The Ebony Desk

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When people die, do their spirits cling to the things they owned when alive?

The Ebony Desk

 

If it's one thing I'm always afraid of it's people's ‘dead-lef’ things; especially furniture and jewelry. Second-hand things in the pawnshops or the used furniture mart — me? I keep far away from them. For sometimes the people who 'dead', don’t really ‘lef’ them things.

Of course it's sort of different when it's somebody close to you, like your mother or an aunt who ‘dead-lef’, but even then, I not so sure. Let me tell you bout a thing that happened to me one time. And I have to tell you, I still don't know what really happened.

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A little feeling of loss and the salty taste of tears visited me briefly once more as I watched them unload the desk at my front door. But, the trouble we had getting it through the narrow kench of door in these modern town-houses soon made me forget my sorrow.

We had the very dickens forcing it in. Not only was it heavy, we just couldn’t find the right angle to get it past the doorway. At one stage it looked like we would have to cut off the legs — a thought I couldn’t endure; or chop out a piece of the doorway which, since it didn’t belong to me, I couldn’t even consider.

Eventually, however, with much heaving and pulling and twisting and turning — almost as if the desk didn’t want to enter my home — eventually we got it in. I ordered them to place it against the left hand wall where it seemed to scowl in all its polished black ebony dignity, overpowering the rest of the dainty new-wood and plastic town-house furniture with which I had been so pleased.

I stood as far away as I could and looked at the desk, not without a feeling of pride in possession. It was, after all, a family heirloom. My mother had inherited it from a great aunt and now that my mother was dead, it had passed to me. My brothers had insisted that I should have it since I was the ‘writing-one’ in the family. It would bring me good luck, they said.

It was quite a large desk. A few inches taller than me and I am five feet five; about three and a half feet wide and twenty- two inches deep when closed. Its bowlegs were exquisitely carved with the design repeated on the main panels at the back, as well as on the many drawers. It had several ‘leaves’ I think they are called, (or maybe it's 'sleeves',) which you could pull down or pull out to get even more space.

Closed up it looked almost like a small old-time organ with a high back. When you pulled down the front leaf you got lots of writing space. Inside you could store stationery and there was even an inkwell. Yes, an inkwell. When you sat at this desk you felt you should be using a quill or some such ancient writing implement and that the letters should come out all beautifully formed, handsomely cursive like the old time people used to write. None of this flat top, purely utilitarian kind of modern desk.

You wouldn’t dream of insulting this desk by putting a laptop or any other modern contraption on it. It was a proud desk, made for an age when people took time to make things beautiful, lived in large houses and had time for graciousness and all those other old time things.

I was very proud of my desk. Here, I thought, I would write and at last turn out the masterpieces which constantly teased my brain, but which I only occasionally managed to put on paper; and then they couldn’t actually be called masterpieces, even by me. Perhaps this was the inspiration I needed; the desk to bring genius alive.

No matter that my children started complaining about the desk, the moment they came in from school. “It looked better in grandma’s house," they declared.

"Don’t you see it’s too big for this room?” my daughter asked with the wide-open pseudo-sophisticated eyes of the newly arrived teen-ager.

“But this ya desk too dread, Iya. Is like everywhere I man turn, it eyeing I. You no see’t?” This was my son, another pseudo, a would-be entrant on the dread scene, in words anyway. I ignored them both. They had no sense of history

It was true that everywhere you turned in the downstairs area you were constantly aware of its presence. Somehow, even when I was cooking in the kitchen, which was behind the living room, my eye-corner would constantly be aware of the desk.

It had been in the house for about a week, when I began to notice some little changes in our routine. For one thing my son took his ‘sounds’ totally upstairs to his room. He stopped playing his music in the living room. When I asked him why, he thought for a moment and then said. “It’s like every time I tune up, that desk start frown up and scowl up like it don’t like it.”

When I asked him if he was crazy, he laughed and said, DJ style, while doing a little dance

“I have a little desk that don’t like me

Mek I mother say that I craz-ee

An I rub an I scrub an l one, two, three!”

I shooed him away.

Then my daughter stopped entertaining her friends in the room. “You can’t discuss anything,” she explained, “without that desk eavesdropping. That’s what it does. Even when you whisper it’s like it’s straining to catch every word.”

I started to think that perhaps I had two mad children and dismissed their complaints without another thought.

Everyday I polished my desk, opened up its leaves and sleeves — it had all sorts of drawers and little nooks and beautiful hand carved decorations. And it seemed to glow with satisfaction at the attention I showered on it.

