Resplendent in her greatcoat, riding skirt and hat, the General knocked on the door to Room 103. She had replaced the gloves with fawn-colored civilian ones that would not be mistaken for military imposters, likewise she was wearing a plain white blouse with no ruffles. She was smiling. “Calliope, are you there?”
Calliope answered the door barefoot, in trousers and suspenders, with a paint-spattered men’s shirt and her glasses pulled down to the end of her nose. She did not appear in the least bit embarrassed by her comparatively disheveled appearance. She smiled, too. “Hi, Glorie. What’s up?”
The General’s smiled faltered. “Yes…” It was difficult to turn around now and say that Calliope ought to be less informal with her. However, she was horrified by the possibility of what greater familiarity might do to her name. Gee-Gee? Lora? Jenny-Pie? The mind boggled. “Miss Otis,” she retreated into formality on the off chance Calliope desired likewise, “most people do choose to refer to me by my rank.”
“Yeah,” Calliope said. She frowned. “It’s kind of weird, but I guess there’s not much you can do if they don’t want to be friends. It’s okay.” She smiled again. “So what’s up?”
“Er…” The General straightened her coat and tipped up her chin. She smiled also. “If you do not have a previous engagement, I thought we might visit the bank today. I would like to take the opportunity to teach my daughter how to open a bank account.”
Maggie was sitting at the top of the stairs, similarly overdressed. She had her chin in her palm and was vacillating between bored and excited. On the one hand, getting all dressed up to leave the house seemed like an extra Pension Day this week, and those were boring as hell. On the other hand, all things Calliope were new and amazing, and Maggie appreciated another opportunity to play with her. She waved when Calliope looked up.
“Oh. Okay,” Calliope said. “I guess I’d better put shoes on…”
The General held up a hand and attempted to prevent Calliope’s premature departure. “I believe a change of clothing might also be appropriate. Do you have…” She knew Calliope had abandoned any dresses she might have possessed previously in light of her expanding waistline. “…Perhaps a skirt?”
“Huh? Oh, no. Pants are just easier. Those ones look pretty complicated, though.” She indicated the General’s split skirt with the buttoned panel in front. “I wouldn’t bother if they had that many.”
“This is a riding skirt,” the General said tightly. “For horses.”
“Boy, the army has uniforms for everyone, don’t they?” Calliope said. “Hang on a second, I’ll put on a clean shirt…”
The General could hear her daughter above, muffling giggles with both hands. She did not bother to turn and confirm it. “She is not trying to be funny, Magnificent. It is rude to laugh.”
“She must think you’re the same size!” Maggie cried out.
The General sighed.
Calliope presented herself a few minutes later in shoes in a clean shirt. The shirt was tucked in. Her hair was brushed and pulled back. Otherwise, there was nothing to indicate respectability. Without the green sweater with the holes (which would not have helped), the pregnancy was especially obvious.
Pregnancy and respectability should in no way factor into the ability to open a bank account. But there were, admittedly, factors beside the possession of money which could make things more difficult or easier. Not that the General had ever shied away from a fight, but she did not relish doing so with Calliope in tow. She could easily imagine Calliope wandering out of a trench in the middle of an artillery exchange to pick flowers. Even Sanaam had been able to stab and shoot and strategize; she could turn her back on him and expect he would still be alive five minutes later. Fighting with Calliope would be like flying in jesses.
Nevertheless, she squared her shoulders and prepared to bend over backwards in whatever way would prove necessary to get Calliope set up at the bank. “Do you have your money with you, Calliope?” she asked, perhaps presciently.
“No. Should I?”
“It is useful in opening bank accounts,” the General replied, as patiently as possible.
“All of it?” Calliope asked, frowning.
“Well, you may use your judgement, but it would be safest.”
Calliope reluctantly turned back towards her room. “What if I get mugged or something?”
“Then my daughter and I will give you a lesson in self-defense,” the General said with a grin.
The bank, though it was not an uptown branch, was still doing its best to be huge and imposing and stolid. Done in the classical style, with plinths and pillars and pediments, it was intended to look as permanent as a thousand-year-old ruin, and much more secure. A vault and temple and a battleship, all dedicated to the essential processes of capitalism. A vast expanse of pale stone steps separated the building and its wide doors from the muck and mundanity of the streets. Enter, said the bank. Fill out forms. Open accounts. Buy bonds. Move money around. Speak to the acolytes behind counters and cages of gold wire, or the priests with their offices and oaken desks. Light candles on the altar. Worship, and be rewarded.
