'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Silver Pen

The days are getting longer and the weather is ideal for long walks around the garden in the evening. The dog is full of energy these days. He loves to run in circles around inanimate objects, as if he's mocking them. He's run around every tree in the orchard. According to the wife's aunt, the trees think he has unresolved issues from his youth.

My cousin Charlie once bought a briefcase at a car boot sale. His cousin Rachel's amateur dramatics society were doing a play in which one of the characters has to throw a briefcase at a work colleague. To prevent real violence, they needed a soft briefcase. So when Charlie found the soft briefcase at the car boot sale he bought it.

When he opened it at home he found a silver pen inside. He started writing with it, and he found that his handwriting was much better than it had ever been before. He often wrote with the new pen just to admire his new handwriting. He'd forget about what he was actually writing. When he'd read through it later he was always amazed at some of the things he'd written, lines like 'I asked her if she had made any plans to let go of her suitcase'. He started to wonder if these were the words and the handwriting of a past owner of the pen. He wrote some more with it. He thought that if the pen really was possessed by one of its former owners he'd be able to gain an insight into this person's life through the words produced by the pen.

Most of what he wrote was nonsense, but sometimes coherent thoughts would peep through. It felt as if they had all emanated from the same mind, and Charlie was sure that this mind wasn't his. He was able to identify recurring characters. He was sure that the woman with the suitcase was the same person who wrote to a newspaper to complain about the quality of tea bags. She was the most prominent character in the texts.

Every evening he spent an hour writing without paying attention to the meaning of the words, and then he'd read through what he'd written. After a few weeks he felt as if he knew the former owner of the pen, and the characters mentioned in the text seemed vivid. His mind would wander during the day at work and he'd have imaginary conversations with the woman who complained about the tea bags. She often complained to him about the weather or about Antarctic explorers. He thought she'd be offended if he disagreed with her, so he went along with everything she said.

One evening as he was reading through what he'd written he realised that there was an address in the text. It was a house in a town that was just a ten-minute drive away from where he lived.

He went there on the following evening. The house was on a quiet street. He rang the doorbell and a middle-aged man opened the door. Charlie got the feeling that this was the person whose thoughts were invading his writings.

"This might sound a bit odd," Charlie said, "but..."

"It worked! It worked!" the man said. "This is about the pen, isn't it?"

"It is."

"It worked! It worked!"

The man introduced himself as Phil, and he invited Charlie in for a cup of tea. Charlie followed him into the living room, where a woman was sitting on a settee. When Charlie entered the room she put the tea cup on a coffee table and she stood up to shake his hand. Phil introduced her as Marianne. Charlie was sure that this was the woman who complained about the tea bags.

"Do you have the pen with you?" Phil said to Charlie.

Charlie took the pen out of his coat pocket. There was another silver pen on the table. Phil picked it up and held it next to Charlie's pen. The two were identical.

"These once belonged to my grandfather," Phil said. "There were another two in the set. All four pens were exactly the same. My grandfather would never say where he got them, but he often said there was a strong connection between the four. He said that if one went missing it would find its way back to its brothers eventually, as long as those brothers were in use. I inherited the pens. I had no intention of putting my grandfather's claim to the test, but then all four of them went missing when they were stolen two years ago. Burglars broke in while I was at a match. I thought I'd never see the pens again, but last month I came across one of them in a second-hand shop. I bought it, and ever since then I've been writing with it every evening in the hope of contacting its brothers. As soon as I started writing I got a sense of that link my grandfather spoke about. Marianne has been telling me I'm mad, and an idiot, and in need of psychiatric help. But she used to say that before as well."

"So there are another two pens still out there?" Charlie said.

"There are, but not for long. Soon they'll all be together again."

Phil poured Charlie a cup of tea before he returned to his writing. There was a small pile of blank paper on the table in front of him, and a huge pile of paper on the ground next to his chair, each sheet covered in Phil's writing.

