“Those children are right,” he would have said. “They stole nothing from you, my dear. These things don’t belong to you here, you now. They belonged to her, that other you, so long ago.”
Oh, thought Mrs. Bentley. And then, as though an ancient phonograph record had been set hissing under a steel needle, she remembered a conversation she had once had with Mr. Bentley–Mr. Bentley, so prim, a pink carnation in his whisk-broomed lapel, saying, “My dear, you never will understand time, will you? You’ve always trying to be the things you were, instead of the person you are tonight. Why do you save those ticket stubs and theater programs? They’ll only hurt you later. Throw them away, my dear.”
But Mrs. Bentley had stubbornly kept them.
“It won’t work,” Mr. Bentley continued, sipping his tea. “No matter how hard you try to be what you once were, you can only be what you are here and now. Time hypnotizes. When you’re nine, you think you’ve always been nine years old and will always be. When you’re thirty, it seems you’ve always been balanced there on that bright rim of middle life. And then when you turn seventy, you are always and forever seventy. You’re in the present, you’re trapped in a young now or an old now, but there is no other now to be seen.”
It had been one of the few, but gentle, disputes of their quiet marriage. He had never approved of her bric-a-brackery. “Be what you are, bury what you are not,” he had said. “Ticket stubs are trickery. Saving things is a magic trick, with mirrors.”
If he were alive tonight, what would he say?
“You’re saving cocoons.” That’s what he’d say. “Corsets, in a way, you can never fit again. So why save them? You can’t really prove you were ever young. Pictures? No, they lie. You’re not the picture.”
No, my dear, you are not the dates, or the ink, or the paper. You’re not these trunks of junk and dust. You’re only you, here, now–the present you.”
Mrs. Bentley nodded at the memory, breathing easier.
“Yes, I see. I see.”
The gold-feruled cane lay silently on the moonlit rug.
“In the morning,” she said to it, “I will do something final about this, and settle down to being only me, and nobody else from any other year. Yes, that’s what I’ll do.”
She slept . . .”