“Invisible Me” was first published in Willard & Maple magazine in 2005. It is presented here in slightly edited form.
Anthony R. Cardno
I wonder how long this adrenaline rush will last. Am I gonna be on this high for days, or what?
I knew when I planned this there’d be little enough to worry about. I swear this town really looks like a 50’s western B-movie set: the bank sits directly across from the bar, which is next to the general store/post office. Town like this, population of six hundred or so, everyone knows everyone else. No one even considers robbing the bank. Small towns are so trusting, they almost make it easy to just walk in and aim a gun. You don’t even have to fire a shot, which is a good thing considering the gun was only a starter pistol. I didn’t want to wait the seven days for a real gun and ammo. The background check woulda come up fine. But how suspicious would it be if a robbery occurred days later in a nearby town, with the same type of gun? Besides, I didn’t want to accidentally kill anyone, just scare them.
The look on that Rent-a-cop’s face when I pulled my gun was priceless. I heard something plop on the floor, and thought it was the magazine he’d been reading when I walked in. I thought maybe it was him, until I heard him stutter for me to “p-p-put the gun down.”
He’s probably only been a guard for three or four months and never once seen a robber close up except for on TV. Thought he was gonna have a heart attack right there, even at his tender age. The teller and two customers were calmer than he was. His gun was shaking so bad he would’ve dropped it if I hadn’t told him to put it down.
Of course, there was the usual other security — silent alarms and cameras — but they never really thought they’d be robbed. Just like the town in that Dana Carvey – Jon Lovitz – Nicolas Cage Christmas movie, “Trapped In Paradise.” But the security was real basic. Kinda obvious they’d done the bare minimum to comply with FDIC standards. Why go through all the expense of putting in the fanciest silent-alarm hook-up to the state troopers (these tiny towns don’t even rate their own police departments), or even a decent video set-up, when for much less you can give lil’ Stevie a raise.
That was really his name, too: Steve. I noticed his nametag. He’s the pencil-thin, no-butt, baby-faced type with close-cropped blond hair and imperfect teeth who talks big to his buddies over fries while he’s guarding a fast-food place in daylight. But let a fight break out after those pals leave, and he’s under a table until it’s over. The kind of guy with a girlfriend still in high school and a year-old kid at home and two or three one-night-stands every month. He looked like every redneck teenager you’ve ever seen on TV, poor guy.
Yeah, staunch, lovable, barely-legal Rent-a-cop Stevie, who is too unmotivated to become a real Law Enforcement official. He probably did enough to pass the background check, pass the tests, get the gun, but not enough to make it as more than a security guard. Right now, he’s probably talking it up big, downing a Bud at the watering hole across the street. The bartender would give him one free for “what he’s been through.”
The only problem I faced was eyewitness accounts. Even though it’s a small town and I came in during off-peak hours, there was no telling how busy the place would be. No matter how well you case a place, anything can happen. Maybe there’d be a sale at “Two B’Fours ‘n’ More” and a rush at the bank to pay for all the extra lumber. So: the nylon, tried and true disguise of bank-robbers through the years. Oh, I considered going with something a little less revealing and less likely to run or tear. I liked the idea of a rubber mask of an ex-President, but then I caught “Point Break” with Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves, and they used that gimmick. I briefly entertained using a wolfman’s mask, but the one I had from Halloween is too stuffy. Besides, a guy running across town in a nylon is less noticeable than a guy running across town in a wolf’s head, especially in this day and age. So I stuck with tradition after all.
I still wasn’t sure the nylon was enough protection, so I took some extra precautions, in case it ran. First was the bald head. I figured the nylon was see-through enough for someone to notice my natural hair color. A wig would be too big to get the nylon over. So I slicked back my hair and stretched a flesh-colored bald cap over it. Under the nylon, it looked real enough. Then I smeared some dark stuff under my eyes to change the shape of my face — guess that college stage make-up course I almost failed came in handy after all — and I put on a fake mustache the complete opposite of my real hair color. Pretty smart thinking, if I do say so myself. Then I added shoulder pads to make my neck look shorter. You can never be too cautious.
I’d be safer if I just said “no” to the whole idea in the first place. But I’ve been playing it safe for years. Just because ‘abstain’ is the key word in my love life, doesn’t mean it has to be the key word for my whole life, y’know? And actually, abstaining from sex isn’t even my idea. So I’m finally getting a thrill without a VCR. And it feels great! “Top O’ The World, Ma!!!”
