The office was untouched by sunlight, perhaps for a decade or more, and stank of food gone to rot while pollen and dust swirled in the air. Margaret held the edge of her tattered scarf over her mouth and nose and watched the banker for a response. He sat picking his castorine teeth and did not look at either her or the application that laid beneath his greasy fingers.
"Mmmm," said the banker, licking the last vestiges of barbecue sauce from around his lips. Margaret cringed. The banker belched.
"Could you--" started Margaret.
"All in good time," he said. "Ma'am," he added as an afterthought.
He eased back in his chair and unbuttoned his pants. He closed his eyes contentedly and Margaret was worried he would start to snore. She shifted noisily in the chair, which wasn't hard to do because it was ancient and riddled with termite passages and at great risk of collapsing. She thought it was fortunate that she was so slender and malnourished.
"You need a loan, do you?" he asked without opening your eyes.
"Yes," said Margaret, "I do."
"You've come to the right place for loans," he said.
"Yes, I know." Where else do you go for loans she thought.
"I don't need to look at this application, my dear, to know that I must deny you any kind of loan."
"It is your kind of course," he sat up and stared at her with wet, red-rimmed beady eyes. "I cannot lend to your kind under any circumstances. I'm sorry you went through the bother of filling out the application. Such a waste of paper."
He picked up the piece of paper, crumpled it, then wiped his fingers and his mouth with it before tossing it at the overflowing waste basket beside his desk.
"My kind..." said Margaret.
"Yes, ma'am, your kind. The poor. Such a bad investment. Such meager and slow returns. Too little interest. Granted, there are bankers, predatory bankers, that will lend to anyone, and they will squeeze your kind," he balled up his fists, put them before himself, then pretended to wring them out, "for everything. I do not run that sort of establishment."
"But you're the only banker in town--"
"Exactly! The other bankers all folded up and moved away. It's not good business lending to the poor."
"But how do you stay in business?" asked Margaret. "Everyone in town is poor."
"Old deeds. There is old money here. Hidden from your kind. There are things at work in this town, and have been for decades, that you have not a whiff of, do you hear? I shouldn't have even told you, but I feel sorry for you."
"All I want to do is fix up my house so I can start a cafe out the back porch."
"Hmmm. A bonafide capitalist." The banker leaned back in his chair again and squinted his eyes at her. "There are regulations, there are health codes, and how are you going to get customers in this poor town?"
"Everyone likes my food," said Margaret.
"And that's your ambition?" He put his thumb to his lips and tapped at his mouth twitchily.
"For now, yes," said Margaret. "I would not like to worry about each new day and where my meals will come from."
"And what do you do now, for money?"
"I mow the cemetery in the summer. I care for my elderly neighbor, and she gives me a few dollars a month."
The banker began to laugh so heartily that his cheeks turned red.
"Is that so funny?" asked Margaret indignantly. She lowered her scarf. "It is better than many!"
"So it is!" said the banker as he wiped his eyes. "But let me give you a piece of friendly advice," he turned suddenly serious, "leave this town. Get as far away as you can--"
"I was born here!"
"That may be, ma'am, but it's not the good place it used to be. The trees have grown fat and tall and crowded out the streets and houses. It is an unnatural, ludicrous, and inexplicable thing, and its spreading, and if you have any sense you will leave."
Neither, for a moment, spoke.
"If you believe that, why don't you leave?" asked Margaret.
The banker snorted out through his nose.
"Now don't go prying," he said slyly.
"I just want to know why a man won't follow his own advice."
"You amused me ma'am, and I feel guilty for it, but our time is at an end."
He gestured towards the door. Margaret did not stir from her seat.
"There is money in the trees," said Margaret.
"Money, as they say, does not grow on trees," said the banker.
"You don't lend money to people because that's not your job here. You're just protecting some interested party, and you've stopped up the financial plumbing of this town, haven't you?" Margaret stood and shook a bony finger at him.
"What a colorful metaphor my dear! But like I said, you would do best to leave--"
"My people have lived in this town for over a century, and you will not be the one to drive me--"
Margaret clutched her throat as her eyes bulged. The banker looked on, mildly concerned. She coughed and hacked and up came spots of blood. She threw out her hands and bend over the desk--stringy, bloody mucous flowed out, and then she gave one last large cough and out came a tiny green sprout. She laid it on the desk and sat back in the rickety chair, suddenly exhausted.
The banker looked at the sprout with disgust.
"It's gotten into you as well," said the banker. "Maybe it is too late for you to leave."
"It's just the pollen getting into my lungs," said Margaret. "It happens to everyone around here. It's not like I'm going to turn into a tree." She paused, then looked at him with concern. "Am I?"
The banker looked at her with pity, then opened his desk drawer. He pulled out a large ledger that was covered in dust, placed in on the desk, and opened the over in a gray puff.
"How much do you think you will need?" he asked.