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A Time To Every Purpose XXII
The final episode of our Tuesday serial
from the fountain pen of Myra Love
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 Chapter XXII

We would 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 less hoarse.
"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 my book."
"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 her.
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 pronounced differently."
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 so well?"
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.

It was 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 he said.."
"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 her.
"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 to do."
"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.

FINIS


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