My hand trembled as I held the dust covered sack, worn with age. It was certainly more money than I had ever seen before. My mind raced, my palms sweaty. I viewed money as a necessary evil. Even talking about money made me anxious. Pinned to the sack was a note written in shaky handwriting: Rainy day money, spend it on something that brings out sunshine. Who was this person that had this much money to stash away inside a wall? Better yet, who stashes money away inside a wall... I now regretted investigating the section of bricks that were slightly askew, in the lower left corner of the wall. Ever since I was a kid, I would notice if something seemed off and would need to fix it. I need things to be in order, otherwise I can't function. It's odd that my artwork learns to the abstract because in abstract art is anything but orderly.
I tossed the sack on the table. A cloud of dust dispersed into the air. The late afternoon light streamed in through the huge west-facing windows, catching some dust particles. They appeared almost magical, like pixie dust, as they hung suspended in the air. The light was so fabulous here; it was the primary reason I rented the studio. It was one of a few artist life/work spaces in the city. The landlord is an asshole and judging from the general condition of the building; he is a slumlord. There is something special about this space. My creative juices have been flowing since I moved in. I sat down on the sofa and I started to line up the money carefully on the table, then I remembered cash is dirty. I stopped and washed my hands for exactly forty seconds. Thirty seconds is not long enough, and sixty seconds far too long; forty seconds is the perfect amount of time to wash my hands. I put on gloves and began the task of cash counting. The money was placed in the sack haphazardly, not it neat orderly stacks, with a band around them like you see in movies. I organized the bills, making sure the dead president's head faced upward and in the same direction. When I finished, I had twenty stacks, ten bills high; totaling twenty thousand dollars. “I can’t keep this” I said, drumming my fingers nervously on the arm of the sofa. I removed my gloves and went into my bathroom, washing my hands for exactly forty seconds. The skin on my hands was rough. They would sometimes bleed, a small price to pay for being hygienic.
Returning to the kitchen area, I reached into the drawer, pulling out an old piece of paper. I opened my laptop and googled the name I had found on the former lease. The landlord's daughter had been living here for some time prior to me moving in. I met her she was young and hadn't lived long enough to have twenty thousand dollars. Also, she seemed normal, so I don't think she would hide money in the wall. I typed in the name Benjamin Newman immediately several links populated the screen, the first being his obituary. Benjamin ‘Ben’ Newman, unexpectedly on June 25, 2015. The photo showed a man who appeared uneasy, uncomfortable in his own skin. There was a brief paragraph about his life, and his artwork. My eyes scanned the text franticly looking for, survived by a loving mother, brother, dog, anyone who I could hand the money off to. I sighed softly as I read the words, "no living relatives." I spent a little more time researching Benjamin Newman. He was the son of a wealthy entrepreneur. Ben was a very successful himself with a long career as a photographer. I found a few old YouTube videos from interviews he had done. He was awkward. His eyes darted from side to side, and when he wasn't speaking he chewed nervously on the skin around his fingernails. Some of his responses to the questions asked were downright bizarre. He was a kindred spirit, someone weird, like me.
I didn’t want this money; it was tormenting me. I know that would sound strange to most people. I watched money destroy my father. His greed for it led to one shady business dealing after another until some equally shady business associates caught up with him. Also, I didn't need the money my art had always sustained me well enough. I could pay my bills and I always met my needs. I didn't have any desire to build up more than that. I decided I would return the money to the wall along with the black moleskin notebook that contained the innermost thoughts of Benjamin Newman. His ponderings on life were mostly incomplete ramblings, becoming progressively darker until his last entry, from which I surmised his death wasn't unexpected, but a suicide. Proof once more that money can't buy you happiness.
I would return the money to the wall tomorrow, tonight I would need to smoke a joint; the only thing that made me feel normal, normalcy being subjective. Some of my best creative ideas came to me when I was high. I never smoked inside, I hated the lingering smell. I went outside to partake on my front steps. The setting sun cast a beautiful golden hue on an otherwise undesirable scene. Bennet street was lined with impressive buildings once beautiful in their day. Time has not been kind to this city or this neighborhood. It was a frequent spot for prostitution and various crimes. Still, I found something appealing about this neighborhood. I have always been a champion for the underdog, being one myself. I watched as an elderly woman proudly swept the stairs and sidewalk in front of her building, something my grandmother used to do. The woman was impeccably dressed. She also very was spry. I wasn't sure how old she was, but there was nothing frail about her. Down the street, some children played the last inning of baseball before being called in for dinner. From the other direction, like clockwork, the old man with a limp came pushing his grocery cart down the street, the smell of pungent urine and stale booze proceeding him. He stopped at each barrel along the way, searching for cans and anything else of value. He always replaced the lid of the barrels, something that I thought was considerate. His face wrinkled and his clothing tattered and dirty. He always nodded, tipped his hat and smiled his toothless smile as he passed by me. Despite his outward appearance, there was a sparkle in his eye that was clear if you took the time to notice.
