May I present “Pen-and-Ink” a short story by Marlene Lee. It will be posted in four parts each Friday for four weeks. Enjoy this story about a quiet man who is most alive when he is making pen-and-ink drawings. He has an encounter with his ex-wife, their son, and his son’s fiancée that exposes the strengths and weaknesses of his inward personality and artistic nature.
The coffee urn by the plate glass window, its steel surface lively in the sunlight, caught Jim’s eye. As soon as he sat down he opened his sketch book with a precise, automatic motion that gave him a kind of authority and began to draw.
“Morning, Jim,” said Hiram from the next table over.
“Morning,” said Jim, whose eye remained on the coffee urn.
“Saw your son at the City Council meeting last night.”
Jim’s glance firmed up, not because Hiram mentioned Cade, but because pen-and-ink had taken over his attention.
“Ya oughta draw some of them City Council meetings,” Hiram said, scooting his chair half a foot to the right so he could face Jim across the coffee shop tables. “Like the courtroom scenes on TV.”
Jim had been ignoring Hiram for years. “Action scenes don’t work for me,” he said. Any one or any thing resting in its own separateness was what worked for Jim. He was as interested in the morning light and stillness surrounding the coffee urn as he was in the urn itself. Hiram wouldn’t understand Jim’s attention to the look of sunlit steel or the nature of a plate glass window. Art, to Hiram, was a picture of something happening.
“Hey, Jim, what’d you feed your boy when he was growing up?” Hiram asked. In high school, Cade had been a star athlete. Now he was the youngest mayor in the town’s history.
“Home cooking,” Jim said. “His mother fed him well.” She’d fed her husband well, too. Perhaps too well for Jim’s moderate tastes. Happy to sit in a corner drawing, he didn’t crave much in the way of food or attention.
“You could sell your art,” she’d said off and on before the divorce. “We could use the money and you’d be noticed for your ability.”
“You’d have customers, Dad,” said his son. “You’d walk down the street and people would know you.”
He’d smiled tolerantly. But even as they fed him advice, he was watching the light on their faces, memorizing bones and sockets and individual hairs, sitting quietly in the surge of personalities not his own.
The question—how he’d fathered someone so dynamic—didn’t interest him. Neither did the other questions he knew Hiram wanted to ask: why did your wife divorce you? Why, after forty years at Square Deal Hardware, haven’t you been promoted?
Jim’s wife was baffled, too, then hurt, then infuriated by her husband’s refusal to improve the family’s prospects. But Jim, satisfied stocking nails and light bulbs, drill bits and sprinkler heads, didn’t want to be a manager. His wife and son finally moved to a small house a few blocks away and Jim moved into three rooms above Square Deal. Through the years he paid down her mortgage, kept current on his own rent, and filled countless sketch books with pen-and-ink.
“Hi, Dad,” Cade said, sliding into the chair across from his father.
Jim laid down the pen. “Wondered if you’d be in today.” Usually crisp and confident, Cade seemed washed out this morning. Jim’s eye assessed the stubble of beard. He turned to a fresh page of the sketch book.
“Don’t draw me today, Dad.” (To be continued……)
Copyright © 2022 Marlene Lee
All Rights Reserved
Marlene graduated from the Brooklyn College MFA program in 2010. Her short stories, essays, and poems have appeared in Calyx; The Christian Science Monitor; Descant; Indiana Review; Other Voices; Maverick Press/Armadillo; Orange County Illustrated; roger: an art and literary magazine; and Southern Humanities Review. She’s published five books with Holland House Books. Her author page can be seen at www.marleneLee.wordpress.com.
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Three-Penny Memories: A Poetic Memoir (EIF-Experiments in Fiction, 2022)
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