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John Updike's 'The Wallet'

John Updike’s ‘The Wallet’
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Diane had had a lovely patrician face, and when she lifted her chin and thus pulled smooth the loose flesh beneath, it was still handsome, her abundant hair so utterly white as to seem an expensively sought-after effect. “How could it have been?”

“Easy. The house is big enough, anybody could slip in and out in a minute without our knowing. Anyway, it’s not up to me to figure out how to do it, it’s up to them. And they’ve done it. The bastards have done it, and I’m going to have to cancel every goddam credit card.”

She looked at him coolly, giving him her full attention for once, and said, “I’ve never seen you like this.”

“How am I?”

“You’re wild.”

“It was my wallet. Everything is in it. Everything. Without that wallet, I’m nothing.” His tongue had outraced his brain, but once he said it he realized this to be true: without the wallet he was a phantom, living in a house without walls, worse than a caveman open to the wind and saber-toothed tigers. “And I know why they took it,” he went on. “To get the bank card. With that bank card they can now deposit and draw on that check they stole earlier.”

“Deposit it in your own account?”

“And then transfer it to their own, some how. I don’t know, I don’t know how criminals do their work exactly; that’s their job. I do know that with these computers there’s no more common sense in banking — a wino off the street can walk away with ten thousand dollar s if he knows how to satisfy the idiotic machine. People and institutions are being — what’s the phrase these kids have? — ripped off all the time. We ourselves have just been ripped off of — “He named the amount of the lost check from Houston and her blue eyes went round as she began to believe him. “Don’t you see?” Fulham pressed. “The check, and now the wallet — it’s too much of a coincidence.”

“I can’t believe,” Diane said weakly, “it’s as simple as you make it sound, with all these safeguards — our code word, for instance.”

He scoffed: “Hundreds of people know our code word by now — all the employees at the bank and anybody who’s ever stood behind us in line.” It was irrefutably clear to him that forces out there beyond the horizon of towering beech trees and dormered slate roofs were silently, invisibly conspiring to invade him and steal all his treasure. Every door and window, even the little apertures of the mail slot and the telephone, were holes through which his possessions, the accumulations of a lifetime, were being pulled from him. Ruinously the world has cast property into the form of nebulous, mechanized fluidity. The cards in the missing wallet opened into slippery tunnels of credit, veins of his blood. Fulham stood, feeling nauseous. “I’m going to call Houston and stop the check,” he told his wife. “Then the bank and freeze my account.”

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