(Across the street, a chip shop with a blue and white awning and a display in the window said, Hey, come on in! Have some rubber fish!)
This particular institution, older than most, did business with the military. Though the General was no longer depositing her paycheques, they had long since earned her loyalty and were currently safeguarding the funds for Magnificent’s secondary education.
“You always kick ’em in the groin,” Maggie opined, mounting the first flight of steps with her sensible black shoes. “Even girls hate that.”
“That depends very much on positioning and leverage, Magnificent,” the General said, furthering her daughter’s primary education. “It is a gross oversimplification to say that one should ‘always’ employ any particular tactic. The predictability alone would render it inadvisable.”
“Yeah, but it really hurts and if you get an opportunity you should try,” Maggie said. “Or you can grab ’em and twist, but I think that only works with guys.”
“I think I read somewhere that guys like that,” Calliope said.
“Did it happen to be in a magazine with a smiling woman on the cover?” the General said. She supposed it might also have been in a magazine with people in leather harnesses on the cover, in which case she would have to continue this conversation under more private circumstances.
“Yeah. I like ’em for the ads. There’s a lot of great poses. But I sniff ’em first, because some of ’em stink up the whole house.”
“Never take romantic advice from a magazine with a picture of a smiling woman on the cover,” the General said. “It comes from the fevered imaginations of flighty young girls and bitter old maids. The recipes are also suspect.” Fifteen Great Ways to Dress Up Canned Tuna! ‘In aspic with shredded cheese’ was not an attractive ensemble, but rather a way to ruin multiple ingredients that would’ve done just fine on their own. “I can offer you no opinion on the knitting patterns.”
“I used to do knitting. Me and a couple of girls got together and did sweaters for trees.”
All three of them stopped a few feet from the front entrance. The General was frowning, Maggie had an expectant grin, and Calliope just appeared puzzled that her two companions had decided now was a good time to stop walking.
“Whyever would you do such a thing?” the General said finally.
“It was kind of a fun activity. We were friends.”
The General was not willing to discount the possibility that Calliope thought she had been friends with the trees.
“How do you get a tree to put on a sweater?” Maggie asked. She very much hoped it involved magic.
“Oh, they don’t do it themselves,” Calliope said. “You hafta go around them.” She made a convoluted motion with her hands. “And you better do it at night, because apparently it’s vandalism,” she added with an irritated gesture. “Man, Helen’s parents were really pissed off.”
Maggie opened her mouth and the General spoke first, “No, Magnificent. Calliope will not be teaching you how to knit.”
“Aw,” Maggie said.
As the General approached the glass-fronted double doors in front of the building, a gentleman in a dark olive suit with white gloves and gold braid automatically opened one for her. He was both more formal and less practical than the General in her greatcoat and feathered hat, perhaps the admiral of the lollipop navy. He staggered back a pace and put up both hands when he noticed Calliope, releasing the door, which the General caught.
“You can’t come in here dressed like that!” he said.
“Could if you moved a little,” Calliope said, smiling.
“She is in no way indecent,” the General said. “I see several men inside who are dressed similarly.”
“She isn’t a man!”
“And what difference should that make?”
“We reserve the right to refuse service…”
This was the blade of the guillotine, and the General was not going to allow it to fall. “I suggest you consider your next words very carefully,” she said, with hand raised and eyes narrowed. “I am Brigadier General Glorious D’Iver. Your bank, your employers, have dealt with my family’s finances for more than three generations, by virtue of being the Marselline military’s preferred institution — a military with which I maintain a cordial relationship, I might add.” This was true. She hadn’t burned down the Pension Office yet, which was very kind of her. “If you feel you have the authority to deny my family entrance, I feel I have the authority to withdraw every scint… Every. Scint.” Of almost one-thousand sinqs, which would certainly make a difference to Maggie’s education, but not much to the world of high finance. “…And invest it instead with your nearest competitors. And do not think that I will hesitate for an instant to fill in your name, Mister…” She poked his name plate with a finger. “Jeffries, as the reason I have done so. If there is not a space on the form, I will make one. Do you really think your employers can afford to lose the business of the army, the navy and our fledgeling air force over a single pair of trousers?”
“I,” said Edmond Jeffries, who had been a doorman for all of two weeks. “I… I…”
“Say hello to Miss Otis,” the General advised him, smiling. “She is bringing you business.”
“Hello, Miss Otis,” he said. He bowed.
