Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Post a Stub: Graf von Faber Castell to the last inch

Palimpsest does love a well-sharpened pencil. Author of the Blackwing Pages, Sean, kindly contributed a piece about sharpening and two wonderful photos to Palimpsest's Post-a-Stub Series:

Deciding when to retire—and therefore, when to sharpen a new pocket pencil from Graf von Faber-Castell—is never easy, especially so when they are the older pencils, with the brass-threaded ends, which are no longer available. The eraser and cap screw onto the end much like the modern refills for the Perfect Pencil. But these older pencils, from the mid-1990s, seem to be a full shade darker and a bit softer than those available today. These come from the silver-plated extender, rather than from the Perfect Pencil, but the extender allows you to get the last inch out of every pencil.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Out of Ink

The kidney expert is detailing the management of the patient’s final stage in a soft yet professional manner and I nod. I am aware of the situation. I ask for a few clarifications and yet I have one burning request which I dare not put forward. This is not an ordinary off-the-shelf writing instrument that peaks out of the good doctor’s white-coat pocket. It is a gleaming Montblanc Meisterstück – black and gold. Could I see it? Could I ask what kind of ink it contains? I decide instantly it is inappropriate to advance such a request at such a grave moment. Callous to inquire about ink in the face of death. Perhaps it is not even a fountain pen but a rollerball or a ballpoint. I decide it is probably not a fountain pen for how else but with a rollerball could the doctor write on the flimsy paper of the Patient’s Prescription Booklet and expect his writing to go through the carbon to the next page? The nib would have to be pressed hard, the ink would have to bleed through – no, the kidney expert is too clean shaven to risk the infliction of such an inefficient mess. But perhaps he reserves the pen for other occasions: written instructions, for example, or signatures or he secretly doodles in his spare time – or maybe the paper is not as flimsy as I thought and can receive the exquisite nib with sympathy. And so when the moment of truth comes – when he is handed the Prescription Booklet – I smile inwardly for I am certain he will now reach for the Meisterstück, that he will now reveal the Meisterstück, retrieve it from his white clean freshly-pressed pocket and deign to use it to inscribe the patient’s last ever prescription – but he doesn’t. He looks around and waits and smiles a half-embarrassed smile. I wait too for an instant, trying not to stare at the Montblanc star luminous against the black resin.

“I ran out of ink,” he says.

And I know now that I was right. That they won’t be any grand gestures, any gleaming words or meaningful inscriptions on the way to the inescapable end. Things will be unwritten, words unspoken. Out of the person who was my mother there will be issued unintelligible sounds, inarticulate commands – sometimes screams. My mother is out of ink. Death rages like a moth wrapped up in discarded human hair lodged up in her throat. No request can be put forward, no conclusion, summation, intimation, there are no expectations – only the waiting. When the ink runs out there is only a small sound – a quiet, almost intimate, final exhalation – to sum up a lifetime.