by Philip R. Dunn
But unlike the second answer, this time the pen went slowly and smoothly, as if it were drawing letter-sized pictures with the greatest of care. It swirled and dotted, scratching and looping, dipping and slashing. Jolly just smiled at the pen, knowing that whatever it was writing would be extraordinary.
While Mrs. Cooper drank copious amounts of black coffee from an oversized mug, the pen danced on. The other kids were finished writing, so gradually they craned their necks and turned around to see Jolly's remarkably hyper pen. They'd never seen Jolly write so much before. Some of them giggled, but Jolly didn't care. He was busy writing:
"My best friend is someone who doesn't know me - a place and time that cannot be. Not in a class with bitten fingernails, tuna seeping through a paper sack, and the snot of the next world's grown-ups.
"No, my friend would not be a creep named Chad, who only knows the world as bad." Chad Terrell pushed a girl off of the monkey bars last year and broke her arm.
"Nor would my friend be Daniella Hatch, the girl who stole my sour patch. My friend would not be a thief, thug, creep or wedgie grinder - my friend would simply be much kinder." And the pen drifted into a smoother verse. It wandered dreamily through the next section.
"Yes my best friend is from the future," wrote the pen. "From the world where teasing can hurt more, but friendliness is more accepted. From a place where one friend means everything, like one sun means one warm.
She's got blood that washes on to me, a spinal chord that attaches to mine like Christmas lights. Her legs are tan as pretzels and similarly wrapped around my hips. Her lips, well, lips, lips, lips.
"She says words like `put the potato in the pot', and I like just hearing them. We cook together, eat together, and, of course, we clench in panting fury. We're two puzzle pieces that don't need the rest of the scene - a two piece puzzle. And she's got a smell like the tender core of a giant lemon cake.
"Her hair color may change by the time I meet her. Her teeth may shift a bit. But I'll know her that day. She'll be the one with her hand in my hair and her underwear in my hamper." The pen stopped and dripped a little ink into the paper, reminding Jolly of a sponge.
"Ok class," whined Mrs. Cooper, "stop teasing Jolly and pass those assignments up."
They did, and she collected all of them including Jolly's, which was finished just in the nick of time. She stacked them up on her desk and said, "Now class, I'm going to read your papers out loud and correct your mistakes as we go along." She tried to pick a piece of sleep crumb from her eye as she talked. "First I'll read the sentence, then I'll call on you to correct any mistakes I find. OK?"
Nobody said anything. Most of them, in fact, felt a little slighted. They thought that she would read them to herself and then hand them back as usual.
"I'm not going to use any names, though," she said. "But you may be able to tell who is who if you listen carefully."
This relieved the class a little. At least you wouldn't know for sure who the person was. Jolly, however, was not relieved. He feared, correctly, that his wouldn't sound like the others'.
Then one of the kids said it, out loud, before Mrs. Cooper could even begin reading her first selection. Jimmy Darnell was the kid. He quipped, "Read Jolly's - he wrote a book."
"What's he going to do, eat it?" said another. Everyone laughed. Jolly just rubbed his warm, magic pen.
"All right, calm down class," said Mrs. Cooper. "I'll read yours, young Mr. Darnell."
She read Jimmy's out loud. He wrote about how he wanted to go to the moon like Star Track. Mrs. Cooper asked the class how to spell Star Trek, but no one knew. "It's trek, not track," she corrected. "T-R-E-K, not T-R-A-C-K." Jimmy's favorite TV show was "the one where they all talk back to each other and is really funny," but he didn't know what the name was. His best friend was Marvin Butler, a third grader.
Mrs. Cooper read a few more - one about driving to Las Vegas, one about driving to the store to get chips, five about an action cartoon, and three about a girl who seemed to have an excess of best friends.
Then she came to Jolly's. She glanced at it quickly, slightly interested in its length, but more concerned with the format. "Jolly," she asked, "how do we write all our assignments?"
"With letters," he said genuinely. Someone in the back row giggled.
"No, Jolly, how do we write it on the paper?"
"Umm," he paused. "Some go above the dotted line, small ones below, but all go between the dark lines."
"Yes, Jolly, that's true," replied Mrs. Cooper. "But we don't print - we use cursive, cursive." She sounded it out as if that would bring it home, "Cuur-sssive." Mrs. Cooper didn't even realize that the printed words in question communicated an idea. To her they just stuck out - printed words amongst all the flowing cursive. They read quite clearly, "STUPID FUCKING TEACHER."
Jolly said, "Well I didn't really write it." The class laughed.
"It is a bit long, Jolly. Your handwriting is nice, but please don't print when you're doing so well with cursive." She loved to say the word cursive. So she read the first answer aloud and puzzled at it.
