The past is prologue

Trifles of correspondence: an invitation and a hastily scribbled RSVP, a magazine article (yellowed, with that peculiar velvety feel), fiercely underlined, a severe entry in the margin. On a piece of paper his efficient but doubting cursive - his signature written three times: the top bolder than the second, the second bolder than the bottom. He had, a bit self-consciously, jotted on another scrap of paper the word ''miracle.'' Incongruously (if you had ever heard him discourse on symphonies), there was a brassy red, white, and blue symphony season announcement, which made me smile.

Bittersweet booty - like discovering another room in a mansion you've cataloged and locked forever. Should I save these things, these evidences, that a man who hated to settle down to tasks involving pen and paper, had? He went about such labors as Sisyphus, eyeing the stone for yet another try, must have done. In spite of the inconsistency of the act, I put the papers back into the book, and put the book back on my library shelf. Because the papers were in it, I could not read the book. For several days and nights, the book was a coddled orphan, a ghost I did not want to disturb. Although I felt unready to toss the papers into the wastebasket, I made a decision of sorts - opened the book, and did so, with a ''There, that's done!''

The ticking clock, the pictures on my den wall, a hundred eyes within, chided. Activities undertaken got barely half my attention; the other half spiraled out of control to retrieve the notes many times before I went and winnowed them out, looking around to see if anyone was watching, although I was quite alone.

A shrine? Sacred relics in a tomb? I ruminated on the papers he had touched, originated. Was this my inheritance, or his? Undecided, I let the full-bodied August day take over. Better to enshrine, it said, the fallen winter leaves of the sugar maple now robustly flapping in the whiffling wind. More important to exalt the boreal remnants from the heavily fruited pear tree now dappling in the sun, bending in the gusts. Greater enrichment, the August day continued, to save for posterity the pink-red rose outside my window screen or a feather from the robin inspecting the ground for worms under the weeping willow. These speak not of loss but of life.

Turbulence pulled me in two directions for a season as I sat looking down at the open book and the papers on my lap, smelling the memories. But I began to know the end. When the storm passed, I dropped the papers into the wastebasket with no sadness. I was hungry for some eggs. He liked eggs but with too much pepper to suit me. And to think I had made such a fuss!

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