A man, a pen and his career
THE PLUMED PEN
By Bertie Williams
Romona Martin pulled the letter out of the mailbox, turned it over and smiled a broad, happy smile. She closed the box and carried the letter inside. She stood behind her husband who tapped laboriously away at his computer key board.
She walked up softly behind him and held the letter in front of his eyes.
He grabbed at it, turning suddenly to see Romona. Taking the letter from her fingers he read the top left corner - World Class Magazine, in crisp cerulean letters.
He paused, looked up at Romona and fingered the letter. He had waited six weeks for this. Taking the letter opener, he slid it through the flap of the cream colored envelope and lifted out the cream colored page.
He looked up at Romona who smiled and nodded encouragement.
Slowly, he released the letter from its compartment and opened it.
Blue letter head with a globe at the far left highlighted the missive, with the legend: World Class Magazine along the top.
Marty began to read aloud, "Dear Mr. Martin, I am completely underwelmed . . . is that even a word?"
Marty paused and looked up at Romona who frowned but said, "go on,"
"I am completely underwhelmed by your submission to World Class Magazine. The story you sent was poorly constructed. That is to say the least of the problems with this unbelievable missive. To think that your heroin, Miss Crawford, could escape unscathed from not one, but three successive explosions is beyond the pall. Your action scenes are bland and your premise unrealistic.
We, here at World Class Magazine, would be pleased if you would accept our complete rejection and agree never to send any other works for consideration to this magazine. They will not be read and will be returned unopened.
Have A Nice Day
Editor in Chief
World Class Magazine"
Romona lay a hand on Marty's shoulder.
"So . . . you can submit to other magazines."
"No, Romy, you don't understand, Charles Pennigood is the ultimate . . . the best there is.
If he says I stink, I must really be paying off."
"Oh, come on, Marty. Everyone says your stories are the best they've ever read.
"Everyone ain't Charles Pennigood."
Marty tossed the rejection letter on the desk and pushed himself away from his computer.
The day was ruined, his writing not good enough, and he had a sudden headache.
"Come on, let's take Tinker down to the park."
"I thought you said you'd be writing all day?" Romona asked.
"What for? I stink!"
Marty walked past Romona, pulling Tinker's dog leash down off the hall wall and calling the dog. Romona followed though Marty didn't say much for the rest of the day.
Marty Martin walked along the sidewalk toward downtown. He scuffed the heals of his shoes; something he always did when he was depressed. His hands were sunk deep in his pant's pockets, his shirt open halfway down his chest. He had little care for how he looked today. Yesterday all his dreams had been neatly tied up in a cream colored envelope and thrown deftly onto a garbage heap.
He looked in the shop windows as he passed, not really noticing anything until he came to a dusty old shop at the far end of the block. An ancient typewriter, probably one of the first ever made, sat on a red silk covered pedestal in the center of the window. Before it, on graduated shelves were pencil cases, Some were opened to reveal the sets inside, some closed to show the covers. There were silver, gold, black and one that was a lovely shade of light blue. He thought about Romona, always without a pen or pencil when she needed one and considered the blue case would be perfect for her. Besides, buying something for his wife and seeing her reaction would lift his spirits. He opened the door and a tiny bell atop the portal rang softly.
"Yes?" he heard a reedy voice hail from the back of the shop.
Marty stepped forward; the inside was dimly lit. Shelves were piled high with books, packages of writing paper, typewriting supplies, pencils, pens, and notebooks. The right side wall held shelves lined with every sort of typewriter that could be thought of, some vintage some very new.
Under the soft glow of track lights a thin, pale man stood. He beckoned Marty closer with a slender pointer finger and said, "May I help you?"
"Uh . . . yeah, I'm interested in that blue pencil case in the window. Does it come with pen and pencil?
"But, of course. Wait here, I'll get it and show you."
The man hurried off and Marty waited, looking at a glass lined case behind the counter.