My desk became quite a conversation piece with my friends. Before I knew it I was boring them with tales of how long it had been in the family, and how my mother had taken such care of it. She never allowed us to use it, her ‘secretary’ she called it; and how it was probably worth quite a lot of money, and blah plus blah.

Finally, the day came, when, on leave from work, I gathered the correct writing tools I would use for my masterpiece — many sheets of writing paper, a new fountain pen, (yes, I found one) which I would fill from the ink-well, bubbling thoughts, my Roget's Thesaurus and Concise Oxford, I sat down before my prize, drew down the writing leaf, arranged everything neatly before me and began to write my story, the old fashioned way.

It was to be about a girl who suffered from the loneliness of being an only child, and who never outgrew her intense longing to have a million friends, but who never could overcome her shyness, and the habits of her lonely youth and thus could not make friends. The kind of story which could become mawkish, but I was sure that I knew how to handle it.

So there I was, everything ready, except that with the first sentence I realized that I had no name for my heroine. The names which came readily to mind sounded too old-fashioned. Annabelle, Glorianna, Miranda; but I wasn’t about to name her Kerri-anne or Isher or Mikawa either.

While I sat there thinking, I swear I must have dozed off for I believe I heard a voice saying quite clearly, ‘Call her Rosebud'.

“Rosebud” I said aloud, now fully awake. Of all the sappy, sentimental names that was the worst.

Rosebud indeed! That name just didn’t fit the girl I had in mind. I sat there pen poised thinking all sorts of miscellaneous thoughts for about an hour. Then I got up. Leaving everything as it was, I went into the kitchen to fix myself some lemonade hoping that the break would cause fresh thoughts to flow.

And sure enough it did. By the time I had finished sipping my ice-cold lemonade I had decided that the girl’s name would be plain April. Nothing grand or strange or sentimental about that, just the name of a month of the year.

So I went back to my desk to write about April. I got as far as the first few words.

‘April was born on a wet rainy morning in. . .‘ when my pen ran strangely dry. I unscrewed the cover of the inkwell and I can’t tell you how it happened, but that bottle of ink turned over and spilled all its contents over the desk. Ink was everywhere — on my pages, dictionary, thesaurus and worst of all, it began to drip through the crack in the fold and run down the beautiful shiny surface, almost as if it were dripping black blood. As if I had wounded it!

By the time I had finished cleaning up, I was too distressed to continue creating, so I closed up the desk and went about my household chores.

The next day I returned to the desk armed with a new lot of papers and my ink-stained language assistants. I don’t think I quite realized what was happening until I read the first sentences which I wrote.

'Rosebud was born on a wet rainy morning towards the end of April. They named her Rosebud because all the rose plants had sent out such a profusion of buds after the early April showers. Everybody remarked on it.’

I stared at those sentences for a long time. Somewhere in the back of my head the thought began to form that there was something a little strange about this desk. I remembered the comments the children had made and I wondered. Had the desk chosen the name of my heroine?

Every day I grew a bit more uneasy at the desk. Things I had not meant to write crept unbidden into my story. As it was, my hitherto lonely heroine found herself with a brother I'd had no intention of giving her.

I didn’t realize how deeply the whole thing was affecting me until I found myself writing about Rosebud’s wedding. Matters came to a head when my children found me standing before the desk furiously shaking a finger at the pages and pages of scrawling writing lined out on the lowered leaf of the desk. "But I don’t want her to get married! She can’t get married! That’s not what the story is about!”

The children said afterwards that they had been growing worried about me because I seemed to be constantly muttering while I was at the desk.

I never sat at the ebony desk again. That same day I emailed my friend in St. Ann who has a big house and likes antiques to ask her to keep the desk for me. I couldn’t yet quite make up my mind to give it away completely but I certainly couldn’t keep it. I told her that the townhouse was too small to house it: that it was taking up too much room — which was true.

I don’t know if the previous experience made it easier, but this time when the men came to take it away, the desk almost seemed to fly through the door, so easy it was to get it out. No pulling and pushing and twisting and scraping — almost as if it was glad to go.

Come to think of it, you know, my old lady wasn’t a very easy person to live with. She was strong-willed and always wanted me to do things the way she liked. I never knew grand-aunt Jo, but I hear she was quite a woman too.

“I have a little desk that don’t like me

Mek I mother say that I craz-ee

My son’s nonsense lyrics floated into my mind as I watched them take my desk away. I turned into the house with a sigh, to be greeted by the cheerfulness of my new-wood and plastic modern furniture.

 

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