For ten years, my father’s furniture and books lurked in the study he abandoned. I don’t remember a time when we thought he might come back, but his belongings were like a bookmark, holding a place in our lives, until Mom found out he’d moved to London. She decided to reclaim the place his absence had haunted all these years. In that brisk, decisive way of hers, she said, “Well, that’s that. The room is yours, Rosemary, if you want it.”
Of course I wanted it. It was twice the size of my old room, with three big windows that looked out on the river. Mom made phone calls, and men stomped up and down the stairs, and tape squawked out of its dispenser and over boxes. Then my father’s possessions were gone, replaced by my bedroom furniture, its bright colors catching light that hadn’t found this room for a long time. The big second-floor room at the front of the house was mine.
After the movers got the heavy stuff in place, Adam and Shelby came over to help lug armfuls of my life down the hall.
Adam kept pausing to reorganize my boxes. “Why would you put socks and colored pencils together?”
“I was just trying to make it easier to carry stuff.”
He snatched the pencils from the box.
Shelby chattered easily about this book and that one. “Oh, I remember when we all read this.” She pointed her chin at the battered book on top of the tottering stack she was carrying. “Don’t you? It was summer, and Adam thought it would be boring and didn’t want to read it, but then he did, and he couldn’t put it down, and then we all read it again. And a third time, I think.”
“I didn’t think it would be boring!” Adam was sitting on the floor refolding my shirts.
“You did!” I remembered. “You didn’t want to read a book with an old guy on the cover.”
Shelby set the books on the floor between my bed and a broad bookcase, the only piece of my father’s furniture I had kept. The stack slumped against the wall, the familiar covers fanned out in a welcoming display.
We must have done stuff other than read and reread that book, but when I reach into my memory, the book frames the hot, lazy months of that summer, the first one when Shelby was old enough to be responsible for us and we didn’t have adults trailing us everywhere. Adam and I were nine, so Shelby was twelve, a year younger than we are now.
Adam squared a box of school supplies against the edge of the desk. “I didn’t have a problem with the old guy. I just wanted to read different stuff from Shelby.”
“Michelle,” Shelby corrected, pulling her long hair into a messy knot on top of her head, which made her look older. She’d lately been insisting we use her full name. “It really is a great room,” she said, but her attention was on her phone, and her thumbs flew as she texted.
I was suddenly exhausted. “Now that everything’s here, we can set it up tomorrow,” I said. “If you want to come back.”
Shelby stretched, her side arcing in a graceful curve. “I think I’m going to a movie with some people . . .”
I wondered if “some people” was John, but it would have been weird to ask. A stabby ache filled in the space where Shelby used to be when it was the three of us all the time, before Shelby, or Michelle, was always busy with John or Pam and Maria or people I didn’t even know.
Shelby called one of her friends as she and Adam started down the stairs, and annoyance flicked across his face, but by the time they got to the front door, he was listing his ideas for how to organize my stuff. Shelby was changing, but Adam remained the same as when we were little and he always wanted to sort Legos—not build anything, just sort them by size or color or whatever. As they stepped out into the crisp December twilight, I knew he was mentally categorizing all my things into the color-coded bins that live in his head.
So now I lean against the door frame, waiting for Adam, not quite letting myself hope that Shelby will come too. I’ve put away my books and most of my clothes, but I can’t face doing any more on my own. Something inside me tries to shuffle out of the way so I can feel at home here, but the room isn’t mine. Not yet.
Now that most of my dad’s stuff is gone, I miss it. I really only know him through the things he left behind. He liked a big, heavy desk, and he kept a lot of books from English classes in college, and he put up a big copy of that annoying Escher print with the stairs that go around and around forever. Those things defined him once, giving me something to latch on to. But now I understand that those are the things he didn’t care enough about to take with him.
He probably has a new desk and new books now. Maybe even a new copy of the print. Maybe he gets a new one every time he moves. Endless copies of endless stairs.
I wasn’t sorry to see the print tossed into the charity truck, which was overflowing with naked baby dolls and sagging couches. My father’s well-made Scandinavian desk looked sad and exposed in that truck.
Then there were the books. A battered hardcover Norton Anthology of English Literature with thin, translucent pages and a big, brown Riverside Shakespeare had stood like guards at either end of a long shelf. In between was a group of Dickens novels with black covers. Each one had a crease in the spine less than half an inch in, like he read around a hundred pages and then gave up.
I can’t imagine having once loved certain books and not loving them anymore. In a way, you are what you read, so abandoning books is the same thing as abandoning a part of yourself. And the truth is that his leaving the books behind baffled me more than his leaving Mom and me behind.
So, when Mom said she’d pack up the books for the library book sale, my heart clenched, and I replied without thinking, “No. I want them,” but I didn’t really want them. I just wanted them to be wanted.
Now his books sit like intruders in the familiar landscape of my books. Saving them was the right thing to do, but they keep my father’s absence present in the room.
Downstairs, the front door opens, and Adam calls, “Hello?”
“Come on in, you two,” Mom answers. “Rosie’s up in her new room.”
I stop myself from bounding down to the foyer. Instead, I inspect the arrangement of the furniture and hope that Adam and Shelby will help me make the room my own. My bed stretches under two windows, and my dresser sits below the third window. The huge bookcase runs all the way from the bed to the far wall, where it meets a built-in cupboard. Maybe a room is like new shoes—it’ll be a little uncomfortable until I break it in.