Prose Header

Penciled In

by John I Leggett

Part 1 appears
in this issue.


Myra boarded the bus prior to Henry and, as pretty as she was, he was disappointed to see she had opted to sit in the back of the bus, although she was crammed into a corner and looking out the window. Henry hesitated taking his regular seat but did so. When he sat down, she was folding her newspaper. First she folded it backward and then in half and then in half again. That’s when Henry glanced over and saw she had folded the paper to expose the jumble word game.

She gave Henry an apologetic look, apparently for making so much noise during her foldings, and then she opened her purse. After rummaging through it, she looked at Henry again. “I’m sorry,” she said, “would you happen to have a pencil I could use?” She gestured toward her paper. “I like to do the jumble word game,” she explained.

It was the perfect question to ask anyone who worked in a pencil factory. It was actually one of the things he had thought about during his pencil-pondering time. What if someone should ask him for a pencil? Should he carry a variety? Should he have colored pencils on his person? He pulled two from his shirt pocket. “I always have a pencil,” he said. “Would you care for a No. 2 or a No. 4?”

“I guess this one will do,” she said, taking the No. 2. “I didn’t know there was that much of a difference.”

And that is how Henry and Myra met. The remainder of their ride was spent talking about pencils. Henry explained his pencil pondering and other thoughts about life. He found Myra very easy to talk to, and he mentioned his exploration into the possible promotion at the pencil factory from putting dabs of glue on the flaps of the cartons to filling the vending machines.

When he mentioned he hadn’t seen her on the bus before, she explained that she recently had her hours changed at the hotel and was now on the three to eleven shift. Henry felt a certain comfort when he discovered Myra would be riding the bus as far as Eighth Street every day. Once she got off, Henry thought about her until his stop at Tenth.

When he boarded the bus on Thursday, he walked to his seat and sat next to Myra. She had already folded her paper in preparation for solving the jumble word game but set it aside when he sat down. Without the newspaper on her lap, she exposed very shapely legs, revealed by the shortness of her skirt, and Henry immediately noticed her shoes needed a shine.

“Look,” she motioned to Henry. “Read what I did.” Henry glanced down at the slip of paper in her hand and read the words “clipen,” “lipcen,” and “piclen.” “Do you know what those are?” she asked him.

Of course, Henry saw what she had done but feigned ignorance, allowing her to give an excited explanation. “If I was in charge of the jumbled word game, I would use the word ‘pencil’ for one of the words. Which scrambled version do you think would be the best stumper?” she asked.

They settled on “lipcen,” and then she mentioned she had been doing some “pencil pondering” of her own. “Do you think pencils can get lead poisoning, or are they immune to themselves, like rattlesnakes and tarantulas?” Again, they came to an agreed answer, this time in favor of pencils’ being immune to themselves.

She also wanted to know if he thought pencils felt pain when they were sharpened and if he thought a sharpened pencil would be “more intelligent” than a dull one. “Just something I wanted to point out.” She laughed. “And do you think the age of a pencil might be determined by its length? Don’t you see? They get shorter as they work longer and grow older.”

Henry inched a bit closer to Myra on that Thursday. He appreciated her thoughtful ponderings, the way she smiled when he got on the bus, and the light scent of her perfume.

They didn’t talk much more that day, but when Myra’s hand fell to her side as she looked out to Main Street and mentally window shopped, Henry put his hand down to his side too, and for the remaining three blocks they rode with their hands almost touching.

At her stop, Henry’s eyes followed her down the aisle and, as the bus pulled away, he watched her make her way to the revolving door of the hotel. It wasn’t the type of hotel that had a doorman, and she pushed her way inside.

At work, she first counted the money in the cash box. As she counted, she believed if Henry had her job he would most likely do some coin pondering. Probably wonder if the people on the coins talked to each other when they’re inside a coin roll or if certain coins felt “special” when people collected them and put them on display?

The rest of her time in the afternoon was spent checking in couples named Mr. and Mrs. Smith or Mr. and Mrs. Jones. They always paid cash and usually spent just a few hours in their room before leaving. Myra never realized there were so many Smiths and Joneses in the world who needed to take naps.

On Friday, Myra asked Henry if he would get off at the Eighth Street stop and walk the remaining two blocks to the pencil factory. Knowing it was his last day of work, he was happy to do so. He’d been planning to ask her for a date, and a quiet moment on the sidewalk would give him the opportunity.

When they stepped off she turned and faced him. She had to yell over the roar of the bus to be heard. “I won’t be seeing you again,” she said. “My husband’s being transferred. We’re moving next week, and I’m just working a half-shift today. I have to get home and finish packing.”

Henry stood, enveloped by a bluish cloud of diesel fumes from the departing bus. When he heard the word “husband,” his mouth fell open. It was as if Myra had pulled lever 17, and his jaw hung open, waiting for the dangling Butterfinger to fall.

Looking at her, Henry realized it was the first time he had seen her face in anything other than a profile, and he noted her whole face was twice as pretty. He began to feel a sense of desperation in the thought of losing Myra. “Can I kiss you goodbye then?”

Myra looked around. People were scurrying past them on the sidewalk and a homeless man, holding an unreadable cardboard sign, stood watching. “I don’t think that would be a good idea,” she said, and extended her hand. She smiled as Henry took it but failed to notice the loneliness in his eyes.

She turned and started the short walk to the hotel’s revolving door. Henry stared at the archway over the entrance. It was obvious that the huge gray keystone had been strategically selected years before and placed there by the mason for Myra’s personal safety. He hoped when she walked under it, she would turn and give him a final glance... a lingering look... as he’d seen in the movies.

But when she reached the heavy door, she did not. There was no backward glance or lingering look. Myra stepped into the revolving pie-shaped wedge, the outer door closed, seeming to swallow her up, and she melted into the building.

Henry decided to give himself a holiday on his last day of work and, rather than take the bus home, he walked. He knew the walk would give him time to ponder.

Copyright © 2018 by John I Leggett

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