THE GOLDEN PEN

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It was dark when Melissa got to her apartment. Once she inserted the key into the lock, the door gave way without her unlocking it and she watched in surprise as it opened before her. She stood there in the doorway, peering into the living room like a stranger.

On one of the couches, she saw a man and a woman wearing nothing but towels. While the man’s barely covered his loins, the woman’s covered her midriff. Their bodies were both glistening with sweat.

The woman stood up and raced towards Melissa with a smile. “You’re home already? How was your day?”

Melissa sighed. She glanced at the man on the couch before turning to her. “Carol, why didn’t you lock the door?”

Carol glanced at the door. “It wasn’t locked?”

Melissa looked at the man on the couch. “No, and I’m sure you were busy with work while the door was unlocked, right?”

Carol ran her fingers through her disheveled hair. “Sorry, I must have forgotten!”

Melissa counted out several items of men’s clothing that were strewn across the floor of the living room. She could imagine that they had been removed and tossed there in a hurry. “And these clothes on the floor. Did you forget those too?”

Carol shook her head. “Oh, I’m sorry, it’ll never happen again.”

“Sure,” Melissa said, kicking the door shut behind her. As she walked through the living room, carefully avoiding the clothes, the man smiled and raised a glass of wine at her. “Hello. Are you also a massage therapist like Carol?”

Carol came up to him and punched him playfully on the shoulder. “Leave her alone. She’s not a massage therapist.”

“Really?” the man asked with raised eyebrows. “But she looks too pretty not to be one.”

“Just leave her alone, will you?”

The man turned to see Melissa drop her handbag on the dining table before she went into the bathroom. “You know, I wouldn’t mind paying for both of you to massage me.”

“What is wrong with you? I already told you she is not into that! We only share this apartment, that’s all.”

The man grunted and sipped his wine. “It’s a pity. She should join you.”

Carol shrugged. “She loves her job.”

“What does she do?”

“She’s a housekeeper.”

“Really? She doesn’t look too happy about it.”

“How can you tell?”

“It’s written all over her face,” the man replied before sipping more wine. “She looks depressed. She doesn't even smile. Does she know how to smile?”

Inside the bathroom, Melissa sat on the edge of the bathtub. She could not help but overhear Carol and her guest. It wasn’t as if she had deliberately wanted to listen in on them, but it wasn’t as if they were being quiet either.

‘She looks depressed.’

‘Does she know how to smile?’

Melissa sighed as she reflected on the man’s remarks.

Was it really that obvious, even for someone who has never met me before?

Melissa shook her head and buried her face in her hands.

Perhaps he was right. She must really be so visibly depressed that anyone could easily tell.

But who wouldn’t be, especially in her condition? It had been two months and Mr. Harold still hadn’t paid her for cleaning his huge house. It wasn’t because he was facing any financial difficulties. Rather, it was simply Mr. Harold’s way of doing things.

Ever since she started working for Mr. Harold over eight months ago, Melissa had always been paid late. When she asked the other housekeepers, she was told that she should just take things as they were. When she complained to Mr. Harold, he simply told her to resign if she did not like how he handles his accounts.

Handling his accounts or abusing my contract, she mused. Melissa knew that she had not signed up for such regular delays to her payments. When she started working there, she had looked forward to being treated as an employee, not as a slave. But sadly, she could not do anything about it and began to accept things as they were.

On top of paying his staff’s salary late, Mr. Harold was also very abusive towards them. He could easily lose his cool for the silliest reasons.

For Melissa, every workday was a living hell. Even when she performed her duties to the best of her abilities, Mr. Harold would always find a way to criticize her efforts and insult her.

Worse still, this attitude was coming from such an elderly man who was supposed to be able to control himself and treat others with respect, but for some reason, Mr. Harold refused to change. Rather, he seemed to relish the thought of being feared by all who worked in his house, including Melissa.

How she wished she could do something about her present condition! But how? It wasn’t easy getting another job in the recession they were going through.

Talking to Mr. Harold about her issues would only exacerbate them. He was bound to either suggest that she resigned or got the hell out of his sight.

