“The Teller on the Right” by John Oliver Hodges

John Oliver Hodges


The downtown tellers are Filipino, not Tlingit
from forty to fifty-ish with pitted
faces and lipstick, a dash of mascara. They
know me. I’m the white guy who
strangely, when he speaks to them, speaks in
a Filipino accent. It’s what I do
wherever I go, speak in the accent of the person
I’m speaking to. I speak black people
of the south, Indian, and Igloo, Chinese, African,
redneck and of Spain. I take my coffee
dark and light, can I help that I’m cosmopolite?
I’m downright insufferable, says my
wife. I pain her when we’re together, but I
can’t help it. I’m a man of the
world, a linguistic magician who at the bank today
was called upon to make a decision.
The tellers were freed up at exactly the same
time, you see, and I was the only
one waiting. They looked at me, both smiling, and
I looked at them, one to the other,
and it was an awkward moment. I did not want
to privilege one over the other, didn’t
want to hurt a woman’s feelings, but I stepped
over to the teller on the right. “I would
like to make a deposit,” I said, and slid her my pay
check, six hundred and four dollars and
fourteen cents for two weeks of teaching college
English. I’m not the richest man, but I
make up for it in other ways, cook my wife bacon
and buy her mayonnaise, a wonderful
combination, like mustard on Swizz cheese. But the
teller on the right was different today, how
strange. Today, the teller on the right wore a low cut
shirt a thin shade of pink, what
you’d expect to see on a woman less than half her
age. How strange to see her breasts
on prominent display, large and whitely delicate-looking,
these two breasts
bubbling up buoyant, even a little jiggly in the
fluorescent sea of the Alaskan Bank. It
was difficult to stand there in front of her breasts, and
I looked at the other teller. She was
going to think I chose the teller on the right to be closer
to her breasts. How strange, all this. Normally
my awkwardness at the bank, my bankwardness, comes
from the fear that my teller will think I
am assuming a fake identity by using an accent that does
not match my face, but they don’t check
my driver’s license anymore. “Could I please have a roll
to put quarters in, too,” I said after the
deposit. “Just one?” my teller asked. “Just one,” I replied,
and the teller on the right leaned way over to the
side, her shirt front dropping open, her strangely sexy
breasts now fully revealed, all those white
curves and even a nipple. I looked away while all those
cameras on the walls watched me, while the
teller on the left misinterpreted me, my nearness to this
white cloud in the sky, paused and pure, a
woman less than half her age would be proud, I’m sure.

from Rattle #28, Winter 2007

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