Rob the Bank, Butter the Kitchen

by Susann Cokal

I’ve been wanting to leave. Get out of town, flee the country, abandon the planet. I’m not the only one; I hear people talking about it everywhere. They don’t like the president or the climate or the new interest rates. It is an epidemic, this unhappiness. But I am also in love, and love has kept me from doing anything for a very long time.

“Don’t be an ass,” says Babe. She’s my girlfriend, a tall, bony, crewcut blonde who works in a honey lab and collects vintage Hugo, Man of a Thousand Faces. Her skin tastes sweet from the honey. She makes overalls look good on a grownup. She makes me look good, too, though my head is now almost bald. It’s the antibiotics; I ate meat as a child.

Ass is an odd word for one woman to use on another, but that’s Babe. She’s tired of hearing me talk about leaving the same way I used to be tired of a girl who said she wanted to rob a bank.

Whenever the subject of money came up, this girl, Janet, described a plan she had worked out. It began with her grabbing a bank manager’s head by the hair and smashing it through a plate-glass window, then pushing it down so the edge of the glass cut through his neck and his head came off.

For almost a year I listened to this plan, which she barely refined in that time, and I bit my tongue instead of pointing out that the glass of a bank window (I knew this because I’d worked in construction when I was eight) could not be shattered by anything less than a tornado blowing a backhoe straight into it with the business end raised like a question. I also didn’t point out that in order to sever the head she would need someone on the other side grabbing it, since she would be on the inside fighting with the manager’s body.

I didn’t mention these flaws because then Janet would have wanted me to help plan the heist, possibly also to drive the backhoe and be the person on the other side of the window. I didn’t want to help. There wouldn’t have been much cash anyway; even in those days a bank kept only around a hundred dollars on hand and it was all in dimes and quarters, since nobody used hard money for anything except laundry and parking meters, and those were being phased out.

See, a stupid plan. But Janet was pretty and girly and sweet, and so I put up with her and paid her share of the rent when she was broke because she hadn’t yet robbed a bank. Eventually I got so tired of listening to her plan that I started fantasizing about smashing her head through a window and cutting her off at the neck. I fantasized about this so much that I began to think I might do it, and so I broke up with her.

I don’t want things to end with Babe like with Janet. I don’t want them to end at all. I worry that Babe will leave me because of my assishness, and then that will be one more bad thing in the news. So I ask her to explain just what makes me an ass.

“You talk about it all the time but you never do it,” she says, just as I would have said about Janet. “Going away, I mean.”

“I don’t have the money.” I haven’t been able to get work in the last two recessions. Fortunately Babe found a loft with space for us to squat with all twenty-seven Hugos, one of which she is working on now. She’s styling it to look like Nikola Tesla, Serbian-born inventor of alternating electrical current. He has a small mustache.

“You could get the money,” she says. She tries a wig on Hugo.

Pause while I do not tell her I have a plan for robbing a bank.

I say, “I don’t have a passport.”

“Ditto. Duh. You should have a passport anyway.” Babe takes Nikola/Hugo’s wig off and attacks it with scissors.

That’s probably true. I make a mental note to apply to Basic Security for a passport.

“I feel guilty,” I say. It is a big confession for me.

She makes a pfft sort of sound. “What do you have to feel guilty about? Guilt is another way of saying I’m too lazy to try.

“I don’t want to leave you behind.” I am so in love that I’m actually starting a plan just to please her. “Will you come with me?”

She fluffs up the top of the wig. It looks like a mushroom. “I have to stay for the Resistance.”

I wonder if Resistance fighters in the wars ever sounded so smug. Babe’s smuggery makes me love her even more. I have always been attracted to confidence.

“How about a vacation?” I ask. “Can the Resistance spare you for a week in Turks and Caicos?”

“I don’t want to go to Turks and Caicos.”

“Where do you want to go?”

She shrugs. “I don’t need to go anywhere,” she says. “But I admire people who do the things they’re always talking about.” She puts the shorn wig on Hugo with a tra-la and then slides her hand up his shirt to make him wave his arms. “Doesn’t he look just like Tesla?”

I don’t know how Tesla is supposed to look, but Babe is a deliberate person and I trust her aesthetic. “Just like him,” I say.




