have been on our way back home within the hour, had not Needles
awakened and come looking for her book. Anita and I were saying
good-bye to Morris, and Miranda was settled in her wheelchair,
ready to be driven home so she could let us in to retrieve
our possessions. Ellen, having read the pertinent parts of
her father's diary, was sitting quietly in Morris' living
room, waiting for us to depart so she and he could discuss
what she had read and talk about future plans for looking
after Needles. Ellen had decided to put the antique store
up for sale and go back to school, a decision Morris heartily
endorsed. I was surprised that Miranda had not insisted on
staying with them, but she seemed quite content when Ellen
told her she'd come by later on and return the van.
"If you don't mind, mother, Anita and I will stay with
you tonight if she's well enough to be moved from here."
"I don't mind at all," Miranda had replied with
unmistakable joy, "but I do think the child has been
moved around quite enough. So if you think it best, you could
stay here with her overnight and bring me the van tomorrow.
If Morris doesn't mind, that is."
Morris smiled at the two of them. "Mind? I would be honored
to have both mother and daughter as my houseguests for the
night. And if you would like to stay, Miranda, you are, of
course, welcome as well."
Miranda shook her head. "I need to let Bob and Anita
in the house to retrieve their belongings. And I sleep best
in my own bed."
Anita, Miranda, and I were almost out the door when Needles,
attired in bright red pajamas with feet came padding into
the living room. "I want my book," she announced
peevishly. "I can't sleep without my book."
Her voice sounded better than it had earlier, stronger and
"Your book is in the car, Anita," I said, careful
not to call her Needles. "It is very dirty. We were wondering
if you would like us to get you a new copy of it."
Needles looked at me suspiciously and repeated, "I want
"I'll get it," Anita said and went out the door
before anyone had a chance to say another word. When she returned,
I observed that the book was even more disgusting than I had
remembered. Needles had obviously sneezed, coughed, and spit
up all over it. Anita held it carefully so as not to touch
any of the messier spots with her fingers.
"Anita, honey," Ellen said softly, "the book
feels yucky too, just like you. When you are feeling better,
maybe you and Morris can make the book better too, all right?"
Anita fixed her mother with a baleful stare. "I want
my book. It's mine, and I want it." She started to sniffle.
"Give her the book before she starts bawling," I
heard myself say and wished I hadn't. Everyone in the room
stared at me for a second, but it was Needles who spoke up.
"I don't care if my book is yucky. It's mine and I want
it. I'm sick and my book is sick. I'm not going to let you
throw it away!"
When Needles was being unreasonable she reminded me a great
deal of Ellen. I wondered if anyone else had noticed the resemblance.
I also wondered if Miranda had the same mulish streak. I suspected
that she probably did.
Anita walked over to Needles, bent down low, and handed her
the book. "Here you are, Anita," she said. "It's
yours and you shall have it."
Needles looked at her suspiciously and took the filthy volume
from her hand. Then she smiled at Anita and said, "Sit
down. I want to read to you."
"But honey," Ellen objected, "they are in a
hurry to go home. Besides, you don't know how to read yet."
Needle sniffed disdainfully and stared at Anita, who obediently
seated herself on the sofa. Needles climbed up next to her
and began to recite the Little Mermaid. I looked over her
shoulder and she got every word right. I wondered how many
times she'd had the story read to her and how long it had
taken her to memorize it. Curious to see how her memory operated,
I leaned over and pointed to the word "mermaid."
"Can you tell me what that word is, Anita?" I asked
She looked up at me and sneered. "Mermaid," she
replied and pointed at the picture of the mermaid on the opposite
page. "That's a mermaid, a girl with a fish tail."
She looked at me for another thirty seconds and then said,
"Any other questions?" in a scornful tone of voice.
I chuckled and replied, "No."
"Good," she said. "I don't like being interrumpted
when I'm reading."
"The word is 'interrupted'," I corrected her.
"That's what I said. 'Interrumpted'." She continued
through the fairy tale and I resisted the impulse to test
her again until the very end of the story. Then I pointed
to the word "mermaid" again. "Can you tell
me what that word is, Anita?"
She stared at it for a second and then at me as if I were
extremely stupid. "It's still 'mermaid', Bob," she
replied. "Words don't change."
"Well, some words do," I said, pedantically, I admit.
"Like, uh, 'refuse' and 'refuse'. Though they're spelled
the same way, one is a noun and one is a verb, and they're
She continued to stare at me. "Well, a mermaid is a girl
with a fish tail, not a now or a bird."
I was starting to wonder if Needles was a of hearing. I heard
Anita chuckling, perhaps at my expression and perhaps just
because she was enjoying the way Needles was giving me a hard
time. The child continued to "read," and I asked
her no more questions.
"I enjoyed that very much, Anita," the older Anita
said. "You are quite a good reader. How did you learn
Needles smiled. "I didn't just listen when people readed
to me; I watchted too."
The child had an astonishing memory, but I was fairly sure
that her so-called reading wouldn't extend to other printed
material. I was ready to leave, but Anita wasn't. I think
she was more willing to believe that little Needles could
read than I was, for this time it was she who offered a test.
"Anita," she said seriously, "I know you read
all the words in that story, but can you read any other stories?"
Needles looked at her for a long time. "Other stories
aren't as good," she said finally, "but I think
I could probably read them."
Anita smiled at her. "I'd like to hear another story.
Or at least part of another story. But not now, if your eyes
are tired or sore."
Needles cocked her head to one side as she contemplated Anita.
"My eyes hurted yesterday, but they don't now."
Anita, Miranda, and Ellen exchanged glances. All of them smiled.
They were obviously relieved that the child's vision didn't
appear to have been adversely affected by her illness.
"If I read you a story, what will you give me?"
Needles asked Anita.
