That Friday morning presented itself awfully identical to every other day in that week, and all other weeks before it. Dr. Spencer woke up, dragged his feet to the bathroom and spent the next thirty minutes bringing his face to a socially presentable state. He ate his usual tuna on toast, read about the latest crimes that made the headlines in the local paper, and then headed to work in his twenty-two year old car.
Just twenty minutes later, when he encountered the police barricade at Route 44, he dropped the first curse word of the day. He allowed himself a maximum of twenty five per day, and today started to look like a day he would go over the limit.
With the highway entrance blocked, he had to take a twisted detour, through streets filled with questionable people and stray dogs. He tried to lock the car doors at no avail– that lock was dead for years. Do he continued to drive, gingerly grinding his teeth and fantasizing about premeditating a murder that would wipe the life of that engineer who decided to repair the roads exactly on that day.
A few blocks through the detour, Dr. Spencer used all the remaining curse words of the day, and then some, when the front right tire blew up, for no apparent reason. And of course, there was no spare, and, of course, the road was muddy and full of puddles, just enough to soak his shoes, socks and pants.
Dr. Spencer slammed the car door and jumped on the sidewalk, heading toward the nearest store, hoping they had a phone. It was one of the few times he really regretted not having a cell, or being able to afford one.
He burst inside the store and froze in the door frame, for a minute or so, to adjust his sight to the dim lights. The heavy smell of vanilla incense and the thick candle smoke filled his lungs and Dr. Spencer had a wet cough attack.
An old Asian man wearing a red silk outfit appeared through the bead curtain behind the counter and bowed, hands in prayer.
“Can I use your phone?” Dr. Spencer said. “Please? It is an utmost emergency. Utmost!”
The man bowed again and pointed to an old fashioned phone. Dr. Spencer exhaled in relief.
“Thank you,” he said and called AAA and then the school.
“I have a class, you see,” he apologized, “I have to let them know.”
The Asian merchant bowed his head one more time and smiled.
Once he finished the call, Dr. Spencer placed the receiver back in its spot, took a twenty out of his pocket and handed it to the old man. “For your trouble, I really appreciate your help.” He thought that maybe his undeniable generosity will somehow, magically, reverse the bad omen of this magnificent day.
The Asian man grinned and pushed his hand forward. “You have a good heart,” he said with a thick Chinese accent. “Good heart we meet in very generous people. Your money I will take, in exchange for one of my good luck plants.”
The man motioned his hand over a group of small clay pots filled with a variety of tiny trees in various shapes and colors.
Good luck? I can never have enough of that, Dr. Spencer thought and browsed the plants with his eyes.
A particular one caught his attention right away– it was a small tree, maybe twenty five inches tall, filled with bright green leaves, shaped like an almond. He looked at it closely, measured it, smelled its leaves, and poked the soil with his finger.
“How about this one?” he said.
The old man opened up his hands. “Wise choice,” he said and nodded. “Water it every day, but remember, don’t be greedy with its growth, or it will surely die.”
Dr. Spencer nodded. “Of course. But what is it? A Bonsai?”
“Pachira Aquatica,” the Chinese man said with a grin.
Dr. Spencer shrugged. “I’ve never heard of it. But I’ll take it.”
Saturday Morning, when Dr. Spencer was eating his hard-earned weekend muffin, he noticed that one of the leaves had fallen off the tree. He shook his head and added some water to the plant. He then took the leaf, planning to throw it away, but as soon as he picked it up he realized something was strange about it.
First of all, the leaf was warm, and not a bit warm– it felt like it just came out of the microwave. Secondly, there was a roughness to its surface, like Velcro or some coarse sand paper. Dr. Spencer looked at it in the light and saw these tiny, partially transparent, little hooks that seemed to have suddenly grown over the leaf’s greener side.
As he squeezed the leaf between his fingers the green color started to fade away and vanish inside his skin. He continued to rub it, until it became completely colorless, like a piece of plastic wrap. And then it started to melt, little by little, until it totally disappeared between his fingers.
He looked at his fingertips and saw no sign of it. He looked on the floor, and there was no debris. The leaf was gone.
“Abracadabra?” he whispered and pursed his lips.
He grabbed his coffee cup, took one sip and put it back down. Actually, he tried to put it back down, because as he did, the cup hit another cup, perfectly identical, that materialized on the table.
Dr. Spencer’s eyes widened and a shiver went up and down his back. He put his cup next to the new cup. They were identical, filled with coffee, having the same coffee spots and same cracks around the rim. He continued to look at the twin cups, rubbing his eyes and pinching his cheeks.
