I thought I would know the feel of it in my hand, but I didn’t recognize the fountain pen until I was replacing the cap. It was the familiar sharp point in the thread that caught my finger.
‘Oh, sorry, I should have said to watch that.’ Sarah smiled at me as she took the receipt book back. Her face fell when she noticed the line of X’s beside my name. ‘Falling a little behind this month?’ She pushed the book back into the food cabinet and locked it.
‘We should have more soon, I promise.’
Sarah dusted off the table and leaned forward, beckoning me closer. ‘I can only cover you a little longer.’
‘Just a few more days.’ Before all this, I had wanted to do something important.
‘I can get you four, maybe five. But you have to make some of this up by then.’ She touched my hand. ‘Okay?’
‘Keep the pen.’ When she smiled again, I could see she knew I was lying.
My father was a doctor. He had always used the same fountain pen, until I took it with me when I left. To replace the ink, you had to wrench the barrel apart, twisting as hard as you could. Once I’d pressed a knife against the point of separation to try to loosen it, but only made the sharp edge that led me to know it now.
He had scrawled prescriptions with it, noted on charts who would live or die, and how long they had. He didn’t sign birthday cards or letters.
‘You came back.’ He croaked the same thing whenever I entered our shack.
‘I came back a while ago.’
Everything was as he left it, except the walls. I had found metal shelves to hold his books, a wooden desk, and to him, it was his old office. But there were pallets on opposite sides of the room, and the wind came through the cracks in the walls most nights.
I set the tins of beans on the desk.
‘Something came back to me today.’ I helped him from his nest of blankets on the floor and to the chair, avoiding the bright, milky blue gaze of his eyes. Others like him sat in the dirt, barely speaking. Even when they were gone they continued to stare.
I set the fountain pen on the desk before him.
He reached out and touched it gingerly. ‘My pen.’
‘You remember it? I stole it before I left home.’
He looked up at me. ‘You came back.’
I turned away from his cool eyes and pressed the can opener into one of the tins of beans. Then, in my periphery, I saw him pick the pen up. I dropped the opener. ‘What are you doing?’
He held the pen out to me. ‘You have to write it.’
‘What?’ Our eyes met. The blue had retreated to the whites of his eyes, the center replaced by the old, familiar brown.
‘What’s happened. No one is writing anymore. You have to record it, all of it.’
Then the blue seeped inwards like water, and he dropped the pen.