We stopped caring about how we actually felt toward one another a long time ago because our feelings fluctuated like spring temperatures in the Midwest. Instead, we devoted ourselves to each other in the old-fashioned way of loyalty and partnership. It wasn’t a sexy, Hollywood endeavor—our marriage—but that was all about to change.
I should tell you now that I won’t get into the specifics of our actual lives. That is, our names, jobs, etc., but as we get to the part I really want to tell you about, I think—I hope— you’ll understand why.
What I will tell you, though, is that we married under what you might call societal pressures. She was pregnant before we were married, and really, there’s not much else to say about it. We went on about our lives and everything was more or less fine until a month before our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, when I lost my job and she decided we needed something different.
“We need an adventure,” she said to me while gardening in the backyard. She was planting something.
“What do you have in mind?”
“I have ideas,” she said, “but I don’t think you have the stomach for them.”
“Try me.” I looked up from the push mower I was tinkering with, changing spark plugs.
“Why have I always felt attracted to banks?”
“Jesus,” I said.
Here’s the other thing you need to know about my wife: she was, and is, a kleptomaniac. We can’t go into a gas station without her walking out with some ornament or pin, something small enough to conceal in her palm.
“I’ve got it staked out,” she said.
“I wouldn’t have brought it up if there was much of any.”
“I was thinking a nice dinner, you know? Maybe a movie. Dinner and a movie? You ever heard of that?”
“You were always so predictable, darling.”
We were both forty-five years old, empty-nesters. My wife was slender in an overworked sort of way, and I was just developing what my kids called a beer-belly, despite not drinking much anymore.
“What are you planting?” I was trying to change the subject.
“Transplanting,” she said. “Raspberries. Damn things are like weeds and I don’t want them next to the garage anymore.” The bandana around her forehead was wet. The sun was out and the sky was a perfect blue. The air felt cool and damp. “We should start taking our country drives again, too,” she said. “I always liked those sleepy afternoons on the open road.”
“All of a sudden we need to spend more time together?”
“Seems like a nice thing to do, that’s all,” she said. “Seems like a thing any married couple might do.”
What wasn’t a thing any married couple might do was rob a bank. But that’s exactly what we did. On June 12th, the day of our anniversary, we walked into the Ely Credit Union wearing masks, holding canvas bags, and clutching plastic pistols that we found at the Dollar Tree, and we used those to paralyze the bank staff while a teller–previously designated by my wife–unlocked the tills of money for us.
It was a beautiful spring day, lush trees and grass, and clear blue sky that made you want to sing songs from your childhood. Ely was a village just outside of Cedar Rapids, surrounded by large swaths of timber. The actual village was just a few houses and as many abandoned buildings, but there was this one, lone bank in the middle of nowhere on some county road that connected to nothing, just a few miles outside of Ely. Apparently, my wife had staked out the place for two months prior, hiding behind trees across the street, observing which days and times were busiest. She even knew which teller she wanted to mark. She said she chose the woman because of her predictable nature: parked in the same spot, chewed gum, wore her hair and carried her purse the same way, and always—always—held an unopened bottle of Diet Coke while walking into the bank.
The predictability, my wife argued, was a sign of some due diligence on her part to create a life of least resistance—that if she was put to a task, like helping us unlock money tills, she’d surely not fight or talk back, but instead do what she was told to do, and with efficiency. She was blond, and reasonably attractive, but only by virtue of her effort. Make-up, nails, hair fashion. My wife pegged her for a Target shopper, fake-baker, college Business major who slept around with endless frat boys in the hopes that one would eventually be fond enough to take her as a spouse. My wife was unusually perceptive about these things, and once, while we were on the last stakeout before our heist (the one stakeout I attended), I spotted the woman walking into the bank and I knew right away she was the mark. I thought: my wife is exactly right.
My wife brandished her toy pistol, requested that all bank employees move to one corner of the room. “Nobody panic,” she said. “We’re not gonna hurt you. Now move.” She was speaking in this falsetto British accent that she failed to warn me about. That is, I had no idea she was going to pull that stunt until the moment it happened. I thought it a deft move and chimed in with my own.
“Move quickly,” I said, but it sounded more Australian than British.