Inside the case were old ink bottles; the kind he'd seen in movies about the 1800's, quill pens and parchment paper were arranged in neat rows. He rubbed his eyes because he thought he saw a soft blue aura around one of the quill pens, but when the man returned the glow faded.
"Here we are," the man said and handed Marty the pencil case. He opened it and saw that the pencil and pen inside were decorated with a gold band that wound around the length of the entire pen and pencil, sparkling softly.
"This is very beautiful. How much?"
The man held up a finger, "first Sir, allow me to ask, are you a writer?"
"Yes." Although his mind wanted to scream "no".
"Is this for your own use?"
"No . . . it's for my wife. Why?"
"Oh. Is she by chance a writer?"
"No . . . why all the questions?"
"Oh, don't mind it Sir. It is only that I wish to be certain the article bought will be the very best purchased for the party concerned."
"I think I know what my wife would appreciate and what she wouldn't."
"To be sure, Sir, that is definitely the case. No reflection upon your judgment, it is a reflection upon my own. You see, this particular set of pen and pencil belonged to a very talented female poet. She passed on a few years ago and I purchased this from her estate."
"I see, you want to make sure it goes to someone who will care for it . . ."
"Oh, no Sir. I want it to go to someone who will use it."
Marty smiled, "she'll use it alright. She never has a pen or pencil with her and I'll make certain she keeps this in her purse."
The man smiled.
Marty couldn't take his eyes of the old quill that had shown so noticeably when the man went to fetch the set.
"What are all those ink bottles and pens and stuff?"
The man turned and looked, "why, those are remarkable items."
"Are they for sale?"
"Quite so, yes. Every one."
"What about that quill there with the yellow plume?"
"Yes, yes it is for sale. A curious quill that one. It is purported to have belonged to Wordsworth Longfellow, Edgar Poe and Percy Shelly, to name a few."
"Yes. It is a rare item indeed."
"Funny, while you were in the front of the store, I thought . . . that is . . . I thought I saw it glowing."
"Well, er, yes, truly."
The man smiled broadly and rubbed his hands together. The sound was like two slips of paper being scrubbed atop one another. He turned to the cabinet and opened it up. He slid the quill and a small ink bottle out of the cabinet and set it on the counter in front of Marty.
"Wow, this is really nice," Marty said and hefted the quill in his fingers. It was far heavier than he thought it would be. The proprietor slid a piece of parchment toward Marty and said, "care to try it out?"
"I've never used a pen like this, I might mistreat it . . ."
"You cannot mistreat it, Sir. It will perform wonderfully for you."
Marty touched the quill to the paper. It flowed across the scratchy parchment as if he were writing on the finest velum. If he did not know better, he would have thought that the words appeared just by touching the pen to the page.
"This is easier than I thought it would be. Look . . ." and he held the page up for the man to see. The store owner nodded and smiled. "You should be very satisfied with it Sir, I assure you."
"Well, now, wait a minute, how much?"
"For the pencil case, twenty dollars. For the quill . . . nothing. It is yours, it likes you."
Marty looked up at the man, "it likes me? What's that supposed to mean?"
"Why, only that it likes you."
Marty studied the fellow as the man took a small brown paper bag and loaded the pencil case, quill and the bottle of ink he had plugged closed, into a paper sack. He handed Marty the package, wished him "Good day" and Marty left.
He looked back into the shop's window when he exited, but the counter was too far toward the back of the store to be visible from the street.
Marty shrugged his shoulders and turned back toward home.
"Well? How do you like it?"
"It's beautiful, Marty. I love it."
"Now you've got something to jot down the phone number of that handsome guy you always tell me about."
"Oh, Marty, you know that's a running joke between us . . ."
"And, has been one for years. Anyway, you never have a pen or pencil to jot down my ideas when we're traveling, so . . ."
"So, you thought you'd do something for yourself and say it was for me?"
"Oh, boy, this isn't going the way I pictured."
She placed her arm around his neck and drew him close.
