by Prisha Mehta
The desk resides in her father’s study, just beside the great panel of floor-to-ceiling windows, and as she crouches beneath it, the embers of the dying sun spill across the wooden tabletop and glance across the side of her face. She’s enveloped by solid oak on three sides and framed in thin sunlight on the last, and if she bends down and tilts her head just so, she can peer out at the room through the crack between the desk and the hardwood floor. The air is rich with the familiar scents of old wood and dried honeysuckle, and as she lowers her head to the ground, the light licks at the wisps of her blonde hair and ripples across the seams of her white frock.
She can hear the steady, shuffling click of her father’s loafers, growing louder and louder on the hardwood floor, and with her face pressed into the ground, she can see the movement of his baggy trousers. Coming around the desk, he pauses, and as his tired eyes drift, they catch sight of her. The rough lines of his face soften in the sun, and though his eyes seem to sigh from behind his wire-rimmed spectacles, a smile tugs at his voice when he speaks.
“And what are we doing under the desk?”
No response; just a mischievous smile that draws out his own. Chuckling, he lifts her up and stands her up on his chair. Particles of dust play in the sunlight around her.
“Eliza, do me a favor and never grow up.”
But she does; her blonde hair grows out and darkens, and girlish wisps turn to rolling waves. She leaves behind sundresses for t-shirts and jeans. Her first fallen tooth, first camping trip, first bike. First day of school, and from then on, both homework and height seem to double with each passing year. By the time elementary graduation rolls around, she can no longer tuck herself into the space under her father’s desk. She always seems to be busy, first with middle school, then with high; and then, at last, she’s off to college. As work increases, visits become less frequent; promises are broken and newer, emptier ones made.
A few years later, she comes back to a sick father and a house that’s just a bit smaller than she remembers it. The doctor says he needs sunlight and fresh air, so his bed is moved into the window-lined study, and the ancient desk is hastily pushed into the corner, out of the reach of the sunlight.
“You need to grow up, Eliza,” her mother tells her. “We all do.”
But she can’t now, and when there is no breath in his eyes, no beat in his heart—she can’t then, either. The desk lies to the side, stone cold. Hiding in the shadows.
He leaves it to her in his will; of course he does. It groans against the hardwood floor when she and her brother drag it out of the room, as if it’s pleading to stay in the past, in the sunlight. She almost feels guilty for pulling it away; she can relate, after all.
“Doesn’t it stand out a bit?” her roommate asks when they cart it through the door of her apartment the next day. Even as she sets it down next to the window, she knows she’s right. It looks strange against the sleek walls, the curved white couch, the artistic glass coffee table; it’s a relic from another time. So, the next day, she does something about it.
The white paint has been peeling ever since she layered it on, and it clings to her palm when she brushes against it. She doesn’t mind it; she likes to think of the small white flakes as lost thoughts, snatched up in the elusive tide of memory.
But when the afternoon sun streams in through the window, it’s not the paint that it catches, but the solid oak underneath, and she finds herself wishing that she could crawl underneath it again, wrapped in thin sunlight, listening to the sound of her father’s loafers tapping against the floor. Even now, it smells, ever so faintly, of honeysuckle.
Prisha Mehta is a high school student in New Jersey, and she is very passionate about her writing. She aspires to be a successful author one day, and she has won many writing awards, including a Scholastic National Gold Medal. Her work has been published in Spaceports and Spidersilk, Asymmetry, Ginosko, Blue Marble Review, Stinkwaves, Riggwelter, Drabble, Body Without Organs and is forthcoming in Gravel and Spelk. You can find out more about her at prishamehta.com.