All Stories by Jelena Zlatar

The Desk
By Underpass Editors Posted on: 11/10/2015

The desk was originally published in Croatian in Jelena Zlatar's book of short stories Odjavna karta /A Farewell Card (CeKaPe, Zagreb, 2014). Jelena Zlatar also created the accompanying artwork.

After his father’s death Bruno finally moved in with me. He was bringing in his things slowly and cautiously for days on end, placing them in the corner of the room that he had spontaneously made his own. Soon the corner became his little universe although there was only a desk with a computer on it, crammed with papers, pens, notebooks, lighters, and rolling tobacco. Around the computer, like on an altar, he arranged the little gifts I had given him: magnets with funny messages, a book about mountains, a photo of us making silly faces, and a small jar of sand from Tunisia.

Whenever he sat at the computer, it seemed to me that he felt relieved. It was as if a curtain had dropped between the two of us and he could, at last, sail into the starry night on his desk. I watched him, trying to guess what he would do in the night air, and what he would wish to return to. 

– “When I go somewhere, I can hardly wait to come back to you. Everybody else is boring,” he said.

I looked away in disbelief.

– “Honestly,” he continued. “I have never talked to anybody like I talk to you. I have never felt as close to anybody before.”

Still dismayed, I looked at him. It might be true, I thought. But is it important?

– “It’s hard for you to open up. The moment you reach out to me, you recoil, as if scorched by fire. Why?”

But I am trying hard, I wanted to say, I am doing my best.

– “You are sabotaging our relationship,” was his verdict.

I will try to be a more open person, I thought to myself. I do not want to spoil this.

My own desk was empty and white. As soon as something was left on it for longer than a couple of hours—a cup, a plate, or a book—I would remove the object and carefully clean the dust. Once, a friend of his was visiting. Looking at our desks he simply said: “I like Bruno’s desk better. It’s more lifelike.”

It really was. Dirty coffee cups, bits of tobacco, crumpled papers. I did not mess with Bruno’s desk. If I had to dust it, I was careful not to make any changes. Still, he noticed everything.  

– “You have cleaned my desk!” he said sternly and I knew I had committed an offense.

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