Eleanor was happy to be home.
Her small (although she prefers the word comfortable) apartment served as a silent sanctuary in a world that seemed all too loud most days for Eleanor. The walkway that laid behind her front door was welcoming, the light wood flooring that spread throughout her studio apartment freshly polished (Eleanor had used almost an entire bottle of Pinesol to clean them last Sunday, as she did every Sunday). The walls were painted a pleasing color of yellow, resembling the dainty yellow rose that grew on the corner of her apartment complex’s building every spring.
While Eleanor loved everything about her apartment, there was only one thing within it that she simply adored: her desk. Eleanor’s desk sat against the central wall of her living room where the entertainment center used to be (she asked her landlord to remove it when she first moved in–she had little interest in television).
Eleanor found the desk at a thrift store several years ago. Once she laid eyes on it, she knew that the feelings in her chest could only be those occurring in a true moment of love at first sight. The desk was constructed out of dark, solid wood. It was simple and sturdy, just like her.
It spoke to her.
Eleanor was a quiet woman. She was a secretary on the top floor of an office building, not interested in dating men (or anyone, for that matter), had very few friends (it was easier to keep your circle small, right?), and, in truth, despised most human interaction. Coworkers described her as tidy, reserved, and put together–many of them thinking Eleanor almost too put together. Eleanor would agree, and she liked it that way.
But to truly understand the entity that is Eleanor, you must understand one thing about her: she is a writer. Or at least she believed she was meant to be one. The thing is, Eleanor has never actually written anything.
Much of Eleanor’s life consisted of sitting at her beloved desk, pen in hand, with begging pages blank before her. It would usually stay that way: Eleanor, still seated at her desk, pen in hand, the pages as blank her mind while the sun rose or set upon her yellow walls. It is unclear to many, maybe even Eleanor, what brings her to her desk. It is, however, clear to all that her innocent desire to be a writer (preferably the best there has ever been) has shifted into a miserable obsession.
But tonight would be different. Eleanor knew it would be. The world had not been quite as loud for her today; voices in the office were less vociferous, the trill of ringing phones more reserved, and the thought of passing people on the street during her walk home seemed less poignant. Of course, her apartment still held its reliable silence, as she knew it always would. It was the world – a place much too disorderly, much too unpredictable for Eleanor – that was unusually quiet this afternoon. This alone sparked something within her. She knew that something was speaking to her – no, imploring her – to write. Tonight would be different.
Still in her work clothes, a white blouse (recently dry cleaned), a black blazer, and black slacks to match, Eleanor sat down at her desk.
She picked up her fountain pen, the ink within it still unused after all these years, and placed the pointed tip on the paper.
Before her hand could perform the unfamiliar motion of writing words on paper, an all too familiar voice awoke somewhere within Eleanor.
“Stupid girl.” said a quiet voice.
Eleanor’s body froze as it always did whenever the voice would come. Its presence, neither here nor there, was suffocating.
She believed tonight would be different. After experiencing such silence all day, how could it be that tonight would not be the same?
Eleanor felt her eyes glaze over as she stared into nothingness, their functions almost as paralyzed as the rest of her physical movement. Her body rang with the voice’s words. The world that belonged to the desk, one she so wished belonged to her, became fuzzy and indistinct. Any noise that had previously existed in her apartment was now silenced. All she could hear was the empty space.
In the same way it had spoken to Eleanor that day in the thrift store many years ago, the Desk spoke to her now.
The relationship between Eleanor and her desk has been a rocky one. As time went on, the Desk grew louder and louder; the Desk made fun of those who entered Eleanor’s apartment–the maintenance man or mail carriers. Soon after, it began making fun of her. Her appearance, her mistakes. Always reminding her of how silly her dream was. She was not a writer, as the Desk was ever sure to make clear to Eleanor. The seed of love that Eleanor had for the Desk she brought home has since rotted.
After speaking, the Desk could tell that Eleanor was shocked by its presence. How could she still be so stunned? It spoke each and every time she sat down to write. A stupid girl she was, to still be so shaken.
