My friend William pulled the pen from the box and examined it. It was a fountain pen, the kind you fill from an inkwell with a little lever on the side. It was not a particularly expensive pen, but it was the one he had signed the first circus contract with, and, after that, almost every contract of importance.
"Excellent. I particularly want my lucky pen tonight: we're signing the deal tonight, and I don't want to take any chances."
One of William's fondest memories was of a top he had as a kid. One of those red wooden things that you wind a string around, all nice and even. And then you throw it, just so, on the summer sidewalk, and pull the string back to make it spin, and it would balance on that metal tip, so perfect, like it could go on forever.
Staring at his lucky pen and talking to Nick about the meeting that night, William found himself thinking about that top.
He looked up from his pen.
"I've got this balance going, Nick, and I don't want anything-anything-to upset it."
* * * * *
And Kels thinks I'm out of touch.
* * * * *
I left the seaside bar and grill, all spruced up for the party-and the delicate operation I had to pull off-and walked through the village.
I felt good.
It was Christmas time in a beach town. The shop windows were all crammed with toys, and a group of carolers was singing on the street. Sidewalk Santas rang their bells, and I strolled, smiling, through it all.
I came to an old lady, trying to cross an intersection. She wore a large purple straw hat, and was a little unsteady on her feet. She kept putting one foot off the curb, then pulling it back. Her daughter, dressed to kill and clearly ready to in the old ladies case, was standing beside her, kibitzing.
"Mother, the signal is going to change again. If you would just let me help…"
She reached out to grip the old lady's arm, but her mother jerked away.
"I'm not an invalid!"
I walked up beside the old woman, and spoke without even looking at them.
"You slow down a bit, and everyone starts treating you like a child."
The daughter rolled her eyes, but the old woman understood.
"Exactly," she said, more to the daughter than to me.
I offered an arm.
"Might I have the privilege, Ma'am?"
"You certainly may."
"Wonderful!" the daughter said.
It didn't bother me; Kels has made me immune to sarcasm.
The old lady took my arm.
We crossed the street as the cars stopped for the light on either side.
I could have sworn I heard heavenly music.
"Some people know how to listen to a person."
The old lady said it to the air.
But the daughter, tagging along behind us, heard her.
"I'll be listening to this for weeks," she said.