For some people, money did grow on trees. One person in particular. It would bud on limbs that brushed just outside his bedroom window hard against the pane. A tree his father planted years ago. Its green folds eased and released, opening to the morning light until fluttering they fell lightly to the ground, crisp new avocado bills, littering the yard where a young Michael Bane picked them up every day on his way out the door. He would stoop and grab and stuff his pockets full, and on good days when he had the time he’d get the broom out and sweep the money into great piles to scoop and fill and tie in bulging plastic bags he kept in the garage for just that purpose. Then he’d stash them in the basement or the attic and wherever else he could find, like a savings bank or the stock market. If the wind blew and some got away then so be it, it didn’t matter, he had more than enough, more than he could possibly spend in his lifetime. It was a tree, the leaves and the windfall perennial.
Not that he didn’t try to spend it all. He bought a six bedroom house in South Hampton, and a penthouse at One W. 57th street in Manhattan overlooking Central Park, a Mercedes, a Lexus, a Maserati Gran Turismo, a 128 foot luxury sailing yacht he named Orchid after his wife’s favorite flower, and then he bought a twelve year old Cambodian girl named Davi Seng, took her back with him to America and kept her in the safe room in his penthouse on West 57th Street. Nobody knew.
The first time he saw her she had stepped out from behind a dirty torn curtain and looked down at the mat floor, afraid and shy, her body so small he thought he might lift her in his hands. Her mother said her name and she turned her small oval face upward toward him and pierced him with two dark wet eyes filled with innocence and fear. A river of shimmering ink flowed from her head. It bore the sheen of moonlight on a dark sea and fell to her waist where it moved when she moved, like the back of a slinking cat creeping through the Cambodian jungle. Her dark caramel colored arms draped plumply across her pink pajama pants and her right foot pulled in and out of a dirty blue flip flop as she nervously shifted her weight back and forth from one foot to the other while he looked at her with wonder. This is Michael, her mother said to her.
In May of the previous year the girl’s father had died in a fishing accident. Before that he’d had months of bad luck fishing and had nothing to feed his family. Then a bad storm capsized his boat. It tore the tarp roof off their houseboat where it bucked and swayed in the muddy waters of Tonle Sap River. He borrowed a small amount of money to fix his boat and his house and feed his family until such time as his luck would change, with his fishing, and with his life in general. Instead, his luck changed for the worse. An anchor line pulled him under and his lifeless body is what came up when they uncoiled the rope from his ankle and brought him ashore. They kept his body at home for three days and then washed it and put it in a coffin for blessing by a monk. The procession to the temple with everyone wearing white except the monks went down the only street in Svay Pak and behind, then around, the temple where they held cremation. After the funeral Davi’s mother, Rangsei, paid the small price to pick a bird from one of the wooden cages and stood by the river where she cupped the little feathered heartbeat in her hands, blew on it with her warm breath and threw her hands upward to release it, watching as it flew away. This Buddhist ritual of release was to ease and release her pain and bring her husband relief while he waited to return to life as another being, a bird maybe or a fish. Somewhere, Rangsei told herself, his heart beats with the bird’s heart and if he is lucky he will return as a bird.
- ONE57 is a work in progress -