The Pen

The pen, as they say, is mightier . . .

Emma Stone and I had grown up together, neighbour-children, thrown together as such children often are in a single street of a city. We had shared many likes and dislikes but one thing was uniquely her own, her love for writing. I loathed writing essays for school; she loved them and often wrote mine out roughly. I then copied it in my own hand. For her, a career as a journalist or author seemed as sure as dawn. However, for numerous reasons, too complex to mention, she ended up as a clerk in a bank. Her love of writing was undimmed by the sterile world of filling up reports, and she sent in several articles to various publications with mixed success.

We were of an age and were both twenty five when circumstances conspired to part us for some years, the longest separation of our lives. My wife’s death at the tender age of thirty from cancer set my mind towards home once more. Being childless I decided to return to my native city whenever I could. Was I in love with Emma? Since we were so close, I probably was, yet I had never felt any urge towards her as I had towards other women. We were more like a brother and sister. The fact that she was an only child and I had only one sibling, a sister ten years younger than I, only served to heighten this in our minds.

My reunion with Emma was one of mixed emotions. In the seven years since our parting, though we had written to each other infrequently, we had grown apart. Despite her love for writing it was I who did most of the letter writing. I finally decided we had outgrown each other. Then came the auction.

Emma asked me to accompany her to the auction, a sale from some old house, furniture and bric-a-brac. Examining various items I could only wonder why we were there. Very little that I could see was within the reach of our pockets. It was the pen that Emma was after. She told me a little of it’s history. It had belonged to a nineteenth century count called Caldaru, either Hungarian or Romanian, she wasn’t sure. He was something of an enigma this man, shunned by his closest relatives. Reports stated that he was a hard, but fair landlord. There was a scandal connected with his death and his estate was sold by his closest relative, a cousin. The pen was part of this estate and had traveled across Europe to arrive in our fair city, where it was now been auctioned. Emma, afraid she might not be able to afford it, or lose it to another bidder, had approached the owner and asked would he sell it privately. On obtaining his agreement she had hurried off to get money, a reduction being available for cash.

The item itself was unremarkable, a thick, stubby fountain pen, nib encased in a green and black cover to match the body of the pen, the whole trimmed with gold. With it were some spare nibs and a curious looking set. What looked like an eye dropper and a large inkwell, made from pewter. The auctioneer said that the pen was probably one of the original pens invented by Lewis E. Waterman. The eyedropper was used to refill the pen. He did not know if it would use modern inks. He also said it was a pity the pen had not gone to auction, as he had hoped to fetch a very large sum for it. We hurried out in case the owner changed his mind.

I was unsure what exactly Emma wanted with the pen but decided that she had got a bargain and might well reap a lucrative profit from it. We parted and did not see each other for several months. Then it was as her guest at the publication of her first book: a collection of short stories called "The Poison Teacup." It made her very wealthy. What caught the fancy of the press was the fact that, in this day of electronic typewriters and computers, she chose to write her stories with a fountain pen. The very same pen she had bought from that house, she told me later.

I was delighted for her. My only concern over her success was the effect it had had on her health, leaving her pale and somewhat underweight. She assured me that her only health problem was low iron and she was on tablets for that. I drank to her success and went back to my own life.

Over the next few months I followed her career in the press, her interviews on television and radio and her thoughts upon having one of her stories made into a television play. Her choice of writing implement brought her attention she would rather not have had.

On one of the few occasions we met privately she told me that her use of the fountain pen seemed to be more important to some people than the contents of her book or her personality. I told her that her choice was certainly unusual in this day and age, but she was free to use a slate and chalk if she wanted.

After her second set of stories was published, a year after the first and to equal acclaim, Emma confided that she was researching the history of the pen. To further her research she was going to Romania, to find out more about Count Caldaru. She invited me but I declined the invitation. As a public figure she attracted too much attention for my liking and there were some papers suggesting I was her secret lover or future husband.

I did not see Emma for eight months after that conversation. The press had mentioned her visits to Romania, two in eight months. Research for a novel was all she would say when asked about these visits. Since her stories were tinged with Eastern European folklore, this was plausible enough. My joy at seeing her again was dimmed by shock at her appearance. She had lost weight and was paler than ever. Her jet black hair emphasized the paleness of her face. Since her general air, however, suggested good health, my anxious queries were brushed aside.

She told me she was going back to Romania in the new year, asked me to come and I refused again. She said she would write to me and she did. Once. She gave no address so I had no way to contact her. Her letter was full of the beauty of the country she was in, the history and the folklore. Nothing about herself or what kind of research she was doing.

About three months after her letter came I had a surprise caller, a corpulent, middle-aged man by the name of Matt O’Leary. My first impression was of a salesman but he wasn't. Matt was Emma’s agent. I invited him in, offering him tea or coffee. He chose the coffee and we made some idle small talk before he came to the point of his visit.

"Emma mentions you frequently whenever we meet, stressing how important to her you are. Over the past few years I have developed quite a friendship with Emma and I was quite jealous of you for a time.

