The Desk: Part 1

March 17, 2010

John stared at the desk. It was roughly three foot high and 4 foot across. He didn’t know if this was normal for a desk. He had never taken the time to measure out a variety of desks until he could come to an educated opinion as the ‘norm’ for desks. It was made of some high quality wood, as he had been assured by the salesman that this ensured that this desk was a truly superior desk to anything their competitors could offer and it could quite easily serve him well until the end of his days. Truly, this desk was some sort of ubermensch of desks, an uberdesk if you will, that John should frankly consider privileged to own. John wasn’t entirely aware what any of this meant. He just needed something to keep nick nacks and papers on. The surface was awfully smooth though, John thought, and he ascribed this to the aforementioned properties of the desk. Or maybe all desks were like this. He wasn’t sure. The idea of running tests on a variety of desks to make a fair comparison seemed like an interesting prospect but he ultimately dismissed it as a waste of time.

It resided just under his window in his small flat so John could look across the city while he worked. He wasn’t entirely sure what he was going to be working on but it was his understanding that that is what one did with desks. You worked with them. At the very least the television was just to his left when he sat at the desk so he could at least watch something while he worked on his mystery projects. The desk looked good here, he thought, very Fung Shway. He pretended he understood this and decided he had some skill with interior decorating and briefly considered going to some sort of art festival to find some sort of abstract art or amateur portrait to hang upon his walls to make himself seem more cultured. It was a very specific consideration as he decided that it would have to be some sort of landscape comprised of nothing but asymmetrical shapes of a variety of colours but none of them particularly bright or a smudged and very poorly defined watercolour portrait of a middle aged man who clearly did not pose for the picture but instead provided a photograph to work from. Or maybe a painting of a cat. Again, he dismissed this and sat at the desk.

It struck him again how very smooth it was. If he opened the window, he might trip over, fall onto the desk and the smoothness would make him just slide straight off and out of the window plummeting to his death from this seventh floor window. Mayhap this level of smoothness was in fact dangerous. Maybe he should return the desk and trade it for one that was not so smooth and was in fact just a regular desk. And then he could get a new bookshelf. Maybe he could find a new, cheaper desk after trading this dangerous uberdesk in and use the left over funds to buy a new bookshelf. He was caring a lot about his furniture. He wasn’t sure why.

Finally John decided that no, trading in this uberdesk would be a difficult procedure that would require a lot of slow carefully explained speeches to people who would not listen, a careful read over of shop policies on returning goods until he could find some sort of loophole or clear rule that specifically allowed him to return uberdesks for their original value which would require him to photocopy the receipt several times, post some of these copies to people high in the chain of desk command and use the rest of the copies to accost the customer service people until they submitted to his demands and let him return the uberdesk. He slapped himself mentally for referring to it as the uberdesk. He was buying into the salesman’s jargon. There was nothing special about this desk and he could not let the salesman get to him like that.

It had been a long day and he had to work the next day. John stood up, stared at the desk and retreated to his bedroom. He was too tired to bathe or prepare accordingly and instead just fell onto the springy mattress, drifting off shortly afterwards.The clock blinked that it was just past three in the morning. John stared at it, hoping in some way his hatred for both this time and the clock could somehow combine to send him straight back to sleep, destroy the clock and forever eliminate this time of the day from existence so that no one would ever have to know the misery of being awake at this time. He had given up on these late nights after leaving university. He did not have the time or energy to be awake at this time. He did not like being awake at this time. The clock blinked still.

Try as he might though, John could not go back to sleep. It was not the clock or the memories of university or the looming worry of work in the morning that bothered him. It was the desk. For some reason it was there in his mind, burrowing deeper into his thoughts. He couldn’t stop thinking about it. The straight legs, the mysterious wood, the ever so smooth surface. It haunted him and here, late at night when a thousand other worries should be taking precedence, it scared him more than anything in the world.

He sat up, a single bead of sweat trickling down his forehead. The room was dark but his eyes had adjusted. He stared at his door, suddenly aware it was all that separated him from the living room, from the TV near the window and from the desk. What could a desk do to him? It was an inanimate object made of wood and probably nails. He was worrying too much. He didn’t need to worry about it at all really. He could just lie down, go to sleep, and not worry about it at all. He had to go to work tomorrow and he needed his sleep. Yes. That is what he would do. He would go to sleep and then go to work and he would realise the desk would just slip from his mind.

Yes. That is what he would do.

John flicked the light switch on in the living room and sat down in his desk chair. The rigid, horribly broken back only made him more awake as he became painfully aware of all the places on his back he ignored until the chair brought them straight to the front of his mind. Here was the desk, straight in front of him. Outside the window was the orange glow of the city at night. Out there were thousands of people who could sleep. There were also probably thousands of people who weren’t asleep. John missed university sometimes.

