It’s lunchtime, and the restaurant is busy. People are starting to go out again. There are as many people as there can be in this tiny place. Masks are worn, but it’s permitted to take them off when you sit down. The tables are generously spaced apart. The waiters all wear double face coverings and place dishes on the table with a long reach. I am used to it all now: masks, and wearing big coats so the restaurants can leave the doors and windows open. When I do go out, I like sitting outside under a heat lamp.
It’s winter, but it’s mild here. The table we reserved (or rather, my friend did—I’m not so good at planning ahead) is a small one by the entrance. At first, I sit with my back to the door, but then I change my mind and switch seats. My dad calls this “cowboy instinct.” Never sit with your back to the saloon door in case a bad guy is slinging a gun and looking for trouble.
My friend is late, which is unusual for her. She is the most organized person I know. I am fine with waiting; in fact, I like having a few minutes to catch up. Full disclosure: I am an adult with high-functioning ADHD. There are many traits associated with ADHD you may not know about. One of them is a compulsive need for order but the inability to attain it. Another is being terrified of wasting time and being trapped somewhere with nothing to do. I usually bring newspapers in my purse in case I have to stand in line at the bank. I do my makeup at red lights. I bring laundry to fold in my car when I take the ferry. I make lists and write in my journal all the time. I have filled hundreds of books with confessions, poems, musings, and ideas. I don’t tend to ever read through the books again, although I always intend to when I’m writing them.
I fish my notebook out of my bag, and turn to the next blank page. The page is on the left, the back side of a used page. I hate that. I prefer the right side. It’s new, unsullied, flat. More than I like to make lists, I like crossing things off my lists. Sometimes I add something I already did to the bottom of a pre-existing list just to cross it off. Do other people do that?
I am getting picky about my notebooks. I like sleek, thin, writerly books with good substantial paper. I like black, but then that can be a bit boring. I tried orange last time, but decided it was too garish. I wouldn’t say no to olive green. I don’t think it’s possible to figure me out completely; I never stick too closely to a pattern. I believe there is always a chance of a y variable. If you don’t know what I mean by that, then we don’t think the same.
Once, I left one of my notebooks on a plane. A few years later, I was on a vacation in New York City, and I could have sworn I saw a homeless man in Central Park reading it. I always thought I would write about that in one of my stories. That notebook was all about my work life. I don’t think the lists would have been very interesting.
I look around, but my friend is still nowhere to be seen. I don’t mind. I order a glass of wine and open my book. I am listening to the restaurant, so instead of writing anything in particular, I just write the alphabet over and over again in fancy letters. I am having such a nice time that I hope she doesn’t come.
She arrives, and puts an envelope on the table.
“What’s that?” I ask.
Her ice blue eyes sparkle. She’s pretty, my friend. I am impressed by the way she is always so neatly turned out. Today she’s wearing a crisp white shirt. I mostly have clothes that don’t need ironing.
“Twenty thousand dollars,” she says, “in cash.”
She looks down at the menu, acting as though it is completely normal to have an envelope with $20,000 on the table.
I take a long sip of my drink, and imagine $20,000 dropping into my life. It would be nice. I would buy a beautiful cashmere coat and not even look at the price tag. I would pay off my Visa. I would go to Paris. I would buy beautiful notebooks in every colour. I see fuchsia.
The waiter arrives, and my friend orders a glass of wine and a salad.
That doesn’t seem like the order of a person who is flush with cash. They have pasta with fresh truffles.
I don’t have $20,000, so I order the same.
I notice my friend’s nails, which are polished, thick, and perfect. I fold my nails into my fists so no one can see them. Her teeth are perfect, too: gleaming white veneers. I take a sip of my water and swish it around surreptitiously, remembering that I didn’t brush my teeth yet today. I don’t even know the last time I flossed.
She notices my book. “I have one just like that,” she says, taking her calendar out of her purse and waving it around. She flips through the pages quickly. I notice neat lists with a lot of items checked off. It is definitely not the same.
She must get a lot of her items completed because they are probably things like: Go to dry cleaner. Get Botox. Get more photos taken of me.
Mine are: Finish screenplay. Edit first draft of The End of Nihilism (a novel I started writing four years ago).
I ask about the money.
She takes a quick look around the room and leans in.
“It’s cash. I’m trying to avoid depositing it so that I don’t have to declare it as income.”
My friend is a rule follower, so this surprises me.
“You know my mother-in-law died. It’s sad, but she was ninety, and she had a good life. It turns out she didn’t think much of banks. She had quite a bit of cash stashed in her apartment.”
If this $20,000 was only part of the stash, I wonder just how much the old lady had tucked away. It seems rude to ask.
“And you are carrying it around in an envelope?”
She laughs. “I brought it because I need a favour. I need you to keep it for me for a while, if you don’t mind.”
Suddenly I’m worried about responsibility. It’s not like she is giving it to me. If I were to deposit the money, it would become income for me, so I don’t understand.
“You can do whatever you want with the envelope. Hide it, deposit it in an account, collect interest. I just can’t have it at my house in case someone comes looking for it. I don’t know who knows about the cash. In case we get raided by the tax man or some relative, I just want some cash stored off-site. You have a safe, don’t you?”
How she knows I have a safe I have no idea. I don’t reveal that I don’t have the combination or know what is in it.
“No one would suspect I would give it to you.”
There it is again, my self-doubt. Why is this Type A person with perfectly blow-dried hair even friends with me? But she is, and she must really trust me if she is asking this favour of me. Maybe that’s why I say yes: flattery and my low self-esteem.
The food has arrived, and my friend is shovelling salad into her mouth. She picks up her wine and drinks a big gulp.
“I won’t need the money back for a year, so any interest gained would be yours. And I am happy to give you $200 for your trouble.”
This seems cheap to me, but I don’t say anything about that. Instead, I ask the other burning question.
“Is this … illegal?”
“Not for you. For me, technically, yes. I mean, I’m purposely hiding money and kind of treating you like an offshore bank.”
I imagine myself in a foreign country. There are sidewalks and retaining walls next to an ocean, and small European cars in bright colours parked backwards and up on curbs. I wear a cardboard sign draped over me that reads, “Offshore Bank.”
“I don’t want to pay inheritance tax. It’s unfair! Every dollar that woman earned was already taxed, and now I have to pay tax on it, too?”
“Why don’t you just fly with it to Switzerland or the Cayman Islands?” I ask, although I have only a childish and possibly misinformed idea about how easy that would be, or even if it’s true that you can have secret bank accounts.
“Believe me, I’ve been thinking about it. Not sure how it works, plus there are still travel restrictions from the pandemic, and then there’s the issue of flying with cash.”
We finish our lunch, and don’t talk about the envelope anymore. Her phone buzzes, and she reads a text. Her eyes widen in alarm.
“I need to go,” she says, and gets up. “Thank you, I really appreciate this.” I doubt she even realizes she is leaving me with the bill.
She grabs her things and leaves quickly without looking back.
I open the envelope, which is filled with neatly stacked bills held together with rubber bands. I take out a hundred to pay for lunch.
The waiter takes his time to return. I continue to write in my journal, becoming engrossed in a story about a woman who falls in love with her neighbour and thinks her voyeurism (involving a telescope and a bit of following) is nothing but a simple compliment. He calls the cops.
When I get home, I don’t have the envelope. I call the restaurant, but no one has seen it.
Well, being friends with someone like me can be irritating. I don’t think that relationship was going to last, anyway.
Written by Dianne Carruthers
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