Usually, a sexy hot thing making demands would be the highlight of my day. This, however, is not the highlight I expected.
To start things off, for most of the week I was pretty damned sure I had just failed all four of my exams, putting the nail in the coffin of my lackluster college career. Everything was floating around in my mind a mishmash of questions. Please write out the quadratic equation. Locate the Pyloric Sphincter on the pig. Explain how Jean-Paul Sartre’s belief in the absurdity of the world connects to his concept of freedom.
That’s the only question that spoke to me because as I stand here in life or death, the whole world seems absurd right now.
Not only did I just fail everything so miserably I believe linguists are conjuring adjectives as we speak to perfectly describe how monumental a failure it was, but I also had to listen to the landlord go on infinitely about how noisy of a tenant I am and if I don’t pipe down I would be evicted. “This is your last warning!” the slob had told me. Never mind that he was breaking every noise ordinance in the book by loudly barking in my face. Never mind that it was my roommate Katina who kept holding loud parties against my admonitions.
It was an emergency situation where his breath smelt like malted baby pooh and the best course of action was to smile & nod, hold your breath, and hope the conversation ended before you die from self asphyxiation.
This interruption in the hallway, of course, made me late to work. The only good news is that I got to practice running in heels, which, according to horror movies, is at least number 4 on the list of highly coveted skills. But maybe that’s just me being a hopeless Pollyanna because as I ran across the parking lot -- 30 minutes late -- I broke the heel on my favorite pair of stilettos. Like, the stilettos. The stilettos I essentially sold my spleen for.
Tape was no use and I had forgotten to bring my back up pair of flats. So I spent most of the day hiding behind the my teller counter at the bank, practicing my crane position. My heart pounded throughout the day as my manager’s Severus Snape eyes peered at me from afar as he passed by -- too busy to give me a word. Still, it kept me wondering. Is this the day I get fired?
But I can only blame myself for the current situation. After the comedy of errors, I dared God to top himself. As I stand at the Second City Bank with a gun to my nose, all I can do is look up to the heavens and say, “Bravo.”
You’re a lean, mean, killing machine.
I repeat this as I try to hold the gun steady at the redhead’s face.
You’re a lean, mean, killing machine.
Oddly the more I say it, the less I believe it.
You’re a lean, mean, killing machine.
Slowly the reason dawns upon me.
You’re lean mean killing machine?
A lean, mean, killing machine would never call himself such. I’m frozen by her beautiful eyes. I see no fear -- maybe slight annoyance. Like I’m just a gnat ruining her day.
I don’t want to do this. I don’t have to do this. But there's a little blond-haired girl counting on me. So, yes, I kinda have to.
“Give me all the money,” I say, doing my best impression of Christian Bale’s Batman.
Much to my surprise, I’m not scared. My heart which was once running its own marathon has now slowed down to an even pace. It’s like my yoga teacher is winding down class and whispering sweet nothings as she paces about the room.
Strangely, this feels like the best thing that has happened to me today. I notice this man’s firm forearms. The perfect way he fills out his outfit. If someone saw his form on a street, he would be easily recognizable just by the size of his biceps.
If he’s trying to hide his identity, he’s doing a bad job.
“Give you all what money?” I say, a little flirtatiously and I can tell he’s taken aback.
“What -- what?”
“The money in the safe? The money in the back? The wad of cash I've got hidden in my bra in case of emergencies?”
“Um -- all of it, of course," I can feel him blushing even through the ski mask. "Well, except the wad of cash in your bra... that's --"
I notice the trembling in his hand. The overly masculine tenor of his voice. He’s never done this before.
So, no, I’m not scared. This is the least scary moment of my day. So when he asks me for all the money in the safe, of course, I say, “No.”
No? What the hell is wrong with this lady? Does she have a deathwish? I search for any traces of black makeup wondering if she’s some goth girl on the edge of suicide. Nothing. Just bright, shiny colors and she is staring me in the face saying she will not abide by my request.
She thinks I’m playing, but this is no game. It’s her or my niece. It’s her or Elaine. It’s her or my blood. I tighten the grip on the gun.
“Well, I’ll have to shoot you,” I say. “I’ll have to shoot you and find someone else who will do it.”
He pulls the trigger and suddenly, I feel free. Like the world is deconstructing around me. The landlord’s screams into my ear, forming no words. Just sounds that bounce off me like tiny little raindrops.
I see beauty, I see hope. I see a life filled with giving in to other people’s expectations. I hear a voice saying, “It never had to be this way.”
I open my eyes and I am still alive.
The maniac didn’t even flinch. As far as she knew, I had a gun filled with bullets. But she didn’t even flinch. Yes, I fired an empty gun at her because I never expected anyone to call my bluff. But now I have to show her I mean business.