"Don't worry, Old Boy, I think its a fabulous gift and really, really pretty."
"The man in the store said that it belonged to a poetess, once."
"Really? Anyone famous?"
"He didn't say."
"Mmm. I'm gonna make dinner. Crab cakes I think, some nice green salad and that new wine you brought home the other day . . . sound good?"
Marty nodded and Romona disappeared toward the kitchen.
Marty took the quill and ink bottle out of the paper sack and placed it on his desk next to the computer. It looked odd there, a piece of the eighteenth century hard by the twenty-first, sort of a leap through time, Marty figured. He ran his fingers along the feather end of the quill. It was golden colored and much more silky than he had imagined. He picked the quill up and looked at the edge. It was sharp, tapering to a fine point, stained by the blackening ink. He plunged the quill point into the little ink bottle and pulled it out again. A shining drip of ink hung at the tip. He returned the quill and readied his computer for composition.
Romona had long since gone to bed. It was usual that Marty stay up late. He claimed his best work was done at night, when all around him was silent. He began a short story, one that had been rolling around inside his head for a day or two. He typed furiously, getting the ideas and dialogue down before he forgot what he was going to say. He read it back and highlighted the entire text blotting it out with the delete key.
"What crap! Pennigood was right, I am one lousy writer."
He lay his head on the keyboard, the computer screen registering a long string of g's and j's produced by Marty's forehead. From the corner of his eye he noticed the quill. That glow was about it once more. That iridescent blue shine that had attracted him in the store shown with more intensity than it did before. He reached out a finger and touched the quill gingerly. He felt a soft vibration from the quill, and the light grew brighter. Removing the quill from the ink well, he began to write on the piece of parchment the store manager gave him.
He did not stop until both sides of the parchment was filled in small, straight lined script and half the short story was complete. He read it back. The story was wonderful. He could see a difference in the construction, the wording; the development was steady and perfect. He lay the quill down and rubbed his eyes. What a story this was. He would transfer it to the computer in the morning, but now he needed rest. Marty switched off the computer, placed the quill back into the ink bottle and looked at the page, holding it up to the light.
Funny, he thought, in the old movies, you've gotta let the ink dry before you can turn it over . . ." The ink had dried almost immediately as it was put to the page. Must be twenty first century ink . . . dries on contact . . . Marty yawned and stretched, time for bed.
Marty rose the next morning to the smell of bacon and eggs. Coffee and toast joined the olfactory chorus and he slipped into his house shoes and ambled down stairs. As he turned the corner into the kitchen, he saw Romona standing before the stove, her long brown hair loose about her shoulders, singing as she flipped two over-easy eggs. He came up behind her and placed his arms around her waist, kissing her neck.
"That story you wrote on the parchment last night is very good. Different than what you usually do, but really good."
"You think so?"
She turned to him and planted a kiss on his lips, "yes, I think so."
Marty ate his breakfast with satisfaction. In fact, he had not felt so complete since he was in college. He recalled the story he wrote down on the parchment and smiled. He finished his eggs, sopping up the last of the liquid yolk with his toast and swallowing it down with coffee.
"I'm going to the study. I want to transfer what's on the parchment into the computer. Then, I think we'll take Tinker and go to the beach, sound good?"
"Oh yeah! I'll pack a lunch."
He kissed his wife and headed toward his study. He entered and clicked his computer on. Taking the parchment he clipped it to his reading stand and began to type in the first line of his story. The computer went dead.
Marty reached down and turned the machine off, and re-started the tower. It came to life, the screen asking for his password. He typed it in, got his desktop and clicked for his word processor. He began to type the first few words, and . . . the computer switched off again.
He stood up and went to the kitchen, complaining to Romona about the computer.
"We'll call the repair guy. He'll see what's wrong. At least you have it on paper," and she smiled up at him so winningly that he forgot this minor problem and went upstairs to ready himself for their excursion.
