the last fountain pen on earth
It is a day with a raging storm outside. The wind rustles and whistles through the crevices of the house. Rain batters the roof tiles, the sound lost in the music playing in the background. The soft chimes and the big riffs invite you to get up your seat and dance. It’s a dark day and the soft glow is all that can get through the thick clouds, painting the walls in pale shadows, not illuminating the darkest corners. I slowly turn the music down, now you can only hear the thumps of the drums through the wind. Gather around, dear readers, and let me tell you a story.
I own a decent amount of fountain pens now. They are mostly flamboyant, swirling, shining acrylics. Fun and light for the long writing sessions that lectures and essays dictate. Not very somber or serious. Except for the three black pens I own: (from left to right) Lamy 2000, the Harley Davidson fountain pen and a Pilot Vanishing Point in Matte Black. They all mark a point in my life, even when I didn’t know those moments would be important.
My first fountain pen was a medium nib Harley Davidson fountain pen (from 1993 I think, made in France). Nothing too special in the grand scheme of things, but it was the most prized possession of a stationery obsessed 11 year old. My mother had found it in her drawer at work, and had given it to me saying that nobody used fountain pens anymore. She doubted that I could make it work, but it was a lovely gift in its cardboard box with an address in a place I have never been. I was enchanted by my very first fancy pen.
The biggest challenge was trying to clean the pen. I had no idea how to, so I asked the mighty internet. I didn’t know that pen blogs existed then, so I read up as much as I could before trying the first daunting task ahead of me: unscrewing the barrel. It did not. I held it under hot water, and then boiled some hot water and mixed it with the regular tap water to soak the nib to get the years of dried ink out.
Finally the pen barrel opened up, and thus a whole new world to me. There was a weird screwing thing inside -a converter, back then I had no words for it- and more dried ink. Apparently sitting in a drawer, forgotten, would do that to you. More boiling water baths and flushes later the pen was clean. But I had no ink!
Therefore we -my father and I- were off to the nearest stationery shop. Right down the street from our house, where I had gotten most of my stuff up until that point. An ancient guy -I couldn’t tell you whether he was ancient to a child’s eyes, so about 45, or actually very old- and tons of different pen and paper products piled up to the ceiling. I pulled out the box from my little bag, and showed it to the guy. He took the pen into his hands, put on his glasses and inspected the pen for about a whole minute. I was holding my breath, watching, hoping to be deemed worthy of ink.
“I don’t have anything.”
My balloon of excitement went out with an almost audible hiss.
I carefully took back the pen and nestled it into the cardboard box, and scrambled out of the store, at the verge of tears, without even saying thanks. Behind me, still inside, I heard my father excusing and wishing a good day to the old man who has been our sole stationery supplier. I still haven’t been to that store in a decade.
I stood in the middle of the street, holding my father’s hand, unsure of what to do. He tried to cheer me up, trying to convince me that this cannot be the last fountain pen in the world. It was such a novelty item for me, I didn’t know whether he was joking or not. To me, it was the last fountain pen on earth.
Our walk to the nearest big chain stationery store was a torturous one. I had been there before, but everything was so colourful, exciting and expensive that I had actually never bought anything. We walked in, the warm air blowed into our faces from the AC unit above the door. My excitement bloomed again like a tree growing out of an apricot pit. My father directly went over to the fancy pens section; a cabinet full of Cross, Lamy and Sheaffer pens. He looked around for a while and then called me over, introducing me to the store employee. They talked for a moment, then slowly I showed the pen. I could swear that it was glowing in its beaten up box like a holy artefact under the fluorescent lights. But then the store employee swiped the pen from its box, and the glow suddenly went out like a snuffed candle. I felt a little dumb in the busy store clutching my empty box. Therefore, I decided to join the conversation. While trying to scurry over to my father and the employee, I almost tripped over my own legs and made an entrance, beet red. My father had decided that cartridges were more appropriate as they didn’t want any more ink stains on the white satin dining chairs. It was hard to clean your first fountain pen when you’re clumsy with the pen and the bowl of water. Multiple times.
I didn’t use much of those Parker cartridges, one pack in blue and one in black. After about a year of use, I had decided that fountain pens were too fancy to write in my diary with. I cleaned it once more, and stowed it away into my very own drawer. I was later given the “matching” ballpoint, a very beaten silver one from the same lineup. My mother had used it as her purse pen and it got quite dinged up next to her keys. I ended up using that one for longer. And I became a frequent sight in the large stationery store after that. Not only to gawk at the fountain pens, but also to buy some nice pencils with my leftover pocket money every now and then.
And that’s how I came to have my very first fountain pen. Even after those baths in scalding water, it is fine and writing very well. The nib writes decently wet and on the finer side of medium. I think it’s a resin pen with metal end caps and two orange lacquer rings at both ends. It’s not very long, but the metal parts give it a heft. The cap screws on securely, but the nib dries out a little when it sits unused for a while. I use it less now, as I prefer lighter pens, but I will keep it all my life as my first fountain pen, and the last pen on earth for an 11 year old.
I will try to post in a regular schedule on Tuesdays and Saturdays. This is the first of three posts I am planning on the above mentioned black pens. Thank you for reading!