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
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?"
I shrugged, still steaming at Maggie's remarks.
"That's not an answer," Anita said.
"Yeah, I guess so," I replied, following her into
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
I went over to the coffee pot and poured myself some. "So
what will you take instead?" I asked, my pique at Maggie
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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"I want something from the Chicago Pen Show auction,"
"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
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
"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
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,"
"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
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.
"But you're not dying, Anita!" I protested, horrified.
She smiled. "None of us knows how long he or she has,
"But you're not sick, are you?" I said, realizing
that the bad feeling I had in the pit of my stomach was sheer
"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.