“Alice,” David said into the phone receiver, “Alice, can you hear me?”
“David, what’s with your voice, are you alright? What happened to you?”
“I have a tooth-ache. It hurts like hell.” He was speaking slowly and with evident difficulty. The pain was waking up with new strength.
“What do you need? Where are you? David, how long has it been hurting? Why haven’t you said anything?”
“What should I say? It’s been three or four days now. Alice, now it really hurts. It’s somehow worsened.”
“Have you been somewhere with it? David, that can end in an infection. You’ve got to have it checked out, you know that.”
“Hang on, hang on, wait a moment, Alice.” David had to sit down on a ledge of a store-window. He was trying to stay composed, but was feeling impatient, irritable and nervous.
“Hang on, just wait a moment. Let me talk.” Alice felt surprised by his tone and fell silent. “Today we have to go to the bank. Today.” In his voice she heard an order.
“What happened? I don’t understand….”
“…Alice, we’ll meet at the bank. Arrange it with them, please. Call there, and…”
“David, I don’t know…”
“Call there!” he shouted into the phone and hissed in pain. Alice didn’t want to resist anymore. She was startled. Something’s happened.
“Ok, yes, David. I’ll call there, hopefully someone will see us, I will…”
“Alice, I’ll be at the bank in forty-five minutes. I should be there before four.”
“Another thing,” he was quiet for a moment and Alice waited anxiously, “Alice…I’m sorry.”
“You don’t have to apologize. I’m glad we’re going to the bank. Yes. Today is the right day. I believe in you.”
David folded his cell-phone and Alice hung up the phone at Mrs. James’.
He was still wearing the yellow checkered shirt, black pants and brown shoes. On his cheek he held a moist cloth, now no longer icy. David began walking to the bank, holding his cheek, and didn’t care what people thought of him. He couldn’t care less about it all. His jaw was twitching, burning, cutting, and his forehead covered with beads of cold sweat. He was walking up the hill and frowned at everyone he met. Everyone better step aside. With firmness in his step, David was making his way straight up and whoever passed him could read in his face his resolve not to give way. His right ankle, which hadn’t healed properly since the fall in front of the bus dispatch, made itself known as well. But David didn’t care, he turned it outward at every step and thus appeared somewhat terrifying in his uncompromising march. His tooth hurt and tortured him more than anyone could imagine. To the left, then another left, to the right, straight, with every step as though a razor passed through his jaw.
At six minutes to four, David was arriving at the bank. Alice was standing in front of the door, this time she left Kačenka with Rosita, their Philippine house-mate, at Mrs. James’. She saw approaching a determined man, in a yellow checkered shirt and brown shoes. Right eye swelled over, cheek covered with a handkerchief. He was limping, didn’t slow down, only nodded at Alice and said quietly:
Alice was confused and a little frightened. David was different. The pain was eating him and torturing him.
“I was able to make an appointment with a representative named Marion. At four-thirty. Is that alright, David?”
“Yes. It is. Let’s sit down. It hurts so much, Alice. I’m sorry. I’m not in a good mood today. I had a night-shift at the airport and it hurt so much I didn’t sleep at all.” His wife gently touched his hand. The same hand with which he’d once operated on hearts. He smiled at her with one half of his cheek.
“What are you going to do about it?” She was sitting next to him, and together they waited for Marion to call them.
“At the moment, nothing. Listen, Alice,” he put aside his handkerchief for a bit, only now was she able to discern the deformity of his cheek in its entirety. Under the lower jaw she made out the bulky contours of the enlarged lymphatic glands; the swelling stretched across the entire unshaven cheek all the way to the eye. His eyelids looked like orange segments, entirely covering his eye.
“David, that must be agonizing pain….”
“It is, but I want to tell you something. Listen. Alice, today I wrote the test.”
“Like this?” she was horrified.
“I couldn’t otherwise.” He wanted to laugh, but made only a howling sound and hissed in pain.
“You went to the exam today? And…, how do you feel about it? You’re so crazy, David.” He only shrugged and smiled a little, at least as much as he could.
“Maybe. But that’s why you chose me, no?”
“David, you’re my beautiful fool.” She watched him lovingly. He returned her look with a crooked and misshapen smile, though with his grimace he instead resembled a horror-film character.
