Catching Light

Beth Walker

This week I lost a companion of 22 years. I was writing at my desk as usual, and somehow it dove from my hands onto my vinyl floor, nib straight down, Kamikaze style. Even with my glasses off, as I often do to write with a pen, I could tell that the nib was bent. That too-good-to-be-true ether of wish-fulfillment, also known as the Internet, could not tell me where to buy a new nib.

I bought another fountain pen that day, price be damned.

But I’ll always remember my first. I had bought it as a birthday/grad-school graduation gift for myself, and I have filled many journals with it. Nothing announces, “Hey, I’m a writer,” like a gold-appointed pen. I had wanted one since childhood upon finding a malachite Scheaffer empty, broken, and forgotten in my grandmother’s fancy leather purse. Yes, I was a snooper. I had never seen an old-fashioned pen before. Its ability to transport me to another time and place became an early part of my fantasy to live the writer’s life.

Full of nostalgia yesterday, I flipped through a bunch of my old journals, alternately embarrassed then bored at the life I had lived on paper. Still, I could distinguish the telltale thick stroke of the nib and the royal blue ink immediately, so regal against the intimidating green I used to dash off a few lines between grading papers. I can almost remember holding my black lacquered Parker, heavy and serious, to the paper; it is probably just as well that I don’t recall many of the stories I wrote with it.

Very few times in my life have things happened in slow motion. One was trying to return to work after my first round of chemo. Never one to take the elevators, I did that day. When the doors slid open, the hallway stretched infinitely as in a horror movie down to the other end, where my office is located. The walk felt terminal, and I realized that day that I would not be back for an entire academic year. Nevertheless, I didn’t realize while I was on bed-rest that my writing would stretch too far out for me to grasp, so my favorite pen lay for a year in my antique cherry stationery secretary–a writing gift from my grandmother–its ink evaporating.

Able to sit up again, I had gotten it out last summer and was re-living the old pleasure of writing with thick ink without bothering to scratch out or re-think, just flow and go. Flash forward exactly a year later and there I was, clutching and clawing at the air in slow motion as it baton-ed away from me. I yelled, I think, before it even had time to hit the floor, and I’ve been in mourning ever since.

In that moment, though, I flashed back to my childhood one summer night when my brother and I were trying to catch fireflies. It was a moment of physicality and imagination–a Rosebud moment when it was enough to just be in the world. To catch without killing required not only quick reflexes but a whimsy and a cruelty that make friends only in childhood. We were careful to let them glow in the mason jars only for a little while before screwing off the lids, though we probably shook the jars more than we should have. Considering that chemo makes me forget what I did last week, I marvel that my body made my mind recall that strange little clap-dance from 35 years ago. My poor fountain pen: that’s what I was doing, trying in slow motion to catch light.

Now that my body is remembering what it could do before chemo, the loss is bittersweet.


Beth WalkerBeth Walker‘s work has recently been published in Storm Cellar, The Atrium, and Rag Queen Periodical, and she has poetry forthcoming in the anthology BARED. Long essays appear in the books Critical Insights: American Creative Nonfiction and New Perspectives on Detective Fiction: Mystery Magnified.