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Negative Space II
The second episode of our Tuesday serial
from the fountain pen of Myra Love
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 Chapter II

Jason didn't make it easy for me. From the first time I met him, he was asking me difficult questions and challenging me to think about things I'd put out of mind because thinking about them was just too hard.
I'd started collecting old pens, fountain pens and dip pens, when I was twelve. I used to work with some of my relatives at local flea markets. Aunt Lily and mom ran a concession stand and my uncles and dad sold junk they'd picked up as part of their hauling and dumping business. Collecting pens started out as a way to get drawing implements without having to spend much money. At first I used fountain pens as if they were dip pens, but then a customer showed me how they filled. Of course, most of mine didn't fill. So the next time I saw him, I asked him if he knew how to fix them, and he pointed out someone who was a member of the pen club. That was how I joined the pen club and got started repairing pens. I still use them mostly to draw. I do a lot of drawing and I always have. At school we used to have art classes, and I loved them. I was pretty upset when the board of education cut them off because there was just no money to hire an art teacher.
Not long after I got to know Jason at the pen club, he told me about an art class offered in town. "It's pretty inexpensive," he said, "and the teacher is an old guy whose stuff used to hang in a couple of galleries in Chicago. He's a bit of a grump but a good teacher from what I've heard."
I told him I'd think about taking the class, but I knew that with school, chores, and my part-time jobs, I just wouldn't be able to fit it in. And anyway, cheap is not free, and I had no money to spare for art lessons.
"But Lisa," he protested, "you're good. With training you could be very good. And you really love to draw."
I just shrugged and changed the subject. He didn't want to let it go though. Finally I had to tell him that I'd just leave if he didn't let up about the damned art class. I did that a lot.
The same thing happened when he found out that I'd studied karate when I was in grade school. The lessons were free, and I enjoyed the precision of the martial arts.
"Wow! You got a brown belt by the time you were ten?" Jason was impressed. "Why don't you take it up again? You could get a black belt for sure."
It wasn't that Jason was unaware of how little money I had or couldn't understand what it meant to have to scrimp and save. His mom is a freelance cartoonist and makes next to nothing a week. Sometimes Jason used to bag at the supermarket in town for extra money, but his earnings were his own and he could do with them what he wanted. Within reason, of course. My earnings went to my family. But the big difference between us wasn't our financial situation so much as how we dealt with it. Jason was stubborn. If he wanted to do something, he did it. Mostly he didn't have to push too hard because his mom was open to his doing what he wanted. He told me that he'd spent most of his life since he was ten in a funk because of his grandfather's death and barely did anything except run. But that had changed, he said, mainly due to Miss Carswell.
I knew the story of how he and Miss Carswell got to know each other, of course. The whole pen club did. In fact, Jason was sort of a celebrity in town when I first met him, famous really, or at least as famous as a high school senior could be without having killed someone. I don't really know what I expected when I was introduced to him, but it wasn't a shy, smart, funny guy who'd never even dated anyone.
"Hey," he told me when I made some comment about his reputation, "I'm not the hero of the story. Miss Carswell is. Or maybe both Miss Carswell and my grandfather's poor, deceased Esterbrook, may it rest in peace." We'd laughed then, but I didn't really take in how much Jason liked Miss Carswell until I'd seen them together at pen club meetings for a few months. He acted as if he both really enjoyed her company and revered her. I used to tell him he thought she could do no wrong. He didn't disagree. And after he and I started to see each other outside of pen club meetings, I even got a little jealous. It seemed unbelievable to me that a high school senior, especially a male high school senior, would choose to spend so much of his spare time hanging out with an eighty year old woman. But unbelievable or not, it was true.
Jason and I didn't start dating until we'd known each other for a while. In fact, the first time we did anything together besides the pen club was after I showed him how to resac a lever-filler. I'd been resacking pens for a couple of years, and lever-fillers are the easiest. Jason had a real junker of a pen that needed a new sac, and I did it for him in a few minutes.
"Hey, thanks," he said. "Can I pay you or something?"
Since the sac was one that Miss Carswell had given him, I couldn't see my way to charging him for the repair. Instead I went out for coffee with him the next time we were both in town and had a free half-hour. It was fun, surprisingly much fun. I mean, I was used to listening to Roger Healy and Mike McLaren talk about themselves whenever I was out with a guy. Jason started out by asking me how I'd learned to resac fountain pens and what got me started using them. Soon we were talking about which pens we wanted and couldn't afford.
The next time I saw Jason, he just happened to wander into the bank where I worked on Friday evening and Saturday. That's what he told me anyway. It was a warm Saturday afternoon, and I'd planned to do some sketching after work while waiting for the bus out of town, so I had brought a drawing pad to work with a few of my sketches in it. Jason came in about fifteen minutes before I got off, so he waited around and we went to the little park behind the Unitarian Church. I wanted to ask Jason if I could sketch him, but instead we ended up talking about our families. That time Jason mostly talked and I listened. He started it by telling me how his grandmother called the Unitarian Church a "heathen hellhole," which he found funny. I didn't find it that funny at first, but when he started doing an imitation of her denouncing Everett Bard, the Unitarian minister, I cracked up.
"She didn't really do that, did she?" I asked, trying to control myself.
