Sunday, 29 May 2011 02:30
By SA Dixon
She handed me another page to fill out, and I winced just slightly since the pen I’d just borrowed from her was already destined for my house, tucked inside the dingy blue knapsack that toted my $800 computer around.
The pen was in a happier place, I told myself, far from the disposable hands that emptied it onto library application forms with cheerful abandon, ignorant to the fact that they could have applied online, saving the world gas and ink.
I’d snatched the pen for more selfish reasons however. But what if this had been that lady's favourite pen, a small voice I sometimes called my conscience pondered. Suppose writing with it had made her think how happy she would be if her kids or her marriage or her dentist
appointments would just flow as smoothly? She may have thought of taking it home herself, but her own conscience valiantly stopped her. Well, in any case, she would never see it again, another voice I called So What? shot back, especially since she was dumb enough to lend it to me to
I didn’t usually take things. I’d never been photographed without a haircut and a smile. Pens today, copy paper the
next, my conscience warned. But it was too late.
A rare commentator who lived in left field chimed in to ask whether I’d considered putting this new stylus on ebay.
One average looking receptionist’s writing instrument
stolen yesterday from a Johnson County Library… Priceless. With the stuff I’d seen on ebay, it wasn’t impossible, so I told So What? to leave him alone.
I'd sort of known this wasn’t the give-away type of pen. Not like the ones in my glove box that screamed Kansas City Credit Union and reminded me of my dismal bank balance whenever I reached for a tissue. Those had just asked to be taken, sitting in that little cup on the desk by the tellers. And so I took a few. Why do companies think putting their name on a pen can lure customers anyway?
Like what you write with will become the next what do you drive? And people will be so impressed with me in general
they’ll take advice from my pen? Not if they overheard the glove box discussing my bank balance.
I don't feel all that bad about stealing the library pen anyway. If I were my sister, it would have been easier, since she’s the one with a condiment cupboard dripping with stuff from just about every major restaurant chain in the US. Not even her Tabasco came from the supermarket, and her salt and pepper grinders say Red Lobster.
If I was lucky, and the librarian had a bad memory, she’d think one of the old people had taken it. Like that one with
the hair rinse that matched her faded denim jacket a bit too closely. Maybe the desk clerk had seen Dirty Dancing a
few too many times and thought all old folks were closet pickpockets and stationery snatchers.
She should be happy for the pen – kind of. It could have ended up elsewhere. Like listing body parts in a serial killer’s freezer, or poking through someone’s ear wax at this very minute.
Could I not afford my own pens? That’s nonsense. I have pens in 16 colours at home on my desk right now – not including your run-of-the-office black and blue ones.
Had I stolen other pens? Not that I remember. This was my first willful theft – of a writing tool at least. I had filched a
tube of lipstick as a child though. That kid had wondered what would happen if nobody else was in the room with
things they should have been watching. And so the lipstick got pocketed. But I didn’t really use lipstick back then. Or
So why this pen? It’s simple. Kind of. And it makes sense. Kind of. About six months ago, my father-in-law had been sitting at his desk when I needed to make a note of something. It’s not technically stealing if it’s from family;
that’s what my sister says. And Dad’s a bulk shopper anyway, so if he had one, he had 100. He’s also over 70, so
he wouldn’t remember lending me a pen. He’d just fish into his stash and grab a new one.
But it turns out the pen he gave me was THE pen. Not just an ink tube surrounded with clear plastic mind you, but the
one I’d been searching for since December to puncture my writer’s block and get my juices flowing. It would shape
letters of perfection while keeping up with my thoughts and equally bent fingers.
But before I could take note of its brand and model, and perhaps order in bulk myself, or sniff out my father-in-law’s stash, it disappeared. I suspect my mother took it. She has what I call travelling hand syndrome. Whatever
happens to be in her hands, whether coffee mug, spoon, or writer’s block eating pen, goes wherever she’s going. And
doesn’t usually come back.
I’d thought never to see the pen again, and that’s when I started investing in coloured ink, thinking this might be a
worthwhile substitute. I’d been satisfied until today, when I started filling out the form in the library and paused,
creasing my forehead ever-so-slightly, since this was also THE pen. Except my mother hadn’t been to this library, I
don’t think, so it was just a happy sacrificial replacement. I noticed how familiarly divine I felt writing my name, address, and telephone number at that too-small red library table, and the So What? part of me just got to plotting.
It wasn’t an expensive pen. Nothing fancy. Like who would give someone who works in a library an expensive pen?
It was just a Pilot G-2 07. But it had heaven written in invisible ink along the other side. And I needed it to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
See, this is why bank tellers tie their pens to the space in front of their cubicles. But somehow these pens are never
working, so the teller still has to hand you another one, and voila, if you’re in America, you can just not give it back.
In fact, in this country you can be so bold as to completely
ignore the pen tethered in front of you, ask for a different one, which the teller must give you - or you whisper the word supervisor - and then just take that one home.
Where I’m from, bosses get tired of seeing Pilot and Papermate in their budget, so bankers, insurance agents, what have you, all have a monthly pen allocation, after which they will be required to stock their own. And with the cost of ink and everything else on the rise, no one’s going to let a pen slip away lightly. If it does, they make a point of telling the next person what just happened, so you won't figure you can do it too.
I still think it’s amazing how the library will let just about anybody become a member, without even a record check
on your relationships with books, or asking whether you’ve ever rolled one up and stuck it in your back pocket, or
given it dog ears without even checking around for a bookmark. Most library books I’ve seen look healthy for the most part though, so perhaps the library isn’t doing such a bad job.
Which makes what you just did so sinister, my conscience interjected. I was ashamed to admit it, even to Con, but I’d
been obsessing ever so slightly about the pen that could have been. I’d walked it back to the checkout desk, like I’d
meant to return it, then slipped the form across the counter and tucked the pen into the knapsack pocket furthest away from the librarian’s view.
That had been fine, until she handed me a library card I was
supposed to sign. I had empty fingers, and she’d caught me, even if she couldn’t say so. There was that moment though, when her eyes squinted the tiniest bit as she recalled giving me something to write with a few minutes earlier.
She reached forward and plucked a different, less perfect pen from beneath her monitor, and handed it to me with no
hesitation. What a woman.
After I made a scrawl at the back of the blue-and-white card, I pushed everything back towards her, with the unimportant pen displayed prominently on top. Then I realized the library card was mine, so I picked it up and
made a run for it.
I’ve since used that pen to create this story, which proves I wasn’t just imagining its potential.
But the really weird thing is, when I went to take that Pilot G-2 07 from my bag the other day, there were two of them
in there. Now when did that happen?
SA Dixon is an Antiguan-born author living in Kansas City, Missouri. She has previously focused on non-fiction, but has lately been concentrating on delving into more imaginative works.