“Morning, Mr. Jeffries,” Calliope said. “Cool outfit.” Maggie grinned and saluted him, which he numbly returned. The three of them lined up in an orderly and not at all smug fashion between the velvet ropes for service.
The teller, a woman in a dark skirt and white blouse with a conservative hairstyle, commenced a Jeffries-like stammering when she saw Calliope.
“It’s all right,” Calliope said. “Your bouncer over there already said it was okay.”
“We wish to open an account,” the General said. Her nose was perhaps twelve inches above the high counter, but the feathered hat added a good two feet. “Savings, please, not chequing.”
“I… I…” said the teller. She drew a yellow form out of a file with trembling fingers. “Do you have your husband’s name and place of employment?” This came fairly easily, once she got it started. It was ingrained.
“We most certainly do not,” the General said, narrowing her eyes.
“…Well, now, let’s see if we can’t get this all sorted out,” the man in the dark suit said. He tented his fingers personably over his desktop blotter. The triangular plaque on the left hand corner proclaimed him an Asst. Bank Manager. “I am given to understand that you do not have a husband at all, Miss Otis?”
“She is not hiding a husband in her purse, Mr. Chevalier,” the General snapped.
“I don’t have a purse,” Calliope said, mystified. “It’s in my back pocket…” She sat forward to retrieve her sinqs, but the General pulled her back down.
“Miss Otis is neither widowed nor abandoned, she requires no social programs or condolences, and the pregnancy is none of your damn business, now can we please get on with this?”
“Well, we do offer a savings account with limited options for unattached young ladies with good references,” said Mr. Chevalier said warmly. “All we require is a month’s worth of paystubs from her current employer.”
“She does not have one,” the General said.
“In lieu of paystubs, a letter may…”
“She does not have an employer,” the General said. “She was fired due to outmoded moral constraints and the pregnancy. Her income, at the moment, is from the sale of paintings. She is self-employed.”
“I think I’m unemployed, Glorie,” Calliope said.
“For the purposes of the forms, you are self-employed,” the General said. “She wishes to open a savings account and deposit thirty-five sinqs, with further deposits dependent upon commission.”
“Thirty-one fifty,” Calliope said. “I bought art supplies with Milo. He needed a lot of fixative,” she confided to the Asst. Bank Manager.
“I believe the lower limit for a savings account is twenty-five,” the General said, smiling grimly.
“Might I suggest a certificate of deposit…?” Mr. Chevalier said. “The lower limit for those is fifteen!”
“You might jump out of a second story window with an umbrella for a parachute,” the General said. “I would be under no obligation to call it a good idea. Miss Otis desires to access her money in case of emergency.”
“Please, Mrs. D’Iver…”
“General,” the General said coldly. “General D’Iver.”
“General D’Iver, this woman has no job, no husband and no references. I am trying to come up with a service we can reasonably offer her!”
“I ate some of those mints out of the candy dish next to the pens,” Calliope said. “I think they’re getting stale.”
“I am a reference,” the General said.
“I think we would need at least two…”
Maggie raised a hand. “I’m a reference! Calliope’s awesome. Do you need me to sign something?”
“Calliope Otis?” Mr. Chevalier said, blinking.
“As in, the muse?”
“O-T-I-S, not O-T-T-I-S?”
“Yep, that’s it.”
“Are you related, by any chance, to Stephen Marigold Otis?”
Marigold? The General frowned, but it was not only the ridiculousness of the name. It also seemed familiar in a financial setting.
“Yeah, that’s my dad.”
“Just a moment, please.” The Asst. Bank Manager ran out.
“Your dad picked Marigold?” Maggie asked softly.
“Nah, that was Mémère.” Calliope snickered. “Maybe that’s how come we got to pick ours.”
“Are we about to be arrested, Calliope?” the General spoke aside. “I would appreciate a warning.”
“Dunno,” Calliope said. “I don’t keep up with the papers. I guess Dad could’ve robbed a liquor store or something…”
“I thought you said he taught classical history at a preparatory school,” the General said.
“Yeah, but this one time he walked out of a drugstore with a pack of gum he didn’t know he had. Maybe it was like that.”
There was audible whispering going on in the hallway behind them. The General allowed it to continue a few moments longer before rising and demanding, “Excuse me, should we be included in this discussion?”
The Asst. Bank Manager hid behind the man he had been whispering with, whose demeanor was even more smooth and deferent and impeccable. The General deduced from this that they had finally left ‘Asst.’ territory and graduated to ‘Actual Bank Manager.’ The attitude did not seem to indicate a forthcoming arrest, although she supposed a committal could not be ruled out.