That night I barely slept, the thought of the money being in my space seeped into my subconscious. When I did finally sleep, I dreamt of my twelfth birthday. The day that I found my father's bloody body in the garage. I had snuck out there expecting to find the new bike he promised me. I woke up in a cold sweat, my heart racing. Waiting for morning was no longer an option. I put on gloves, bundled up the money, placed it back into the hole in the wall along with the notebook and proceeded to place the bricks back the way I found them. Uninterested in going back to sleep, I set about creating the display that I had been commissioned by the city to complete. I worked the entire day, but I knew it wasn't my best work. My mind was scattered, my attention kept being drawn away to that corner. I not only wanted to fix it, I wanted the money out of there. I contemplated donating it to the city shelter or some other charity. That would be the easiest thing to do, but would require speaking to someone. I avoided all human interactions as much as possible. I had a business manager who took care of everything that involved interacting with people. I didn't completely trust him though, so giving him the money and asking him to take care of a donation was out of the question. The sun was beginning to set, so I went outside to smoke a joint.
The same scene played out as it had every evening. The old woman across the street proudly swept her stairs and the sidewalk in front of her house. The kids wrapped up the baseball game before retreating to their homes. Like clockwork, the old man with the limp came down the street pushing the grocery cart, stopping at each barrel looking for cans. Tipping his hat, smiling his toothless smile as he passed by me, the glimmer in his eye-catching mine. I didn't know what his story was, how he came to be pushing a cart up and down every street in a 5-mile radius. I didn't even know if he had a home, but I suspected he didn't. It was then that I devised a plan tomorrow evening that I would place the money in my barrel before he came by, so he would find it. Hopefully, it would change his life for the better. A spark of hope ignited in me, thinking about what twenty thousand dollars could do for someone in his condition. Content with the certainly of my plan, I relaxed on the steps that evening; I smoked another joint and that night I had the best sleep of my life.
The next morning I woke up with the creative juices flowing, I completed the project for the city, emailed my manger the quote for the next proposed project. I asked him to make arrangements to have the bricks permanently fixed. I thought of the old man and played the scene of him finding the money over and over in my head. Would his reaction be? What changes would come about because of him having this money? I could hardly wait for tonight to come. An hour before sunset, I went out and discreetly placed the money on top on my trash and secured the lid. Instead of sitting on the steps, I ducked inside, peeking out the window. The familiar scene played out, kids wrapped up their game. The woman across the street swept. Something was off this evening. The old man with the limp didn't appear with his cart. I waited and watched, but he never came shuffling down the street. He walked down Bennet St. every night like clockwork. Why not tonight? As darkness descended, I went out, retrieved the money and went back inside. I was dissapointed and a bit in despair.
The next evening I set about implementing my plan again. He never came that night or any of the consecutive nights. I was becoming more depressed and slightly pissed off that the old man with the limp hadn't appeared. I couldn't sleep, I hadn't showered in days, let alone washed my hands. The next morning, I went out to smoke a joint; something I never did in the morning, but these were extraordinary circumstances. The weekly paper was lying on the doorstep. I looked down and saw a familiar face on the front cover. It was the old man with the limp. The caption under the photo simply had his first name, 'Phil'. The old man with the limp passed away on a city bench not far from here. Apparently, he was well-known to social services and his story was part of several homeless people living in the city park. I didn't know who I should feel worse for, the old man or myself. He was free of the earthly constraints, I still had an enormous money problem. I sat down, smoked, and waited for some inspiration to come to me. Across the street the old woman appeared, purse in hand, checked her mailbox and then hurried down the street off to do her daily errands. She didn't appear to need the money, but I needed to get rid of it. I decided tonight I would put the sack of money on her steps before she came out to do her sweeping. Maybe it would make some positive changes it her life. I didn't really care, I just wanted to be done with it. I hated Ben Newman for putting me in this position. It pissed me off that the old man kicked it. When the time was right, I placed the sack in a trash bag, and I headed outside, making my way across the street, and up the old woman's steps. Before I could make my way completely down the step, she was out the door yelling at me in a thick Irish brogue, threw the bag at me and proceeded to hit me with her broom. Luckily for me, I could outrun her. I made my way across the street as she shouted the admonishment “let that be a lesson to ya, keep ya trash on your side of the street, ya filthy bugger. Safely back inside, I peeked out the window as the old woman swept the stairs and sidewalk as nothing had happened. Clearly, my plan would not work.