“I think it’s our turn.” A young bank representative came out of one door and invited them to come inside.
“I’m Marion, have a seat. How are you today?”
David mumbled almost incomprehensibly: “This is my wife Alice and I’m David. We’re doing great.”
With his index finger and his thumb he made a circle, then he gave a ‘thumbs-up’, to indicate that their day could hardly be better. Marion couldn’t figure out whether she’s being visited by pranksters or serious clients.
“I see you’re interested in mortgage. Is that right?”
“That’s correct, Marion,” howled David, “we want a mortgage.”
“You have an account with us, right? Let’s have a look.” She gently typed in their information and then focused on the monitor.
“Is this sum, which I see here, currently available and usable for a potential down-payment?”
“Yes, all of it, Marion. Twenty-three thousand six hundred and ninety-seven dollars, twenty-three cents.”
She examined the computer screen for a while, and noted something down.
“You have a full-time employment?” she turned to David.
“Yes, Marion. And my wife also works full-time.” His expression was defensive and the bank associate wasn’t sure whether this was some sort of a bet, or perhaps a hidden-camera gag.
“Let’s have a look, then.” For a while she quietly typed on her keyboard, again examined the monitor and continued, “do you have any other loans?”
“No, Marion. We have no credit cards and no payments. We have no debts, Marion.” She looked at him and almost told him not to constantly use her first name. But his Neanderthal facial expression silenced her. She sifted through some papers, looked again at the screen, and then she dared to ask another question.
“Did you bring your last two pay-stubs?”
“Yes. We have everything with us, Marion.” From the pocket of his yellow shirt David pulled out pay-stubs for the past three months, four-times folded and decorated with ‘dog-ears’. Alice browsed quickly through her purse, took out an envelope and from it pulled out two smooth and carefully folded documents from the accounting department. Marion took everything, wrote something down again and this time it was David who asked a question:
“Is everything alright? Marion?” he resembled a Golem, panting in the chair across from her. He was only waiting for a shem that would awaken immense strength within him, if an agreement weren’t reached.
“It comes up to twenty percent of the purchasing price of the property, if it doesn’t reach over hundred and twenty thousand dollars. In terms of the interest rate, one moment, yes, we are able to offer you five-year fixed rate at four point nine percent.”
“So we meet the criteria, Marion?”
“In your case the property price shouldn’t be over seventeen thousand, when I consider the related fees and taxes. Better less, even. That’s the theoretical maximum.”
“We agree with all the conditions. So we’re asking for a loan, Marion.”
“I’ll give you this form and with it a pre-approval. If I may make a suggestion, choose a property in the lower price-range, the pre-approval will be revised still.”
They filled out the paperwork and couldn’t believe that it was really happening. What else could get in the way? What could happen to interfere? Where’s the catch?
After another fifteen minutes of discussion and sharing of personal information they left the bank.
“Alice,” David’s good eye widened, the other one also peeking through in excitement, “what do you say? I knew it. I knew it, knew it, knew it!”
“David, just imagine!”
“I am imagining it! Yes, I’m imagining it. Right now let’s call that realtor and right away we will ask him to come up with a list of houses up to hundred and fifteen thousand. That’s a good selection. We won’t let it sit too long. It has to go straight to the oven, right away, before the dough falls.” Alice looked at his check, which also reminded her of rising dough, but she thought not to joke about that painful tooth. David continued, “today we’ll choose from the selection the guy will give us, three or four, we’ll go there with the realtor and choose one that we’ll both love. And we’ll simply shake on it.”
David was driven by the desire to be together again, all three of them, and also fuelled by the utmost necessity to see a dentist.
Luck was on their side.
“If you’d like come to my office, I’m here till six tonight and I might have something here that might interest you. There’s this family that’s leaving for South Africa for three years and they don’t want to keep the house. I think the price is very good. For hundred and twenty it’s a beautiful house. But come right away.” They made the agreement and ended the call.
“But David, we can’t do that. It’s more than we’re pre-approved for. They’ll deny our loan.”
“Let’s go, Alice. Let’s go see the realtor.”