He wiped his hand across the surface of the desk. It was still just as smooth as a few hours ago. He wasn’t sure what he expected really, that it would transform during the night into some kind of horrible monster that would devour him while he slept. Ah. Now he really wasn’t going to sleep. The desk would keep him awake until that precious hour he had to get ready for work, he knew it. Then he would fall asleep, oversleep, go to work in a horrible rush, get fired for being late, lose all his money, get tossed out on the street and the desk would still be here, mocking him. He had been told he needed to stop being this negative about everything, but John could not control his mind so easily.

He looked at the clock that hung lonely on the wall. Fifteen minutes more. He couldn’t afford to lose this much sleep. He needed sleep to get through the day, it was a vital part of his well-being much like food and water. He had read too many stories of people going insane from a lack of sleep and he couldn’t help but feel that he was already halfway there. Fifteen more minutes, he thought, and I will well and truly be mad. He wondered how he would go insane; would he start hearing voices, believe he was Jesus, go on a mad bloody rampage? Then he’d never get to work on time. He wanted to scream but he couldn’t wake the neighbours. The desk was silent.

‘John. John. Wake up.’

John’s eyes jumped awake. Oh that’s not good. If you’re in a situation where your eyes opening can be described as jumping that’s very not good. John quickly made a check of his surroundings. Cardboard boxes. Shelves. Stacks of books. Shirt that revealed just enough cleavage while still conforming to the uniform. Lingering just a little too long there.

‘John, get up.’
He was still resting his head on its side. Felt like wood beneath his cheek. Not very smooth wood, very grating. No John no, he thought, we have to get up, lift our head up and focus on the day’s tasks. We have things to do to make our wage so we can purchase the essentials of life and not starve.

A face lowered to his eye level now. Thick raven hair flopped over and she pushed it aside. John smiled unconsciously. Or was it consciously? Was he awake? Was he referring to himself in the third person? He wasn’t sure.
No, wait.
‘Oh Christ!’ This time it was John who spoke.
He shot upright, eyes wide and panic bubbling upwards from the bottom of his stomach. What time was it, where was he again, what did he have to do and oh good God on high did he drool while he slept?
‘Calm down, calm down. Bad night?’

This was Rachel. She was 24 and had worked here for three years now after finishing studying for a degree in sociology. John ran through this information in his head. Two years younger than him, worked here for a year less than him, no current boyfriend, enjoyed horror movies and musicals. His name was John, he liked card games and the theatre and his last girlfriend may have been an android.

‘John… John?’ Rachel said.
Yes, response. Prepare a response. Explain why you’re tired, again, and why you are actually doing whatever you’re meant to be doing and your plans to once again commence with whatever you’re meant to be doing.
‘I didn’t drool did I?’ Smooth John. Smooth.
‘No, don’t worry.’ She smiles. That’s good.
‘Okay. Okay. What was I doing?’
‘Sorting. Bad night?’ Interest seems honest, safe to proceed.
‘Yeah. Yeah. Never can sleep right. Always something.’
‘I think this is the fiftieth time I’ve woken you up in here.’ Another smile, good, good. ‘Want some help? It’s slow outside.’
‘Uh, yeah, thanks.’

They both set about taking a book out of one of the boxes and then putting on a shelf alphabetically. This is what they did every day, save for weekends when John had time off and Wednesday and Thursday when Rachel didn’t work. Occasionally, they would be asked to man a till and serve customers. This consisted of taking a book, scanning the barcode, typing the income and giving the customer the change the till told them they should give. John worried sometimes that if they ever made sentient tills they might cut his hours.

6:00 pm.
‘Hey, closing time. We all done here?’
‘For today for you, for the weekend for me.’
‘You can spend it sleeping.’ She winked.
A nervous laugh. ‘That’s what I do.’
‘It’s the weekend for me too.’
‘Oh really?’
‘Yeah. Susan and me are switching shifts now her husband can watch the kids at the weekend. Working same hours as you now.’
Phew, John thought. Susan was 39 and showing it yet still felt she was attractive and used a metric ton of make up to reinforce this. This meant two less days of her and two more days of Rachel. He could live with this.
‘So, any plans?’
‘Returning a desk.’


2 Responses to “The Desk: Part 1”

  1. Brian said

    Beautifully surreal. I like it.

  2. I have to make this quick, because I should have been getting ready to ship out twenty minutes ago, but here:

    Overall, I like this a lot. I like the idea of having a character stricken with genuine anxiety, and you do it very well. His reactions to the characters and to his situation seem quite natural, although his actual terror OF the desk seems a little out of place. If you could articulate why he’s scared of the desk, or at least submit that he doesn’t know, that would help the piece.

    Also, there’s a few redundant sentences where you’re trying too hard to establish events the reader can infer. For example: “Again, he dismissed this and sat at the desk.” Since he’s the viewpoint character, if he changes trains of thought, then we can probably figure out that he’s dismissing it. Even sitting at the desk isn’t strictly necessary, although if you described his seating himself as “uneasy,” or some milder flavor of this (such as having to shift to be comfortable), that would establish his fear of the desk.

    Anyway, keep this the HELL up.

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