The afternoon finds me standing outside Unique Travel with a knapsack, peering through the window and trying to figure out if they are closed permanently or just for lunch. It’s the only travel agency left in the city. All I can see inside is a lineup of framed posters advertising vacations in London and Cuzco and Pyongyang. I’m excited just to think of those places. I wouldn’t know how to begin making arrangements to go to one if Unique Travel has shut down.

I feel someone come up behind me. I spin with my fists at the ready.

“Can I help you?” It’s a short, dark person in their twenties wearing a Hello! My name is and my pronouns are badge pinned to a red sweater vest. The answers are Bill and he/him.

“Uh,” I say to Bill, “I want to go inside.”

He smiles a little too eagerly; I think he is lonely. “Follow me.”

I follow him three steps to the left, where he pulls out an old-fashioned metal key. Up close, some paint mostly scraped off the door shows another name for the business. It was once Acme Travel, which I like because I feel sorry for Wile E. Coyote.

Bill lets me go first into the Unique office. It is more drab than it looks from the outside. Paint is peeling. Mold grows beneath the glass of the posters. Some grubby red armchairs are lined up in front of a counter, and behind the counter, an old-fashioned computer sits on an even older gray metal desk.

“What brings us in today?” Bill asks. He puts the keyboard on top of the counter, which is about four inches too high for him to use comfortably. I think I could cut it all down for him in an afternoon, but that’s not why I’m here.

I don’t like it when people mean you but say we. And I think the nicest thing I could do now would be to leave without getting Bill’s hopes up for a sale. But I really do want to take off somewhere, or at least to show Babe I can figure out how. So I say again, “I need to get away.”

Bill looks a look at the screen. “There’s a special this week on Turks and Caicos.”

“I’m not going there. I don’t know where to go, but not there.”

He types a bit on his keyboard. “For how long? Two weeks? Three? Eternity?” He lists time frames as if they are jokes.

I joke back. “I’ll take eternity for six hundred, Alex.”

His brows draw together. “Bill.” He points to Hello! My name is. “Is six hundred what you have to spend?”

Six hundred is more than I’ve spent in the last two years. It is more than I have now, though not much in this month’s economy.

I think I might as well ask. “What can I get for six hundred?”

“Let’s see …” Bill types some more. I stare, wondering how a machine so old can access the astronet. Then he hits Return and a printer spits out a page.

I expect Bill to hand me the page but he doesn’t. He reaches under the counter and brings up a brochure. It is thin and bright green because it’s a picture of trees. Just trees. The camera was aimed into their branches and the photo is blurry. In black lettering, very hard to spot, it says Encantia.

Bill slides it to me with one finger. “I think this is what you’re looking for.”

I notice that so many people have looked a look at it before that the front is smudgy with prints and the corners have been rubbed away. None of that matters; I like recycling and I’m excited about trees, even if they are just in a picture. I am also excited to show it to Babe; maybe we’ll go together after all.

I open my knapsack to put it inside. Bill stops me.

“Printered material can’t leave the office.”

This makes me feel guilty, as if he’s accused me of stealing. I wouldn’t think twice about taking a brochure for a place I’ve never heard of; I steal a lot of things. But now I do have to think twice. About Encantia.

I don’t want to be an ass to Bill. I sit down and read. I find more words hidden in the blurry tree branches: Visit. Love. Live. Then again, Encantia. The name seems to grow bigger and I realize that the more I look at the words, the blurrier the leaves get. It’s like they’re moving in some kind of breeze.

The brochure folds out like an accordion and inside it is mostly pictures. A young couple, male and female, cuddling on a rock in the woods. A middle-aged couple, male and male, holding hands on a beach. A couple so old that sex is invisible, standing on a cliff admiring a sunset. That sort of thing.

The words in the brochure promise

  • a pollution-free environment
  • 100 percent sustainability
  • a cooperative, private community
  • dedicated creative space
  • travel, meals, lodging inclusive
  • no wifi or astronet
  • no anabole-26 and above
  • no children

It looks too good to be true and yet I still do not know what it is.

“Tempted?” Bill asks.

“Is it a cult?” I ask back.

Bill turns to his computer and types very fast for two seconds. It is either the world’s quickest Oodle search or a bunch of gibberish meant to impress me.

“Great news,” he says. “I can get you in on the next jitney, if everything checks out.”

“Jitney?” That doesn’t sound good.

“It’s very comfortable, though some people think it moves slowly. We recommend bringing a book you already like to read. A fat one.”

This worries me. “I can’t sit still very long,” I say.