"You didn't write this, did you?"
Jolly tried to explain, "This pen is. . ." but she cut him off.
"Question number two -" She read through, with jaw slightly agape, the rant about exploitation and consumerism raping the minds of youth. By the time she reached the "stupid fucking teacher" part, she was already furious. The class was disinterested in the reading for the most part, but they were fascinated with the strange transformation of Mrs. Cooper. She stopped reading aloud when she got to the f-word. Then she worried that the kids might have heard too much already. She might be damaging the minds of the children, she thought.
When she got to question three, her fury turned to wonder. She was engaged. And for some reason, as if the magic pen had jumped into her body, she felt compelled to start reading aloud again. Parts of it she mumbled just to put words out into the ether. Or perhaps she was censoring out things she found unsuitable for youngsters.
She read: "My best friend is someone who doesn't know me - a place and time that cannot be. Not in a class with . . . fingernails . . . tuna . . . ssseeping. . . sack.
"Yes my best friend is from the future, from the world where teasing can hurt more, but friendliness is more accepted. From a place where one friend means everything, like one sun means one warm. She's got blood that washes on to me, a spinal chord that attaches to mine like Christmas lights. Her legs are tan as pretzels and similarly wrapped around my hips. Her lips, well, lips, lips, lips." Mrs. Cooper looked up at Jolly and asked, "Where did you get this?" But without waiting for an answer, she continued reading aloud. Jolly figured he was in trouble. The class sat there, mesmerized and quiet. A few stared out the windows. They liked the sounds of the words and the way they made Mrs. Cooper sound like a nice, calm lady.
"Potato . . . pot. We cook together, eat together, and, of course, we clench in panting fury." Here she snapped back into discipline mode. "What on earth?" she boomed. "Jolly where did you get this?"
"Actually, the pen," he stammered, "I just, I just found it on the street."
"The street, yes the street," ruminated a perturbed Mrs. Cooper. "You get everything from the street nowadays don't you? You get your crack, your gangs, your rap music - and this filth. Who's writing this?" She waited for no answers. "Is it the older kids? Are they teaching you how use words? Are they telling you kids sexy words?"
The class collectively giggled. They didn't know anything about what Mrs. Cooper had just read, but they had heard that "sexy" word before, and they thought it was funny.
"Class, SHUT-UP!" she yelled. "This isn't funny in the least." She didn't know what to do, so she just frantically ripped up the paper. She was mad but didn't know who to be mad with.
Then Jolly piped up. "The pen did it, not the paper," he said.
Mrs. Cooper didn't know what to make of that, so she ordered him outside. "Jolly - outside, now. I will speak with you in a moment." He walked out the big orange door and sat below the windows. "Now class, never do what Jolly did. If someone on the street talks bad words to you, then you ignore them. And you certainly will not bring words like that into this educational institution." The kids looked confused. She stormed out the door to deal with Jolly.
"Jolly, you're suspended for the day. Go to the office and get Janice, the attendance monitor, to sign you out. And until you can write like a second grader. . . well. . ." She stopped. "Just don't listen to those boys on the street corner - they wont teach you anything but trouble. The world is a bad enough place without you describing it."
"Ok," he said meekly. The magic pen grew warm in his pocket. He figured he could use a different pen for class assignments. Besides, he didn't want to waste the ink in the magic pen.
Satisfied that she'd taken a stand on the issue, Mrs. Cooper looked down pitifully on Jolly and reached for the doorknob. At the same time, Jimmy Darnell was opening the door from the other side. It hit her hand first, crunching the knuckles on her writing hand, then bonked her in the center of the forehead. The two boys laughed hysterically as Mrs. Cooper winced and screamed. And the whole class was laughing in their seats for another reason. Jimmy had come out to tell Mrs. Cooper that Chrissy Weidmeyer had peed at her desk and on to the floor.
Jolly skipped toward the office with the laughs trailing behind him. He checked out of the office, the pen growing hotter during his encounter with Janice, the fifth grader who helped out in attendance. Then he headed toward home the same way he came to school. And he stopped off at the place where he found the pen. Next to the spot was a rather young looking, homeless bum man. The man was sleeping with his face turned toward the brick wall. Jolly grabbed some of the yellow newspaper - the pieces which weren't splattered with barf remnants. He decided he would write something down with his magic pen. He tried to think of something very good to write. The bum woke up and rolled over toward Jolly and the barf. In a very high-pitched whiny voice, the man said, "You should be in school . . . fucking kid."
Jolly ignored him. Then Jolly got an idea. He wrote down a list of things he wanted to do with his life. The first one was: "I want to write with a magic pen."