(Shortstories Part 2, Books III & IV by ZJ Galos)
When I moved my shoulder bag from a side position to my chest, I felt a pinprick. I opened the top flap where I keep my ink pens, pencils, and other writing paraphernalia and I saw that my black parker pen was missing. I remembered having placed the delicate ink pen next to the stainless steel ballpoint pen in the morning. I felt the pinprick again as the bag strap moved on my shoulders. I always keep the strap of my bag around my neck to secure it from misplacing it while I think of other tasks, or from leaving it behind in one of the print shops I frequent lately. My fingers searched the pocket and found the pen, but I couldn’t find its cap. It must have been slipping off while I retrieved the ballpoint pen in a hurry to write something down. Blast! I’ve tried to retrace my steps pf today, but then there were many places I’ve visited, the hardware shop at first and the last one, the photographic shop came immediately to mind, where I was for passport photographs. But then, I would not have taken the pen out there, as I keep my wallet separated from the top pocket of my bag. It must have been at a place where I wrote down an address, or noted down a Greek word I wished to study later.
I felt bad, with age creeping up slowly on me, drained of energy and irritated by my lack of alertness, not having noticed the cap of the ink pen falling to the floor. It must have been at a place where the ground was soft, perhaps the grassed area between the tram stations, or possibly a shop with a carpeted floor. No, there are hardly any soft floor coverings in shops, as all of them have stone or ceramic floor tiles. My eyelids felt like lead. I took my glasses off rubbing them, feeling frustrated. You should not do this, my inner voice reprimanded me, it’s bad for your eyes. I stopped and removed my fingers from my eyelids. As I opened my eyes, my vision was blurred. I felt dehydrated, rushed to the kitchen and placed a glass below the water dispenser on the fridge. The cool water rushed down my throat like free flowing water from a natural spring. Immediately I felt refreshed and the first bout of anger about losing Anna’s ink pen cap subsided. Memories about losing her travel ink pen reminded me of losing her as a lover, with her body slipping from my grip. It still feels devastating having lost her. I recall that at one time I had lost her first pen she gave me as a present and I told her. “Don’t cry,” she said and handed me immediately another one. I thanked her and she smiled acknowledging my efforts to write while I was riding on a bus for an hour to see her. I kept this pen in my travel bag. These gadgets were cute ink pens using cartridges, compact and ideal for writing while traveling.
Unfortunately I fell asleep while writing my journal on a bus ride and the ink pen slipped from my hand. It fell into the gap between the edge of the plastic seat and the inner wall of the bus and I couldn’t retrieve it again. So, I carried on writing with the second one, until I lost it the same way again, rolling off my bag and falling into a crack between a train station’s paving and the wall enclosing the lifts. Now tragically, it couldn’t be replaced any longer by Anna, as Anna, who knew the source for them, had passed away.
I prepared supper, beef mince and tomatoes, spiced with oregano. I cooked the pasta al dente and added the meat-sauce on top. My spouse ate without saying anything. She must have sensed my tension, the loss of Anna’s pens induced in me. “This pasts is delicious,” she said finally and looked at me with eyes that expressed the continual headaches she suffered from. I enjoyed my pasta dish too.
Slowly the memories faded again and I looked at the ink pen’s shaft with the golden nob, as I had to write down some ideas for a story. I played with the pen in my fingers and recalled my life that had changed since I met H, who became my instant soulmate. What a way out of love that gave me another love I have never questioned, just enjoyed. It seemed that Anna had finally taken leave from me and set me free in mind and soul, to enjoy my new Muse and pick the fruit of mature love, which I thought had become dormant, with new gusto. The pain of losing a lover physically, followed by losing her personal presents, had been a prolonged agony with the loss of these important presents, she had given me when I met her with my spouse for dinner. She told her husband that she’ll let me choose one of her writing utensils from her collection. I choose a pen I liked intuitively. I heard her words repeated as rising panic shot-up in my spine and into my head, where it exploded as a flash in my brain and I saw suddenly black spots. “No!” I cried out, the cap must have slid further down into the pocket of my shoulder bag. Warm sweat covered my forehead as I began looking yet again for it, but I couldn’t find it. Then I remembered that the black cap of the pen always had a loose cap, probably due to the extensive use of pulling it off and replacing it, while Anna used it.