Bill smiles. “I think you’ll find that Encantia gives you the time and space you need to soothe those jangled big-city nerves. And you don’t even need a passport!”

His eyes flick up and down, taking in my ripped jeans and scorched tank top, the sleeve of tattoos on my left arm. “Are you an artist?”

“My dream,” I say, as I used to say in the past, “is to sculpt kinetic nudes using watch parts and upcycled waste.” I don’t add that at one time I hoped to make this my profession, which was as practical as telling people I was going to rob a bank. But we all dream until we don’t.

Bill doesn’t blink. “We can get those supplies to you.”

How much does it cost?” I have to ask again. I don’t care anymore if Encantia is a cult. I want to know what I can do to get there.

“What you can afford.”

I see a problem. “How do you know what that is?” If they trust me to tell them, we have a big problem, because I am a habitual liar.

“We run a background check before we give out a ticket.”

I think of all the lies and half-truths and real truths that a background check could uncover. I once had a girlfriend, Paula, whose background was checked, and it ended with Homeport Security breaking in while we slept. The agents dragged her to a van and drove her away. They said they had to do it because she was a biological terrorist, meaning that she hadn’t got her Nanabole vaccine and was running around infecting other people who didn’t have their shots either.

When I called Paula’s mother to tell her, she protested as if I were the one who had ordered the personhunt. “Of course she’s had her Nanabole! She gets one every five months!”

I was relieved; I’d never been vaccinated and had worried that sleeping with Paula put me at risk. I told Paula’s mother she should take her complaint to HS and hung up. I liked Paula but I didn’t want to go to prison for her.

“Can you maybe skip the background check?” I ask Bill. “If I pay more?” It’s all theoretical anyway.

“The price is the price,” Bill says. “The check doesn’t take long. Here, fill out this application.” He hands me a clipboard holding an old-fashioned Bic pen and a single pink form with wrinkled corners. Somebody named Leisha Cole once started to fill it in, then scratched out the information and left it for the next customer.

I think Unique Travel must be a real rinky-dink operation if it doesn’t have funds enough to produce fresh forms. I feel encouraged. Maybe I can afford a trip after all.

So I sit down and get started. There are a lot of pages, more than twenty, but Bill will give them to me only one at a time. He insists that I have to do everything right there in the office; I can’t go home, can’t say I’ll finish some other day and then forget about it. This is probably good for me. It will make me less of an ass.

Every time I finish one sheet, Bill takes it and gives me another. He spends his time typing.

While I write my stomach rumbles and I think maybe I should have had lunch. Maybe I should go out and get some, but then maybe I won’t come back. So I stay. But I also want to go.

Bill brings me a square plastic container with a rubber lid. “Try this. It’s yogurt.” He hands me a brass spork with Acme engraved on the side.

The yogurt is bluish and lumpy. It smells like a cow pasture I visited once when I needed to pee during a road trip, back when there were road trips and pastures and cows. I dip the very edge of the spork in the yogurt and put it into my mouth. I don’t mind being hungry; I would mind eating something disgusting.

For a moment I don’t know where I am anymore. Sunshine and ocean have burst on my palate. The yogurt is hot and cool at the same time, sweet and salty, smooth and grainy. Suddenly this seems the way foodstuffs were meant to be.

Bill says, “It’s from our farm.”

I grunt. I don’t want to take the spork out of my mouth long enough to reply. I’m still sucking on it when I reach toward the yogurt box.

Bill snaps the lid on. “You can have all you want once you get there,” he says. “And for now you can keep the spork.” He says this as if he’s the Poppet blessing my family, absolving my sins, and granting me health insurance.

I thank him and turn back to the paperwork. I can’t argue now, even to get yogurt. I want a ticket.

When Bill finally says I’ve completed the last sheet, I feel happiness bloom. Now I am committed heart and soul to Encantia. But I remember. “WHAT WILL IT COST?”

Bill says, “What can you offer?”

Oddly enough, I am prepared. “Could I interest you in Hugo, Man of a Thousand Faces?”

I open my knapsack and show the one I carry around with me. It’s Sir Hugo Newton, wearing the thin goatee and mustache that came with the set and a curly wig that Babe styled from a dead spaniel’s ear. He holds an apple she made out of wax from the honey lab and he is my favorite. I don’t want to part with him now, but I do want the things Encantia is offering. I want Babe to have them, too.

Bill peers at Sir Hugo and says, “For some people, the price is their wish. Their desire to go.”

