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Issue number six




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The Pens and the Books
by Sabina C. Becker

All around the square, pens and books are promenading in pairs. You can tell the young from the old easily here; young pens are all brim-full of ink and enthusiasm, their metal or celluloid cases still unscratched, unstained by the usage that time will give them soon enough. The young books, likewise, have covers of fine hand-tooled leather, or Chinese silk brocade, or glossy, gaily colored paper, unsmirched and unblotted; their pages are still unwritten upon, crisp white or delicate ivory in color, some lined and some blank, all eagerly awaiting the day a pen will first touch them to write, perhaps, something grand and deathless. These, too, will soon find themselves scribbled upon, perhaps by unscrupulous pens with minds of their own that run roughshod over everything; some will undoubtedly have whole pages, clusters of them perhaps, torn out in anger and frustration, until their spines sag and their stitching comes slowly unraveled, or their glue crumbles and they break along their bindings. Fewer than one pen in a hundred will come through years of usage retaining its original high polish without spilling a drop of errant ink; fewer than one book in a hundred will be written with love and without one torn or dog-eared page, or one blotted word. But on this fine fresh summer morning all such things seem far from the minds of the young pens and books as they stroll arm-in-arm, barely able to contain their impulse to sneer at the older couples whose usage is written all over them. How can they show themselves in the square, these ancients? And how can they hold themselves erect, with all their dings and dents and scratches and blots in evidence? It is as if they are oblivious to all their faults, the virginal young pens and books whisper disapprovingly to one another.

A pen and a book in the middle of the square are arguing. The young pen is angry. --Why, he asks his book-friend, will you not let me write upon you? I love you.

--I know, the book replies. But...

--But what? the pen asks, scornfully. --What more can I give you but myself, and all the ink and the words within me?

The book sighs. She had hoped it would never come to this. But she liked her pen-friend, even if she didn't love him, so she tolerated his presence without complaint or encouragement. She kept going out with him on Sundays, around and around the square, hoping perhaps to catch the eye of some finer, shinier pen, with more ink in his cartridge perhaps, or at least a flashier case, one who would leave his book for her and even convince her that she was setting her sights too low, one who could displace this perfectly nice--but oh, so ordinary--ballpoint pen from her affections. A gold fountain pen, handsome, eloquent and effusive--what book does not dream of being written upon by one of those?

--Well? the pen says. --I'm waiting.

--Yes, the book sighs.

--Yes what?

--Yes, you may write upon me.

There. The fateful consent has at last been given. It only remains now for them to find some quiet unoccupied table in a secluded nook, perhaps under an arbor tangled with clematis vines, where the sun filters greenly through leaves or purplish through petals. It ought to be a grand consummation. But the book is far from relieved; she is disconsolate. For she has long suspected that her companion's words in her will be trite as greeting-card verse. Perhaps even inarticulate, poorly spelled, syntactically inelegant, indifferently punctuated. Even before the cap comes off and the nib touches down to despoil her virginity with a wobbly scratch, she is painfully resigned to her semiliterate doom.

Meanwhile, around and around the square, the other books and pens parade, oblivious to her anguish and despair, for the older books are busy with their existing problems, while the younger ones are busy dreaming elaborately of writing and being written upon.

Sabina C. Becker lives in Cobourg, Ontario. Three of her stories, "Why They Juggle Fishes Here," "Writer's Block at the Café des Poètes," and "Waltzing Down a Ladder," have previously appeared in The Cafe Irreal. Her review "Dino Buzzati's 'The Falling Girl'" recently appeared in Irreal (Re)views #2.

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