“You cannot write, Eleanor,” the Desk reminded her. “You have never written anything worth sharing with the world. Why do you try?” Before the Desk continued on, it clicked its tongue in disapproval as if a disappointed mother. “Stupid, stupid girl.”
Before Eleanor could fall completely into numbness and incapability, she felt her body begin to move. Eleanor couldn’t tell if she’d done this or if it resulted from some other force in the universe, but her body rose from the chair and took Eleanor to the small stereo that sat in the corner of her living room.
Eleanor hit the ON button with such force she could almost feel the weight of her hand fracture the gray plastic frame of the stereo. Immediately, music began to play. She twisted the volume knob, with purpose, to the maximum. The echoes of heavy drums and guitar filled the room–so much so that Eleanor could have sworn they sucked all of the air out of that space. She marched back to her desk.
Tonight would be different.
Once seated, Eleanor picked up her pen, and placed its tip upon the starved sheet of paper. The Desk chimed in once again.
“Eleanor. Put the pen down. Whatever words you write, or whatever words you think you are going to write, they are not worth it. Put the pen down.”
Eleanor felt all of the blood within her small frame; she almost vibrated with anger.
Tonight would be different.
This was the first time Eleanor had ever spoken to the Desk. Both entities were surprised, particularly by force behind the small word that left her lips.
“No?” The Desk challenged. “My, my, stupid girl. It is nice to finally stop hearing myself talk.” The Desk’s words gave way to malign laughter.
“No. No, no, no, no,” Eleanor said, her words overlapping with the Desk’s continuous cackle. She rose once again, this time with no help at all, and walked to the record player perched atop a shelf on the opposite end of the room.
She pulled a record from the wicker basket beside the record player and placed it on the turntable. Music erupted out of the antique Crosley (another one of Eleanor’s thrift store finds). Gleeful trumpeting clashed roughly with the disorderly drums of the stereo, and the spritely stand-up bass combatted with the electric guitar.
Eleanor ran back to her desk, hoping to beat the next remark.
She sat down and clenched the pen between her fingers, her knuckles turning white under the pressure of her desire.
Before Eleanor could make another unsatisfying attempt to mark the paper, she heard something over the self-inflicted chaos. Not an additional musical ensemble, but the electronic ring of her cellphone–a noise that Eleanor wasn’t all too used to hearing.
She walked over to the coffee table where she had placed her phone after work (where it would usually remain untouched) and saw that Olive, a coworker of Eleanor’s, was attempting to reach her.
Olive had always kept an eye on Eleanor in the office. A part of her felt saddened whenever she saw Eleanor. Like a wounded bird; beautiful, dainty, but hurt by something that she couldn’t fix on her own.
“Hello?” Eleanor’s words came out exasperated as if she had just gotten off of a treadmill. In a way, she hoped that’s what Olive would think. (Normal people work out, right?)
“Hey, Eleanor!” Olive replied in her chipper way. Before Eleanor could reply with a customary “hi, how are you?”, Olive continued.
“So, some of the girls and I are going out tonight to grab some drinks at that little bar downtown. You know, the one that just opened up? With the mural on the side? I looked at it online, and the inside is adorable! Very clean looking, super chic.”
“Oh, yes, I know the one that you’re talking about. It does look quite tidy. Well, as tidy as a bar can look.” Eleanor replied.
Olive let out a laugh. Although Eleanor didn’t mean to make a joke, she knew Olive’s laughter was genuine. “Why, yes, it is! Anyway, I was wondering if you would be interested in joining us. I could use someone like you there – some of those women just seem a little too… I don’t know… fake? But now isn’t the time for gossip,” Another laugh left Olive’s lips. Eleanor herself couldn’t help but smile.
“So,” Olive continued, “Would you like to come with? Like I said, I’d really enjoy it if you came to keep me company among the other monsters, I mean, ahem, women.” Olive laughed.
Eleanor looked down at the floor while Olive’s question hung in the air. The invitation almost seemed too good to be true. Could it be that someone actually wanted her to keep them company?