I can afford that! I sign another page, and Bill gives me an orange ticket that has never been used before. There is just one word on it, Encantia, and it isn’t exactly printed, more like the cardboard always wanted to say Encantia and now Unique Travel has given it the opportunity.

One last question. “If Encantia is so great, Bill, why don’t you live there?”

I watch the light leave his face. “Once you’re on your way,” he says, “don’t stop for anything.”




I had a boyfriend once. I met him when I first got to art school. His name was Morgan and it was all a misunderstanding, meaning that I hadn’t wanted to date him but was grateful when he offered to bring me a Sudanese dinner basket. We sat in my dorm room eating kisra and ful with our fingers and drinking tap water and beer. It was very good. Then I went to the bathroom down the hall, and when I came back Morgan was naked.

I am attracted to confidence but this time I couldn’t help laughing. Not that there was anything especially funny about Morgan; he was just a guy, lying there waiting for me. I laughed so hard I felt bad about it, because that hopeful face fell and he looked as if he might cry. I thought he would either make great art or drop out of school and be homeless. I felt guilty about Janet and Paula and I didn’t want to be an ass for a third time. So I made the choice to be kind. He was my boyfriend for about a week, until I met Babe and didn’t care about anyone else’s feelings anymore.

By the time I left art school, Morgan was living in an apartment that one of our classmates had borrowed from an elderly lover. Morgan tried to find his own wealthy lover and started lurking outside an ESL school to see if the rich Japanese kids would take him home. They did, but they were in town for a month at most, and they moved on before learning to care. Morgan went through a bad time. One day his roommates came home to find he had rubbed butter all over the kitchen. It was impressive. He’d removed all the plates and glasses and cans of food from the cabinets and he had buttered them. He had buttered the cabinets too, and the counters and light fixtures and floors. This wasn’t performance art; it was just something he felt he should do.

Morgan’s roommates tried to clean all the butter off, but it was impossible and the owner of the apartment kicked them out. They found separate homes. Morgan was last seen in line for prescriptions at the Liberal Clinic, but whether they were psychotropics or antibiotics for clap, nobody knew. They could have been Nanabole.

On my way to the jitney, I think maybe I am doing what Morgan would have done, showing up for a trip with nothing but Sir Hugo in my knapsack and love in my heart for Babe. It is presumptuous and I stand a very good chance of rejection.

When Bill told me that I absolutely must not stop, he also said that my ticket could be revoked anytime. The jitney driver (it would be the kind that still has a driver) wouldn’t have to have a reason; they could just not like the looks of me.

The farther I go, the more worried I get about being turned away. I do want to go to Encantia. At the same time, the farther I go, the more I want to stay home. I still want to get away from all the things I complain about, but just as much as that, I want to be with Babe. In order to be with her, I have to go—and if I go, I won’t be with her. You see the conundrum. Or maybe you’re as confused as I am.

At the very least, I need to kiss her good-bye. What use is any of this if she doesn’t know? I started the process for her. She has to see that I’m not an ass.

I go home to our squat. I find Babe there with Marcy, her friend from the honey lab. Marcy has brought Babe a new Hugo. From all the noses and eyebrows spread over the floor, I can tell the set is almost complete.

I ask Babe, “Why do you need another one?”

“He has a thousand faces,” she says. She and Marcy exchange a Special Look. “And so far I’ve seen just twenty-seven. This one will be Golda Meir.”

I spot another face on the wall. It is a blurred printout from an old machine, probably pasted up with some of Hugo’s beard glue. It looks like the Shroud of Turin, only it’s real and it is my face. My eyes are squingey and my mouth is open. I look like an ass.

“Where did that come from?” I ask, though I already know. I am not brilliant like Babe but I’m not as dumb as a Hugo either.

Babe is trying out chins. “I’m glad you finally joined the Resistance,” she tells me.

I say, “I joined a travel agency. I had my background checked.”

Marcy says, “The government is looking for you as a threat to domestic peace. Read the affidavit.”

I don’t really know what an affidavit is, but I see a stack of colored papers underneath Hugo Castro. Some have been shredded to make a piñata, but some are still the forms I completed in the office of Unique Travel.

“How did you get these so fast?” I ask. I don’t have to ask how she got them at all; under the Lenient Information Act, Babe and I have a standing order for all media pertaining to each other. I would have thought Bill would keep a lid on these for a while, though, since he was shirty about not letting me take my own forms anywhere.