"When Emma made it quite clear that you were just a friend I felt the time was ripe for our relationship to deepen. For a while things went fine. Her stories were selling well, a movie was about to be made and I felt the whole world was mine. Until she started about that damn, bloody pen! She's obsessed with it. I don't know what she has said to you, but for the past year she has written nothing. She refused to get involved with either the TV adaptation of her story or the movie version. The only thing she is interested in is that pen. Not to mention that bloody Count Cardalu or whatever his name is.

"Now I'm beginning to worry. She's disappeared. I had an address for her in Romania but all my efforts to get in touch were in vain, so I went myself. She wasn't there and hasn't been for the past few months…"

At this point I interrupted Matt to tell him of my letter from her. He studied the letter in silence. Then he switched his attention to the envelope.

"This is where she was staying. But she's been gone from there for four months." He fell silent again. I felt sorry for him. A plain, simple man, he'd fallen for a young woman who was pretty, wealthy and talented. And it had seemed she'd returned his love, now he was uncertain, the confidence she'd instilled in him ebbing away.

We spoke again for a time, trying to work out what could have happened, whether or not to alert the authorities, reminiscing in general. I promised to contact him if she got in touch and he left, a shambling, pathetic figure.

Once more the ebb and flow of life went on and Matt and I met occasionally, his loss less evident each time, slowly turning to resignation. Like my wife, Emma had writ herself on my soul and places, things and people like Matt were reminders of times shared.

Then Matt rang me one autumn evening. His voice was uncharacteristically breathless.

"She's turned up. Out of the blue. Her house, the one I was watching for her, a neighbour rang, said a thin, grey-haired lady had gone into the house this evening. He'd figured it was someone I'd hired to do the cleaning but she's a fat, middle aged woman. No, it's her, has to be. I have the only other key."

I told Matt not to get worked up. Emma might be thin, but grey? Maybe the cleaning lady had been ill and asked a friend to do it. This stumped Matt briefly then he brightened up.

"Listen, I'll check with the cleaner. If she's done what you say then so be it, but if not … if not … will you come with me to the house? I couldn't face her on my own after all this time?"

I told him that I would, and he promised to ring back in half an hour. I spent the time wondering, if Emma had returned, what had happened her?

Matt rang back and a tingle went up my spine when he told me that the cleaning lady got her twenty year old daughter to clean if she couldn't. I raced out the door and drove to Matt's. He was as nervous as a first time interviewee. Our expectations were high and as so often happens, destined to be dashed. There was no answer to our knocks or rings. So he unlocked the door and we went in. The upstairs front bedroom was locked. We called and voice, muffled by the door, told us to go away. We pleaded and cajoled to no avail. After a few minutes the voice even stopped answering. We were none the wiser and, though Matt held to his belief it was her, it could have been anyone. We debated breaking in but Matt said no. She was probably bracing herself to face those she'd left behind and would emerge in her own time.

I returned home and lay awake most of that night pondering the mystery. By morning I had shrugged the whole affair off. Emma had been a little odd even before her big disappearance, but now, if Emma it were, she was even weirder.

Three days after our visit to the house Matt rang once more. His voice was anxious.

"I've gone there twice a day for the past three days. I've called and pleaded, I've left food outside and returned to find it untouched. Will you help me break in? I've always respected her privacy but she seems intent on starving to death. I don't want to involve the authorities but I have asked her doctor, Liam Hayes to join us."

The three of us arrived at the locked bedroom door and 7.30 that autumn evening. We went through the motions of asking permission to come in. The doctor was of the opinion she might now be too weak to get up, and possibly had been that way from the first day.

"Some trauma may have made her anorexic, and she was definitely anaemic when last I saw her."

We broke down the door and though we'd envisaged many possibilities we were stunned by the scene before us. A withered husk of a woman, clad in a nightshirt, slumped in a chair, her outstretched hand resting on a sheaf of loose paper, as if resting briefly from writing. Sheets and sheets of paper lay scattered on the floor. We were unable to identify the corpse, and the doctor was bemused as to her cause of death and would not make any investigation before alerting the authorities.

The official facts of Emma Stone's death, were that she'd died from anorexia caused by some unknown trauma, but the papers did not get all the story, nor hear all the odd facts. The sheets of paper consisted of two sections of writing, the first, in a dark ink, recounting the history of the Cardalu family from the middle ages on. This section was incomplete.

The second and larger section written in dark red ink consisted of the chilling words: "The pen has to feed, it's killing me." This was shortened, as the writer's strength waned, to the simple phrase, "the pen" and finally to just a scrawl. A forensic examination of the documents turned up one strange fact, that the red ink was in fact blood. And from a DNA comparison, it was determined that the blood belonged to the victim and that the victim was indeed Emma. These facts were suppressed however, for one simple reason: no one, experts though they were, could explain how the corpse came to be drained of blood. There were no puncture wound to say she'd drained her own, and she would have died before been able to drain it all. Matt and I, shocked and saddened at the horrific death, parted ways after the burial and have not seen each other since. As for the pen. It disappeared. It was not found in the house, nor on the body. Both Matt and I felt it was good riddance.

Copyright, © 1997, by John Mc Gerr

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