"What would you like?" Anita asked in turn.
"Your hat," Needles replied. "I want your hat.
I like it."
"Okay," Anita agreed, to my surprise. "Who
gets to pick the story?"
"You can pick it, if you don't mind touching my yucky
book again," Needles replied with a pleased giggle and
handed the volume to Anita.
"Well, it certainly is a yucky book," Anita replied.
"Don't you have another one?"
"I have six books," Needles replied. "Four
are just picture books without hardly no words. But I have
another book with stories in it. Only it's home, not here."
"Well then, I guess you'll have to read me a story out
of the yucky book. How about this one?" Anita suggested,
handing the volume back to Needles. It was open to the story
of the Ugly Duckling, and to my extreme surprise, Needles
began, slowly but with reasonable accuracy, to read it aloud.
nearly two when we finally left Miranda's house with our possessions,
excluding Anita's hat, of course, which she, true to her bargain,
had given to a delighted Needles who went back to bed with
it on her head. The hat hung down over her eyes, but she didn't
seem to mind. Ellen had to help her find her way though because
she kept banging into the wall.. She was singing to herself
under her breath when she left us, "I have a ha-at; I
have a ha-at."
"Good-bye, Anita," Anita said. "I hope I'll
see you again someday."
The child just waggled her fingers at her larger namesake
and sang her way out of sight. Miranda told us on her way
home that we were welcome to visit any time. "Perhaps
Bob will find some pens he likes the next time," she
said a little wistfully.
I doubted very much that I would visit again. I hadn't really
wanted to visit the first time. But I politely thanked her
for her hospitality and wished her well. She watched through
the window as we packed the car.
"Do you want to drive first?" Anita asked me.
I took the question as a request and got behind the wheel.
"You didn't end up with any new pens," she said.
"Too bad most of these have flexxy nibs or I'd sell you
one. After I restored it, of course."
"You have enough pens for repair to last you a whole
year, Anita," I told her. "And not one is a pen
I'd ever want. Not even the big, red ripple Waterman 58. Though
I'm very glad you got one at last."
"At last!" she said with a big grin. "Dora
would have been pleased." Her expression grew wistful
for a moment, but then a look of mischievous curiosity settled
over her face. So tell me, Bob, are there any of Morris's
pens you'd really like to have?"
"Oh, some of the vintage Italians looked nice to me,"
I replied. "But he has buyers for all of those, or so
"Funny," Anita said. "I'd have sworn you told
me you were interested in finding a nice Wahl-Eversharp Doric."
"That's not a pen he's likely to sell." I shrugged.
"I'm pretty happy although. I didn't make it to the pen
show or even get to see Stew. I'll call him from home and
apologize. Maybe he can come to visit us someday." I
took a deep breath. "Betsy said she needed me to come
home." I grinned at Anita. "It certainly was an
extraordinary trip though, wasn't it?"
"That it has been," she agreed. "You won't
believe what Joanna Privett told me," she continued.
I rolled my eyes. "Please don't tell me," I begged
"It's really funny, she said.
"Not as funny as what Betsy told me. Or suggested anyway."
"Oh? What was that?"
"During Maggie's last visit, which was inflicted on me
during the Jason Hardy mess, she filled up a plastic baggie
that contained broken, green pen parts with other parts she
found lying around while undertaking to clean up my study.
She wanted to throw them all away, but Betsy stopped her and
removed, she thought, all the extraneous pieces Maggie had
tossed into the bag. However, I wouldn't be at all surprised
if she missed one. A clip."
Anita smirked and nodded. "Well, I thought something
like that might have happened. Since I wasn't aware of Maggie's
visit, I suspected the culprit might have been Betsy herself."
"No, you didn't! I nearly shouted in my outrage. "You
were trying to blame me!"
"Only because you were so very sure that I, in my dawning
senility, had put the clip in the bag. Didn't you tell me
that Betsy had cleaning fits when her illness was first diagnosed?
It was her way of trying to get some control of her life,
At least that's how you saw it."
"Well, we can close the book on the argument anyway,
I think," I proposed.
She nodded. "Joanna," she began, "told me when
we first met that we would never get to the Chicago pen show.
She said she had a dream in which the voice of the Almighty
spoke to her. Then she quoted, if you can call what she does
quoting, Ecclesiastes at me. "To every trip there is
a season and a time to every purpose under heaven," is
what she said. Of course, the good book, as she persists in
calling the bible, says nothing about every trip. But that's
Joanna. She was quick to offer me her interpretation of the
verse. And that was that it was not our time for a trip to
a pen show and that if we tried to go, we'd be thwarted at
every turn. She was certainly right about being thwarted,
wasn't she?. Of course, she didn't say what it was our time
"Well," I said, turning onto the highway, "it
was obviously our time to rescue a cat, help a child, and
save the relationship between three generations of women in
a family. We may also have encouraged Ellen to start a new
life without Kevin and without illusions about her father.
And of course, you made a new friend in Morris Diamant, we
got to hear Needles read out loud for the first time, and
you ended up with a whole load of new pens. You were also
spared the agony of dealing with the unscrupulous Mr. Floh.
Not bad for a thwarted trip! A lot was gained and nothing
lost. Except your hat, of course."
Anita shrugged and then grinned at me. "Well, I can always
get a new fedora. But wouldn't you like to have gotten at
least one new pen? I'm sure Morris would sell you the Doric
if you asked him nicely."
I shook my head. "Don't be ridiculous! Besides, I think
I have a lead on a Doric. Do you remember Sean Roache, the
skinny guy who came to the pen club meeting the time before
last? He was Joe's cousin, I think
"First a flea, then a roach! Come on, Bob, can't you
learn from my mistakes?"
I snorted and, as Jason Hardy used to say, "put the pedal
to the metal." We were going home.