"She sure did," he replied. "In full view of the assembled customers of Greene's market. The poor guy thought she was having a seizure at first. It was only when he asked if she was okay and offered to call the EMTs and she yelled, "Get thee behind me, Satan!" at him that he realized what she was up to and left the store."
"That's awful, Jason," I said. I meant it, even though I was still giggling because his imitation of his grandmother was so funny.
"Yeah, well, at least he doesn't have to listen to her every other day the way I do. Ted Albert, the minister of her church, apologized to Mr. Bard when he heard about her outburst. Grandma Lore Harnisch was beside herself with fury and threatened to leave the church. But she got over it when the Reverend Ted told her to go right ahead."
After he finished this story, Jason grinned at me. "Okay, that's my funny family story for the day. Your turn."
I didn't have any funny family stories, I told him. So instead he picked up my sketch book before I could stop him and started to look through it, telling me all the while about his late grandfather's marriage to his grandmother and his mother's divorce from his father, whom he hadn't seen in years. The stories weren't really happy, but he made them seem humorous despite that.
Having him look at my sketches made me a little nervous. But I knew he liked them because he said so. Though I'm pretty modest, I don't pretend not to recognize when I've done something well, so his appreciation didn't make me uncomfortable.
"You really ought to come meet my mom," he said after staring at them for a while. "She'd love your work."
I knew his mom did cartoons. Everyone in the county knew that. My parents didn't think much of them, though they were impressed that she got paid for them.
"There's sucker born every minute," my dad used to say whenever he came across one in the newspaper. My folks are very conservative politically and used to call Jason's mom a "pinko." What makes my dad maddest is that she's a pacifist.
"I don't know," I told Jason. "My sketches are pretty mild."
"Mild?" he repeated.
"No political message at all," I explained. "I don't have any politics."
He looked at me with a quizzical expression for a few seconds. "You're not a political cartoonist," he said, as if I didn't know. "My mom likes good drawings, and these are good."
"Thank you," I replied. "I'd like to meet your mother some time."
"How about tomorrow?"
I laughed. "I have to go to church tomorrow."
"What about after church?"
I shook my head. "My father's relatives come over after church for Sunday dinner. I have to be there."
"Your father's relatives come over after church on Sunday every week and you claim not to have any funny family stories?" he teased me.
"They're not funny people," I said firmly.
"Everyone is funny," he insisted.
I shook my head. "I need to get home, Jason. This was fun."
":Yeah, right," he said. "So much fun that you can't wait to get away." He stood up. "I'm really not being inquisitive," he said. "I just want to get to know you." He reached out his hand to help me up. "So when can I see you again?" he asked, once I was on my feet with my sketchbook under my arm.
"I don't know," I answered, adding before he could feel rejected, "I'd really like to see you again, and I did have a good time. I loved your story about your grandmother. It's just that I have an incredibly tight schedule."
"Aw, come on, Lisa, You're a high school senior. How tight can your schedule be?" he complained.
"Okay, you really want to know?" I challenged him.
"Yeah, I really want to know," he replied, sitting down once again under the tree where we'd spent the last hour.
"All right," I began. "My folks are poor farmers. I wake up before dawn to help with farm chores, like feeding chickens and milking. We only have two cows, but one is balky and hard to milk. Then I make breakfast for Donald, dad, and me since my mom works night shift at the children's home to bring in a little extra cash. Once I clean up the breakfast dishes, I have to go to school, which starts at twenty to eight. I usually walk to the four corners and catch the school bus, but sometimes I borrow Donald's bike, if he's feeling friendly. Once school is out, I either catch the bus or bike back home and then walk to the old mill to catch the bus into town so I can get to work. I stock shelves at Hightower's Drugs Monday through Thursday afternoon and work at the bank on Friday and Saturday. When I finish work at half past five, I either catch the bus back to the old mill and then walk home to help mom with supper or, if I'm lucky, Jeremy Hightower gives me a lift home in his delivery truck. After supper I do dishes and then homework. Sunday is family day. I still have to get up to milk and feed the chickens, but then I get to go back to bed for an hour before breakfast and church. Then mom and I start cooking for the relatives, who show up around three and usually stay until ten or eleven at night. Then the work week starts over again." I looked over at Jason. "Any questions?"
He grinned at me. "Just one really. What does your brother Donald do while you're being so all-fired busy helping your family?"
I stared at him uncomprehending. "Well, he helps dad on the farm. And he has a rural paper delivery route. But he's really too young to hold a job in town. Besides, he's kind of wild."
Jason shook his head. "Well, maybe you need to be a little wilder yourself. Now when are you going to come visit my mom with me?"
I shook my head but had to laugh. "You're really incorrigible, you know?
"And you're really exploited by that family of yours," he replied, "but you don't know. You haven't got a clue, have you?"
"I do what I need to do, Jason," I replied softly. "That's all any of us can do. As for visiting your mom, how about next Saturday? I don't think I can find a free minute until then."
He sighed. "You could, you know."
"I could what?"
"Find a free minute," he replied. "You find time for pen club one Sunday a month."
I nodded. "And that's a big concession by my folks. My dad was really against it, but mom prevailed for once. I don't think I can push the envelope any further."
He nodded. "Okay, next Saturday then. I'll come get you at the bank."
I agreed and raced off to catch the bus, looking forward to seeing Jason again but also wondering how I was going to get home next week.

 

 


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