“I call you an equal,” she said as she listened to a recital of one of my poems. “I will give you a pen from my collection.” She left suddenly and came back with a box of pens she had collected. “Which one would you like?”
“This one,” I said and took a black slim pen that seemed to me most suitable for her in style and appearance. “Oh,” she said “that one? I wrote all my poetry with it.” She smiled and I felt as if I would have touched the extension of the poet’s soul as I held her pen between my fingers, stroking its smooth dark shaft. The cap disengaged too easily, as if the resistance of holding it in place had been worked off by constant opening and closing. I loved Anna’s pen and kept it at a special place, in the drawer of my night table. At times I stopped using it, as it did not write properly on the unlined paper of some notebooks. I remembered that Anna had told me that certain ink pens write only properly on certain papers, especially pens with finer nibs. A new series of Italian notebooks favoured the use of my Waterman pen. The more different paper-surface qualities I came across, the more I began to understand Anna’s collection of ink pens with different nib qualities, and I began collecting my own set of ink pens. But if I fancied a certain design of a quality ink pen, which I could not resist to acquire, I had to find the matching unlined notebook, whose pages provided the paper, the new ink pen’s nib would write upon properly.
However, one day I ran out of cartridges for the French pen, but I had still cartridges left for Anna’s black Parker pen. I recalled the paper quality she had shown me, onto which the nib’s ink flow would be best. The words I wrote turned into a prose-poem of my life with her, for a short period of 21 days, during which I saw her every late morning. I walked the southern suburbs of Athens searching for the shop which carried electrical appliances at best prices, I intended buying. Anna’s pen had a magical effect on me, besides making notes into my pocket notebook, its smooth slender shaft I ran my fingers along, reminded me of her well-proportioned body. Absentminded I stuck her pen into the breast pocket of my shirt, whenever I finished my notes. My initial fear of losing it had evaporated and self-confidence of handling it returned to me with its frequent use.
One August day I set out early in the morning to visit my friends in town, Kritikos, in a pizzeria and Baba Che, in his ice cream parlour. As closer I walked to the Plaka district, the more light-footed I felt, greeting friends I haven’t seen for some years. Of course they immediately recognised me and we exchanged news about our lives. As Che, as I called him, due to his tee-shirt featuring the famous revolutionary, had his shop on my way to the small square, where all eateries gathered around its perimeter, I visited him first.
“Hey Zeni,” he called out as soon as I entered his dim lit shop. “Geia sou,” I replied in Greek and he smiled with his white teeth showing. He started off with his usual monologue telling me the happenings in his family and the patch of bad luck he had with a health problem. “But now I am cured. It’s OK. I am working again part of the week. I lauded him and he continued with the latest reports about Greek politics and the European tragedy of being the end of Greek life, as we once knew it. He closed his monologue as customers came into his shop and he had to serve them from behind the glazed-in ice cream counter. As soon as they paid and started leaving, he carried on telling me about his projections for the foreseeable future. I took my leave having enjoyed his talk he had delivered to me, like the sermon of a preacher, with a sparkling Greek temperament.
