They had moved the tables to the walls, and the floor was all ribbons and confetti. Aged men grinned and bobbed their heads. They were wearing sashes; buttons; bill caps with the insignia of their units. Crooked banners behind them, on the paneled walls, repeated the devices. But the celebration was muted now, folding in on itself. I noticed that some of the litter on the floor was money: dollar bills, five dollar bills, ten dollar bills. I frowned. I didn't like the idea of these ancients letting their cash drift about. The young people in the kitchen and on the floor, well – I'm fond of them, but they're not very dependable. And nothing seemed entirely under supervision, here.
I stepped behind the counter. There was a fat wallet resting on the rubber matting over the floor. I picked it up and looked inside. There were big bills in there. Hundred dollar bills, even thousand dollar bills.
The swing doors to the kitchen flew open, and a teenaged waiter staggered out, his face flushed, his eyes too bright. Two quick steps, and he'd seized the wallet.
I hung on. I knew the wallet wasn't his. We wrestled over it. I was a lot stronger than he was, and he lost his grip and fell back, but other young guys came through the swing doors, in the same state of excitation. It was time to retreat.
I took a deep gulp of air, and buoyed by that, floated up to the high, grimy ceilings. Exclamations below. Enough of this. I shoved off from the wall and glided out through a high open window, where I opened myself like flower, and let the wind take me.
I'm not a thief. I didn't take the money for me. But I didn't know who to take it back to. Who knew me well enough to know I wouldn't steal? I landed in a bright warm stream that meandering behind some condos, and made myself a fishlight. I wouldn't steal, would I? Thousands of dollars. You could buy things, with thousands of dollars. I began to be afraid, and swam quickly, and more quickly, down the shallow brook, with my shadow coming behind me. Had I stolen the money? Was I a fish? Did anyone know me that well? Did anyone know me at all? I darted under a bridge and hovered there, my heart pounding, my gills opening and closing, and my heart full of confusion.
Some time later, the thought appeared: what if I never took the money at all? I looked at my hands, and they were empty. The liquid sky was luminous. I could have, I said to myself. I could have dreamed it. I mean, who would hold a bash like that at Tom's? Why would they have been throwing money about? And what would a fishlight be doing there, in any case?
I'm not a thief, I said to myself. But there's a lot of things you can do with thousands of dollars. And that's a good trick, you know? Taking a deep breath so as to float to the ceiling. That's the kind of thing you only think of if you're a fish.
I don't think I'm a fish.
I stand up and wade up out of the water, beside the little ornamental bridge. I don't think I can fly, either. I pant a little.
I don't think I'm awake.
I don't think I ever took that wallet.
But there are a lot of things you can buy, with thousands of dollars.