He eventually sat down and drank both cups, just to be sure that they were real. He then washed them both and continued to stare at them for the rest of the day. At some point he took a break and browsed his phone book, trying to find someone that he could call, but quickly concluded that there was absolutely nobody among his friends who would not think that he has lost his damn mind. So he decided to sleep on it and see if things look different in the morning.
He woke up around 5 AM, with a hammering headache.
The twin cups were still there, mocking him from afar. He poked them a few times and then he poked himself. Since it was obvious he was awake and not in some strange dream, he turned his attention to the tree.
Another leaf had fallen, and now rested on the edge of the water tray, like a savage temptress.
With trembling hands, Dr. Spencer picked it up. It was warm and rough, just like the one from the day before. He took a deep breath and with his heart pounding, he began to rub it between his fingers. Surely enough, a minute or so later, the leaf was gone.
He walked slowly, keeping his hand up in the air, as if it was infected with a deadly bacteria. He walked up to one of the many bookshelves in his apartment and picked up Shakespeare’s Othello, with a trembling hand. He closed his eyes for a second, opened them up and his jaw was to the floor. Another copy of Othello appeared in the bookshelf. He looked at the one he held in his hand– identical. Same fringes on the paper cover, same tomato juice stain.
For the rest of the morning, Dr. Spencer stared at the little tree. He counted its leaves at least a hundred times. There were precisely thirteen leaves left. Thirteen things he could duplicate. But which ones? And most importantly, why? And how? At this point his head was an anvil beaten by a merciless hammer and all the aspirin in the world couldn’t make a difference.
At 8 AM, Dr. Spencer ran back to the Asian store, looking for the old man, looking for answers. When he got there, to his uncanny surprise, the store was no more. In its place, he found a frozen yogurt spot, filled with hippies and people with berets. He cursed again– the street, the store, the people inside it, and everything else that surrounded them, and then went back home.
He searched the Internet for information on the Pachira Aquatica and found out it was dubbed the ‘Money Tree.’
“Money.” He whispered. “Of course.”
His head stopped hurting and turned into a calculator. If he were to take one hundred dollars and double it, and then double it again, and again, until all leaves were gone, he would have about eight hundred thousand dollars. But then he thought, what if he were to take all of his savings, drop them all in one bag, and just keep duplicating that bag?
He checked his bank statement and saw his balance: fifty two thousand dollars. Utmost pathetic, even for a teacher, he thought.
He quickly calculated that fifty two thousand dollars would make more than four hundred million. Of course, there will be duplicated bill numbers, but who cares? He can break the money between foreign banks and no one will ever know.
So, Dr. Spencer went to the bank and withdrew his sad life savings. On the way back, he stopped by the school and told the dean that he will take a well-deserved two weeks off. The dean mumbled something, but Dr. Spencer didn’t care. He saluted him politely and left.
“Jerk, I’ll show you,” he whispered as he rushed through the parking lot, passing by the dean’s BMW.
Once he got home he started to work. For the next two weeks he continued to duplicate his money. First day he got two bags of fifty two thousand dollars. He combined them inside one bag. The next day he had two bags with one hundred and four thousand dollars each. And he kept going. And soon, there were only three leaves left in the tree, and one big pile of cash in the middle of the room.
He looked at the suitcase overflowing with bills totaling about fifty three million dollars. He looked at the tree with its last three leaves and a sudden light bulb popped above his head.
“But of course!” he exclaimed.
He jumped up, blew a kiss to the tree, and went to bed, impatiently waiting for the next morning to arrive.
The next day, like clockwork, the first of the last three leaves fell from the tree. Dr. Spencer sat on the chair, waiting for the moment, tapping his fingers on the table, his whole body vibrating. He watched the leaf detach from the branch, float through the air and land softly on the tray. He picked it up and rubbed it between his fingers.
When it finally vanished, he extended his hand and tapped his fingers together a few times.
“Here we go,” he said and grabbed the two-leafed Money Tree and moved it sideways on the table. He closed his eyes tight, let go of the tree, and then opened his eyes.
Next there was a Puff! and Dr. Spencer was gone.
A day later an old Chinese man broke into Dr. Spencer’s apartment followed by a young Asian boy. He entered the living room and pointed to one Money Tree on the table, and another Money Tree on the chair, each with a pair of identical leaves.
“I’ll take the trees,” he said and motioned toward the pile of cash. “You take the money.”
He picked the two tree pots and brought them close to his face. He smiled with a nod. “I knew you had a good heart, both of you. I just knew it.”