It was just a desk.
Just a piece of furniture.
Not threatening or scary in the least.
At least, this was what she told herself. But she still approached it slowly, the way one would walk towards a cornered animal. The desk belonged to this place more than she did – she knew that. It lorded over the apartment like some sort of dark prince. It had stood in the corner of the bedroom for time immemorial.
Well, perhaps not time immemorial exactly… She supposed Great-Aunt Lily had purchased it as a young woman, right after she moved to New York. It had been her very first purchase with her very first paycheck – she hadn’t had a couch or a table or a real dresser, but she bought the desk first. And from what she remembered of Aunt Lily, that seemed right. The woman had ruled with an iron fist – always organized. Always prepared. And the desk had always been off-limits. A dragon in a dress, they’d called her, although never to her face.
She didn’t have many memories of the desk, but the ones she had were enough. She remembered walking toward the desk, just curious, to have a steely grip clamp around her wrist, spinning her around.
“Not for you,” her Aunt would hiss. “Not for children.”
The desk had always been off-limits, even as she grew older. And now that Aunt Lily was gone, she still halfway expected a heavy hand on her shoulder, a painful grip on her wrist.
So she approached carefully.
Quite honestly, she wasn’t even sure why Great-Aunt Lily had left her the place. Because she’d never had any kids? Because she was the least objectionable of the grand-nieces and nephews, she supposed. It was a blessing Lily had never had kids – she honestly pitied any child raised here.
They’d been forced to visit Aunt Lily every now and then and that had been enough. No matter how high they’d raised the thermostat, the place had never seemed anything but cold. Going back to school after a weekend there felt like an escape from prison.
She’d cleaned out the whole apartment – folded and donated the clothes, sorted through various kitchen accoutrements and everything else. She’d even mopped the floors. This was all that was left.
For as long as it had taken her to get to, the desk proved surprisingly anticlimactic. Old bank statements, an expired life insurance policy. Some old birthday cards. Unsurprisingly, the desk was as organized as everything else and it didn’t take very long until the last drawer was cleared out.
She’d pulled out the last sheaf of papers – a pack of old grocery store receipts, paper clipped together – when she saw the yellowed envelope stuck in a corner of the drawer, snagged tight by a join in the wood.
It took a little wriggling, but finally the sheet came unstuck. The paper was old and soft, as though it’d been read many times. Whatever it was, it meant something.
Lily’s name and address were carefully written in faded blue ink, but it wasn’t her New York address. It was an address in Iowa – probably one that didn’t even exist anymore. The house where her Grandmother and Great-Aunt had grown up. The one she’d never seen – it had been sold before she’d been born.
The same blue ink continued on the inside, in careful, masculine handwriting.
I know you well enough to know that you won’t come back to me. Hopefully, you know me well enough to know that I have to try. Maybe that’ll count for something. I know you’re leaving – you’ve always been leaving, in one way or another, on to something bigger and better.
And this you’re going so far that I won’t be able to catch you. I know that’s on purpose – maybe it’ll be easier to forget me that way. And maybe you can try to forget me. Maybe if you don’t have to be here, you’ll be able to forget me, but I doubt it.
And I want you to know that it doesn’t matter how far you go…. I’ll be here waiting for you to forgive me. I still wake up every day with the scent of your hair on my pillow. I still hear your voice calling my name.
I want you to know that however far you run, I’ll always be waiting here for you. My home will always be your home and there will never be a day in my life when I don’t miss you.
I know it doesn’t change anything, but wherever you go, know that I love you. And that I always will.”
The letter was signed, simply “William.”
She didn’t know who William was, or whether he was even still alive. She’d known that Aunt Lily had moved to New York when she was young, completely on her own. She’d never known why… Honestly, she’d never thought to ask why.
And now she couldn’t stop asking… Who was William? What had he done? Was he the reason she’d run to New York? The reason she’d spent her entire life alone? Had she loved him?
She’d never felt sorry for her Great-Aunt before, living alone in that dusty old apartment.
No life, she thought, is ever a single story. And the saddest ones are those left unfinished.
Desk, nervous, find.
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