It was one of those misty days on the ocean that Marty so loved. They wore sweaters against the slight chill and watched the ocean going vessels in the distance as they plied the offshore waters heading down the coast toward New York City or the New Jersey docks.
Tinker darted in and out of the shallow waves on shore while they lay their blanket down beneath the deep overhang that formed a cleft in the rocks fronting the bay. Here they were sheltered from the mist and damp air. This was their place, one of the first sites Marty had taken her after their honeymoon.
"I love this place," Romona said, and turned to watch a cruise ship drift by on the horizon.
"So do I." Marty answered and flipped a chunk of left over chicken to Tinker.
He took his cell phone out of the basket and flipped it open.
"Hi, Jim? This is Marty Martin over in Shorelake? Yeah, listen, I'm having some kind of trouble with my computer. It switches off when I use my word processor. Okay . . . I tried that. Um-hmm. Yeah, we'll be home about three. Okay, see you then."
He closed the phone, looked at his watch and said, "good, we've got two hours," and wrapped his arms around Romona and lay her back on the blanket.
The repair man switched Marty's computer on. He sat before it, asking for Marty's password and typing it in. He went to the word processor and asked for a blank page. He typed in the quick brown fox jumped . . . and . . . . the computer did not switch off.
"It's not turning off now," Jimmy said and looked at Marty who hung over his shoulder like an expectant parent. "I'll run a diagnostic, but it seem okay to me."
Marty left Jimmy to his work and walked outside to the living room. He switched on the TV and found a basketball game. He watched it until Jimmy appeared in the doorway telling him there was nothing wrong with the computer.
"Must have been a temporary glitch," he said and handed Marty a bill.
"Okay, well then, I'll be able to use it?"
"I don't see why not, I was able to."
Marty saw Jimmy to the door and closed it softly behind him. Turning off the TV he headed to his study, and sat down before the computer, a blank page from the word processor glowing white on the screen.
He began to type, and, the computer switched off.
Marty picked up the sheet of paper and read the lines. He read them again, for they were superbly done. Romona stuck her head in the door, on her way to the laundry room with her arms filled with clothes.
"Romy, did you write this?"
Marty held up the sheet of pale blue writing paper and Romy smiled shyly and nodded.
"I didn't know you could write poetry."
"I can't that's just something I jotted down . . ."
"Jotted down? It's perfect Iambic/Pentameter."
Romona laughed, "I don't know anything about Iambic/Pentameter, except that Shakespeare used it a lot."
"Are you kidding? It's perfect." Marty paused, then with a smile said, "I guess you just caught the rhythm, or, something."
"Yeah, I guess that's it. I'm a mathematics major remember? Analytical math . . ."
"Sure, but you could've fooled me. I'm gonna put this into the computer."
"Is it working now?"
"Don't know, but I'll try. Oh, and, are my lips really that sensuous?"
Romy smiled and ducked out of eyesight.
Marty sat at the computer and pulled up his word processor. Everything else worked on the machine, the internet could be accessed, games, dictionaries, everything accept the word processor. He opened a blank page and began to type. The words registered on the page, clear and crisp. Marty sat back and looked at the screen.
"So glad you decided to join me, Mr. Word Smith," and, Marty smiled delighted that now he would be able to input his story.
He finished Romona's poem and re-read it several times. Not only to check it for typos, but to relish in its depth and skill. She might deny it, but Marty was certain Romona was keeping part of her education a secret. Maybe she was wary of showing off in front of him, she was a damned good poet that was for sure. Maybe she thought she would eclipse his talent? He shook off that idea, she was not a writer, or a poet, her past attempts had been laughable. Marty had even turned one or two of her stories into good comedies, though it had been a lot of work. He completed the poem, saved and sent it and began to input his story. The computer shut down.
"Damn!" He smacked the side of the monitor and picked up the phone. He dialed a number for the word processor manufacturer which he kept in his desk. After a few moments conversation they agreed to send him a new copy of the disk to download. Now, he sat there looking at the blank page on the screen.
