It was the twilight hour, when the light begins to gray, and shapes that once appeared solid begin to blur around the edges. I pulled the car up beside the thing and opened my door. It was a black leather satchel, of middling quality, with a shiny silver zipper at one corner. It hadn’t been run over or tipped out; it must have been dropped only a short time earlier. We conferred for a moment before deciding to pick it up. What if it belonged to a neighbor?
It was heavier than I had anticipated; it weighed as much as a watermelon, or a bag of flour. Imagining all sorts of nefarious things, I peered inside, but the contents appeared to be innocuous.
Once inside the apartment, I sat on the floor and pulled items out of the bag, one by one.
A real-estate listing for a condo. A thank-you note, sans envelope. A school photo, the kind you cut out of a sheet with scissors, of a grinning boy who looked to be about 10. A near-empty tube of hemorrhoid cream. A multi-page statement of work from an auto mechanic, detailing repairs on a vintage car. A reminder for a cardiology appointment. A checkbook, the register filled with a blocky, forward-slanting script: CITIBANK. INSURANCE. A blister pack of antacid tablets, half of them gone. A receipt from a savings account withdrawal.
And finally: a stack of business cards at the bottom, with a name and phone number that matched the name on the checkbook. We called him right away, but he didn’t respond to our calls until much later, when he seemed baffled. He had been on the other side of town, he said, and wasn’t even aware that his satchel was missing.
I couldn’t stop thinking about the spread of items, the way they collectively offered a glimpse into a life. The life of a middle-aged businessman, saddled with the cares and concerns that so many of us share. The meaningful and the banal, all mixed up together.
What stories would someone concoct about my life, I wondered, if they laid out some of the scraps that I carry around?