Pen and Dirt

ben ohmart

It was the pen reading "Freadman Steel, Inc. 1625 East Street, Pittsfield, MA 01201 Tel. 413-499-3320 FAX 413-499-4588" dripping all it had into the dry cracks in the earth. And the hand that reached to seize it.

Scruff rustled. Hand back to belt. Then back to wipe the ages of crust from some of the numbers. Then into a pocket. A key ring. Too dull. Then to one of the keys that had nothing to fit anymore. It came off, but it was hard crud, and fell to the dirt sharp enough to make a noise against what little wind there might have been.

The man was turning old, but he was in no hurry. He walked until he found a road, and then the fork came. He wasn't wishing for a cent to flip. Life had caused him to go to the left before he had the pen. The least he could try was right, for a change.

Coming into town was a chore. Or a heavy burden that kept Vik from having much in common with his shitty man. His shitty man said he had to be a social animal. That he Was. Only They would consider each other as Fellow Man. But they were too busy considering map directions.

Yet they broke stares to hold the stranger in mind for a mere second. Then back to the dotted lines and crawling black hairs that must've meant something in code.

"Phone?" he asked, and they lowered maps.

A thumb. Vik nodded, and pushed the loose floorboards continuing on down the porch for a minute until the old men in the gray and flannel body clothes only had reason for crinkling their large papers.

If they cared, they would've heard him talking, on the phone.

They didn't bother until the Yellow Cab settled the spreading dust among the large log cabin calling itself a Ready Mart. There was a fresh layer finally appearing on the sleek and engine-steady vehicle when Vik finally emerged from wherever he was praying. A good dose of prayer went a long way with him, but usually only as far as 2 hours. No matter where he'd be. Like food, the hunger drove him constantly to refill.

Three hours. Then the cabby demanded a rest for the night. It wasn't usual. Or sanitary. Or... The words didn't come. Vik saw the man needed faith. Positive reinforcement at the very least. The bills came out. None too steady; he was still working on that age thing. But his shaking hands pulled away the first couple Franklin bills that were cloudy with years. Or faded. It didn't matter. The driver was sure now.

Night. Day. Morning smelling like sweet pancakes. They were gone. And Pittsfield was trying to get itself situated into view. The traffic decided to graduate into the streaming slope of a small town business district. Cars steamed beside buildings, and people used the sidewalk as if they didn't care. Vik paid off the driver, extra tip from expectation, not from want.

Vik pushed the door open. Asked the secretary about someone important.


"Someone important. Anyone will do."

She smiled, and twisted her long hair with a finger as she polited into a phone mouth.

A man came. Vik sized him up.

"Someone important."

"You said -" she started to say.

"Anyone important will do."

He waited, and they smiled at him, filing the whole thing away as one of those moves you make in a game you don't want to play. The secretary went after another. The man came. Vik knew his walk. And appreciated the time he was given.

A hand to the man's office, and Vik followed.

Sitting at a desk, the important man asked, "What kind of business can I do you for?"

Vik brought out the pen. He knew the value of getting down to matters of query.

"I found this." He laid the pen on his desk. More of a throw. But a careful one. "Is there a reward?"

For a moment, the important man's brain was going after something. Then it decided to force the face into smiles. "I'm sorry..?"

"The pen. I was wondering if there's a reward."

A pause. And the photo copier sounded good. Vik thought it must've been one of those steam engine kinds that just couldn't quit.

"You're wanting to know if I'm going to give you a reward for bringing this pen back to me?" He wasn't going to waste seconds. Springing back from a lax position, the important man went into his top, wide desk drawer, and then sprinkled pens on the top of the desk. Making the papers that were spread neatly around sound like rain.

Vik's eyes were steady. Too many years in that same kind of important job, same kind of important white shirt and attitude made him recall the definite power of keeping adequate eye contact. "Yes."

"Look!" He made a fist with pens. "Where you from? Labor? Department of Labor?"

"Syracuse. Syracuse, NY."

"No, I don't mean origin-"

"Yes. I took a cab here."

"- From Syracuse, NY?! Are you crazy?"

Vik looked down at the receding shoes on his feet more from a dramatic look of relaxation than a reaction to a reprimand. The important man should've recognized the action. Instead, he was waiting for the pay off.

"Gotta spend money to make money."

The man in the white shirt and tie full of human eyes laughed.

It was over in a few minutes. And Vik waited. A hand on the arm, he was escorted by the biggest employee they could find to the outside. The big man in a baseball cap and Ab Fab t-shirt waited just inside the glass door for a minute. He was wondering if Vik was going to be difficult.

How long was this going to take?

Vik was just praying.