The quill pen caught his eye.
He went back to the shop, for Marty had used all his parchment paper and the quill wouldn't work on any other writing surface. At the counter Marty waited for the proprietor to appear. He did not. Marty could hear him rummaging around behind the glass case.
"Hey! Hello." He called several times with no response.
He was about to turn and leave when the man came around the case and with a look of total surprise on his long, thin face, said "Why, Mr. Martin. Good to see you. May I be of assistance?"
Marty considered telling him to go to Hell, that his ignorance of him was spectacularly rude, but he needed that parchment paper.
"Mr, er . . . " Marty began.
"Toliver. Ignacious Toliver at your service." Toliver bowed at the waist and handed Marty a small business card from his vest pocket.
"I, uh, need more parchment."
"Oh, indeed! Then, you have used the quill?"
"Yes, quite often. Only thing is . . . it will only write on parchment paper. I need more."
"Ah, yes. You know these old instruments are sensitive. Different surfaces throw the objects like pens into all sorts of tizzles."
"Tizzles? Well yes, I suppose the quill was made to write on parchment's surface. How much for the paper?"
"You are an earnest and talented man, Mr. Martin. I will let you have the skin for fifty cents a sheet."
Marty stood up straight, beginning a protest, but then relented. Where else would he find parchment paper in this town? Fifty cents a sheet wasn't all that bad, although he hoped he found an alternative before he began a novel.
Toliver licked his thumb and forefinger and counted out fifteen sheets of parchment. He rolled them into a scroll, tied them with a blue gross-grained ribbon and handed it to Marty. Marty paid him and turned to go.
Marty looked back at Toliver, "I am going on extended vacation for a while. If there are any other needs, I suggest you take care of them now."
"No, that will be all, Mr. Toliver." There was something in the air of the shop this time that sent chills up Marty's spine and he wanted to be away. He walked out and looked back through the shop window. He could see Toliver standing there, a wide grin on his face, his dark eyes penetrating through Marty's brain. He turned away quickly and went to his car.
"That's the last time I come here," he said aloud.
"Truly Romy, these poems are fantastic!"
Marty looked through the sheets of blue paper at the wonderful poetry his wife had composed.
"You really think so?"
"Yes," he said and kissed her, "I do. We are sending these to a publisher. We'll get a chapbook started and you'll be published in no time."
"I . . . I don't want to send them."
"What? Are you insane? You'll be a hit for sure. These poems are perfect. Listen. honey, I can't sit here and ask you not to send these out. They're as good as Browning, or Millay or any number of other poets."
Romona shrugged and placed her arms around Marty's neck.
"Go ahead then if you think it's worthwhile."
"Worthwhile? Somebody's got to start winning the bread around here."
Marty smiled broadly and typed the rest of the poems into the computer. He counted them up, forty-five perfect poems, a nice little chap book would be the result.
"Wait." Romona said and lay a hand atop Marty's
"Let's send them to Pennigood."
"World Class Magazine? He probably won't even look once he sees the name Martin."
"There's other Martins in the world. Okay, I'll use my maiden name, Romona Gregg."
"You want to?"
"Yes. I want to."
Marty finished the input then went to find Romona in the garden, futzing about with the flower bed.
"I'm taking Tinker to the vet for his check-up. Be back in a couple of hours." He put the dog in the car, got in and pulled out.
Romona removed her gloves, brushed herself off and headed toward Marty's study. Once inside, she switched on the computer and sat down, clipping the very first hand written parchment to the reading stand. She began to type in the first line and the computer recorded the words. She smiled and continued until all ten of the short stories were input, then she shut the computer down and went to the kitchen to make lunch.
"Marty?" She called to him as she heard the front door open and noted the scrabble of Tinker's claws on the hardwood floor.
"I've got a surprise for you."
She appeared at the end of the hallway beckoning him to follow. She led him to the study and started the computer. Entering the word processor she called up his stories, all neatly typed and spell-checked.
