There was no moving it. If it budged some, the thing would budge itself back. Men who lifted weights had come to the house with the intention of demonstrating their strength, and had left with strained back muscles and pulled hamstrings. She had thought she was done with it, this table made from some long-ago tree, its thick bulk docked in the heart of the dining room.
She had grown up with the table, sitting alongside its massive heft at every dinner, and now her parents were dead and they had left it for her. As a child, she had never considered that, for a family of three, the table was excessively large. Looking at it now, she saw that it could probably accommodate at least eight people, something it had never actually done, at least not during her years. The slab of wood used for its surface made no room for an additional leaf — it was a singular behemoth, ready for the work of elbows and cutlery. The thing had retained a gauzy sheen of varnish, dull at its perimeter and growing clearer toward the table’s center. It had been difficult to reach across, both arms out, for a serving tray or pitcher of water.
It was a good table for pillow forts. She remembered emptying the sofa of all its cushions and pulling out blankets from the closet in order to construct a hotel — the same hotel every time — with cells for rooms and each room inhabited by a stuffed rabbit or bear. There weren’t many friends to see the hotel. There had been Darcy Kjelgaard, but she was new to the neighborhood, and her parents had invited Darcy over because they too had a daughter and it was the polite thing to do. Darcy was tall for her age and had a bloody nose after bumping it on the table’s apron. A throw pillow, the ivory macramé one, had received Darcy’s blood before she’d pinched her nostrils shut.
The house was hers now too. It smelled of old paper, and she pulled back the dining room curtains and opened a window. Light made all the difference. It adjusted a person’s mood, but the mood of a hospital was impossible to adjust. There was light in a hospital but it was artificial light. Some rooms had windows that looked out on a parking lot or another building, and these windows did allow for natural light, but when a person is dying, natural light feels like a reminder of the world you’re leaving. Light extinguishes itself for a dying person, and then the space a family takes up in the world shrinks, and the world goes on.
Nothing about the table seemed to have shrunk. If anything, it seemed resistant to time and how it broke a body down. To her, the table possessed a separate version of time. It was its own cosmos, as when, during holidays, miniature white lights strung in the room reflected off its surface as stars in a vague galaxy. Once she had brought a step ladder in from the garage and climbed to its top, her hair brushing the ceiling, in order to take in the whole of it — the bottomless well of the wood’s burnished grain and how its contours opposed any attempt at memorizing their shape. What are you looking at? her father had said. I don’t know, she’d replied, and her father, in his annoying and forgivable way, had stated, You can’t look at an ‘I don’t know.’