“You,” my wife said, sticking the pistol in the back of the mark, “come with me.” The mark squealed a little, but obeyed, just as my wife had figured. Up close, I realized the woman wasn’t, in fact, good-looking at all. She was all show. Not an ounce of natural beauty. Just fake nails, fake tan, and poorly highlighted hair, and it occurred to me at that very moment how deeply grateful I was that my wife—my partner—didn’t feel a need for such show.
The other bank employees cowered toward the ground, moving like snails. “Quickly,” I said again, trying to adjust my accent to match my wife’s.
I walked over to where the other employees were commanded to wait and kept an eye on the three who squatted down, huddled against the corner, facing the wall. No one whispered a word, cried, or whimpered, and while my adrenaline surged I became so hyper-focused that every movement of every person, even just the slightest slide of a finger or a leaning one way or the other, etched itself permanently into my memory. I can recall, even today, with great accuracy, every second we were actually inside the bank: the nervous twitch under an eye; the hostages shifting weight from one knee to the other; the bead of sweat that ran down one’s cheek; the smell of flowery hand soap; the dark stain on the carpet next to one of the chairs (probably coffee); the unused look of the faux-leather couch; the way the teller’s ponytail curled at the end, swaying slightly with every nervous movement.
The one male hostage was wearing gray slacks and a navy blue shirt, and I remember thinking that he looked quiet dapper, dressed up in a way to make himself appear more competent than he actually was. Maybe not so different from our mark in this way. The other two employees—women of about forty—were dressed like our mark, except both were brunettes, and both wore nondescript sets of earrings, and some low-heeled shoes. The practicality of which didn’t go unnoticed, and I was glad that my wife had picked who she picked, because the others—more practical, more prepared women—might’ve out-flanked us, might’ve made a move for which we weren’t ready. And I think that’s the thing about life. Even at our most spontaneous we’re still doing things within the realm of what we’re fit for, and in this case our mark’s always been fit for compliance, the path of least resistance. My wife, on the other hand, has always been fit for thievery. Like Michael Jordan’s jump shot, or Magic Johnson’s ability to dish out the ball, my wife was a natural born thief, and watching her work was a thing of beauty: the way she so elegantly glided around, giving orders. This was her most ambitious take yet, and I knew, after we got out of here, it wouldn’t be our last. And it wasn’t.
“Scoot your ass over to the corner with the others,” my wife said. She shooed the mark away. The tills were open and she was filling bags. I signaled our mark with a motion of my toy gun to hustle. Her high heels tapped the wood floors toward the wall. My wife stuffed the canvas bags full of bills. I knew, for her, it didn’t matter if they were ones or one-hundreds; this take was about so much more than the money.
As our mark walked past me, she looked back at my wife, turned toward me, and tripped over the threshold between the wood floor and carpet. She fell head-first into a desk. The collision made a loud, unsettling smack. And instantly there was blood everywhere—on her face, the floor.
“What the hell happened?” my wife said, still in her best British accent.
I knelt down to the woman who was crying and clutching her head. “Ouch,” I said. “That doesn’t look good.”
“Let me help,” one of the women next to the wall said.
“Nobody moves,” my wife said. She was back to her normal voice. A slight Midwestern drawl.
The blood pooled quickly. I knew this from my days in basketball. A guy gets elbowed in the face, the head, and it bleeds. I mean, bleeds. And that’s what our mark was doing.
“She’ll be fine,” I said to no one in particular. “Just a lot of blood.”
The woman squirmed and made noises on the ground, tiny whimpers, and I felt an uncommon urge to reassure her that she would, in fact, be okay. I reached out and touched the woman’s leg. She flinched, flung her right arm at me as if she were trying to simultaneously shoo me away and backhand me. As she did this, she accidentally slapped my right hand, the one holding the pistol, and dislodged the plastic gun from my grip, sending it flying across the lobby. It sailed—the pistol—in an arch, toppling sideways over itself, until finally it hit the counter that my wife stood behind. As it connected with the counter a less than sufficient thud filled the room, and as surely as that happened, all four of the hostages looked at me, then my wife, then back at me, and there was for a moment this palpable breech in conduct. All of a sudden, I was simply a guy in a bank with no weapon, no gun, therefore no power, and the looks on the hostages’ faces told a hundred different stories all at once. I glanced at my wife and the story I told her, without speaking of course, was to get the fuck out of there as soon as possible. Which we did.
