An Unexpected Artifact

I don’t know why I find the leavings of previous book-owners so magical; maybe they provide jumping-off points to wonder what connection you and a complete stranger never knew you had until now, a sort of futilely delicious exercise à la Six Degrees of Separation; a message in a bottle or a misplaced item from a time capsule.

Given my joy in such unexpected encounters, it should be unsurprising how giddy I was to discover, tucked between pages eight and nine of Siegfried Lenz’s The Heritage, a thirty-year-old theater ticket stub. Photo on 2016-03-05 at 16.31Based on a quick internet search, an establishment of the same name as that featured on the scrap– and making use of a still-similar font— has existed in Houston since 1978. Whatever was showing on the date printed on my one-time bookmark, it must have been a success; not quite visible on the picture to the right is the stamp “Full.”

I was ten years old when this play was in production, and I have no idea what I was doing at the time other than homework, piano practice, building treehouse fortresses, or reading. For the life of me, I also can’t remember where I bought this book; it’s been on my shelf for at least a couple of years, and I don’t think it was something I purposefully sought out. I’d love to know whether the previous owner of what is now my copy of this novel had it with him/her at the play, whether this person always had a book on hand, as I do, and was sneaking in some reading before the house lights went down. I wonder whether this reader/playgoer remembers anything of that night, and whether anything about the production has stuck in his/her memory, or whether it’s gotten jumbled, as so many staged plays do for me, into such a mess that I sometimes don’t realize, if someone’s asked me whether I’ve attended [name of production], that I’ve seen it until the plot gets recounted to me, and a vague sense of “oh, yeah” starts making itself known.

Maybe I find these little snippets of things people have forgotten about so magical because they bring a moment or a thought back to life, even if only partially– and so mean that in some sense, that instant or phenomenon, and the person who lived through it or who (maybe) absentmindedly placed a memento of it in between two pages, has never died. For the most part (we can’t ignore the possibility of coming across something truly horrifying), it’s a pleasing little form of immortality, or at least a reminder of how long the declaration “I was here” might be able to last in this world.

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