Around the corner to the right of the small square the Pizzeria is the smallest, but best eatery tucked away at the end of the street. Already from a distance, Kritikos would wave his hand in greeting, as he rushed about serving food to the tables opposite the café below a shaded outdoor terrace, the extension of their tavern. Any café or tavern in Greece had such extensions under shaded roofs, as their inside spaces were small, usually occupied by a kitchen and storage area, besides the climate was ideal for outdoor eating. “How is life?” Kritikos cannot speak as well English as Che, who worked in the USA, where he acquired the necessary capital to open his shop in the Plaka in Athens, as many Greeks have done and still do. We converse with short sentences and catch-up on the latest news. Kritikos brings me a catalogue of the Cycladic islands, he considers to be best to visit at this time of the year. His eyes open wide as he calls out their names: Paros, Sifnos, Andros[M1] – I take my pen and notebook and write all down. Having ordered a small pizza and a carafe of wine, he treats me the same way as his friends, who gather around the tables on the pavement outside the café. He passes to serve the customers on the opposite side, below the shaded terrace with shrubs and greenery, before he casually serves me the wine, and as he passes again, my meal. “I have an address for you,” he smiles.
“Write it down please,” I reply. The moment he has a break, he takes my pen and writes. “Nice pen,” he mumbles. “A poet’s pen,” I tell him.
“Oh!” He looks at Anna’s black Parker pen and his eyes show a glimmer of respect. “Very special,” he adds and finishes his notes. He hands me the pen and then recites a poem. “Sounds great,” I said, “who wrote it?”
“Iannis Ritsos,” he said and I nod. “OH, you know him?”
“No, I know of him,” I correct him and he smiles repeating the phrase I had told him once before.
On my way back I had to stop at the New Acropolis Museum. I cannot pass without visiting the top floor to view the Parthenon temple to its real measured extent, as I admire the frieze, which once had been part of its outer walls. The missing original panels show empty spaces and everybody who has visited the museum knows that those panels are the ones deliberately removed for fame and financial gain, still creating bad vibes for an unlawful act amidst loud voices, from art lovers and a chain of cultural ministers, for their return. I love to sit on the low marble sill of the panoramic glass façade and sketch a horse’s head or the movement of a body. Anna’s pen serves me well and I feel euphoric.
“You have returned,” her faint soprano voice sounds in me. “Yes, but you have left!” I gasp. I am talking to you through my former beloved pen. Hah! I have been using it for the last week writing all my journals with it.”
“I’m proud of you Zen; you have still time to write your poems. Well, I have learned from you, Anna!”
“Ah, I was just your guide and I am happy of handed you my pen.”
“Well, you have inspired me, Anna!”
“Ah, I was your prompter and I am happy of having you placed onto the right track –“
“Of course, it was your doing – your closing act – before made your big leap into the universe…I hope you are content.”
“Damned” I woke from daydreaming as Anna’s pen slid from my hand and hit the marble floor. I gasped, but it sounded far off and my own. I knelt down and picked the pen up. It seemed to be all right. I tried writing into my notebook: Today Anna appeared to me as I sat on the windowsill of the topmost floor of the NAM – yes! It still worked. I sighed relieve, but still couldn’t find the protective cap for Anna’s pen. Finally I gave up and headed for the subway to travel back home.
My euphoric state had turned into despair having lost the cap to her pen. It must have fallen down into the slots of the ventilation grille. I kicked myself for having taken on one visit too many and for exhausting myself. Or perhaps it was Anna’s voice that made me doze off in a state of remembrance? I sat in the tram staring out into the horizon of the sea, where the tram runs along the Saronic Gulf for a while. I felt dumbstruck.
At home I took the pen from my pocket and placed it into the bag where I keep all other pens and cartridges. At least part of it remained with me; I mused, but noticed that the tip of its nib had been bent in the fall to the marble floor. It was now defunct, but recalled the times with Anna, when she was still alive. Is this the way to preserve her memory through my own clumsiness?
I hear her voice: “Come Zen, don’t cry like a baby, I will buy you another one.”
“Yes,“ I respond, “but it’s not the one you wrote all your poetry with! I will write it poems of the now.”
“I like that,” she replied. Dialogue with Anna has never stopped. The uncovered half of her pen is like the encumbered being of me: Half poet and half artist. The one half writes down all what moves my senses, while the other one seeks out the colours of moods, I feel shifting through me continuously, as if she still has a hand in all of my creative inspirational work. Perhaps she has, her spirit has. I am glad.