Ink, Part 1

Chester is thirty-one years old. He has no spouse or other romantic prospects, though not for lack of desire. He has no children, either, but he is content with that fact. He has two friends — who are truly just acquaintances, but Chester uses the word “friend” too liberally — who have oops-babies, and he is glad that he has not shared in their fate.

Today is, in Chester’s current estimation, the best day of his life. Today is the day he moves out of his parents’ basement and into a house of his own. He has been saving for years, though the rent his parents charged him and his propensity for overspending on unnecessities has held him back until now.

Take, for instance, the frequency with which he buys meals from restaurants, even though his mother provides a dinner every night, which she says is covered by his rent. Take the amount of beer and cigarettes Chester purchases, neither of which are strictly allowed in his mother’s basement, though that hasn’t stopped Chester. Take the fact that Chester owns one of each of the current generation of video game consoles, and a plethora of games besides, and you can see why it has taken him so long to save up for his home.

Take also the fact that his job as a mechanic provides him with decidedly average pay, and you can see why he was able to afford a home that comes in at just under 700 square feet. Between his new home and the residences to either side, there is scarcely and arm’s length of distance. In fact, if he were to lean far enough of of his new bathroom window, he could shake hands with his neighbor.

This does not bother Chester, because his new home is beautiful. It has five rooms: a living room, a bathroom, two bedrooms (one of which is quite small), and a kitchen which doubles as a dining room. There is carpet in the master bedroom, real tile (not linoleum) in the kitchen and bathroom, and hardwood floors through the rest.

He has no real purpose for the second bedroom, because he has no friends that might come to stay overnight, so he intends to use it as storage. The house is small, but to him, that just means it will be easier to clean. He’s never felt the need for sprawling expanses within the walls of his home.

His parents help him move in. He has a couch and a bed from his abode in his parents’ basement. He takes those with him, and the entertainment center on which he keeps his television and his game systems, but there are three things he feels compelled to buy, which are delivered the day he moves in: a dining table, chairs, and, for the spare bedroom, a desk, which he tells himself he might someday need.

Perhaps, with time, he will buy more furniture. End tables to put next to the couch, for example, and a night stand to put next to his bed. He plans to get better chairs for the kitchen table. Upon moving in, he has only plastic folding chairs. They function, but they aren’t ideal.

After his parents have left, Chester is tired. He lights a cigarette, takes one of the folding chairs from around the kitchen table, and sits down at the desk in the spare bedroom. He has unpacked only the essentials. His toothbrush, shampoo, and body wash are ready in the bathroom. His bed is made, something is mom insisted on doing before he left. His boxes of clothes are open, though he hasn’t hung them up or put them into their drawers.

And now, his small box of writing supplies is open. Chester does not consider himself a nice person, or a friendly person, or really, a person who interacts well with others, but there is one thing he feels that he has to do before bed. It is something his mother insisted on doing throughout his youth and even past his youth, in the time he stayed in her home after becoming an adult.

Chester’s parents, and his mother in particular, have been good to him. Chester retrieves a creased thank-you letter, which came together with a collection of twenty others exactly like it, and spreads it out on the table. He makes a half-hearted attempt to undo the crease, though he knows it’s impossible. There is a blue pen that Chester favors hidden in the box somewhere. Chester fishes around for it for nearly a minute before he finds he. He hadn’t thought he owned that much stuff for writing, but when you pack your life into boxes, he muses, you tend to find you own more stuff than you thought.

As Chester lowers the pen to the page, it drips. He frowns. It isn’t a fountain pen. It’s a regular ball-point, albeit a somewhat nice one, and it’s his favorite because it’s a rich, dark blue, the same color as Chester’s eyes. The ink sits as a droplet on the paper, gleaming up at him like a shiny piece of candy. Chester blinks, because in the dim illumination provided by the ceiling light, the ink droplet appears to be black.

Chester frowns. There is another bead of ink forming at the tip of his pen. He wonders if it has broken in transit. The thought upsets him, even though he knows exactly where to buy another one. The pen drips onto the paper once more. He leaves the pen across the paper, stands, and goes to the kitchen to retrieve a paper towel. He has to open a fresh package of them. He knows only one thing to try, so he does it: he wipes the tip of the pen with the towel.

This removes the next bead of ink that had begun to form, but leaves Chester with two problems; well, a problem, and a curiosity. First, the probem: the letter he was going to use now has two large drops of ink on it, which means he should probably get out a new one to send to his mother. Second, the curiosity: the ink, which he has wiped onto his towel, is most certainly black.

Can pens go bad? Chester wonders this as he pulls another thank-you note from his box. He’s never thought to ask the question before. If someone had asked it of him before today, he would have thought of three things that could go wrong with a pen: they ink could run out, the ink could dry up, or pen could physically break. Nothing in his past experience says that the ink could spoil and change color.

He pushed the ruined thank-you note to one side, with the leaking pen sitting on it, wrapped in the paper towel. He found only one other pen in the box, when searching for the first one, so he seeks it again now. This pen is a cheap, generic black pen that Chester is pretty sure he brought home with him accidentally from work. It is the sort of pen that everyone loses before it gets the chance to run out of ink.

Well, Chester has not lost this pen, not yet, though his employer lost it when he gained it. He uncaps it, swears, and reaches for the paper towel, because as the lid pulls free of the pen a flow of ink spills out onto his new desk. Using the towel is awkward, because he only grabbed one, and now he is forced to wrap both pens in it while also trying to wipe up the ink before it stains.

Chester rushes to his kitchen and comes back with a full roll of paper towel. As he uses it to dab up the rest of the ink, and to wrap the pens in an additional layer of protection, he wonders why both pens have malfunctioned. Did they get too warm in the transition from his parents’ home to his? No, that can’t be; it’s a cool spring day. Did they get too cold and freeze, somehow… ruining the ink? That can’t be it, either. It’s cool, especially when the wind blows, but it’s far from cold.

Having no answers, for now, Chester replaces the lids on both pens, then rewraps them in the paper towels just to be sure. He supposes he should throw them away, but he can’t bring himself to throw out his favorite pen just yet, and anyway, there’s no bags in any of his trash cans yet.

He’ll have to buy some new pens tomorrow and write his mom the note then. He doesn’t like to procrastinate, because once he starts procrastinating, he never stops. At the same time, he has no energy left to leave the house again today. It’s past sunset and approaching the time he would like to go to sleep.

From the refrigerator, Chester retrieves a beer. It’s the only thing in the fridge, and the only thing in the house to consume, unless he counted his cigarettes. He counts beer as essential as a toothbrush and a made bed. He is so tired that he drinks only one beer before retiring to his bedroom for the evening.

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