Tonight I am writing at a desk. I am not hunched over a glass coffee table with a whale full of truffles, nor am I using an Indian food cookbook balanced on my thighs as a makeshift table. It feels great. When we moved into our new apartment, the landlord kindly bestowed upon us a dresser missing one drawer, a forbidding metal table, a 1970s lamp, two TV stands, and this desk.
“I don’t know about the two TV stands,” I told the landlord, an older Italian man fresh out of a black and white crime film. “We don’t even have one TV yet. But I’ll take the desk.”
I’m sure that I’ve seen this same desk on Craigslist since November. Perhaps this is what destiny feels like. The wood is light-colored and the sides are silvery metal punctured with air holes. It’s marked with marker and blotted with something that could either be nail polish or driveway tar. I don’t know who the previous owner of this desk was, but we can draw some conclusions.
When we first saw the apartment, we were instantly sold on the tacky waiting room wallpaper and the green 1970s toilet.
“You seem like two nice, attractive young people,” the landlord told us. Then we asked him if he would allow a cat.
“Eh,” he said. “I had a bad experience with cats in this apartment. I can’t have a cat spraying on the carpets.”
The last tenant had an unneutered male cat that marked every gym sneaker, couch cushion, and spider plant as his territory. We explained that Olive is female and therefore biologically incapable of spraying, that she is far too well-behaved to ever spray anything, and that we would never keep an unneutered male cat in our home in the first place. Dave offered to pay a pet deposit if necessary and the landlord caved to our attractive youthfulness.
Yesterday we moved in. While everyone else was lugging heavy boxes, Dave’s mom recruited me to help her clean the kitchen and she began wiping down the contact paper inside of the drawers and cupboards.
“What’s this?” Dave’s mom said, reaching into the back of a drawer. She pulled out a tiny black thing. “What is this?”
“That’s a pipe,” Dave explained.
Then, for some reason, everyone smelled it. Curious noses swarmed the pipe, attempting to detect a particular odor from the residue.
My mom told the story of how our neighbor found fifteen thousand dollars in her ceiling when she was renovating. We all had a good laugh because we weren’t nearly so fortunate.
I moved towards the futon, ready to sit down for a long time and leave work irresponsibly incomplete. My goal was to shut off my entire body and stare at one point on the wall like an android for couple of hours, but it was not to be.
“What is this?” said Dave’s mom, emerging from one of the cupboards. “Is this…? Is this a…?”
“Is that a syringe?” I asked, frowning at the brownish tube in her hand, with even lines up the side like a science class beaker. There wasn’t a needle attached, but otherwise it looked an awful lot like a used syringe. “Don’t touch that. Put it down somewhere and don’t touch it. Just throw it away.”
Great, I thought. The drawers are full of pipes, the cupboards are full of syringes, and we haven’t even gotten to the bathroom yet. There is probably a fully functional meth lab in the green 1970s bathtub. We could never walk barefoot in the apartment because there are used needles everywhere and there is a 90% chance of contracting blood borne pathogens from the contact paper under the silverware.
A police siren blared outside. And now we’re going to be arrested, I thought wearily. I washed my hands about six times even though I didn’t even touch the syringe, imagining little AIDS monsters swirling down the drain.
I remembered this dream I once had where someone stabbed my skull with a needle full of heroin.
“Hey! What did you do that for?” I moaned, rubbing the top of my head. “Now I’m going to get a venereal disease and a lifelong addiction.”
I stomped around for the rest of the dream slamming doors, flipping tables, and frowning mercilessly.
Now I’m piecing together the results of my investigation. Due to the scribble of blue marker on the TV stand that Dave accepted from the landlord, the previous tenant had a young child with an unschooled artistic flair.
Our apartment also has an adjoining nursery that the landlord has claimed as a storage room, which bolsters my speculation.
“Addicts don’t clean themselves,” my mom explained to us from under a Mexican blanket on the futon. “They think bathing ruins their high.”
I’m not sure who provided my mother with this little tidbit, but she seems to think the mysterious former tenant was a bit smelly. Based on the unneutered cat spraying all over the bedding, I cannot argue.
And my desk belonged to this person. Who knows what seedy business came to pass on this very keyboard tray, what terrible things that this manufactured pine surface once witnessed? Beyond this laptop is an aura of mystery that I shall penetrate, right after I wash my hands.