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A Weapon of Choice III
The thrid installment of a new pen related serial
from the fountain pen of Myra Love
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 Chapter III


Now today in a big city, calling your lawyer is a sure way to get a lawsuit started. But we small town folk had another option until very recently anyway. We had a town mediator, elected each year at a town meeting. The mediator the year that I was in twelfth grade was Miss Anita Carswell. In fact, she'd been the town mediator for as long as I could remember. Mom knew her and was very dubious about her impartiality since she was a former teacher and, in Mom's words, a stickler for rules, but Ed, the lawyer, said that going to the mediator was only a first step. "If we don't get satisfaction, we can always take the school board to court," he stated to reassure us both. "Though I can't imagine anyone overturning a decision by Anita Carswell."

Mom and I both knew that Ed was being decent by offering to take our case to the mediator rather than starting a lawsuit. He'd make a lot more money from a lawsuit, but it was money he knew we didn't have. Mom made a face and told me that I was about to face a real dragon of an old lady, someone who'd make Grandma Lore Harnisch look like the sweet, old thing that grandmothers were in old-fashioned story books. I'd seen Miss Carswell, but I didn't really know her. She wasn't one of the church ladies Grandma spent her time with. In fact, she didn't go to church at all, which made her suspect in a the eyes of a lot of people. She also dressed funny, wearing clothes that were comfortable rather than presentable. And she lived way out on the edge of town in a ramshackle old farmhouse with an overgrown garden. Grandma Lore Harnisch had once referred to her as a witch, a heathen, and a disgrace to womankind. All I really knew about her was that everyone seemed to be a little afraid of her, even Ed Conley.

I couldn't figure out how someone with her reputation had gotten chosen as town mediator year after year. When I asked Ed Conley, he just chuckled at me. "No one else would take on the job," he explained, "and I can't say I blame them." He looked at me hard then and said, "No matter what anyone says about her, don't underestimate Anita Carswell. She's been mediating disputes since she retired from the classroom twenty years ago, and no judge has ever overturned a single decision she'd made."
I didn't really know what to think, and since I wasn't allowed on school property until my suspension was over, I couldn't easily talk things over with Mr. Harmon, the one person I trusted to make sense of them for me. That really bothered me. He was also the only person I knew of who could tell me if an Esterbrook could survive the kind of abuse mine had undergone. If he'd lived right in town, I'd have waited for him near his house and made it seem as if I just happened to be passing by, but he lived about ten miles from town, even further out than Miss Carswell. I could have taken Mom's car and driven out there, but I couldn't have made my being there seem like a coincidence. Besides, I wasn't sure if there was some rule against my going to him for advice. I didn't want to get him in trouble.
"You could phone him," Mom suggested at dinner. But I said I didn't feel comfortable bothering him. Actually I was a little afraid he wouldn't talk to me.

I spent most of the next morning moping around the house. At lunch my mother told me I had a choice, "Go for a long run or clean out the basement. I'm tired of hearing you pace." I'm sure she expected me to go for a run,, but I didn't. What if the cops thought I was playing truant? What if Grandma Lore Harnisch got hold of me? So I worked on the basement for a few hours and then decided to have a nap. When I came upstairs, mom was on the phone.
"Yes, Ed," I heard her say. "Four o'clock on Friday is fine with us."
She hung up and smiled at me tentatively. "We have a mediation hearing in the town hall at four on Friday." Friday was the last day of my suspension.
I could tell she was nervous. I thought it was just about dealing with Miss Carswell. Her fear of the old woman worried me since my mom was usually fearless. I imagined Miss Carswell as a cross between my fussy, proper grandmother and a dragon. I tried not to think too much about her or the upcoming hearing.