Marcy says, “That one’s good.” She’s talking about Golda’s chin.

“Where are you going to get enough hair for her bun?” I ask. Marcy has hair, but it isn’t gray.

Babe asks, “Don’t you have someplace to be?”

I look a look at her. I look a look at Marcy. I remember I heard about Unique Travel from Babe, who heard from a friend at work.

I say, “You owe me a kiss.”

Babe stands up. Marcy stands up. Babe kisses me and then Marcy kisses me too, which cancels out Babe.

Lab girls earn a lot selling kisses, but today there’s as much bitter on their lips as there is sweet.




When Babe and I met, the world was not ruined. There wasn’t much need for Resistance, at least so far as I knew.

She was a beautiful alive model in my life drawing class, where I usually preferred older, tireder models because perfection is boring. She wasn’t boring. To make myself interesting to her, I drew a clock and an eye and a mustache on my right cheek, and when class was over she didn’t even put on her robe but walked up to me naked and asked, “Do you know Hugo?”

That night I let her tattoo my wrist. She made it not of herself but of Hugo’s most basic face, no eyebrows, no expression, and it wasn’t even a good likeness because she did it in the dark.

“It’s harder than you’d think to make a blank canvas,” she said in the morning, holding my wrist up to the sun. “I believe I can get this one to look like Hillary Clinton.”

She couldn’t, but she tried, and I loved her for trying. I loved her for being Babe and also just for being. She held my world together when the big world fell apart. Because of her, I got my Nanabole vaccine.




Maybe if I walk fast I can get to the jitney in time. I won’t mind offering Sir Hugo as a bribe. Then I will go to Encantia and maybe I will love it and stay there forever and Babe will miss me when Marcy turns out to be not just an ass but an asshole. And then Babe will come find me. We will eat yogurt.

As I walk, I think this should happen sooner rather than later. It should happen now.

A bus rattles past, an old short bus painted blue with one word, Unique, in white. It stops a half block ahead and the door opens.

I walk slow to let Babe catch up. Then I walk slower than that. And at last I hear footsteps behind me.

A person comes up and pokes me. “Why are you crying?” Poke. “What’s wrong with you?” Poke.

I want to punch that person, who is not Babe. Even if it is a Security cleaner sent to arrest the Resistance, I want to shove their head through a glass wall and slice it off at the neck. Then somebody else will be crying.

“What do you want from me?” I shout. Then I open my eyes and I see a kid, maybe ten years old. They are scratching some ulcers and their head is so fresh shaved that it hasn’t stopped bleeding. They have no eyebrows and only one ear. They reek of the Nutellate that Disease Containment smears on when Nanabole fails because why not. The Nutellate is gone from every place the kid can reach to wipe it away and eat it.

I’ve been such an asshole.

I take out Sir Hugo and hand him over. The kid grabs the apple and throws Hugo into the gutter. Hugo’s wig falls off. Then the kid bites the apple and starts to sob because it is fake.

I am an asshole and so is Babe.

“What do you want?” I ask, and I try to be nice. “What can I do to make you stop crying?”

Up ahead, the bus groans. The engine rumbles.

Do not turn back for anything.

“Stop!” I wave my arms, but the bus begins pulling away. “Wait!”

  • no anabole-26 and above
  • no children

But the kid is still crying.

I don’t have a choice. I have to go. We sprint after the bus, both of us. Because I have grabbed the kid’s arm and am dragging them along behind me. They don’t know where I am going and they don’t want to leave. But they are going, because I am going, and we are fixing this.

“Stop this minute!”

The bus is slow, but it’s still faster than we are. It’s getting away.

I pick the kid up and tuck them under my arm. I can run quicker this way. The kid flops and squirms and then stops moving and just is, under my arm. They are used to things happening to them. Think how surprised they will be when they taste the yogurt! I know children are not allowed, but maybe this is how I’ll join the Resistance.

Sometimes plans work out and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes we rob a bank and most of the time we butter the kitchen. But everybody is going to know that I tried to finish this particular thing.

Susann Cokal’s novels are The Kingdom of Little Wounds, Mirabilis, Breath and Bones, and Mermaid Moon. Her occasionally prizewinning short work has appeared in venues such as Electric Lit, Cincinnati Review, Prairie Schooner, Gargoyle, The Journal, and The New York Times Book Review. She is a freelance editor; her website is