My grandpa’s desk has four drawers and six cubbies. The desk folds up and out of the way. My grandpa always wanted me to have his desk, which meant different things to me at different times. I couldn’t imagine growing up and having to lug around an old desk out of obligation. I couldn’t imagine growing up and doing anything important enough that I would need a desk. My grandpa’s desk is all wood. A door between the cubbies opens and closes and I kept shut inside my little kid wallet (which usually had nothing in it but a few dollars and some coins) and any papers my parents told me were important. After we got back from Europe, I kept my passport in there, which I never used again. Bordering the door were two columns shaped like bishops in chess. These slid out and there were secret compartments where I kept candy and gum. I imagined my grandpa keeping adult secrets inside there, and the idea felt so strange and mysterious and fascinating. What could my grandpa have had that he wanted to hide in there?
I wonder now, and I think I wondered then, what was special about me that he wanted me to have his desk. Did he know something about me I didn’t? My grandpa seemed like a serious man but I might have just thought that because I knew he was an inventor. Did he invent things at his desk? Was I supposed to sit at his desk and invent things?
One time I left the door open at my grandpa’s and he told me I was letting the heat out and I said, “So? It’s not my house.” He didn’t seem that angry, but I must have picked up on his severe disappointment because I can still picture that moment. I might have been seven. He might have had cancer then. He might have had cancer when I laughed at him for stubbing his toe when he ran to check on me when he thought I fell in the shower. His entire big toe turned black. Was I rotten or just a typical seven-year-old? He must have noticed other things that made him think I was a good kid. I must have earned his desk.
I thought cancer hurt like a bee sting all the time all over. A bee sting for months and months instead of a couple of minutes. My mom called me on the phone and told me grandpa died and I went down to the basement to tell my dad, and I tried to cry. I faked it and got a tear or two. I think I already had his desk. I always remember it being in my room.
My grandpa died the year after he retired. He didn’t believe in an afterlife, and we kids filed up into his room at the hospital to say goodbye because we all believed grandpa was going to heaven. He must have looked at us. He must have thought we barely cared, because we barely did care, really. We were babies when it came to the big things. I wonder if he shook my hand or patted my head or hugged me and thought, This little boy will grow up to be a man and he will have my desk, or did he have second thoughts, lying there, dying, and thinking about what would become of his desk.
My grandpa’s desk has a pool of dried glue on it. Who spilled it: me playing or my grandpa working? No one alive knows. Someone said the glue could probably be scraped off with a file, and the idea filled me with revulsion.