The Dainty Desk
I suppose I need to go back to the beginning. When everything seemed so normal yet exciting at the same time. The first occurrence in the house.
I grew up in a borderline-ghetto neighborhood smack in the center of the Bronx in an area called Belmont, more nostalgically referred to as Little Italy. But be rest assured, the buildings were small, old, and the area over populated. The apartments were stuffy and infested with roaches and mice and other than the narrow sidewalks, there was nowhere to play. There’s nothing fun about hauling grocery bags up a four story building with no elevator or sitting on your stoop near mountains of garbage because the apartments lacked any air conditioning..
So I felt like I won the lottery when my parents took my younger brother and I to our new house in a much more affluent part of the Bronx. A private house, on a tree line street, and where the ants in the backyard were bigger than any ants I had ever seen. The apartment itself was not much different in size than the building we were in, but we had a porch and a full basement to play in. I felt we hit it rich. The word private sounded so provincial.
The neighborhood was a mix of Italians and Jews that tended to keep apart , yet live together harmoniously. Other than the Mezuzah , that the Jewish people kept on their front doors, you couldn’t tell who lived where. The houses were well kept. Flower pots overflowing with pansies, and the front gardens were well manicured.
All except our house, which needed a set of steps and a new screen door. The garden was nothing more than a collection of weeds so high that my brother and I were able to crawl in and remain totally camouflaged . I didn’t care. I’d pick yellow flowers and bring them inside, put them in a glass of water. In those early days, dandelions were actual flowers.
I had two neighbors. Carina lived on the left. She was an middle aged Italian woman who held a very high standing in the neighborhood. Anna lived on my right. An elderly Jewish woman who spoke with a heavy Polish accent. Carina was friendly, always giving me braided cookies or small mints wrapped in silver foil. But Anna didn’t care for my brother and I. The neighborhood was changing and the Jewish people were moving out. My family was a reminder of that. So when Anna saw us, she’d dart into her house and disappear with a swift slam of the door..
“She’s moving soon. Ignore her.” My father would warn us. “She’s an old lady so stay out of her way and be respectful.”
So that’s exactly what we did.
The man we had purchased our home from at an unbelievable price, was an elderly Jewish man by the name of Mr. Mel. To me he seemed to be a hundred years old. I had never seen anyone that age. So frail it seemed a strong cough would crack his ribs. He took us on the tour of the house that smelled of moth balls and chicken soup. He told us he was going to spend his last years in a retirement home and had asked if we wanted to purchase any of his furniture. Our own furniture was dowdy, mismatched, yet functional. My parents decided to purchase his bedroom set and a small dainty desk that my father had said reminded him of a desk he had in Italy prior to the war. It was a delicate piece of furniture, with brass pulls, dainty legs, and a small drawer with a golden keyhole in the center. I remember wondering if there was an actual key, and pulling at the draw to open it. It was locked.
I never saw Mr. Mel nor that desk again.
On move in day, the house was empty, except for the bedroom set. The desk was missing.
“Where is it?” My mother asked as she scanned each room trying to locate the desk. It was nowhere to be found.
Somehow in the shuffle of the move and all the other chaos that goes along with relocating, the desk was forgotten until one afternoon, the neighborhood italian women congregated on Carina’s porch clutching their supermarket bags. I was in earshot when I caught the odd conversation regarding the desk,
“I saw Anna enter the house and take it.” One of the women had said.
My mother’s expression was blank. We had been in the house for a few weeks at that point and during that time Anna, our elderly neighbor, had moved. “In the middle of the night”, was the term that was used.
“She’s so old.” My mother replied. “How could she carry it?”
“She did, she took it out, I asked her what she was doing it, or how she was able to get into the house, but she didn’t say anything, and took the desk home with her. It was the night before you moved in.” The conversation continued, as I listened curled up on a decrepit bench that lay on the porch. From what I could infer fron their conversation on that late summer day, the two elderly people were close friends and it was not uncommon to see Anna visit Mr. Mel. Why exactly she had gone over, after he had moved, seemed to be a question we would never find the answer for, yet has made me curious for years.
That night, I slept with the window open, overlooking our yard. I had become fascinated by the sounds of the crickets in the night. I fell asleep, and distinctly remember rolling over and pulling the blanket on my shoulder as we were ending the summer season and the nights were beginning to get cool. The blanket shifted, as if it were caught on something under the bed. I tugged back at it, pulling it up once more over my shoulders. I felt my eyes closing, as a breeze trickled over my face, but once again the blanket slipped off my shoulder.
I tugged once more. The banket felt as if it were caught on something. A shuffled upwards, tugging firmly when the blanket slipped out of my hand and fell to the floor. I gasped, sat up straight and froze. Not knowing what to do. I convinced myself that what had happened didn’t actually happen.
Reaching towards the floor I grabbed the blanket and tossed it back on the bed. Tucked myself in and lay staring at the ceiling. I remember looking at the waning moon through my window, when I felt something on my head. At first I thought it was merely my long hair, which at that time was waist long, shifting over the edge of the bed. But the sensation that followed terrified me. It was the distinct feeling of a cold hand, moving over my forehead and onto my face, clasping my chin. I leaped out of bed, and scampered into my parent’s room.
“Go to bed!” there was no arguing her. I knew that. I retreated to the hall and waited. “Are you in your room?” Came the follow up ordinance.
I went back to my room. Stared at the bed, the moon cast an eerie blue sheen to my pillow.
“Go to bed! ” Came one last demand from my mother. I entered slowly and crawled into bed. It was years before I ever told anyone that story….