Before she could answer this question for herself, the Desk spoke up.
“No. Eleanor, think of all the work that you could get done here. Plus, you and I just started speaking to each other. It would be rude to leave a friend on such short notice.”
Eleanor felt whatever words she had for Olive creep back into her stomach, where they jumbled into a knot. She wanted to go, but the Desk was right. Work was to be done.
“Oh, Olive.” said Eleanor, “I appreciate your offer, truly I do, but I have so much work here to do tonight.” Eleanor bit at her nails. The knot in her stomach grew bigger. “It’s been bothering me since I got home from work.”
Eleanor swatted at the words of the Desk as if they were a fly.
Olive let out a disappointed sigh, as real as the laughter earlier. “Well, alright… I understand. Just know that I’ll miss you!”
Eleanor couldn’t believe it. Miss her?
“Lie. She’s a liar.”
“Thank you again, Olive,” Eleanor said quietly, stung by the Desk’s words.
“Of course! I’m sure things can get pretty quiet on your side of town.” Olive said.
If only she knew, thought Eleanor.
“But please,” Olive continued, “do call me back if things get too quiet. I’m sure I will still need someone to help me fend off the monsters that will be in my presence. Promise you will call if you change your mind?”
“Yes, I promise,” Eleanor said.
The knot in Eleanor’s stomach found its way to her throat. It burned, so much, so hot. Tears began to poke at the back of her eyes.
“Perfect! I hope you end up calling. Do take care, Eleanor. Talk soon.” said Olive.
The two women exchanged goodbyes, and Eleanor sat in the familiar, deafening silence. It seemed to last hours, but Eleanor knew it was only moments. The Desk broke the quiet with words that only Eleanor could hear.
“My, stupid girl,” the Desk sighed from across the room. “I know what you’re thinking. I always do. And that girl, Olive, is a liar. She is not your friend, nor does she want to be. When will you realize that it is only you and I?”
Eleanor’s gaze shifted. She looked at the Desk, something that she used to adore, something that once seemed to promise her the opportunity to be something more, with hatred.
She hated that Desk.
With every word the Desk spoke to her, the yellow walls seemed to dim. Her wood floors seemed to rot. Her once welcoming walkway seemed to look more like an exit. Eleanor hated this apartment, for all that it was–a facade; more cheap, stuffed, and dirty the longer she looked at it. Life here was a museum of lost words, lost thoughts, and lost chances. The Desk was to blame.
Eleanor rose from the couch, leaving the indent of her body behind.
Tonight would be different.
She found the drawer in her kitchen containing the sticky notes she’d scribble her grocery lists onto, seemingly the only thing Eleanor wrote on these days. She grabbed a ballpoint pen (accidentally taken from her local bank after signing a check) and began to write.
As if conducting a symphony, Eleanor swept the pen across the sticky note’s bright pink surface and wrote. Words flowed so flawlessly from her hand it felt like she was pouring them out onto the counter, sliding down to the floor. It did not take long to write what she did. She was certain of the message, but had kept it hidden nonetheless.
Sticky note still in hand, Eleanor grabbed her coat from the hook and slid on the black kitten heels that she’d worn to work earlier that day. She could hear the Desk asking her questions like, where do you think you’re going? and do you know how much work you need to get done tonight? But for the first time, its words did not deafen her.
Looking as she did when she left for work this morning, Eleanor stared at the Desk. She felt it stare back.
Eleanor’s heels clicked against her wood floors as she approached. She stood, upward in stature and exuding supremacy, before placing the pink sticky note on the surface of the Desk, her fingers moving smoothly over the adhesive to ensure that it would stick.
Eleanor took a step back and admired her work. It was beautiful–the best thing she had ever written, possibly the best thing that had ever been written by anyone in this world. Her words came together effortlessly, complementing each other as if they were friends who called each other sisters. She felt love for her words, and the words felt love for her.
Before Eleanor left to meet Olive, she read them aloud to herself.
“NOT A STUPID GIRL.”