“General D’Iver,” the man said, clasping his hands. “I am so dreadfully sorry for the confusion. What sort of a loan does Miss Otis desire?”
The General sighed and folded her arms over her chest. “While I find it gratifying that we are now losing our collective mind in the opposite direction, I feel I must remind you that we are trying to open a savings account.”
“Of course, of course. A savings account. For which, I can assure you, all of our practices are completely transparent and above-board.” He bowed in Calliope’s direction and presented a pale orange form. “An institution with the history and qualifications of Parapet Savings and Loan, and one which does so much business with the fine men and women of our armed forces, would never dream of defrauding the government in any way.”
“Marigold-Muse Law!” a voice hissed in the hallway, where several clerks and tellers had now gathered. A man was pointing a frantic finger at Calliope. “It’s some kind of recording device, I’m sure of it!”
“Ah, yes,” said the General. Now she had placed it. It was a little over a year ago, but there had been headlines. A class-action lawsuit. Something about unethical practices. The settlement had been millions. “Calliope, just out of curiosity, is your father, the history teacher, in any way associated with Marigold-Muse Law?” She lifted a brow in the hysterical manager’s direction.
“Huh? Oh, no…”
The General resumed her seat with a smile. We do not assume.
“…That’s my mom. There was kind of a problem with her name, so she named it after Dad and us kids. They sued the hell out of this one bank a couple years ago. Turns out they were misfiling all these applications for government aid after the war and just foreclosing on the properties. Mom was pissed. She did it pro-bono. Most of us kids were gone by then, so she could afford it. They sold the house. Euterpe sent me some spaghetti and pancakes in an envelope, he was so sick of them. I think it was in the papers.” She frowned. “But I don’t think the part about the spaghetti.”
The General closed her hanging jaw. “Calliope, for future reference, marriage is an association.”
“I thought it was more like a contract thing,” Calliope said.
“Your mom had nine kids and a law firm?” Maggie asked, delighted.
“Not the whole time,” Calliope said. “The law firm’s only since all of us were out of diapers. She was a paralegal to start.”
“I’m sorry, Miss Otis,” the bank manager broke in. “The mortgage…?” He caught himself, “Savings account!”
“Magnificent, come and have a look at this form,” the General said. “This is the relevant information that is required. However, it is just as well that you understand the extra hoops women are made to jump through. What holds true in finance is sadly applicable in the military and day-to-day existence as well.”
“We are a progressive establishment, General D’Iver,” the bank manager said miserably. “Our workforce is twenty-three percent female, well above average.”
“The percentage and the fact that you are proud of it are equally pathetic,” the General said. “I imagine the average salary you pay your female employees is just as fair.”
“Well, General D’Iver, you must admit, statistically, women are less…”
“There is no good way to finish that sentence and for the sake of your financial and physical health, I suggest you stop talking.”
Calliope had filled out the form and given it to Maggie to examine, but she had neglected to put her signature at the bottom.
“Miss Otis, if something is not to your liking,” the bank manager said. “The interest rate, perhaps…? We have other…”
“Huh? Oh, no,” Calliope said. “I don’t really want a savings account, thanks.”
“Glorie wanted to show Maggie how the bank works. I’m just gonna keep my money in my suitcase with the underwear.”
The General stood suddenly and clamped her hand on Calliope’s arm like a manacle. “Will you gentlemen excuse us for a moment?”
Maggie recognized her mother’s ‘time to take people’s eyes out’ expression and was disturbed to see it directed at Calliope. “Uh, Mom…”
“Magnificent, have the bank manager teach you the difference between savings and chequing accounts.”
I guess Calliope’s not going to live with us forever after all, Maggie thought with a sigh.
The General dragged Calliope into the women’s restroom and sat her down on one of those ridiculous couches they kept in there for corset-wearers who were overcome by lack of oxygen. She remained standing, with her hands folded tightly in front of her.
“Calliope, I am certain you are unaware of this, so I am going to take the time and effort to inform you,” she said. “Please cease doing whatever it is that you do that passes for rational thought and attend me. I have a lot of sympathy for the situation you find yourself in, as it is very similar to my own, and I have been trying to be patient with you. Your youth and inexperience are an admitted handicap, but it could be overcome if you were willing to learn. It is impossible to teach you when you persist in being so maddingly, willfully stupid.” She lifted a hand. “And I do not mean ignorant, although you are, I mean intellectually incurious, uncritical, and in all ways vapid and frustrating. What I mean by that, Miss Otis, is that you do not seem to care about anything. You are a butterfly among the flowers. Butterflies get eaten. You are going to have a child, and you do not seem to be able to muster the force of will to take care of yourself. It is past time for you to smarten up, and smart people to not keep their life’s savings in a suitcase with underwear. Your child is going to need food, clothing, housing, an education, and you cannot expect these things to simply be provided for you. You have a safe place to stay, for now, because you are lucky. You need to develop your skill. Now, are you willing to do that, or are you going to sink without even attempting to swim?”