The sun was still high up, the way it should be on a summer day. But the Říhas had other things on their mind than idle sitting on a beach somewhere. That July day their future acquired new momentum.
“Come on in, sit down. What happened to you?”
“I’ve got a loaf of bread in there,” snapped David; he wasn’t in the mood to talk about his tooth. Let him think whatever he wants. The realtor smiled uncertainly, then invited them to sit down, and turned the computer monitor towards them.
“I’m talking about this particular house. It’s a basement and a main floor. Together three bedrooms, one toilet in the basement and full bathroom on the main floor. Well maintained backyard facing south-west. It doesn’t have a garage, but there’s a parking spot in the back alley. Hundred and twenty is a very good price. There are potential buyers who are willing to pay hundred and fifty. Maybe even more.”
“Where is it?” The man clicked his mouse and exposed the city plan, “it’s right here. It’s the edge of the city but still within the reach of public transit. This here is a school; you have a school-aged child, right?”
“A little girl,” corrected him Alice.
“Yes, the school is right here, shopping mall here, I think it’s really a wonderful opportunity. Trust me, I’ve got experience and it’s not in my interest to make you unhappy.”
“One hundred and fifteen,” said David.
“What do you mean, hundred and fifteen? The seller won’t agree. That’s impossible; the price is hundred and twenty.”
“Hundred and fifteen,” mumbled David, almost incomprehensibly.
“Please…, alright, hundred and eighteen, but no less. That’s only because we’ve already talked and because I like Czechoslovakian hockey.”
“Hundred and sixteen. Your hockey team isn’t bad either.”
“Please, the owner won’t want to sell. That’s below price. Prohibited release of property. Alright, one hundred and seventeen. But that’s the last offer.”
“Look, the goalie is changing post. Hundred and sixteen, five hundred.”
“Deal, game over. Here’s your confirmation of our pre-agreement, take that to the bank, see what they say. Today they’re open till eight, if you’re in a rush.” They shook hands and said goodbye.
The Říhas got into their banged-up Crown Victoria and went straight to the bank. Alice was driving, while David felt with his tongue the painful affliction inside his mouth, holding his by-now dried up handkerchief on his cheek.
They didn’t wait for any instructions.
“Is Marion still here?” he began immediately at the reception.
“Yes, she is. You were here before, right? But she’s with a client now.”
“We’ll wait here.” The receptionist hesitated, then in the end she got up and went into the door from which they’d exited an hour and fifteen minutes ago. She closed the door behind her and returned only after a few moments.
“Marion will see you. Take a seat in the meantime.”
They waited without saying anything. With his right hand David was protecting his cheek, his left hand holding his wife’s. They were watching the clock on the wall and the door across from them.
Another minute, and another. Maybe she forgot about them. Shouldn’t they remind her? What if she packs up and leaves through the rear door? Maybe the receptionist warned her. Another minute. They were alone in the bank now.
“Come on in, then,” the door opened as the friendly bank advisor came out.
“We’re back, Marion.”
“Yes, you must’ve flown here. So what did you manage?”
“Here is our preliminary purchasing agreement for a property in the value of one hundred and sixteen thousand, five hundred.” Now she watched David as though she was expecting him to say something else. David added, “Marion.”
“Please, can I ask you something?”
“Excuse me, but why do you feel the need to constantly use my first name?”
“I think it’s a beautiful name. Marion,” finally David got the question he’d been waiting for. The young bank employee smiled and blushed. David bowed a little. Marion watched him for a moment and only now did Alice realize what a savvy player David can be.
Marion remained a little abashed.
“I congratulate you, then. Your loan is approved. You will put down a down-payment in the value of three thousand and three hundred dollars and you can start packing. Your monthly payments will be automatically deducted from your bank account, on the fifteenth of every month. Do you agree?”
“We agree, Marion.”
They finished the meeting, and left the bank as the receptionist locked up behind them. David and Alice embraced, but only so that David’s cheek wouldn’t get triggered.
“So. No I can go to the dentist. Whatever’s left in our account will go towards it, and then in a few more payments I’ll pay him whatever else he asks. Now you understand? It couldn’t have been done differently. I couldn’t go see the dentist before the bank. If I had gone, Marion wouldn’t see much in our account.”
“I know, you Marion, you.”