Papers of The Past

I always believed in signs, which is why I was surprised to not have gotten any in the days before my last weekend in town. I was about to turn 80, and thought some sign would let me know what the future, if any, held for me. So, sign-less and with a terrible hip pain, I left town for a weekend in the country. It was my present to myself, a weekend away from everyone to turn eighty alone, in silence, and with dignity.

The country house I had picked was beautiful; it was the kind of house I had once wanted to own but never had the time or courage to get it. An isolated house in the woods, with imposing wooden floors and windows, and campaign furniture that made me want to go back in time so I could buy those pieces instead of someone else. The decoration, the woods, the smell of the furniture, and the silence were the best present I could have given to myself.

It wasn’t until the second day when I realized something interesting about the campaign chest in my bedroom, the back of it was covered with newspaper pages from 1863. I imagined someone using the old papers to cover some water damage perhaps, or maybe just for decoration. Without knowing they were dating the chest, and they were also dating me, even when I didn’t know it.

As the days went by I read the newspaper, or the part that could be read at least. I found out about the news of those times, and read them as if they were stories that had been written for me for my birthday. I became familiar with those old times, and forgot my own time, since lost in the woods in that house I could pretend I was the first owner of the chest.

A couple of nights before leaving was when I finally saw it, what without knowing I had been looking for. It was the announcement of my death, right there, in the paper from 1863, one hundred years before I was reading it. It read clear, at the bottom of the page and below other names: Arthur Ralph Beckett 1803 -1863. Even though it was strange, I understood what it meant; it was the sign I had been looking for. We live many lives, and at eighty I was starting a new one.

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