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Forty-one short stories
by Holly Gramazio

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27 across

Where the hell are you going?

They've been eating and drinking since midday.

"I've run out of money," Elsie says.

Brent too. "Come on then."

Nicholas has sixty dollars left, and of course they could just use a credit card. "Okay," he says.

They skirt around pedestrian lights and cross further down, dodging the flowers that run along the middle of the road. Elsie tries to pick one, but cars are approaching and the soil's damp; she runs across the road at the last minute, landing on the other side to a blare of horns with a bundle of petunia roots and leaves in her hand. "Where the hell are you going?" somebody shouts out of a window, slowing down.

"Elsie," Nicholas says, and she grins.

They walk past the courts and the pawnbrokers. Brent reaches out to touch the wall every few metres.

"They might have replaced him," he says.

"They haven't." Nicholas watches the footpath. "He was still there a few weeks ago, anyway."

"You went without us?" Elsie stops.

"I needed to get some money." It's louder than he'd intended. "I didn't realise I was supposed to consult with you first. And I was with a client."

"There are other banks," Elsie says.

"Come on." Brent's ahead of them now, turning around to look back solemnly. "Stephen wouldn't have wanted us to fight."

Nicholas laughs after a moment. Elsie takes longer. "Do you remember," she says, "that party with the cake?"

There's a man using the machine when they arrive, looking from his phone to the screen and back again. Nicholas spends a few minutes quietly resenting the delay, and then Elsie nudges him.

"What?"

"Shhh." She nods towards the man, then nudges him again.

"What?", mouthing silently this time.

"Make sure you stay out of view of the cameras," Brent says loudly, and Nicholas catches on. He's too sensible for this nowadays, or insufficiently drunk.

"Have we synchronised watches?" Elsie asks, watching the man at the machine for a reaction.

"Of course," Brent replies.

Nicholas shrugs. Elsie glares, and he manages a proper response. "Yes."

"And it's an even split this time, yeah? None of this forty-thirty-thirty garbage."

The man in front of them leaves before they get too much further. Elsie's biting her bottom lip, trying not to giggle. Nicholas pinches the bridge of his nose. He's tired. But the machine's free, and when they step up to it Stephen is still there, dressed in a suit he'd never have worn outside a photographer's studio, speech bubble tethered to his grinning lips. Hello, he says. Please insert your card.

Nicholas does.

Stephen slides into a different pose. Enter your Personal Identification Number and then press OK to continue, he tells them.

Nicholas presses buttons, 4355684373; Hello there, the letters on the number pad spell out.

I'm sorry, the speech bubble says as the Stephen on the screen changes to another, apologetic, concerned, one hand thoughtful under his chin. That's not the right number. Please try again, or press CANCEL to go back.

It's us, Nicholas tells him, 48787.

I'm sorry, that's not the right number. Please try again, or press CANCEL to go back.

He puts in his real PIN while Elsie looks away from the keypad politely and Brent doesn't.

Welcome! What would you like to do today? Stephen talks in a bulleted list. Deposit. Withdrawal. Account Information. Favourite Transaction. Or press CANCEL to go back.

"That tie," Elsie says, reaching out to touch it on the screen. It's patterned in bank colours to match the suit.

Withdrawal, Nicholas presses.

What would you like to withdraw? $20. $50. $100. $200. $300. Other.

Other.

Please enter the amount you wish to withdraw, or press CANCEL to go back.

Nothing, Nicholas tries, 6684464, but he can't put that many numbers in. 968, you.

I'm sorry, Stephen says, and it's the same apologetic stance as before, You must select a multiple of ten (other than $10 or $30).

Nicholas settles for a hundred dollars and a receipt, and Stephen switches position again, Your request is being processed, and again, hands on hips, head tilted quizzically. In the market for a new home? Our interest rate is lower than any other major bank in Australia.

Elsie laughs. "Karen's got to him," she says. "Next year he'll be telling you to take the garbage out, and wouldn't some new curtains be good for the lounge, and isn't it time you started to think about children?"

Stephen slides into the final pose, the one they recognise, the only one that doesn't look like him playing up for the cameras: quiet head-tilting, not quite a smile. Remember to remove all bills, and your receipt! Thankyou for banking with us, the speech bubble says, but the expression says yes, you, I remember you, hello.

Nicholas pulls the receipt free and crumples it into his pocket without looking. The screen fades back to the start. There's a lull in the traffic behind them.

"I didn't think about it much this year," Elsie says. She picks a shred of petal from her bundle of petunia leaves, and lays it by the keypad. It's wet and dark and crumpled.

"No," Nicholas says. He presses CANCEL, go back, go back, but nothing happens: it's four years later, still, and there's nothing left except an annual lunch, and some fading memories of a car on wet roads, and some artificial dialogue that never ends with goodbye.