As far as I can tell, Ed kept every birthday card and Valentine that he had received for the last fifteen years. Dozens of them—every expression of love or affection, any remembrance or acknowledgment, from anyone. I’ve kept all the cards he gave me because each one is unique—beautifully made, with a special verse. But I keep few others. Looking at the cards I gave him, I repeatedly told him that I loved him. “I love you,” I wrote. “Know you are loved,” I wrote.
Ed’s desk sits in the back room of the house, overlooking the garden and the meadow beyond. The desk is five feet wide by three feet deep, so it makes sense that the drawers would go all the way back, but I had never really thought about it: that you could stuff years of written memorabilia into them. But Ed the pack rat had got ahead on me on several fronts:
Stacks of magazines in the attic, created by Ed, the man who worried about fire. I recycle them immediately.
Fifty-one pairs of socks in a drawer, two with the label still on them. Four black, eight blue, thirteen brown, twelve “other,” and fourteen sport. In the back of the sock drawer is $42.50 in fives and ones in a Ziploc baggy, and $100 in twenties, held together with a paper clip. I transfer this money to my T-shirt drawer.
Twenty-two wine bottle corks in the kitchen miscellany drawer. Most of them French, but one each Budapest, Geyser Peak, Julius Echter Heffe-Weissbier, anonymous. Did he think he would use them again? Was it a reference library?
Fourteen shopping bag handles. I set out to keep a couple, then throw them all away.
But the desk, the desk. My thinking is I’ll use it now, I’ll start a real business, the way Ed did, and this will be my action central, as it was his. But I had no idea what an archaeological dig this old wooden desk would be, the desk that he bought at an auction one evening, back in the day when auctions sold furniture we could use and afford. On the left side, instead of drawers, is a contraption, an inner table on a spring on which you can keep a typewriter; this allowed the inventor of this desk to store more papers on its surface, I guess, and it’s a fortunate invention because it means there are only three drawers, on the right side of the desk, into which Ed could pack stuff, along with the vast top of it. We bought the computer together, ostensibly for both of us, though Ed used it most of the time. And surrounded it with his piles of paper.
I remind myself that my desk, upstairs, is something of a mess too, but I think my piles of paper go back only six weeks, not six months. Probably these papers are duplicates of what his clients have, but I should ask, be ready to mail things. “Maybe they’ll hire you,” my mother said on the phone from Key Biscayne, optimistic in her off-the-wall way. Ed’s clients would never hire me as Ed, but maybe if I’m helpful and well organized, I could pitch myself as a proofreader.
I’m labeling stacks of paper, whom to call about what, when at the bottom of a pile of stuff at the back of the desk I find a color printout. It’s smeary—color is not the strong point of our printer—but it’s clearly a boy, a young boy, in the nude, facing the camera.
Blond hair, brush cut, standing in the sun in the nude, full front, smeared, the colors haven’t come out well, there’s a lot of red, of blue. A thin boy, narrow chest, a boy, with a small prick, for peeing, not a teenager, younger than that, but not a little boy either, somewhere, somewhere in between, he stands there, staring at the camera, squinting into sun, smeared in color. He does not look comfortable; neither does he look surprised.
I do not know him. I take in his blurry face, his squint, his lips. This is no one I recognize.
I crumple the paper. I smooth it out again. I take it to the kitchen trash and look at it one more time before I tear it into tiny pieces.
I go back to the desk. My eyes are tearing, my throat aches, but I touch every single sheet of paper on the desk, all over again. An hour passes. There is nothing else like it.
What in the name of God was he thinking. We gave each other privacy. The picture lay on the desk. He counted on me not to look. He left it for me. He forgot it was there.
All those nice cards I received. “He called you ‘my Annie,’ wrote a physician on the EMT book.
No one said he loathed me.
I get up, stare out at the garden, the meadow. His Annie wasn’t enough. Is any of us ever enough? He would be mowing the meadow this month. He is gone. No discussion. No fight.
One picture does not make a pattern. But he printed it out. The computer may hold secrets. Up to me to find them, delete them; no one, not Jaime or Kathleen or Dave, can help with this.
Right now, no more secrets. I am terrified of the computer. I would put it onto Ed's office chair, wheel it to the trash can in the garage, but I can’t do anything to it until I look into it. Instead, I clean off his bulletin board, with its public display of schedules, letters, a few mementos, like the faded fortune from a Chinese cookie: “Many pleasurable and memorable adventures are in store for you.” We always added “in bed” to make the fortune more interesting. I crumple the slip of paper. And then I remember—
I worked the table for our Central America solidarity group at the county fair this past Labor Day Weekend. Taking a break, walking around the fair, I passed the gypsy fortune-teller booth. I’d never had my fortune told, mostly because I was too much of a chicken, but that day I felt ready, curious. I sat down and the man looked at my left palm, but before he said anything he got a call on his portable phone and began a conversation with someone in San Diego. I waited, sitting across from him, but he continued to talk, with no sign that he would ever stop. Finally I put a couple of dollars on the table and got up. I’ll do it, I’ll do it! called a woman sitting in back of him, but I was annoyed, so I left.
That evening I described my non-fortune to Ed. “He just kept talking,” I said, “as if I weren’t there.”
“Maybe he saw something he didn’t want to tell you,” said Ed.
Copyright © Debby Mayer