Forest of Writing Utensils

Submitted into Contest #140 in response to: Write a story inspired by a memory of yours.... view prompt


Coming of Age

In the final weeks of summer before senior year, I ventured into a series of sinister eating habits. By the fall’s return, I was paying for it with sleep. 

My brief flirtation with dietary mischief had activated an alarming bout of restless legs syndrome, which left me frantic with lethargy and insomnia. Worse yet, my punishment was lasting well into the new year. Off the record, my teachers were advised to be more forgiving when I became prone to falling asleep in class. You can only imagine just how mortifying this was for me, at seventeen years old— but now, I find myself rather titillated by these past in-class siestas. They launched me into dreams so vivid that I catch myself dwelling on the facts surrounding the very whims of those dreams. Even now, almost two decades later.

Tomorrow I move to Montréal. I’ve resolved to bring just one box of books: a single row of favorites plus a second row of new titles, but no hardbacks. Never hardbacks. I’ve employed the sturdiest, flattest box I could find within the depths of my parents’ basement and committed most of my Yann Martels, all seven Harry Potters, and five Booker prize winners that I bought last year but have not read. I won’t take any old journals; just a couple of fresh Moleskine notebooks to scribe thoughts into whenever I get tired of typing, or feel lonely before bed. 

Just now I spot the corner of a plum diary poking out beneath a stack of journals. I gently tug on its topmost ring to liberate it. Velveteen pages filled with half-sketches and loopy longhand skip against my thumb without much discernment from me— until I stop on May 3rd, which is today’s date seventeen years ago. 

Thursday, MAY 3, 2007

I remember the moment I hated Rachel Worton—


—It confirmed itself during my first week of ninth grade. I was new at All Saints and the standard round of teen gossip had not yet reached my locker bay. But all the same; I had witnessed something obscene during our first encounter. You could say that my first impression felt similar to reading a final verdict. 


My name is Rachel Worton. 

My mom died of breast cancer when I was ten. 

No big deal. 

No big deal. She read this out to me as if compelled by a script and, would you believe it, in the same tone you would have used to read the daily announcements on Friday in a good mood. I think she actually believes that if she can get away with pretending her mother’s death shouldn’t matter to either of us— get away with imposing the sloppiness of her grief upon me— that she could somehow convince me we belonged to a world in which it was possible for us to be alike—

Ahh, well. I suppose most poeple should anticipate a bleak beginning to any spontaneous teen journal re-read…

Although in all fairness, Rachel Worton’s brand of grief was rejected, justly I feel, by nearly all of our peers and not just me. She once altered the pronunciation of her sneezes by replacing the oohs with aahs. With each fit, she would produce a melodic but wholly disingenuous aaaachAAH! as opposed to the classic aaaachOOH! The only protest my classmates and I got away with was the collective grit of our teeth as we endured her blatant malingering for weeks— right up until the characteristically mute Kelsey McAdam saved us all by yelling at Rachel to ‘shut the fuck up”— for which Kelsey was then promptly excused by a harassed Mr. Grimes. If you happen to be a reasonably well-adjusted teenager, Rachel Worton would have inspired the same feelings in you too.

I flip the page:

Monday, MAY 7, 2007

We all want our ninety minutes worth of close-proximity to Mr. Grimes—

My eyes close. I remain still to enjoy a brief silence. A memory of Mr. Grimes is always worth reliving. Especially during brief silences.  

—Rachel Worton literally SWAYS to whichever direction he walks in, I’m GAGGING as I write this—


—the reason why I get to first period on time, he tells the best stories. Everyone else is so obnoxious in their observance of him, but I try not to be so obvious. I keep myself composed. I’m satisfied with the third row. 

I thought he was just late today but, heavy as a horseshoe, Madam Faben clacked in with her kitten heels. The boys took their cue to lounge further into their seats. An airy hum fanned the room as all the girls stopped sucking in their stomachs. 

It’s dry beneath my eyelids…I feel texture whenever I blink. It’s easily one of the most annoying side effects of perpetual drowsiness. My vision is so quick to tire nowadays and it blurs very often. Either way, I’m not in the mood for Madam Faben. I never am. Thankfully, I sit behind Johnny Novak, who is so tall even when he sits down that I can easily get away with a nap. I cross my arms and tuck my lids beneath the warm crook of my elbow. 

I listen to the strokes and clicks of Madam Faben’s chalk against the tableau. Mr. Grimes never does this. He prefers the overhead projector. He enjoys dialogue more than anything else.

My mind flits between wakefulness and stupor.

Mr. Grimes told me about Plato’s cave.

The odour is acrid, and wrinkles my nose the way old polish remover does. It gives me a headache. I don’t feel like having one right now and, miraculously, it goes away. 

A tree, very smooth, and straight. The standard tangle of roots are absent from the base of its trunk. A muddy pulp envelops my shins and I stoop to pick some up; it’s tacky and lightweight, but dense with veins of cobalt and saturnine and black opal that glint up at me upon wielding it under the light. I suppose it’s just waste…I tip my palm forward but then pause— I recognize this paste. I’ve observed the same blue-black gleam across a fresh page after having written on it. I’ve wrinkled my nose to the same smell of rotten, tarnished ink. 

I am beside myself as each utensil begins to reveal itself. I take note of their species: ballpoint pens, felt-tip pens, quills, pencils, chalk, markers, pastel, highlighters, paint brushes, crayons, all sitting in one great big pool of desecrated ink and lead. Shorter utensils lean to, as branches do, while the tallest ones disappear into the ether above us. Buds of waxy crayon cling to spoiled ink and tendrils of pastel dapple the barrels like crystallized sap on maples. Crumbling chalk that hangs in the air gathers on the surface of various leaf-types— caps and clips and nibs and pen tips— like fresh season snow.

I peer up and catch sight of something shiny, like rain water. I grasp the clip of a nearby fountain pen for leverage. Just then, I recognize the something shiny as the curve of a glass rim. 

By God. Here I stand, in the forest of writing utensils — realizing that I’m actually standing in a pen jar.

April 06, 2022 18:25

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