But that didn’t stop the guy dressed in gray slacks, blue shirt and tie, to stand and confront me. He didn’t address the fake gun issue because there was no need to. We all knew. Instead, he stood slowly, and walked toward the bleeding girl, checked on her, then leveled his gaze on me. I can’t tell you now that I felt completely in control. I didn’t. But I wasn’t altogether scared either. I was mostly calm, and as he approached me, with my wife still behind the counter, now moving toward the door, I remembered my pocket knife and pulled it out: four inch blade, stainless, spring-loaded, so it flipped open with ease.
“You come near us,” I said, “and I’ll slice your throat.” The guy stopped. My hand shook. My heartbeat quickened. This, of course, wasn’t part of the plan. We were improvising. We were establishing a new path. When I said all of this, my wife stopped, stood next to me, clutching three canvas bags, each of which ballooned out to the size of a soccer ball.
Then, instead of walking straight out the door, she turned toward the bank employees. “Nobody moves for five minutes,” she said.
“Yeah, right,” the guy said. “Second you morons walk out, cops are on your ass—you’ll never get away with this, you and your fake guns.”
She leveled her toy pistol on the guy’s forehead with an unwavering confidence, and the action made everyone in the room momentarily wonder if hers was fake or real. You could see a definite moment of hesitation reorient his face.
“Like I said,” my wife said. “Stay put for five minutes, or I will torch each of your houses.” Then, in yet another surprising move, she started reciting the names and addresses of each of the people. Actually, she only got through the names of the other two women. Then she said to those women, “I’ll come to your homes and fuck your husbands, kill your children, and burn everything to ash if you even so much as think of moving before five minutes are up.”
It was her best British accent yet.
We hustled out the glass door. A wave of fresh, spring air. “Nice speech,” I said, trying for my best Brit, but it sounded more Irish this time. We hopped into our Taurus—which we no longer own—and drove off.
My wife drove, and I rode shotgun with the money at my feet. For a while we didn’t talk, just enjoyed the drive, the open road. The windows were down and her gray-brown hair flew all around her, some of it wrapping around her face. I could tell by her silent look of satisfaction that she was as pleased with this day as any other we’d shared.
Pretty soon we maneuvered onto some gravel roads, kicking up dust behind us, the sun high and strong, and the fresh air infusing everything around us with the promise of a beautiful summer.
“Where to?” I said, breaking our silence.
“East of Ely,” she said. “To a land of lush forests and vast prairie—a place where no one will bother us.” She leaned over, patted me on the knee. “Good work, darling.”
We pulled into an abandoned farmstead, which was yet another surprise. It was an old turn of the century Victorian that butted up against a wooded hillside in back, and a field of prairie grass out front, just as she’d said.
She got out, lifted a dilapidated garage door. She got back in, pulled the car inside. Then she led me into the empty house where she had already set up an air mattress, picnic basket, blanket, three bottles of wine (which I considered at that moment a bit excessive), and a handheld radio that she turned on right away to some jazz station that neither of us ever listened to. She grabbed me then, brought me close, and we danced to some musician’s sad saxophone.
We made love that night in a way that I can only describe as reckless and desperate—the way we sloppily kissed and clung to each other, the way we flopped around on top of the air mattress, and later, outside in the still spring night, on a bed of thick grass.
And later still, in the wee hours of the night, we lay in bed, sipping wine, whisper-talking about our dreams, how some of them had come true, while others had not. She also confessed to me all the times she thought about leaving, and I confessed to her the same. We talked about moments when we fought or ignored each other, stretches of our lives when we were enduring the daily grind, and she told me she used to occasionally pick fights with me just to feel something more than what she described as my “cruel indifference.” I told her then that I’d never loved her more than I did at this exact moment. And that was true. And I made a promise to myself that night that I’d be a different person, for her and for me.
As the sun came up over the eastern tree line, filtering first-light through cloudy glass windows, I asked her what she wanted to do with the money. It was the first time either of us had thought to discuss it. Her head was propped on my shoulder as we lay naked under the quilt.
“I didn’t have anything in mind,” she said. “Nothing at all.”