Inheriting the Past

While sipping my afternoon coffee, my wife handed me the mail. Convinced it was nothing but bills, I tossed the envelopes on the coffee table. As chance would have it,
the one that landed on top came from a large local law firm. Its big blue logo commanded my attention; it nagged at me. I put the cup down and opened the envelope.

Inside was a brief letter, and a sealed envelope. The letter stated that Joseph Dinero had died two weeks ago from a heart attack at a local hospital. It went on to say that Joe had given instructions to his lawyer to mail the enclosed envelope to me in the event of his death.

“Honey, this letter from a lawyer says Joe died from a heart attack Christmas Eve.”

“Joe who?”

“Our next door neighbor.”

“Oh no! That’s terrible!”

She came over and sat down by me. She gave me her
hand to hold. It felt warm and reassuring.

“When did you see him last?”

“Oh, I’m not sure. Maybe… yes, I think it was the day before he died. We had our usual morning coffee by the pool.”

“I’m sure you’re going to miss him. How long have you two been doing that? Since we moved here, wasn’t it? ”

“No, about three years. It wasn’t long after Joe moved in next door. He told me, he had been spying on me from his kitchen window for over a month before he decided to join me. At first, Joe thought it was very odd, a guy drinking coffee by the pool in the dark. Out of curiosity, he returned to the window again and again to check if I was still there. Then one day he saw the dawn breaking, and it all made sense to him.”

“You must have been very surprised the first day he showed up with his cup of coffee and sat by you.”

“Yeah, you’re right. Joe was so poorly dressed and unshaved. He was very apologetic about intruding. I asked him if he lived in the apartment complex. Joe didn’t look like he could possibly afford the rent. Imagine my surprise when he said he had moved next to us.”

“How old was he?”

I reached for the cup, feeling somewhat guilty. “I really don’t know. I presume he was in his late sixties, like me. We seldom discussed personal matters. I know next to nothing about him.”

My wife shook her head. “You sat next to that guy almost every morning for about one hour, for Christ sake!”

“I know. There was little conversation. We greeted, he sat down. Maybe we commented on the weather, or discussed a book briefly, or some news item. Then we drank our coffee and got quiet. The unfolding of the morning took over. It was a sort of
meditation we did without ever naming it so.”

“Hmm! What does he say in the letter?”

“Oh, I haven’t opened it yet.” I picked the envelope up and opened it. Inside was a typewritten letter. It read:

Dear Juan,

I write this to say goodbye and tell you how much it meant to me to sit next to you every morning. I did learn a lot by your silent contemplation. It brought great peace to me. It was a priceless gift and I wanted to reward you handsomely with the only thing I have, money. But you never asked me for any. I know it will surprise you to know that I was a multimillionaire. I’m really not sure of the exact amount, since I never cared for
it, or spent any of it. I lived only on my pension.

In a way, I loathed the money, and wanted to give it away. It was blood money. It came from the insurance settlement from my wife’s death fifteen years ago. I placed it with an investment firm and tried to forget it. I seldom opened the statements they sent. Last time I looked, it had grown to over ten million. My wife had cancer and her treatment was ruining us. I suspect she threw herself in front of that train. She made it look like an accident so I could get the insurance money. At least, that’s what I think.

I would have given it all to you, if you had asked me. In fact, I would have given it to anyone, but no one ever asked. I didn’t even get mail solicitations from charities. I always made a point to give people exactly what they asked for. One time a beggar asked me for a hundred dollars bill, and I told him I didn’t have it with me, but would go to the bank and get it.

“Make it a million,” he said.

“Okay, I’ll write you a check then. Wait here.”

When I returned with the million, he was gone.

I would have made you my only heir, but I decided all that money would only spoil that peace and happiness you now have. I’m leaving the money to the library. I know you like to read.

Goodbye, friend, and thanks for everything,


I handed the letter to my wife. “Would you have asked him if you had known?”

I looked out of the window at the distant sycamores on the hill. “I don’t know. Maybe not. But it’s funny, I always thought the peace I felt came from him. I thought I was sharing his happiness.”


One Response to “Inheriting the Past”

  1. Tihit Says:

    Fantastic article! Yourage?

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