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A Time To Every Purpose IV
Continuation of our Tuesday serial
from the fountain pen of Myra Love
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 Chapter IV


The day Anita and I left for Chicago was rainy. I'd picked up Maggie the previous afternoon and done everything with the cars I was supposed to do. Maggie had been her usual, unpleasant self, berating me for taking a semester's leave and telling Betsy she'd been a fool to quit her job. I was glad to drive off in the morning, heading out the dirt road onto the familiar way that leads to Anita's house. Of course, I gave Betsy a big hug before I left and promised to call every evening. Maggie rolled her eyes, but Betsy hugged me back warmly and told me to have a good time. She seemed to mean it. She even told me to say hello to Anita without referring to her as a hag.
I was grateful for Betsy's good humor even though it made me sorry to leave her. But what stayed in my mind and grew in intensity during the short drive to Anita's was my anger at Maggie's insensitivity.
Anita was ready by the time I arrived and immediately packed her two bags neatly into the trunk of my car.
"Do you want a cup of coffee before we take off?" she asked.
I shrugged, still steaming at Maggie's remarks.
"That's not an answer," Anita said.
"Yeah, I guess so," I replied, following her into her house.
Anita had known I'd want coffee, and there was a pot ready. She handed me the mug I always drank from, a big, green, ceramic thing with a picture of William Shakespeare stenciled onto it. "Help yourself," she ordered me. "I want to take a look at this pen for a second."
I immediately turned my gaze onto the pen she was holding. It was her usually reliable, burgundy Sentinel snorkel filler. "What's wrong with it?" I asked.
She raised her eyebrows. "Seems to have sprung a leak," she informed me, "The sac is okay but it won't fill unless I immerse the nib." She sighed. "This one is staying home."
I went over to the coffee pot and poured myself some. "So what will you take instead?" I asked, my pique at Maggie temporarily forgotten.
She raised her eyebrows and grinned at me. "Any suggestions?"
I grinned back, suddenly enormously glad that we were going to the pen show together. "Don't know," I answered. "Depends on what else you have with you."
"Dora's Patrician, of course," she began, "a Waterman 52 with a flexible nib that I made a great trade on, even if I did end up turning over an old rocker blotter and six bottles of ink as well as a NOS Sheaffer Crest." She winked at me. "And I was going to take the Sentinel, but that's out."
I grinned at her. "Why do you always carry three pens?"
She laughed. "I have a little three pen case," she said.
"Well, you also have a nylon twelve pen case. So why don't you bring twelve pens?"
"I have a forty pen case too," she replied with a triumphant gleam in her eye. "But I also want to bring my three pen case."
I was surprised, I admit it. "Also? You are bringing forty-three pens? You?"
"Do you have a problem with that?" she asked, narrowing her eyes in mock severity.
"Why?" I mumbled in my astonishment. "Why are you, the queen of 'only as many as I can fit in my handbag', bringing forty-three pens to the pen show?"
"I'm selling forty of them," she replied curtly. "And I'm only bringing forty-two, if I can't figure out what to bring instead of this Sentinel."
"You're selling forty pens, Anita? Is something wrong? Are you hard up for cash? If so, maybe I can help with a loan."
She shook her head. "Help me figure out which pen to bring and I'll tell you all about it," she commanded.
"Bring a Parker 51."
She shook her head. "I don't have one I want to bring."
"You have nearly fifty Parker 51s, Anita," I contradicted her. "With all manner of odd and unusual nibs as well as the fines, mediums and broads."
"I want to bring something that writes like a snorkel," she said slowly, as if explaining the concept of "pi" to a very slow math student.
"Well, a Parker 51 writes like a snorkel," I insisted lamely.
She looked at me as if I'd lost my mind. "It does not. A Parker 51 writes nothing like a snorkel."
"Okay, so bring a snorkel. "
She shook her head again. "No, all of mine except the Sentinel have medium nibs. I need something with a fine nib for small writing."
"Anita!" I shouted. "You hate fine nibs!"
"Not the one on the Sentinel, I don't!" she snapped at me.
"Don't be so difficult! Just bring anything at all," I howled. "You're driving me nuts."
She glared at me as if I'd committed blasphemy and then started to laugh.
"What's so funny?" I snarled.
"For once I'm driving you nuts, instead of the other way around," she replied. "You're right. I'll bring a Parker 51 with a fine stub nib and a medium snork."
I resisted the urge to tell her a fine stub nib wrote nothing like an ordinary fine, especially on a Parker 51. "You're bringing forty-four pens? Where will you put the extra one?" I asked, as if the question were vital.
She chuckled. "In my handbag. If it's a Parker 51, it can roll around in there loose without coming to any harm."
I took a deep breath. "The forty pens you're selling?" I reminded her.
"We'll talk about it in the car," she replied. "I don't want to get stuck in rush hour traffic coming out of St. Louis."

