Anita's holy grail wasn't really Anita's yet, and though I'd
seen her buy pens before, I was curious as to how she'd manage
this particular transaction. So I sat back to watch her. Miranda
seemed like a shrewd enough woman, but she had no knowledge
of the value of the fountain pens her husband had left behind.
"Miranda," Anita said calmly, "I would be glad
to help you sell any of the pens in this box. However, you
should know that there is one I myself would like to have.
Since you are not informed about the value of these pens,
I feel you should have a representative to advise you or perhaps
to bargain for you."
Miranda smiled tiredly. "You seem determined to force
me to involve Morris," she said with a slight edge to
"Not Morris necessarily, though he would be an obvious
choice," Anita replied.
Miranda shook her head. "He's done enough for me. I'd
prefer to deal with you directly."
Anita looked perturbed. She cleared her throat and looked
over at me. I shrugged my shoulders. The pen was in excellent
condition, as far as I could judge. I found myself hoping
that Anita wouldn't be too scrupulous.
"I believe, Anita," I began, "that you should
go to the car and dig out your loupe and a bottle of ink."
"We have ink," Miranda interjected. "Upstairs
in those boxes at the bottom of the closet where you found
I was tempted to offer to go through the boxes ostensibly
to hunt of ink but more to satisfy my curiosity, but Anita
replied, "I might as well bring in ink if I'm going to
bring in the loupe. And a few sheets of paper as well."
She rose and excused herself, leaving me with Miranda and
Ellen, who'd been silently looking on. She shuffled in her
chair and then stood up and walked over to the fireplace.
"I think you should you should listen to her, mother,
and get Morris in on this transaction. You don't know these
Miranda fixed her daughter with a sad stare. "Morris
has done too much for us already. If Anita had wanted to deceive
me, she'd never have suggested bringing in a representative
to defend my interests."
Ellen sighed. "Do what you want," she said, a bitter
undertone in her voice. "You always do anyway."
She turned to me. "How much approximately do you think
the pen your friend wants is worth?"
"Anywhere from fifteen hundred to twenty-five hundred
dollars, I should guess," I answered, "depending
on condition and the market."
I heard Miranda gasp. Then she collected herself and asked
calmly enough, "Are the other pens in the box worth that
"I doubt it," I replied. "But then I'm no expert
on vintage Waterman. Anita knows a great deal more than I
Ellen looked worried, but Miranda, whose tiredness seemed
to intensify by the moment, ignored her daughter's discomfort.
She smiled at me. "Tell me," she inquired, "did
you and Miss Carswell become acquainted by virtue of a shared
interest in fountain pens?"
I grinned. "No, we used to teach high school together.
My first few years coincided with her final years. I taught,
teach, I meant to say, English, and she taught math."
Miranda looked perplexed. "So how come you're here instead
of in your classroom?" Her tone was almost one of interrogation,
softened only by a faint smile. I had a hint of why some people
might find her intimidating.
"I am on leave this semester." For a moment I was
tempted to tell her about Betsy, but instead I decided to
ask a personal question that had been occupying me since I
met her. I took a deep breath. "What illness has put
you in a wheelchair, Miranda?"
Ellen gasped, but Miranda simply replied, "Oh, I've had
multiple sclerosis for almost fifteen years. Until then our
family life was exemplary. My husband, however, found my illness
hard to take."
"Mother!" Ellen protested. "Don't!"
Miranda smiled gently at Ellen. "I know you don't want
to hear the truth, dear, but your father and I were really
quite happy until the onset of my illness. That's when things
Ellen hissed and fell silent.
"My husband was a wonderful man, but he was weak,"
Miranda continued. "I expected more of him than he was
able to give. Contrary to Ellen's opinion, my personality
didn't drive him away. My illness did."
My mind was reeling, and I could hardly reply.
"Are you all right?" Miranda asked me, concern filling
I pulled myself together and said as calmly as possible, "My
wife has multiple sclerosis. It's been very difficult for
me to feel that anything I do is right."
I stopped, feeling acutely embarrassed and looked from her
to Ellen. Ellen just stared at me without a word. Miranda,
however, cleared her throat.
"All I can tell you is to hang in there, Bob. It's all
right if I call you Bob, isn't it?"
"It's probably hard for her to know what she needs and
even harder to ask. But if you love her, pay attention. Both
to her needs and your own." She took a deep breath, and
I could see that her tiredness was deepening.
"Don't you want to go lie down and get some rest?"
I asked tentatively.
She just waved her hand at me. "No, I want to finish
what I'm telling you." She took another deep breath.
"When I first got sick, my husband tried very hard to
attend to me. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
I kept telling him to take some time off, but he wouldn't
listen. He kept asking me why I wanted to get rid of him.
I didn't want to get rid of him. I just wanted him to be able
to stay in for the long haul, which is what he couldn't do.
He burned out."
Ellen stood up and left the room. Miranda grimaced. "It's
hard for Ellen to face the truth, but the sooner she does,
the sooner she'll stop trying to recreate my relationship
with her father, but 'do it right', as she puts it. Kevin
is not Martin. Martin, though weak, was a decent man."
I could barely respond, feeling as if someone had stepped
on my grave. Miranda observed me shrewdly. "I hope you
are able to understand what I'm telling you, Bob."