And becoming a massage therapist like Carol was simply out of the question for Melissa. She knew that she could not bring herself to do what Carol was doing. She was not naïve and neither was she stupid. She knew that Carol offered other services to her numerous clients.

Melissa sighed. Mr. Harold was a beast, and a wicked one at that. He was an old, sadistic, wicked beast who enjoyed watching people work in misery. How she wished she could do something to change things! But what could she do?

Her boyfriend of several years had left her a couple of months ago. Even though he had not really been too good to her, he had still been her hope for changing her life. He had been quite nice and generous, giving her gifts and money, but the way they broke up wasn’t great.

He had simply sent her a text saying that he was tired of her and that was it. He had stopped taking her calls or responding to her messages. Now she was stuck with Carol and her ways.

It wasn’t as if Melissa didn’t know what to do about that. If she was really that fed up with Carol, she could easily move out of the apartment they were sharing, but where was she going to go?

She clearly did not have enough money of her own to pay for an apartment. In spite of Carol’s behavior, Melissa was forced to put up with it because she needed someone to help her cover the rent.

Melissa washed her face and cleaned herself up.

When she got out of the bathroom, she saw Carol fiddling with her handbag. The man was now on his feet, obviously ready to leave. Melissa turned to Carol. “Why are you searching through my handbag?”

“I need a pen.”

Melissa felt her jaw tighten. “You could have just asked, Carol.”

Carol raised her hand from the handbag. She was holding a golden pen. “Well, I really didn’t want to bother you. And I’ve found it now anyway.”

“Don’t touch that pen!” Melissa insisted.

Carol’s eyebrows rose up in surprise. “Why? I only want to write down his number.”

Before Melissa could stop her, Carol had already scribbled down the man’s name and number.

“You can always reach me on that number,” the man said.

“You have my number too. Just remember to call before you show up,” Carol warned.

“Do I really have to go through all that? I already know where you live.”

“But I might be busy, it’s better if you call first.”

The man glanced at Melissa who was standing close by. “Does she mean that I always have to book an appointment before coming over?”

Melissa ignored him as she snatched the pen from Carol’s hand. “Next time, please tell me before you go through my stuff.”

“Does it really matter?” the man quipped. “You both share an apartment already. Maybe, if you shared clients together, this sort of thing wouldn’t happen.”

Melissa kept ignoring him. As she walked towards the kitchen, she heard Carol gasp. She turned to see Carol pointing at the man. He was also looking at himself in surprise. The expression in his eyes was full of shock and bewilderment.

“What’s happening?” the man asked. “What the hell is happening to me?”

Alarmed, Melissa rushed to Carol’s side. She could not believe what she was seeing – the man’s feet and hands seemed to have disappeared. On closer observation, it was as if his legs and arms were now being erased from existence. It was as if someone was using a huge duster to scrub off an image of him from an invisible board.

Melissa blinked rapidly, as if trying to adjust her eyesight. She shook her head as if that was going to clear away any illusions around her. She then grabbed Carol’s arms and shook her vigorously. “What’s going on? What’s happening to him?”

“I don’t know,” Carol replied. “He…he is vanishing”

“What’s happening?” the man demanded. “What did you do to me?”

“Did you do anything to him?” Melissa demanded.

Carol shook her head with bewilderment in her eyes. “Like what? I did not do anything to him!”

“Help, help me, help me please!” the man screamed.

By now, the man’s legs were no more. His arms were gone too. He looked strange – a torso of a man with no limbs, just floating in the middle of the living room.

But there was nothing they could do. Carol and Melissa just stood there as his head was erased, then his midriff, and suddenly there was nothing left of him.

They both stumbled backwards in horror.

“Where did he go?” Carol shouted. “What happened to him?”

Melissa was speechless. She glanced at her bag and reached for it. She brought out the golden pen and stared at it hard. “Maybe it was this pen,” Melissa said slowly. “I think it was the pen.”

“The pen? Are you joking? A man just disappeared right before our eyes and all you can say ‘it was the pen’?”

“Calm down, Carol. It must be the pen! I am sure it was the pen that made him disappear.”

“Nonsense! Where did you even get that pen in the first place?”

“It was a gift.”

“A gift? A gift from whom?”

“A friend.”

“Which friend is that?”

“You don’t know him.”

