When someone passes, they leave behind a thousand tiny unfinished things; half-full cans of beans, coffee rings, receipts and shampoo bottles and hair in the shower drain, a bedroom light left on, a sock in the back of the washer, the slightly irritating debris of everyday life. Sherlock is no different, except as well as all the normal relics there are other things, ridiculous things, cultures and test tubes and unidentified petri dishes that John has no idea what to do with.
Somehow these things become offensive to him. He is reminded of a documentary he once watched on the Mary Celeste, a ship from the 1800s that was found floating unmanned on the ocean with everything from meals to half-finished sewing left exactly in place, as if every passenger stood up as one and threw themselves overboard. He feels a stranger in his own shared space. He’d never really realised before how much room Sherlock took up; his clutter blankets the living room and kitchen (his bedroom is pristine), a hundred surfaces that John cannot touch because Sherlock has already claimed them.
Once he tries to find somewhere to put his tea and can’t find an available surface; he yells for Sherlock to come and shift some of his rubbish, and when there is no answer he is enraged— not because Sherlock is gone, but because he just left, and he could have at least cleaned up his mess before he threw himself off a roof. Before he can stop to think he has grabbed a bin bag and started throwing things in—wrappers and Rubix cubes and sheet music, a half-eaten biscuit, a glass he couldn’t bear to wash because it bore his fingerprint, all of the little signs that tell him that Sherlock will be back any moment, because they’re lying. He straightens Sherlock’s unmade bed, switches off the bathroom light that has been burning for god knows how long, clears the table, throws out the dirty washing (he could wash it, give it to charity, but the idea of someone else wearing Sherlock’s clothes makes him ill) and finally he stands barefoot in the living room with three bulging black bags at his feet, breathing hard and fighting back tears. Of all the things in the flat it is the empty chair opposite that stops him. For a wild moment he feels like throwing that away, too; like breaking off the legs and ripping open the cushions and tearing out the stuffing, burning it in a disused lot somewhere and scattering the ashes. But he doesn’t. Instead he realises that it’s pointless. He could rip up the carpet, tear down the wallpaper, leave nothing but a scarred and empty room and it wouldn’t make a bit of difference. The flat is no longer his. It’s Sherlock’s, probably always has been, and if he got rid of the chair where would Sherlock sit?