Anita could be exasperating, I thought, as I got behind the wheel, but at least she wasn't insensitive like Maggie. I waited for her to settle herself comfortably in the passenger seat and drove up the dirt road that led away from her house.
"So what about those pens?" I inquired once we were well underway.
"Do you remember Belinda Evans?" she asked.
I groaned. Belinda Evans had been the worst student in my tenth grade English class during my first year of teaching. She'd also followed me around the school with her friend June Sykes and giggled every time I made eye contact with her. How could I forget Belinda Evans?
"Yes," I said, "I remember her."
Anita's grin broadened. "I'm sure you do. She had quite a crush on you. Well, she phoned me about a month ago and asked me if I wanted to sell any fountain pens."
"What? Belinda collects fountain pens!" I nearly screamed in horrified astonishment.
Anita was laughing now. "Take a deep breath, Bob!" she commanded. "No, she doesn't, but her husband, Felix Floh, does."
"Belinda is now Mrs. Floh? I thought she was Mrs. Welch."
Anita nodded. "She was. And Mrs. Chapman before that."
I shrugged. "Can't say I'm surprised. But what ever possessed her to marry a pen collector?"
"He's a dealer," Anita explained. "He used to sell cameras and watches. Now he sells pens and heaven only knows what else as well. He's based in Chicago, so I arranged to meet him at the pen show."
"And you're going to sell forty pens to this guy? To someone with the bad taste to marry Belinda Evans?" I protested.
"I want something from the Chicago Pen Show auction," she replied.
"Something so costly you need to sell forty pens?"
She shook her head. "I want to sell forty pens. I'd probably need to sell only about twenty to get the money for the winning bid, but I'd do well to sell about sixty to clear some space in my house. So you see, forty is a compromise." She laughed. "Of course, I never imagined I'd sell pens to anyone connected to Belinda, and certainly not to anyone named Felix Floh."
She smirked at me. "You do remember enough German from college to know what the word Floh means, don't you?"
I shook my head. "I hated German."
"Flea," she said. "Flea as a noun, not flee as a verb. The biting insect. And Felix comes from the Latin for happy, just like felicity." She chuckled. "I certainly do wonder what Felix Floh is like and whether he knows what his name means."
I wasn't terribly curious about Mr. Floh, but I was interested in the fate of Anita's pen collection.
"What is it you want?" I demanded. "And more important, which pens are you selling?"
"Well," she began, "I'm selling several Parker 51s…"
"Not the plum," I interrupted her. "Please tell me you're not selling the plum."
She shook her head. "No, not the plum. I'm not selling anything with an interesting nib, just fines and a couple of mediums. And I'm not selling that ugly mustard thing you're so fond of either. I promised you that for your birthday, and I haven't forgotten. When we get back, I'm sending it out to be stubbed, so you won't keep borrowing mine. A few Vacs, a handful of Balances, a couple of Nozacs, and a slew of modern pens that people have given me as gifts, pens I may have filled once but have never used. Nothing you or anyone in the pen club would be interested in. Mainly I'm selling off either doubles of pens I already have or pens I don't want. And all of them have stiff nibs."
"What about your postwar English pens?" I inquired, remembering how disappointed Anita had been when the last English Duofold she'd bought turned out to have a nib like a nail.
She smiled. "I sold most of them already, remember?"
I stopped and thought for a second. "Oh right, that was three years ago, when you bought the Waterman 100 Year from that fellow in Hallowell, Maine."
"That's right," she agreed. "Mr. Edwards, the nice, old antique dealer who bargained like a pirate."
"Pirates don't bargain," I protested.
"Well neither did he."
"So what are you after now?
She turned and looked out the window. "Have you looked at the list for the auction?" she asked.
I'd briefly looked through it, but with neither Betsy nor I working right now, I had no money to spare. "I glanced at it," I replied. "Why?"
"There's a red ripple Waterman 58 up for auction," she announced.
"So?"
"So, it's just about ten years since Dora ordered me to get myself one," she explained. "That was only a week before she died."
I could have kicked myself for being a self-absorbed jerk. That was why Anita wanted to get away. The tenth anniversary of Dora's death.
"Anita," I began, "I'm so sorry. I've been wrapped up…"
She looked straight ahead at the road. "It's all right, Bob. You've had a hard time of it lately. I can't expect you to keep track…"
"But she was my friend too," I said softly.
Anita sighed. "She was a good friend to a lot of people. And she made me promise that I'd get a red ripple 58 before I died. 'That horse of a pen' was what she called it. But she knew I wanted it, and she encouraged me to buy it while she was still alive. Of course, I was too frugal back then. And stubborn."
"But you're not dying, Anita!" I protested, horrified.
She smiled. "None of us knows how long he or she has, Bob."
"But you're not sick, are you?" I said, realizing that the bad feeling I had in the pit of my stomach was sheer terror.
"No," she said. ""I'm as healthy as I was last year at this time. A little stiffer and a little slower, that's all."
Relief flooded my body. Although I was sure that the world would go on after Anita Carswell passed away, but I wasn't sure that I'd like living in that world nearly as much as I liked living in a world where she lived too.
"Well," I whispered, finally able to breathe normally, "it's not a bad thing to get that pen while you still have a few years ahead of you to use it. And since you already have the 55, and the 56, maybe it is time. But after you have it, what will be your new holy grail?"
Anita didn't reply. She just smiled, and I just kept on driving.

 


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