Dr. M, I , Rachel, her husband Tim, and their sleeping baby, Milo, are lunching at a picnic table in the courtyard of the Brentwood Courtyard Mart, an upscale outdoor shopping center designed to look rurally rustic. (It is painted red with white trim, like a barn.) We are there to provide a much-needed outing for the homebound, baby-caretaking couple, and to do some Chanukah shopping.
The regular clientele at the Brentwood Country Mart hail from the surrounding community of Brentwood, an affluent neighborhood of families, decked out in color-coordinated casualwear, accompanying beautiful babies, napping in state-of-the-art strollers.
We too are accompanying a beautiful baby, napping in a stroller that can do just about anything but your taxes. But we are definitely not them. We are visitors from a less manicured part of town. You can tell, because we did not avail ourselves of a Hollywood Fashion Consultant before leaving the house, and everyone else there appeared to have. They were all ready for their close-ups.
Bordering the courtyard are a number of food stands. Though I am famous in my family for my impeccable dining choices, this time, I have mis-selected a barbecued chicken sandwich that had the stringy consistency bespeaking of a chicken who had not had an easy life.
As I gleelessly absorb the sandwich, I feel a gentle tap on my arm. I look up to see a young child, a girl, maybe six or seven, holding something in her hand and saying, “Is this yours?”
The little girl hands me what’s in her hand. I look down at what she’s given me. It’s money. Which she has recovered from under the picnic table at which we are lunching, almost directly beneath my feet. Hence, her suspicion that it was mine.
Now I’ve been known to drop things. Keys frequently escape from my pocket. Loose change scatters in all directions. And of course, there’s food that lands everywhere, due to a flaccid lower lip that does less that its due diligence in keeping comestibles where they belong. In the containment department, I am pretty much a human sieve.
However, when I look at the money, I immediately realize it is not mine. Why? Because what I’ve been handed by the little girl is a curled-up roll of hundred-dollar bills.
My currency denominations of choice are “twenties and lower.” No hundreds. To me, hundred-dollar bills are the currency bank robbers, or people who’ve had an unbelievable day at the track. An impending “drug buy”, maybe. Otherwise, I cannot imagine any reason to carry “hundreds”. Even muggers don’t expect to get that lucky.
Not without some regret, I return the roll of “C-notes” to the little girl, who hands the money to her mother. I remember mentioning, “If nobody says it’s theirs, come back, and we’ll split it.” But otherwise, I make no claim to past or future ownership.
At this point, a dark-haired young woman in her twenties arrives, and re-claims the money she had accidentally dropped.
And that was that.
Or that would have been that, except that, at that point, an intense dark-haired man and a blond woman, also in their twenties, join the scene, claiming that the money is actually theirs.
A heated discussion takes place as to the rightful ownership of the money. Though sitting near the altercation, I choose not to listen in. Loud voices make me nervous. I’m afraid that, as the argument escalates, somebody is going to get pushed, and they will, inevitably, topple onto me. Eventualizing numerous visits to the chiropractor, and a month or more, walking with a hunch.
Okay so, later that evening, I recount this experience to Dr. M, with the thought of turning it into a story. I begin,
“Somebody tapped me on the arm. I turned, and this little girl…”
Dr. M stops me.
“There was no little girl.”
“Yes, there was.”
Dr. M, who’d been sitting beside me, proceeds to recount her version of the event, or, as her tone of certainty implies, the correct version. A woman asked me if the money was mine, I said it wasn’t, a dark-haired woman said it was hers, and then another couple came over and claimed it was theirs. The woman who found the money then stood there, uncertain of whom to return it to, as the dueling claimants went head-to- head.
Dr. M’s take leaves me confused.
“There was no kid at all? A little girl?”
I believed that there was. I had definitely seen a kid. But Dr. M would not budge, adamantly certain that no kid existed.
We call Rachel to break the tie.
Rachel confirms there was no kid.
I immediately take the phone.
“Are you sure there was no kid?”
“There were a lot of kids around,” she replies, in a Rachel-like gesture to justify my mistake.
“And the woman who found the money held onto it, while the other people fought?”
“No. She gave the dark-haired woman the money, and went away. Then, when the other couple said it was theirs, the dark-haired woman refused to give it up.”
Like me, Dr. M had gotten part of the story wrong. The woman who’d found the money didn’t stay; she handed the dark-haired woman the money, and took off. This, of course, assuming that Rachel, to whom we automatically cede veracity because she’s younger and therefore has more functioning brain cells, was not herself mistaken in her recollection. We might have checked with baby Milo, but he was asleep. Both at the restaurant, and during the phone call.
So there you have it. One story. Three versions. And this isn’t an event from twenty years ago. The discrepancies arose on the spot.
The biggest mystery, for me, however, was how it was possible for two human entities to be walking around the same place, each of them carrying wadded-up rolls of hundred-dollar bills. Dr. M was sure one of the entities was lying. Me, I’m more trusting. Which Dr. M would call naïve.
It was Anna who later that evening who satisfyingly answered my question.
“Can you believe that two people would be walking around with big rolls of hundred-dollar bills?”
Mystery solved. It was standard Brentwood Country Mart behavior.
Now, if I could only find out what happened to that little girl.
Update and Vindication: December 19. I just got a call from Rachel's husband, Tim. Tim called to back up my version of the story. There actually was a little girl who said, "Is this yours?" and handed me the money. My recollection has been confirmed!
When I get a handle on it, I will write a post about the memories I believe to be true and other people shoot them down, focusing, not on the unreliability of memory, but on my shameful ability to stick to my guns. For now, I will simply bask in my rightness. Oh, it feels good!