"How . . . when did you do this?"
"While you were at the vet."
"It worked for you? It didn't cut off ?"
"Not once. Now, I was thinking, what a great joke it would be to send Pennigood one of your short stories and have him accept it. We could include it with my poems. Imagine his face when he finds out what he's printed has been written by the great Marty Martin."
"That sounds like a plan, but, only if he accepts your poetry."
Romona frowned, "I thought you said they were good."
"They are, but, well you know how temperamental publishers are, and . . ."
"Let's try, Marty. I've got a really good feeling about it."
"Okay." Marty answered and he sent the message to the printer to produce all of Romona's poems and the very best one of his short stories."
They left for their lunch, ham sandwiches with pickles and cole-slaw.
"Want to walk with me?" Romona asked, shrugging into her jacket.
"The post office. We are going to send that material out; now."
Marty shook his head, gulped down his lemon tea and joined his wife. Nothing beats a failure but a try, his mother had always said, and Marty had plenty of failures so there was nothing wrong in trying once more.
It was Christmas Eve. Both Marty and Romona sat before the fireplace, their Christmas tree glowing softly. Tinker lay stretched out before the fire. It was almost twelve and they opened one present each when the clock struck.
Marty had gotten Romona a beautiful ring, onyx with diamond chips around the border. Romona held a letter up to Marty.
"Here," was all she said and handed it to him to open.
Marty looked at the left hand corner, World Class Magazine. He turned the envelope over and looked at the flap.
"It's not opened. It could be a rejection."
"No, it's not, I can feel it. It's good news."
Marty tore the end of the envelope off carefully and slid the familiar cream colored page out. He opened it and read.
"Dear Ms. Gregg,
It is seldom that World Class Magazine receives submissions of so fine a quality. I am happy to inform you that your poems will be published, two at a time in the next seven issues.
We will. as well, print your short story The Devil's Own, which will be highlighted in our next issue.
We will be sending a contract to you under separate cover. Please read through the contract and let us know if it is satisfactory. If it meets with your requirements, take the necessary steps to ratify.
Welcome to the World Class Magazine family.
Editor in Chief
World Class Magazine.
"Holy . . . that's wonderful news. I told you," Marty said and paused to kiss Romona, "the poems would go over great."
"And, your story too. Now we just wait until it's published and break the news. A wonderful Christmas gift, no?"
"A wonderful Christmas gift, yes."
Spring broke the cold weather like a knife slicing through warm butter. Trees sent their buds to the their tips, sprouting new green, and the heads of flowers began to jut through the dark earth. The air was sweet and warm as Marty drove downtown. This was his third trip to Toliver's store. It had been closed up tight, metal shutters pulled down over the windows. Marty walked from the car and rattled the gates. He hoped that Toliver was inside and would hear. Marty had used the very last sheet of parchment and was in desperate need of more. Romona tried helping, she ordered parchment paper over the web, a few costly sheets, but the damned quill would not write on them. Hoping that Toliver would return soon, Marty had begun a novel. But, he needed more pages and the shop remained closed. He banged on the door, recalling his statement that Toliver would not return for an extended amount of time. Under the circumstances he had no choice.
Marty kicked the metal grate in frustration and got back into his car. He had to pick Romona up at the publishers. Her poems were now collected in a chap book. She had added twenty-five more. The publishers were delighted at the amount of poetry Romona produced and gave her a five year contract. The short stories were being collected too, just a few more and her first book would be printed. People wrote in to World Class Magazine pronouncing Romona the new Elizabeth Barrett Browning. She could not help but feel proud, and, though Marty hated to admit it, he could not help but feel jealous.
"When do we tell Pennigood about the ruse?" Marty asked the night before.
"Oh, I don't know, soon, okay?"
