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Needing cash, on a “bible-black” night (to borrow Dylan Thomas’ phrase) I veered to the right off 9th Avenue into my local (open-round-the-clock) Gristedes Super Market. Along the path to onions and avocados, a fee-less ATM machine. Password tapped, grinding of gears, out fluttered crisp bills (a pack of $20s) that I swept up, thick between my fingers. When counted there were fourteen $20s, not five. I counted again.

A conversation followed:

Self: Best give the $180 windfall to the cashier. Explain what happened.

Self: And what would the cashier be able to do to find to whom it belongs?

Self: That’s not our problem, it’ll be the cashiers problem. Or the managers.

Self: Who’d know if we didn’t turn it in?

Self: We gave up stealing fifty years ago. We’ll suffer later, you know that.

Self: But what if we don’t keep it for ourself?

Self: Not keep it! Then what?

Self: Give it away, bit by bit, more or less.

Self: Until it’s gone?

Self: Yes, then our conscience will be clean. Clear-ish.

Self: Are we sure?

Self: I don’t see why not. As long as we pass it along where it might be of use instead of recycling back into the bank …

Self: Do you think we’re some kind of Robin Hood?

Self: Must we name call?

One recipient* smelled like fresh rye bread.

When the woman raised up her eyes and looked, I was captivated. The eyes are like black licorice, streaked with raspberry threads. She looked over her shoulder at a passing #11 bus.

He pocketed the bills, told me his dog’s name is Florence. Oh. I had an aunt with that name, I volunteered. My Florence is named for the poet Florence Anthony who called herself Ai Ogawa, he informed me. Want to hear one of her poems? Sure, I replied, I don’t know her. This poem is called “Mexico, 1940”, he added, then recited the following with a lemony voice:

At noon today, I woke from a nightmare:   
my friend Jacques ran toward me with an ax,   
as I stepped from the train in Alma-Ata.
He was dressed in yellow satin pants and shirt.   
A marigold in winter.
When I held out my arms to embrace him,   
he raised the ax and struck me at the neck,   
my head fell to one side, hanging only by skin.   
A river of sighs poured from the cut.
While I digested the poem, he strummed a few vibrating strings on his guitar, then stuffed the bill that had been lying ‘In God We Trust’ side up in the black guitar case into his boot.

When I asked the names of the wet nosed puppies, was told, Ils s’appelent Adam et Eve. Adam and Eve? Oui Adam et Eve.  Both dusty hands were balled into fists. When the light at 24th street turned green, an orderly procession of yellow taxis drove on.

I’ve five $20 bills left. Tomorrow, even if it snows, I’ll pass on the remainder before they burn a hole in my pocket or my conscience.

[*photos are generics, none show actual recipients]

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