The next morning I went outside with the money, this time deciding to put it in the planter beside her steps. I carefully approached, checking to see if I spotted her in the window before reaching for the planter. The door flew open. I ran back across the street, money in hand, before she could reach me. That evening, I went out to smoke a joint, the same old scene played out, only this time the old woman kept one eye on me as she swept. I turned my attention up the street to avert her gaze. A young woman approached with a beautiful Golden Retriever, much like the dog I had as a child. As they got closer, I could see its face more clearly. It wore a huge bright smile as it walked down the street. The dog stopped at my step and without missing a beat broke free from her owner's grasp, running up the stairs to greet me. A feeling of warmth overtook me, it was the happiest dog I had ever met. “I'm sorry about that, sir”, said the young woman. I rarely spoke to other people, but this dog so was so special that I let my guard down. “What's his name?” The woman smiled “her name is Sunshine, it suites her.” Conversations are difficult or me, but I got the word Sunshine out of my mouth. The young woman sensing my awkwardness picked up the leash. Sunshine refused to move and plopped down next to me. The woman pulled on the leash slightly, Sunshine yielded making her way down the steps. I didn't want the dog to leave, it was the first bit of happiness I had felt for weeks. “How old is she?", I asked. “She he will be eight next month.” Her inflection turned to sadness “I'm going to have to put her down pretty soon.” It bewildered me why anyone would put such a cheerful dog down, “why is that?” I asked. “Sunshine has cancer, she said, "there is a treatment that would probably give her a few more years, but the treatments are five thousand dollars. She would need four of them for the treatment to work. I don't have the money." A huge smile came over my face, I knew at that moment I would find a way to give her the money for Sunshine. It now made perfect sense why the old man kicked it and the old lady was clearly too violent to make another attempt. The universe wanted me to give the money to the young woman for Sunshine. I got lost in my thoughts, as I often did. I don't know how long I sat there with an ear- to -ear grin on my face, but by the time I realized I was doing it, the woman had stopped speaking and was now staring at me like I was the biggest asshole she had ever met. There I was with a gigantic smile on my face like some lunatic, while she was pouring her heart out; telling me this horrible story about her dog. After a moment of awkward silence, the woman said, “uh okay, come on, Sunshine." walking off down the street. I didn't want her to leave “Wait” I yelled out, "I'm John, what's your name?” Without turning back, she yelled out, “have a good night, John.”
The next night, I sat on my steps, eager to see if she would walk down the street. I had to redeem myself. Most importantly, I had to find out where she lived. I spotted her and Sunshine, but she didn't come down my street this time. I couldn't say that I blamed her. I quickly made my way down the street, following her from a safe distance. She must have sensed she was being followed because she stopped and turned around. I ducked behind a parked car just in time. I peeked out from behind the car and watched as she continued down the street taking a left. I waited a moment and then quickly headed in her direction. As I made the turn, I thought I saw her entering a small single-family house. I snuck up to the house, spotting a welcome mat on the step with Sunshine's face on it. Crouching and doing a crab-like walk, as I passed below the windows. I pulled myself up slightly to have a peek inside. I found myself face to face with Sunshine who was perched looking out the window. I was so happy to her bright smiling face again. I knew I was risking getting caught, so I crouched back down and did my crab- like walk in the other direction until I was safely past the windows. I made my way back home satisfied that I knew for certain where they lived. I was happy that for the first time in a long time. I didn't need to smoke a joint that evening.
The next morning before dawn, I made my way to Sunshine's house. Under the cover of darkness, I made my way up the steps. I carefully opened the outside door and placed the money on the landing in front of the interior door. I darted across the street, ducking behind a car. She hadn't spotted me. I made my way back home, thrilled to be free of the burden of that money. It made me happy to think of Sunshine having more time. I thought about Benjamin Newman, hopefully he was looking down and is pleased with how I used his money. Hopefully, he is finally at peace. My life went back to normal. The bricks in the studio eventually got fixed. Sunshine continued to walk past my street with her owner for 6 more years, always with a huge beautiful smile on her face and the sweet puppy- like way about her.