There could be no denying that Romona was basking in the light of success. She wrote every day, at least three poems which she formatted and sent off to her publisher. Marty struggled to add his thoughts in note form to the computer. If he tried to type the story in, it came out jumbled and ill written. But, when he placed quill to parchment the words flowed and his story jumped to life. Romona still input them to the computer, but she was distracted more than ever by her success. Then, this morning she had announced that her publisher wanted her to go on a four week tour for book signings.
Marty wished her well, but deep inside he envied her. He was the writer after all, not his wife. He had studied and worked, submitted and waited for his name to be known and not received one jot of recognition. The plan that Romona had laid out at Christmas of revealing the true identity of the story writer to Pennigood did not, so far, materialize.
Romona left on her tour. Marty was left alone, lines of his novel burning in his head and he, unable to record them in the manner in which he could on the parchment.
He sat in his study with a glass of vodka in his hand. He looked at the quill, glowing softly and stood up. He took the pen from the inkwell and shook off the excess black liquid. He placed the nib on a sheet of velum and nothing came out, not one scratch. He tossed the quill roughly down on the table and slugged the vodka down. He was slightly tipsy as he walked to the small alcove in which Romona composed her poems. She had a small desk there, her chair's back toward the window so daylight would shine on her pages. Marty opened the desk drawer and looked inside. The pencil case he had bought for her lay there. He took it out and opened it. It glowed softly, just like the quill. Now he knew. It wasn't Romona's talent, neither was it his, but something in these writing implements. If Romona didn't have the pen, she wouldn't be able to write her poetry.
He smiled fiendishly. Taking the pen between his thumb and forefinger he sought to snap or bend it. Then, he thought not. If he did, their money would dry up. He couldn't get anything published on his own, and Romona would not be able to produce anything more. She was stealing his thunder and he would have to put up with it.
Romona returned and Marty picked her up at the airport. She was filled with stories of her book tour. How the media had played her up, how she had met some of the biggest authors of their time at a writer's festival in New Mexico, and, how they had proclaimed her the best new author of the year.
Marty listened distracted. He drove to the house and carried her luggage inside. She stood in the living room, looking around as if she had never seen the place before. Then, she walked to her desk and sat down, then looked up at Marty.
"I . . . I'm leaving you Marty."
Marty stumbled backward. He raised his hand to his forehead and stammered, "wh - why? What happened?"
"Oh, Marty. You can't deny we've drifted apart. You can't stand the fact that I'm famous and you're not. You constantly underrate me, try to discourage me, Steve doesn't do that."
"Steve? You mean your publisher and you . . . "
"I know it's hard to take Marty, but truly, I am more talented than you ever were."
She stated this in a mater-of-fact tone, running her hand over her latest book in a loving gesture.
"This is just too much! First you use my short stories to get published, then you kick me in the teeth?"
No, Marty. I used my poems to get published. Your stories were incidental."
"You said you'd tell Pennigood they were mine. I'd be where I belonged then. Famous and successful. You used me . . ."
"Oh, come on, Marty. We both know you couldn't have written one good line without that quill."
Marty's mouth hung open.
"I figured it out long ago. And my pen and pencil? They were the same. At first I thought 'what a break for Marty,' but when I saw how everybody loved my poetry I thought, 'what a break for me."
Marty sat down heavily on the chaise lounge on the opposite wall. He exhaled and looked at Romona. He loved her more than ever, needed her by his side more than ever and he could not let her go.
"I'm not staying here tonight. Steve has a place in the city, I'll be moving in this afternoon."
She stood up and left the room, he could hear her ascending the stairs to pack her things. This couldn't be happening. The only thing he could do was run to Toliver's shop, hope it was open and get more parchment paper. Maybe if he finished the novel, he could hire a typist, have it formatted and submit it for publication.
He drove recklessly, his mind clouded by alcohol. Luckily, no police stopped him and he pulled up in front of Toliver's store delighted to see that the grates were up and a soft light shown from inside the shop. Marty pulled his collar up for he had left the house with only a suit jacket and the gray winter's day was cold.
