Where are we?
What the hell is going on?
The dust has only just begun to form
Crop circles in the carpet
Spin me round again
and rub my eyes
This can't be happening
When busy streets, a mess with people
would stop to hold their heads, heavy...
- Hide and Seek, Imogen Heap
She ran her hand along the smooth surface of his cleared off desk, fingers tracing through the thick layer of dust that had settled on the wood like shadowy snow. Every time they moved a stack of files or comic books it left a rectangular vacancy—an obvious demarcation of where his belongings had once been, and no longer were.
Everything in his apartment was covered in dust. The sparse empty space on his crowded desk, the top of his television, the lone book shelf, even the shade of his bedside lamp had a fuzzy glowing halo of dust around its edges. He just wasn't the kind of man to dust. He would sooner let the fine particles accumulate, and smother, than to take the time to carefully remove each stack of papers and wipe the surface with a smooth cloth.
Time, was always his excuse when she lifted a brow or made a sidelong comment about the state of his apartment. He didn't have the time. There were too many murders to solve, too few precious moments spent with Parker, to worry about trivial things like dishes and organizing months of old mail and dust. Especially the dust.
Too little time indeed. She had been there since the early morning, and now the sun was burning angrily through the slat blinds as it sank into the western horizon. All of the big things had been taken out—movers from Goodwill had picked up the ratty couch, the coffee table, the bed frame and mattress, the file cabinets dumped out into the middle of the living room floor. Everything had been emptied and dragged away, leaving indentations on the rugs and tell-tale rings in the thin layer of dirt and dust on the hardwood floor. Only echoes of what had been; just the frame of a gutted home.
All that remained now was the many small pieces—the stacks of mail and important old documents, once stashed in the towed-out file cabinets and now spilled out onto the floor like a heap of garbage, and a heap of books and a Bible and some old car magazines—small fragments of what had been a man, what had once been whole, reduced to a mound of detritus in an otherwise vacant space. Except for the desk.
She had asked them to leave the spindly wooden desk be, standing quietly in the corner of the room. The men shrugged and moved past it, grabbing the next piece of furniture, and when they left her alone in the apartment she had only the piles of folders and small drawers stuffed with a bizarre assortment of forgotten belongings to keep her company.
Now it was all that was left. Rebecca had picked up the personal belongings she thought Parker might want—including the comic book collection and, with an odd smirk on her face, the beer hat. Also, the small elderly woman next door who had always fancied Booth's mother's old flatware had gotten her wish—Angela had taken it upon herself to wash it and wrap it neatly in some of the old newspaper left in stacks by his front door, apparently never read. Too little time. With all those knick knacks and practical ornaments of a home removed, Seeley Joseph Booth was now a mountain of old documents, an old desk, and a lot of dust.
She slowly settled into the desk chair, resting her elbows on the surface and her face gently in her hands. Time was finally catching her. The length of the day, the paradox of how a week could both fly by in a blur, and pass with indescribably painful sloth. The moments were long, the steps were slow, the breaths were drawn out, but larger chunks of time—days, a week—were too fast to properly see.
It was as if she had just heard the news seconds ago, but six days without him had felt like a lifetime. And it would still be a lifetime yet to come. The true realization, the real magnitude of her loss, hadn't settled on her yet. After the infrastructure of her universe had imploded, in the brief moment after the doctor's apologetic sigh, her brain had snapped into a state of ultra-rational hyperfocus. It was all she could do. She called the funeral home, she helped a distraught Rebecca arrange the small ceremony, she organized the removal of his belongings from his apartment.
And now she sat at his desk, sifting through crumpled up old to-do lists and rubber bands and an empty box of Tic-Tacs. Focus. Direction. Necessity. Things had to be done, and who better to do them?
Within an hour the drawers were emptied, most of it trash, though she did find one or two little things she thought Parker might appreciate having. Now all she had to do was leave the empty desk out in the hallway—one of his down the hall neighbors had asked about it, and since it was either him or Goodwill, she granted his wish.
She grabbed onto one end of the piece of furniture and dragged it across the room, a deep grating sound echoing through the empty space as the legs dragged against the floor. She paused and took a breath, then propped the door open with her foot and pushed it out into the open hall. She looked down at its surface and thought briefly about grabbing the dust rag and wiping off the top, but then she realized that she honestly didn't care, so she left it be, letting herself back into the apartment and pressing the door shut behind her.
It was midnight before she had finally sorted through all of the debris in the middle of the floor. What was garbage she had bagged and dragged out to the dumpster behind the building. The books she boxed and carried down to her car, to take to the used bookstore at a later date. After reviewing his old documents and deciding which would be important to keep—the copy of his life insurance policy, and a few letters of commendation from former bosses that his son might someday want to read—she tore up and discarded the rest.
She tucked the important 'keep' papers into the Bible, and decided to drop it off at Rebecca's firm the next day. It was awkward seeing the woman, since they had never really known each other, and were only connected through a man they had both loved once.
Her breath caught in her chest at the thought, and she immediately restructured her thoughts. Focus. The room was empty. The kitchen was empty. His bedroom, his bathroom, the spare room, everything had been completely evacuated. There was nothing left to be done here. There was nothing else she could do. The dust could stay—the property manager would use his deposit to have the apartment cleaned before the next tenant moved in. It wasn't as if he'd be needing it back.
Breathe. Focus. Task at hand. There was no task—there was nothing left. Then, as she turned towards the door, she saw something out of the corner of her eye. It lay at the edge of the room where the lonely desk had stood, the only thing remaining. It had apparently fallen off the desk at some point and slid under it, invisible until now. She crossed the room and picked it up between her thumb and index finger, realizing it was a photograph, coated in dust.
They stood together in front of a bar, each with a drink in hand. His other arm was wrapped tightly around her shoulder, gripping her upper arm with his fingers, and she leaned her head in to lightly touch his. They both had rosy cheeks and an overjoyed look in their eyes—they were tipsy. Judging by the red and green lights illuminating the photo's blurry background, it was at their Christmas gathering last year.
She wiped the dust off of the photograph's slick surface with her t-shirt, giving the memory new clarity as her eyes slowly traced his frozen features. And as the dust cleared, she realized that this was the only way she would ever have him. This was all there was left.
It was then that she caved, cracked under the weight of what had just fallen upon her, the full hollowness within her revealed. And all the dust in the world couldn't cover it up.