I found an old receipt in my book today, it fell out as I was flipping past Seymour Krim’s essay on the failed businesses of his siblings, or something like that. This receipt, you must know, was not my own. I cracked this particular book for the first time today, though I am not its first user—an old library pawned off for pennies at an annual sale. They say that the average library book only survives three uses, though I’d be surprised if this particular book had seen so many before it made its way into my hands, purchased, shelved, borrowed once, then sold.
In this manner it came to me, and I sat this evening perusing its contents, amusing myself with the odd personal essay on love or the peculiarities of one’s face. It was at this time that the receipt slipped from its pages and fluttered like a moth to the floor. I picked it up. Humans are naturally curious like that. We cannot resist poking our noses into the lives of others, be it through commonplace gossip or, more innocuously, by finding scattered remnants of their existence infiltrating our own lives—initials etched in the wood of old church benches, accessories forgotten in bathrooms and on buses, receipts folded in two as a bookmark and left in an overdue library book.
I’m equally as guilty of this latter phenomenon, having come into the habit of using spent train and plane tickets to mark my places in different books throughout my library. There’s hardly a volume one can pick up without stumbling into little remnants of my wanderings, little testimonies not only bearing witness to my ownership of that book, but of my existence itself. For that is what such forgotten stubs declare, “I exist, and I was here once, reading these same pages you are now, or sitting in the same seat in which you now find yourself. You are not the first and neither shall you be the last.” They are tiny traces of our lives left behind to bear proof of our migration through time and space.
The receipt I found was like this. It belonged to someone once, on the 24th of May, 2011. She—do I even know if it was a she?—purchased a pack of Fisherman’s Friends, creamer, 1% milk, and adhesive strips (what does one use adhesive strips for, I do not know). She was thrifty too, using coupons, collecting reward points, and returning a recycled milk carton for $0.05. It was an evening grocery run, around 18:05, and she paid with debit to a total of $15.57. Her cashier’s name was Cassidy. I briefly wonder where Cassidy is today. Has she moved on from her job as a grocery clerk and finished a degree, in teaching, perhaps? Or maybe she found the love of her life and now has a child with blue eyes, like her husband. I picture her happy and smiling, though I have nothing to substantiate such an illusion. Maybe things didn’t turn out so well for her. I hope she’s alright…
It’s funny, how much can be gleaned—and imagined—from a little piece of paper, folded carelessly in half and shoved into a book. How much and how little. What once they held, I now hold in my hand, cradling a little piece of their respective lives, a piece they’ve long forgotten about, if ever they remembered it, never imagining that their forgotten receipt could inspire the prose of another. Life is like that, inseparably interconnected and inexorably divorced from those whose paths we might cross in the most obscure of ways.
There’s something strangely pleasant about this, comforting, even, that this little fragment of another’s life has made it into my hand, into my safekeeping. I almost feel honoured to have chanced upon that old receipt. So, with just a little care and some amusement, I will tuck it back where it came from, in hopes that it will find another custodian in the future, long after I have forgotten about it myself. Goodbye little receipt. Safe travels.