“So, is that about it?” Calliope asked, arms folded across her chest. She was, at the very least, not smiling. “Am I allowed to start thinking again?”
“I would be gratified if you tried,” the General said.
“Do you think I’m stupid because I don’t want to give my money to a bunch of people who don’t even want to let me into the building until you threaten them with all three branches of the military, and don’t want to let me have an account until they figure my mom is gonna sue them straight into the ground or is it more like a systemic thing?”
The General paused for a moment with a creased expression. “I will admit I believe it to be systemic, but I find your refusal to open a savings account immediately frustrating. However, the reasons you have just given me…”
“Okay. Well, I don’t want a savings account no matter how much you yell at me, so that’s not happening. Do you want to stop being friends?”
“I… I don’t understand the question. Friendship is irrelevant, I did not bring the matter up.”
Calliope crossed one leg over the other, which was easily accomplished in pants, and sat back against the wall. “I mean, am I so stupid you don’t want to deal with me anymore? Do you want me to move away? Am I bugging you by being a dumb pregnant lady in the same house?”
“It would be incredibly unwise for you to attempt to change housing at this juncture and I have no desire for you to try.”
“Are you telling me you’re going to quit trying to help me out? Because I didn’t ask you to do that, I thought you were just being nice.”
“I… If you do not desire my interference… I suppose I should have asked…”
“I don’t mind it, but if it’s bothering you, I don’t have to have it. Cin and Em said they’d help me out with the rent, and thirty-one sinqs’ll probably last me until I have the kid, if the food’s included. Em makes really good dinners and I don’t mind cereal. I can always go out and try to sell some more paintings if I have to. After I have the kid, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I mean, it could kill me, or the kid might not be okay. I don’t think this is a real good time to start socking it away for a college education, I’ve got other stuff to worry about.”
“I think,” the General said, more mildly, “that when it is possible to save, it is a good time to do so. It does not have to be for the distant future. Emergencies are always a possibility.”
“Well, then I want it in my suitcase where I can get to it, not in a big building halfway across town where they kick me out if I’m not fancy enough. Those interest rates are crap, anyway, it’s barely enough to cover the fees.”
“You read the form,” the General said.
“How’m I supposed to fill something in if I don’t read it?” Calliope said. With effort, she pushed back to her feet. The General offered her an arm, but she did not take it. “Look, I hafta pee. Then I’m gonna grab some lunch at that place with the rubber fish. You do whatever you want.”
“It is not my intention to drag you halfway across town and then abandon you.”
Calliope peered narrowly at her in passing. “You don’t actually like to say you’re friends with people, do you?”
“Again, I did not bring that matter up,” the General said.
“Well, if you ever wanna change things, you’d better say something because I am not real smart,” Calliope called back over her shoulder. “I mean, you’re not wrong… I’m gonna be awhile. You don’t have to wait.”
Am I not wrong? the General thought. Is that what I am?
Maggie was very unsettled to see her mother return with no Calliope at all. Oh my gods, Mom, did you kill her for real? She did not say that. She said: “A chequing account is for the payment of day-to-day expenses. A savings account is meant to be left untouched, so as to gather interest. However, it is possible to withdraw the funds without penalty, unlike a certificate of deposit.”
“Excellent, Magnificent. Now then, Mister…” She consulted his lapel. There was a carnation in it. “Mr. Lamaire. I require the forms for an account transferral. To a different bank, of course.”
“For your daughter’s edification?” the bank manager said hopefully.
“Yes, but also for my own personal use. I will return with the completed forms when I have chosen which one of your competitors to patronize. I believe I will make the decision based on whoever is willing to let Calliope’s trousers into the building unremarked. This may take quite some time.”
The bank manager appeared crestfallen, though somewhat relieved. Maggie smiled. “Is Calliope okay, Mom?”
“That is a matter of opinion. However, at the moment, she is using the restroom. How do you feel about fish and chips for lunch, Magnificent?”
[Author’s Note: 80 installments! And one poorly-hidden Easter Egg which no one has found yet! (#77)]