Huh. Like she’d care. “Tommy, go someplace out of the way until dinner. And wear your rubbers.” I think she always intended me to be invisible. Why else would she saddle me with a name like Thomas Smith? I guess it could’ve been worse, I coulda been John Jones. It’s a damn shame Dad walked out only a month before I was born. They were still together when Ty and Rip were born, and Dad obviously wanted his sons to stand out in the world because he named them Tiberius and Euripides. Not commonplace at all. But then he left, and Ma, in a fit of rabid creativity, named me Thomas.
Somehow, Ty and Rip have managed to live reasonably exciting lives. They have mundane jobs, but exciting, romance-filled private lives. Me? Ma took me on as her special project, since Ty and Rip were following Dad’s lead. Like him, they were the valedictorians of their classes; Like Ma, I got average grades. Ty and Rip were in three sports each and took part in student government; I watched videos. They went Ivy League; I went to a state school. They graduated with honors, I got more average grades. Ty became a teacher, Rip went into advertising, and I became a Subscription Fulfillment Customer Service Representative at a nothing company in the town I grew up in. Average, unnoticeable, invisible me.
Ty got married last year to a stunning woman. Five feet ten inches tall with curly brown hair to her shoulders, dark brown eyes and high cheekbones around a pushpin of a nose, supported by the thinnest lips I’ve ever seen. The number of times we saw each other before the wedding can be counted on one hand, all of them by invitation to my mother’s house for dinner. And every time she walked in, Ty’s future wife would see me sitting in the living room and say the same thing.
“Oh, Tom,” covering a descending octave scale on my name, “I’m so glad you are here.” Falsely stressing the ‘so,’ inflecting upward on the elongated ‘here,’ as if she had been expecting me not to be there each time, like I didn’t live there or something. And then they’d spend the rest of the evening in the dining room, as if the television and sofa had never been invented.
Ty asked Rip to be his best man. That’s understandable — they were always best friends. But Ma finally let it slip a few weeks ago that Ty didn’t even have me in the wedding party originally. He only asked me after she pointed out that he’d forgotten me! Not too long after the wedding, I went to my tenth high school reunion. Nobody in my class remembered me. I was waiting on line to get my nametag off the table when I recognized the guy holding up the line by studying every nametag. A jock with the unlikely name of Clark Gable. Who were his parents trying to impress? He’d never been more than five feet five inches tall, and his face was a boxy little thing with low ears, squinty eyes and a forehead that still looked like it had stopped too many lacrosse sticks.
“Did we really go to school with someone named Tom Smith?! How boring!” he barked, like his parents had been so much more creative. The woman behind him, with straight red hair dropping past her face in a weak attempt at a trendy wet look, pursed her lips for a moment before responding.
“I think he was Ty and Rip’s brother,” she said off-handedly, “but he lacked their personality and joie de vivre.”
She was one to talk of lacking personality: the kind of girl who in elementary school embraced every new fad with equal intensity, then claimed, “I never wore that,” or “I never had a crush on C. Thomas Howell,” when the fad had passed. The kind of girl who would embarrass anyone to gain a little respect for herself.
In sixth grade we had the same teacher for the first time. One day in the middle of the year, we came back to the room after recess, and I sat in the big armchair the teacher had in the reading corner. Before I knew it, she was on my lap, running her fingers through my short dirty hair and saying in a mock sultry voice, “You know, loverboy, we could strain all this oil and make a killing. Whaddaya say, just you and me against the world. We’ll have OPEC on the run in no time.”
When Mr. Trevor came back to the room, the class was hysterical with laughter. He never asked what was so funny, never questioned the possibility that I might actually be crying from embarrassment. He just pulled the class together and started teaching science.
“No personality at all. No joie de vivre.” she repeated. Well, I’ve got joie de vivre now, bitch! Even if it is an adrenaline high. I’ve finally got the best of Dad’s and Ma’s worlds. I did a high-profile job and stayed completely non-descript. This little piss-ant town will remember me for a long time without ever knowing who I was.
That’s what I was thinking as I started to drive the five hours back home. Added to my personal savings, I could take the money I stole and leave the town of Baldwin forever. I could forget all about Ma and Dad and Ty and Rip and start a new life in another state. I could create a new past for myself; borrow a little from Ty’s life, a little from Rip’s. Things that would make people interested in me, just like Matt Damon’s character in that “Ripley” movie. When the statute of limitations ran out, I could write a book.
Except for getting caught. One stupid mistake.
I needed my driver’s license to drive home with. Wouldn’t do to get pulled over and get a ticket for not having my license. So I had my wallet on me.
It was when I got home that I realized. The “plop” in the bank, the one I thought was lil’ Stevie dropping his magazine was my wallet hitting the floor. The whole time I was in the bank, I kept my eyes on Stevie and the teller and the customers. I never looked down.
So, how long do you think this adrenaline high will last, anyway?