I nodded. "Thank you," I said sincerely. "I
am taking this vacation, if you will, from my wife at her
suggestion. Her insistence, really. She was, I believe, feeling
smothered. Her sister is with her now. We don't get on, that
sister and I, and I've been feeling a bit guilty and more
than a bit worried. But maybe I'm doing the right thing."
She looked at me very hard for a second and then smiled broadly.
My head was still spinning, but I was aware that Anita had
re-entered the room after what had seemed like a very long
time. She had a very determined look on her face and was carrying,
along with her loupe, ink, and paper, the case of pens that
she'd brought to sell in Chicago. She glanced at me and smiled,
then turned her attention to Miranda.
"I have reached a decision," she announced, "and
I've acted on it. I phoned Mr. Diamant."
Miranda's face grew tense.
"Now wait a moment, 'she began, but Anita cut her off.
"I didn't ask him to come here, as you expressly told
me you didn't want him involved in my transaction with you.
However, he made me an offer before, volunteering to try to
sell my pens for me. I decided to take him up on that offer,
as it appears that Mr. Floh really is as unreliable as Mr.
Diamant had implied."
"Anita," I interrupted her. "What's going on?"
She sighed. "Well, I phoned Mr. Floh from the car
"What do you mean, you phoned him from the car?"
I interrupted belligerently. "Since when is there a phone
in my car?"
"I thought that I'd returned Joanna's phone, but I hadn't,"
"What do you mean?" I persisted, annoyed that we'd
now have to have yet one more meeting with the obnoxious Mrs.
Privett, if only to return the phone. At the same time, however,
I was delighted to have caught out Anita. She'd forgotten
something! Might that not be a weapon in our never-ending
disagreement about who was responsible for the extra pen clip
among the bits of Jason Hardy's pen?
"Stop that!" Anita said sharply. "Stop smirking
at me like a cat that swallowed a canary."
I composed my face. "I wasn't smirking. What you thought
was a smirk was merely a frown of annoyance. I do not look
forward to another encounter with the repulsive Mrs. P."
Anita shook her head at me. "You know very well you were
smirking. No, I repeat for the millionth time, I did not accidentally
put an extra pen clip in with those pen fragments!"
She knew me too well. I grinned at her, and she took that
as an admission of culpability, I suppose, for she turned
her attention back to Miranda.
"I had made an arrangement," she explained, "to
sell Mr. Floh several pens at the pen show. I wished to have
the money so I might bid successfully on a Waterman 58 in
the red ripple finish that is up for auction."
"The same sort of pen as you found among those my husband
left," Miranda observed.
"Precisely. I phoned Mr. Floh to find out if he was interested
in purchasing any of the other red ripple pens, He expressed
interest, but then informed me that he'd realized he would
not be able to pay for my pens with cash or a money order,
as we'd agreed. He did not ask so much as order me to accept
his personal check." Anita sighed. "Since Mr. Diamant
had warned me against accepting checks from Mr. Floh, I refused.
Gently, of course. I explained that I needed the funds immediately,
and he cancelled our transaction."
"You weren't really planning to bid on that auction,
were you?" I inquired, my voice revealing my amazement,
"I was considering all my options," she replied
calmly. "But now, I think it most unlikely that I'd bid
at the pens show, given the availability of the pen right
"So then why
"I wanted to try to sell Miranda's pens without involving
Mr. Diamant. Since I was already dealing with Mr. Floh
"Miss Carswell!" Miranda called out, her outrage
all too evident. "I can't believe you'd do that. Why,
Morris would feel dreadfully betrayed if I sold pens to Felix
Miranda smiled at her very gently. "Miranda, you know
as well as I that Morris will feel dreadfully betrayed at
your having asked me to be your agent rather than turning
to him. That, however, has not stopped you, has it?"
Miranda flushed and then became pale.
"I think that's enough, Anita," I interjected. "You
made your point." I was afraid Miranda might pass out
or have some kind of attack.
Anita ignored me. "Don't you think it's time to call
him in, Miranda?"
Miranda's eyes filled with tears. "I can't ask him again.
He's done too much."
Anita walked over to her and put a hand on her arm. "That's
not what this is about, is it, Miranda?"
Miranda glared at her through her tears. "Morris was
there when my husband died," she said softly. "Ellen
doesn't know, and he promised he'd never tell her. My husband
was leaving us. He and I had had a terrible argument. Morris
was here at the time. He heard it all."
"And he followed your husband, didn't he?" Anita
said unexpectedly. I looked at her, but her attention was
focused on Miranda, who nodded.. "Yes, he pulled Martin
out of the car after the crash and rushed him to the hospital,
but it was too late. Since then he's been my guardian angel.
I just can't ask more of him."
"Martin said something to him, didn't he?" Anita
Miranda nodded again. "Yes, he told said, 'Even with
the multiple sclerosis, Miranda and I could have made it,
if only it weren't for that brat Ellen'." She began to
cry. "I wish Morris hadn't told me, but he meant well.
He wanted me to know that Martin still loved me, but what
difference did that make if he rejected our daughter?"
Anita shook her head but said nothing. There was really nothing
she could say.