Ben, another member of the track team phoned, supposedly to catch me up on homework assignments but that was just an excuse since the last time I'd seriously done homework was when I had Mr. Harmon last year. He just wanted to talk.
"Hey, you're a hero," he told me. "The word is that you threw your pen cap in McCallister's face." Dr. McCallister was the principal.
"I wish I had," I said bitterly. "He's such a jerk."
"Willard went on about how he'd teach us to bring dangerous objects to school," Ben told me.
"So what happened to my pen after I left?" I asked, afraid of what the answer might be.
"I dunno. It was still on the floor behind his desk when class ended."
"Shit!"
"Well, what did you expect?" Ben retorted. "We're talking about Willard, not a human being."
I wished that Ben had picked up the pen on his way out, but I couldn't tell him that. Ben was a skinny, easy-going guy whose motto in life was, "I don't want any trouble." I thought I knew exactly what he would and wouldn't do, and standing up to authority figures was simply beyond him. We were both long-distance runners, and that was our only bond.
"Coach Benson is really pissed at you," he continued. "Says that your missing practice could cost us our standing."
"Well, that's too bad," I said. "If he had any guts he'd protest this stupid suspension and get me back to school and attending practice."
"Yeah, right," Ben replied. "I'll let you know if there are any more assignments or anything." He hung up quickly and I wasn't sorry to get off the phone with him.
My pen was on my mind. I just couldn't get rid of the image of it bouncing across the floor. I worried that it had been swept up with the trash, but I couldn't figure out what to do. I was grouchy during dinner, and my mom, who is a pragmatist, told me again to phone Mr. Harmon and ask him about the pen, but I just couldn't do it.
"You know," Mom said, "I think you're more upset about that pen than the injustice of the suspension."
Of course, I was. Missing school for three days didn't matter to me. And as far as my record went, well, I'd already done some college applications, and I expected to get an athletic scholarship, so who'd care if I'd been suspended once?
The next day was sheer hell. I was edgy even though I went for a long run in the morning when I was positive no one I knew would be around. When I got back home, sweaty and tired but no less tense then before I'd gone out, I was greeted by my grandmother who gloating about my suspension. She stopped though when Mom told her that Miss Carswell was hearing our protest.
"Hmmph," Grandma Lore Harnisch sniffed loudly. "Anita Carswell is a hard, hard woman. She never goes to church. And she doesn't like boys. Jason is in for a rough time." She actually smiled at me, or at least she showed her teeth. "You're about to be chewed up and spat out by a real shark, boy!"
I could see Mom trying to control herself. Her mother's comments always got a rise out of her, which is, I think, why the old lady said what she did. I had trouble keeping a straight face.
Grandma's smile faded and she started in on me. "I'd have thought you'd know better than to get into trouble. Your mother is working hard to raise you right. That would be a lot easier if there were a real man around the house. Even that no-good father of yours would be better than nothing."
"Stop it, Mother!" my mom said crossly. "I don't think you should criticize Don in front of Jason."
Grandma glared at her. "I'll say what I want, Amanda. Far as I know it's still a free country."
Uh, oh, that free country line always led to a political argument between my ultra-conservative grandmother and my leftist mom. I went upstairs and did some stretches while I waited for the old lady to go home. I could hear my mom's voice though, yelling about how in a free country a boy wouldn't get suspended from school for using a fountain pen. I had to laugh when Grandma retorted that fountain pens were out of date and it was no wonder mine got mistaken for a bomb.
"Not a bomb, Mother! A tear gas pen!" Mom shouted at her.
"Same difference!" Grandma shouted right back at her.
I was relieved when the shouting died down and the door slammed behind my grandmother.

The day of the hearing came and Mom was a wreck. "This is going to be an ordeal," she told me. "I just hope you hold up okay." Then she did what she always did on Fridays: she started working.
I wondered what kind of ordeal the hearing was going to be. I'd read a little about trials by ordeal in my history classes, but I knew that in modern America, no one was going to make me walk on burning coals or tie me up and throw me in a river to see if I was telling the truth.
Ordinarily I slept pretty well, but that night I'd kept dreaming that my pen was being torn apart to make me admit to something. I had no idea what I was supposed to admit to, and I woke up sweating with my heart beating fast.
When I got out of bed the morning of my hearing, I decided I'd been wrong not to get in touch with Mr. Harmon, but it was too late. I tried to imagine what he'd have advised me to do in preparation for what was going to happen. I knew he was always telling me to make some notes, but how could I make notes without my pen?
I know it sounds stupid, but I felt as if I needed that Esterbrook in order to think straight. Somehow writing with a pencil or ballpoint or even one of Mom's drawing pens, which I really wasn't supposed to do but occasionally did anyway, didn't feel the same. Of course, I could have tried to write out my thoughts on our computer, but I was only allowed to use that when she wasn't. Mom did her drawings with pen and ink but her final lay-out on the computer. And since the day of the hearing was Friday and her cartoons appeared on Sunday, she was busy with fine-tuning the lay-out, so I couldn't use the computer even if I'd wanted to. And to tell the truth, I didn't want to. It took the rubbing of the Esterbrook's nib on paper to get my mind working, and every time I thought about using something else, I started to get worried about the fate of my pen and angry at the whole mess I'd found myself in.
Finally, a little after noon I decided to head downtown, figuring that if I couldn't make notes, I could at least think out in advance what I wanted to say. Being housebound was bothering me, and walking was the next best way to think things through to writing about them.
"I'll see you at the hearing," I told my mother.
"Get there early," she replied, not looking up from her work. "Ed said he needs to talk to you before the hearing starts."
I walked downtown slowly, trying to collect my thoughts. I'd decided that I'd try to make a good impression on Miss Carswell, though how exactly to make a good impression on an eighty year old dragon escaped me. So I wandered around downtown trying to decide if I needed to get a haircut or buy a blazer and a tie. I was wearing my khakis and a clean shirt under my parka, but I wasn't sure if I looked neat enough to keep an old lady who started teaching over half a century ago from seeing me as just the kind of kid who ought to be suspended and have his fountain pen confiscated.
After an hour of pointless meandering I stopped off at the only non-fast food restaurant in town and bought a hamburger since I hadn't eaten lunch. Then I headed slowly in the direction of the town hall.
Now the town hall is nothing fancy, just a small, squat office building with the police station in the cellar and an auditorium on the first floor. Upstairs on the second floor were a bunch of meeting rooms, and I knew that one of them was where my hearing would be held. So after walking around the building a couple of times, I went inside and climbed up to the second floor.
None of the meeting rooms was in use, but there was a notebook on the desk at the front of the one nearest the west side of the building. And atop the notebook was a fountain pen. I couldn't resist going in and looking at it up close. It had a metal cap and a burgundy barrel. At first I thought there was something wrong with it because when I took the cap off, the nib looked bent out of shape. It also didn't have a lever or a piston knob either. I pulled a piece of paper out of the little pad I always carry and tried the pen anyway. It wrote perfectly. I'd never seen a nib like that before and had to give it one more long look before capping the pen and putting it back on the notebook. By the time I'd done that and turned around, someone else was standing in the doorway to the room.

 


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