The Journey

by Allison Mitchell

Aria watches her as she climbs over the jagged rocks, maybe twenty feet above her. She’s like an insect scaling the rock. She knows nothing of this stranger mountain-climbing, but her laugh pierces through Aria’s bones.  She envies that easy laugh and the tales she’ll no doubt share afterwards.  They’ll be patches in the quilt of her adventure that she’ll lay out to comfort eager ears. Aria pries her eyes away and jogs past. The crumble of rocks stutter behind her.

When she circles around the trail, the stranger’s gone.  Instead, there’s a small fountain pen at her feet with a T scratched delicately on the bottom.  It must be the stranger’s.  It looks new, the tip shiny and clean.  Aria doesn’t even know she’s slipped it into her pocket or that she’s running again till she feels the trail pushing against her shoes. The pen jostles against her hip, this shiny piece of metal and plastic, the tip as sharp as its owner’s laugh.

She’ll carry that pen everywhere, but never use it.  Not once in the ten years she’ll have it.  She’ll like it better that way.  It’ll be like a heart beating silently beside her, fueling her, and she’ll head to work a little earlier, greet the customers with a brighter smile. Sometimes, she’ll joke about losing a shoe while back-packing and laugh like bells jingling against glass.

And then she’ll see the stranger sitting at a table, her hands steepled beneath her chin. No smile. The years won’t be kind to her. Lines will cross her forehead like war paths. Aria will reach for the pen. Her other hand will find an unsigned receipt on the counter.  She’ll lift a ballpoint pen off the counter, notice how uncomfortably light it feels.  But she won’t even know she’s writing or what she’s writing.  The pen has brought her there.  But she’ll scrawl onto her notepad, rip out the page.  She’ll place the pen, receipt, and paper onto the table. “You forgot this.”  She won’t refer to which one.

The stranger will look up, examine her, grasp the pen clumsily. “Where?” she’ll rasp and clear her throat.

Aria will look away, shrug.

“This was my father’s. Thomas.” She’ll run her fingers against the engraved T. “He passed years ago. He always dreamed of writing his big book, but he never got the chance. Cancer.” She’ll blink and look up at Aria in surprise. “I’m sorry. Haven’t talked to anyone about it in ages. Thank you.” She’ll sign the receipt without looking.  She’ll dig in her pocket for some change, toss it on the table, and rise.

“Wait.” Aria will reach for the paper, and jot down one more thing before handing it back to her.

She’ll watch the stranger leave, expecting to feel empty, but she doesn’t. She’ll laugh softly, and while it doesn’t jilt, just the same, it’ll feel more real to her.

I’m sorry for your loss. Your pen has a legacy. Make it last forever.

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