The Deposit Slip - By Todd M. Johnson


Seated in the cool vault of the Mission Falls Bank, Erin switched on an overhead lamp and opened the lid to her father’s safe-deposit box. A faint smell of motor oil wafted up from inside. The scent of it launched an image across her memory—one so real it startled her. It was her father on a hot summer morning, coming into the kitchen from working on the tractor, leaning down to kiss her on the neck as she ate her breakfast.

How did a sensation so brief carry so much power, Erin wondered. She could feel the wet brush of his lips, the scratch of his beard on the soft skin of her neck; feel his heavy hand squeezing her shoulder. She forced herself to hold back tears, huddling deeper under her jacket against the chill.

With an effort, she forced her thoughts away from the image, letting them fade softly away.

Only now, alone in the stillness of the vault, Erin feared what else the box could lay bare.

She had already let several weeks pass since her father’s funeral, and knew she had no choice. Erin reached into the gray metal container and lifted out its contents: a small stack of papers topped with a photograph.

She held the picture to the light. It showed a young woman holding in her arms an infant wrapped in a patterned blanket. The pattern was familiar—Erin’s favorite. The woman was not. Erin knew it was her mother, Sandra, but memories of her mother were muted; mostly gathered from pictures like this one. But if the face was only distantly recognizable, the expression on it was unmistakable: she was smiling with the open heart of a new mother.

Erin held the photo to her nose, wondering whether some faint trace of her mother might be lodged there. There was nothing and, after another long look, Erin set it aside.

She turned next to the pile of papers, lifting and rapping them on the table to even them before setting the stack on the table and forcing herself to begin.

A deed to the family farm was on top. Calligraphy flowed across the oversized paper, dated 1924. Erin recognized the name of the purchaser as that of her great grandfather. Other documents followed: there was an aerial photograph of the property, yellowed invoices for farm equipment and long satisfied mortgages, followed by new mortgages—all tracing the financial ups and downs of the farmstead. They culminated in the most current bank mortgage in her father’s name. She set the farm papers aside.

Next in the stack was her mother’s death certificate, dated eighteen years ago.

The certificate was stapled to a crumpled receipt on ancient stationery, made out to Paul Larson. It affirmed her father’s payment for upkeep on a gravesite “in perpetuity.” It was followed by Erin’s birth certificate, dated twenty-six years ago next month, clipped to her report cards from first through twelfth grades. Erin smiled. She would not have guessed her father still had these.

Near the bottom of the stack, Erin found a series of three-by-five photographs attached to more documents. Several of the fading snapshots showed groups of young men posing in khaki uniforms, their fatigue sleeves rolled up, silhouetted against a backdrop of jungle. The boys were grinning, cocky, with close-cropped hair and arms slung across each others’ shoulders. Erin recognized her father in the center of the top photo, a cigarette draped James Dean–style from the corner of his mouth.

The last photo was her father again, still in uniform. In this shot he stood alone. There were tents and a gun emplacement visible behind him. He looked older in this picture, Erin thought. He stared at the photographer with distant, unsmiling eyes, and the swagger was drained from his face and form.

Attached to the photographs was her father’s honorable discharge certificate. There followed documents relating to his hospitalization for the injuries that ended his second and last Vietnam tour.

Reaching the bottom, Erin turned the papers over into a single stack and carefully paged through them once more, looking at each document individually. When she was done, she felt herself relax beneath a wave of relief. That wasn’t so bad, she thought. She pulled a bag from her purse and slid all of the papers into an empty folder inside.

Erin stood and reached to close the box lid—then stopped. In the bottom of the box was a single rectangular piece of paper she had missed.

It was not much larger than a movie ticket. She removed it and held it to