Carol shook her head. “I don’t believe it. Are you saying that the gold pen is magical or what?”

“I don’t know for sure, but I think it’s responsible for what happened to him.”

“No, I don’t think you know what you’re saying.”

“You don’t believe me? Maybe we should try again,” Melissa said, reaching for a notepad.

“What do you want to do?”

“You’ll see,” Melissa said, as she scribbled something down. She then held it up for Carol to see.

Carol squinted at the notepad. “Why did you write my name?”

“To prove to you that the pen did it.”

“What?”

When Carol didn’t hear any response from her friend, she looked up to see Melissa staring at her with wide eyes. That was when Carol glanced down at her body. She gasped at what she saw – her hands and legs were gradually disappearing. It was as if her body was being erased.

“Stop it, please stop it,” Carol begged.

“I can’t,” Melissa confessed.

“Stop it, Melissa!”

But there was nothing Melissa could do. She just watched in silence as her friend vanished from her sight.

A few moments later, Melissa walked over to the table, where the man had left his wallet. She opened it and pulled out the wads of dollar bills inside. She then opened Carol’s handbag and took out the money from there too.

After putting it all away, she picked up one of the glasses of wine they had been drinking. Then she sat down on the couch enjoying the wine while she gazed outside into the dark night.

Melissa had not bothered telling Carol everything about the golden pen. It wasn’t a gift. She had stolen it from Mr. Harold’s desk. He had once asked her to get him a document from his desk.

While she had been rummaging through the drawers, she came across the pen. It was in a fancy box, and in that box was a piece of paper with a few names written on it. She knew straight away that it was expensive.

Without thinking, Melissa had snuck the pen into her pocket. But she had no plans of keeping it as a souvenir. She knew that it could fetch a neat sum of cash at the pawn shop.

 

***

 

The next day, Melissa woke up with a start. She glanced at the wall clock and screamed out loud. She was late – very late indeed.

She sat up in her bed and wondered how she could have woken up so late. But then she remembered what had happened. She had stayed up all night thinking about the real power behind the golden pen. She had recalled the list that was in the box when she had taken the pen. It seemed to her that Mr. Harold was wicked and had used the pen to make people disappear. She had decided to return the pen very early the next day without fail.

But now that she had woken up late, her plans were already defeated. She could just picture Mr. Harold shouting at her, verbally insulting her, and even threatening to dismiss her for coming to work so late.

She bit her lip and her jaw tightened.

Threatening me, she wondered.

Threatening me indeed!

She remembered all the times he had been mean to her.

She glanced at the wall clock again.

She was really late for work now, but she knew what to do.

Melissa swung her legs off the bed and reached for her handbag. She took out the golden pen and flipped open a notepad. She wrote Mr. Harold’s name on it and closed the notepad.

Afterwards, she had a shower and took her time to have a light breakfast. Once she was done, she got dressed and left the apartment.

When she arrived at Mr. Harold’s house, she wasn’t surprised to see that people were running around in panic. His family were crying, wondering where their father had gone, while Mr. Harold’s staff were gathered in small groups discussing what had happened.

They all had the same story to tell – they had seen him standing in the courtyard screaming in a loud voice. He had suddenly started to disappear, vanishing bit by bit, until the old man was no more.

Melissa acted as if she was genuinely surprised by what had happened. While she sympathized with the family, she sided with her co-workers in not showing any remorse. She and the rest of the staff agreed that he deserved what had befallen him, no matter how mysterious his sudden disappearance had been. He had really been very mean and wicked to them all.

While people continued to discuss what had happened and offered suggestions about what needed to be done next, Melissa excused herself to go to the kitchen.

It all looked surreal to her. In the midst of all the mystery, confusion and commotion that had suddenly surrounded the big house, only she knew exactly what had happened. That knowledge seemed to give her a sort of unspeakable power. It made her very happy to know that she alone knew what had happened to the wicked old man.

Melissa glanced around to ensure that no one was nearby. Satisfied that she was alone, she took out the golden pen and her notepad. As she wrote down the name of her ex-boyfriend, there was a smile on her face – a genuine smile that she hadn’t had for a long time.

 

THE END

Lamees Alhassar