. All of the tellers stood up to watch him, apparently afraid a robbery was in progress.
        "He just wants his card back," I said to the manager.
        The manager started yelling at Alex in Spanish. Alex started yelling back in English. As far as I could tell, their entire conversation consisted mostly of curse words, but they seemed to understand each other. I backed away and stood in the doorway between the bank and the lobby. Everyone inside was now staring and pointing at me, though I wasn't doing anything. I smiled meekly. After a final flurry of yelling and banging, the manager threw up his hands, pulled a key from his pocket, and handed Alex his ATM card. It took him less than five seconds. Then the manager stormed back into the bank, shooting me a dirty look as he passed.
      "Alex, I can't believe you did that," I said, waving at the people in the bank as if this would somehow calm everyone down.
      Alex was wearing the little smirk he gets when he is particularly pleased with himself. He said, "I was just getting their attention. I knew they'd pay attention to us if they thought we would cost them money." I stared at him. He kept talking, sort of a corollary to my calming wave. "That's basically what I did all day as a lawyer, only on paper."

Copyright (c) 2004 by Kerry Egan.  From the book Fumbling by Kerry Egan, published by Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. Reprinted with permission.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

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KERRY EGAN

Kerry Egan grew up in Long Island, New York, and received her B.A. from Washington and Lee University and her master's of divinity from Harvard University Divinity School. A year after her father died, she walked through northern Spain on a medieval pilgrimage road called the Camino de Santiago. Fumbling is the journal of her experiences.

This page was first displayed
on November 09, 2006

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