"Ah, Mr. Martin." Toliver said as he drew near to the counter.
"I want to purchase more parchment paper."
"Oh, Mr. Martin, I am terribly sorry, but my suppliers no longer send me that brand. They have discontinued that line."
"Then, give me some other."
"I never carried any other. The demand for the paper was never large and it was not cost effective to continue carrying parchment."
"Then," Marty said, pulling the quill and stoppered ink bottle from his pocket, "take it back and give me something else in equal exchange."
"But, Mr. Martin, I gave you the quill and ink for free, don't you remember?"
Marty leaned his fists on the counter, he stood unsteadily for he was quite affected by the alcohol he drank all morning.
"Yeah, I remember, no price."
Toliver raised two fingers to his lips and smiled, "there was a price, Mr. Martin. There is always a price . . ."
Toliver picked up the quill and ink and handed them back to Martin. He looked at them and then around the room.
"What about one of those typewriters over there?"
Toliver crossed the room and lay his hand on an ancient looking manual.
"This one," he said "is a fine machine. Only three-thousand dollars."
"Three thousand? I, I haven't got that much." All the monies were in Romona's name. He had very little capitol and knew he could not get that much from her. She was decidedly against him, wishing her new life with Steve to have nothing to do with Marty at all.
"The others," Toliver continued, "are more expensive. Look, Mr. Martin, why don't you go home and rest. I am certain tomorrow, everything will look completely different to you."
Toliver handed the quill and ink bottle to Martin and taking his arm ushered him through the door to the street. Marty stood looking for a moment or two at the items in his hand then got into his car and drove home.
The house was dark and chill. Romona had gone, even taking Tinker with her. Marty sat down heavily on the couch with a bottle of Vodka and a glass. He lay the quill and ink bottle out on the ottoman before him and looked at them. The quill no longer glowed. It had not done so for a number of weeks. While Romona was away Marty had scoured the house searching for the pen and pencil set he gave her. He never found it and new she had taken it with her. Now, defeated he sat there in the darkened house chilled to the bone.
Marty stood up and started a fire in the grate. He nursed it until it was a full blaze. As he looked up on the mantle top he noted a letter sealed inside one of Romona's pale blue envelopes.
Enclosed is a check for two-thousand dollars. Make it last, Marty, there won't be any more coming until after the divorce. I'm sorry things worked out the way they did. Take care of yourself,
Marty stumbled backward, landing hard on the couch. He lifted the bottle of Vodka to his lips and guzzled it down. He set the bottle on the ottoman and took the note, tearing it furiously into as many bits as he could, the check included, and tossed it into the fire. Then, he picked up the quill and ink and tossed them in too. A bright blue-white flame erupted as they burned and Marty returned to his bottle and the solace of a besotted mind.
"Romona, have you seen this?"
Steve brought the morning paper below the deck of his yacht and handed it to her. They were anchored in Bimini, waiting to go on to South Florida for a three day writing convention.
Romona had been writing. She picked up the paper, noting where Steve stabbed his forefinger down at an article. The small headline read:
Husband Of Successful Author Found Dead.
Romona continued to read:
Marty Martin, estranged husband of poetess, Romona Gregg was found dead in his apartment on Fifth street in lower Manhattan on Thursday morning. Mr. Martin was a writer as well, though he never enjoyed success. Coroner's report stated Mr. Martin died of alcohol poisoning.
Romona looked up at Steve and pushed the paper aside.
"Be a darling, Steve" she said, "and find out what funeral home they're taking him to. Send them five-thousand. That should cover the expenses. Oh, and Steve? Do it anonymously."
Romona chewed the end of the blue and gold pen and considered, "maybe I'll write Marty a tribute piece . . . but, then again, maybe not."
She looked out at the waves as they bounded toward the shore. She put the finishing touches on her poem and joined Steve on deck for breakfast. It was going to be a beautiful day. A beautiful day indeed.
Word Count 6859