Frantically, I pull the bullets out of my pocket, she doesn’t even move as I fumbled to fill up the chamber.
The serene look on her face only unsettles me.
“I have to kill you," I tell her.
“Why?” she says, annoyingly leaning forward, eyes wide open.
“Because I have to.”
“What’s your name?” she shoots back.
Is this woman crazy? Why would I give her my name?
“Look, you’ve done a poor job of hiding your identity. How many men have forearms like that? And that tattoo peeking from under your sleeve, it’s very distinctive.”
I hide the offending arm behind my back.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“And those deep, grey eyes. Boy, I could pull those out of a lineup anywhere. You’re not an expert. So tell me your name... OK, I’ll start. My name’s Mandy.”
I have no idea what I am doing, but I reach out and shake her hand. I whisper my name so that only she can hear it.
“OK, Judge. Looks like you’re in a real mess right now. But I somehow feel you wouldn’t be in this mess if you didn’t have a damned good reason.”
I don't know what I'm doing or saying right now. I just know I've never had anyone listen. I just what someone to listen.
“My niece..." I sputter out. "She has fourth stage cancer. I tried everything. Gofundme. Selling my blood. Nothing is enough.”
“And this is your last hope to save her life.”
“No,” he says, and even beneath the ski mask, I can distinctly see a tear in his eye.
“She’s already dead,” he finishes. “At least she’s good as dead. She’s fourth stage and there’s no hope.”
And then comes the moment. It usually happens in the shower or on the walk home. And you wave your fist in the air like a cartoon villain who’s just been foiled. But today it comes to me during a bank robbery. The answer to the essay question.
“I spent the last two months coming to grips with the situation. That my daughter would live out the rest of her life not achieving her dreams. She’d never been able to look up and see the beautiful ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. She’d never see the Coral Reefs of Australia. She’d never see Iguazú Falls in Brazil.”
That we settle on all these dark realities because the world tells us that’s the way it is. Become a doctor. Get a nice paying job. Wear those painful daggers known as high heels. Put up with your noisy roommate and take shit from the landlord. Let your niece rot away to nothingness never having even lived. That is pure absurdity.
He tells the story of my soul as he continues, “Then, one day, I don’t know. I was looking at a Pollock painting and the way it was constructed. Thinking what if a splotch went two centimeters to the left or to the right, would anyone know the difference? Would anyone care? And I started to think that this painting was like life.”
Then comes the answer. How does the absurdity of the world connect to freedom? It’s the realization that though we tell ourselves we have to follow the norms of the world, most of them are absurd and meaningless. And when you realize the rules mean nothing and they are merely imaginary strings around your fingers, that’s when you rip them away -- that's when you realize your freedom. That’s when you realize the words Judge told himself that night he saw the Pollock. I say them to him as much to myself.
“It doesn’t have to be this way.”
A bank robber’s outfit is made to make him look less human. More capable of killing. And more than ever before, as I size Judge up, even with his face covered, he looks more human than anyone I’ve ever seen.
His clothing melts away -- no nothing sexual -- but mere flesh and blood, baring his soul before me.
“Wait right here,” I say.
She disappears and I feel like a child whose mother has just left him alone with strangers. I see the strained faces around me still under the impression that I’m indeed a “lean, mean, killing machine”.
I say nothing, because as Mandy revealed, my voice would only give me away. I simply point my gun about the room. Trying to maintain as intimidating a posture as possible. The truth is I feel more terrified than them.
What is Mandy doing? Is she calling cops?
Wherever she disappeared to, I am still relieved when she returns with a bag in hand along with a knowing smile. Gently she hands the bag to me.
“Here,” she says.
I open it up and see what has to be five hundred thousand dollars.
“I hear Sweden is good this time of year.”
I do not know what to say, so I simply bow my head in thanks. With that, I start to walk out the door.
As I watch him walk out the door, I feel satisfied that I am going to give a little girl a new life. A chance to live. But there is something missing. A small piece. Right before he leaves, I say the word.
“Wait!” I hear her voice over my shoulder say.
“Take me with you,” she says.
This is insane. I can’t take her. It makes no sense. The smart choice is to leave on my own. I cannot do this. I will not do this.
He does it. We do it.
An hour later, we are speeding down the freeway, the window is down and my hair blowing with the wind.
He has a confused expression on his face probably feeling the same emotions as me. We don’t know where we are going or what we will do. Will he betray me? Will I betray him?
Everything is a blank slate before me right now and what I'm doing seems so absurd.
But it is my absurdity.
And isn't that all that really matters?