by Kurt Hammerbeck
Fourteen dollars is all they had and three were in quarter. Counted out first for the Laundromat and now saved in a Sanka tin far back on the shelf. That’s all that was available in their apartment to provide Christmas cheer for the couple who‘s rooms we now are in. There were three in total, rooms that is, or four if you wished to count the center area as living room and dining room, separated only by the existence of a table at one end.
From the curtains to the couch next to the wall, this was an apartment of hope. Hope for something better, the few objects seemed to have been chosen with care and kept up as much as possible. Nothing appeared to be askew or out of place although there was more place then things to be in it. If we were to find her in the grand tour of the neighborhood, on a return from the market, we would find a dainty girl with her face pressed too close to the window of the Jewelers gazing lovingly at the displays. But more especially at the holder made for a set of three pens & inkwells of fine crystal on either side. ‘Someday’ she’d say and walk quickly through the cold.
Next to the bell was a sliver of paper written on with a fine Copperplate hand was Jack Wellington Grance & Family. The ink was faded gray and as of yet the family consisted of he & his wife Helen it still gave the air of high hopes that had not so much fallen as plummeted down as youthful idealism had met a job market not as friendly to liberal arts. It was this bell he rang three times, the signal they had arranged to mark his arrival at the door. She stopped her attempt to boil the vegetables into submission to wait for the man she loved. He came into the room slowly carrying all of the cares of the day on his hunched shoulders. But when she came in sight he straightened and relaxed.
After the repast he pulled the chair closer to the light and opened the end table’s drawer. Out came first came her pen, a long black eyedropper with Indians of silver half way down it second a bottle of ink. That he could use this at all was a mark of how close they were being that it had been given to her by her Grandmother who had received it through an arcane genealogy that she had once detailed from a second cousin‘s maiden aunt. Lastly from the drawer a book covered in what once must have been fine leather but years of handling had left as a mere indication of substance. He then began to write as she finished the dished. Only 3 lines a day as had his father and grandfather and great grandfather. It may have started out as a sea log but it now recorded the journey of a line of men. There were pages left but they had to be rationed to let the next generation talk as well. Lately the entries were darker after the reduction in pay had made the apartment nearly a luxury, he recorded every day’ journey not toward but away from something.
In the corner of the room was, because few people keep shrubbery in their house, a Christmas tree. She had tried to make it festive by the liberal application of tinsel but had only succeeded in defining the lopsidedness of the tree. There were ornaments on the branches but nothing beneath the tree.
‘Oh Jack whatever are we to do for Christmas.’, she exclaimed putting the final dish away.
‘I don’t know, unless there’s a bonus this year I doubt much.’
‘But there must be something.’
You must have realized that upon the neighborhood tour we were not alone in watching Helen for another set of eyes saw what she was longing for and another set of shoes walked to Halyard & Smyth Antiquarian Books.
Where a large amount of bound paper was exchanged for some smaller sheets. The penultimate eve of Christmas found her in the leather shop explaining lengths and breadths of the cover she wished made and what type of signet should be on the front. Her relations pen sat in another window with three brass balls without waiting for another to possibly give it as a gift. Rushing home with her package clutched tight she could hardly wait for the three rings. They came eventually and she nearly knocked him over as he entered carrying a gaily wrapped package as well.
‘Merry Christmas’ she yelled and thrust the package at him as he fumbled his down to the table.
‘Open it’ as they both tore paper exposing a lovely leather cover with his initials on the front.
‘It’s for your journal’ she explained pointed out the flaps and such,
‘you put the book inside and it protects it.”
‘But how did you afford it?’ he replied.
‘Oh I sold that old pen from my grandmother, got enough for this and dinner too’
He sat down hard and started to laugh,’ well this won’t do you much good then’.
He pushed his package toward her ’Not much use now’.
She extracted the box with a Jeweler’s name she recognized and gasped.
Within the tissue inside the box was the desk set ready for a pen that was not hers.
© 2009 Kurt Hammerbeck