Charlie sat on a settee opposite the settee where Marianne sat. He put his tea cup on the coffee table in between them. As Phil wrote with his pen, Charlie listened to Marianne talk about fairies and dishwashers and people who go bungee jumping. Charlie nodded at everything she said.

Phil stopped writing at nine o' clock. He said he had a feeling that the other pens were getting closer. He told Charlie he was welcome to come back on the following evening to see if anyone would turn up.

Charlie had to return every evening for the next week before another pen arrived. This one was in the possession of a woman called Lucy. After Phil told her the story of the four pens she said, "If the three of us all wrote at the same time with the three silver pens it might create a powerful link with the fourth one."

Phil thought it was a great idea, so the three of them sat at the table and started writing.

It didn't take long for Phil to realise that it wasn't such a good idea after all. Lucy kept talking as she wrote. She'd write a sentence and then read it out. She'd edit it as well, and she gave a running commentary on the editing process. She hated most of the words she wrote. While Phil and Charlie would be trying to concentrate, she'd say things like, "'Castle'! I wrote the word 'castle'. I can't believe I wrote you." She was always crossing out words like 'castle'. Or 'pipe organ'. She was always writing 'pipe organ' and then crossing it out.

Unfortunately for Phil and Charlie, Lucy really enjoyed writing with them. She came back on the following evening and wrote with them again. They knew they had to put an end to this, and Charlie had a plan. He told Phil he'd come up with an excuse to miss the next writing session, and he'd get a friend of his to come instead. This friend would bring Charlie's pen but he'd pretend to be the rightful owner of the pen, and he'd claim that he had been drawn to the house just like Charlie and Lucy had been. Lucy would think that all four pens had been re-united, and she'd stop coming around to write.

The excuse Charlie came up with was that he had to visit his aunt in hospital. He got a friend of his called Andrew to pretend to be the owner of the fourth pen. Phil always stopped writing at nine o' clock, and Lucy would go home then. Charlie called around to Phil's house at half-nine to see if everything had gone according to plan.

Things had clearly not gone according to plan because Lucy was still there. So was Andrew, and Phil introduced Charlie to a woman called Samantha. Lucy had believed Andrew's story about buying the pen in a second-hand shop and being drawn to Phil's house. She was just about to go home, when Samantha arrived, and she told a very similar story. She had the fourth pen, but Lucy thought that it must be the fifth pen. Phil pretended to be confused. He said he had always believed that there were only four in the set, but this latest development would suggest that there were five. Lucy said, "Why five? Why not six? Or seven? Or eight? Or a million?"

She said they should all start writing again, and that they needed to write continuously for an hour without interruption. Lucy couldn't go ten seconds without interrupting the others.

They were still writing when Charlie arrived. He said he'd love to join them but he'd left his pen at home, so he sat on the settee and listened to Marianne instead. He nodded whenever he felt it was appropriate, but his mind was far away. He was trying to come up with another plan, but Andrew got there first.

Andrew had been writing continuously for twenty minutes before he put the pen down. He stood up and he laughed maniacally. "I knew this was inside me somewhere," he said. "I knew it. It's been hiding for years, and now it's finally out. It's all down on paper."

"Why don't you read what you've written," Lucy said.

Andrew's reading was very theatrical, and this suited the text. A lot of it sounded like lyrics from heavy metal songs. The central character in it was a monster who ate trees and anything in them.

There was complete silence when he finished reading. The silence was broken by Lucy, who said, "I think it's extremely unlikely that there are more than five pens."

Charlie congratulated Andrew on the spectacular way he brought the writing group to an end, but this hadn't been Andrew's intention at all. He really had written about the monster, and he's been writing about it ever since.

The moose's head over the fireplace has been listening to an album of songs about pastry. The wife's uncle gave it to us. All of the songs were written and performed by a friend of his. This singer-songwriter wrote an album about pastry to avoid controversy after all the trouble he had with his last album, which was about an invisible Yeti who stands behind the Pope. But the pastry album has been even more controversial. He's currently in hiding.