James Holden: The Pen Behind His Ear

In an office full of eccentrics, Paul seemed relatively sane by comparison. There were no comedy ties, no opening of meetings with a commentary on Jimmy Webb lyrics, or extreme exercise or dietary regimes. But what he did have, was a pen permanently lodged behind his ear. A fountain pen, with a black barrel and sliver cap slightly covered by tousled brown hair.

The thing was, he never used it. He would always turn up to meetings with a pen slotted in the spiral binding of his pad, or produce one from his pocket whenever he needed to start taking notes.

Rumours abounded about what the pen was for. Some said it was the pen he’d signed his divorce papers with, and that he kept it on him to celebrate his freedom. Other said he used it to send poison pen letters in his spare time, and wanted to keep it on him so the police couldn’t trace their author. One night in the pub we asked him.

“This was the pen that Jarvis Cocker used to write the lyrics for Mis-Shapes. I picked it up on eBay,” Paul said.

“How much did you pay for it?” we asked.

“Let’s just say it was in four figures.”

We started to fire questions at him. “What does it write like?” “What colour is the ink?” “Why did you want to buy that?”

He held his hands up to silence us.

“Last question first. I love that song – it really got me through some tough times at school,” he said, “it was, like, it didn’t matter if I was geek. I keep it behind my ear because it makes me feel so much better about myself. I was never popular at school, but look how far I’ve come – Deputy Assistant Head of Purchasing at 36.

“And in response your other questions, I don’t know – I’ve never used it.”

He wiped a tear from his eye, pushed his chair back abruptly and headed to the toilet, leaving the pen behind . One of us took the lid off, and placing the nib on a coaster, drew a straight line. But the only mark it left wasn’t ink, it was a slender indentation in the coaster.

Another one of us took the pen and unscrewed the barrel. There was no ink cartridge in it. We studied the nib closely, struggling to see any trace of ink. It looked brand new.

We quickly screwed it back together, placing it on the table where he had left it, agreeing not to tell him our crushing discovery.


About James Holden

Brought up in Yorkshire, James has washed up on the shores of London. He spends his days working as a political geek. His short stories have previously been read by the Liars League.
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