The man smiled as the heavy door closed behind him, yet he was
perturbed. His palm went flat on the counter, tapping the glass with
a gentle clack.
"This doesn't work," he said, then removed his hand to reveal the
The gesture was somewhat theatrical, as if the shiny silver rod were
the fine bone of an android. The clerk looked at the pen and said:
"Let's take a look, shall we?" The man nodded his consent, and with
a deft twist the clerk removed the cartridge and examined it.
"Perhaps you were unaware this is a custom cartridge?" The clerk
raised his eyebrows and waited. When there was no reply, he contin-
ued. "You see, this particular ink is silent."
"Silent?" asked the man.
"Yes, silent," said the clerk. "Much like the t in listen. Inscrutable, I
know, but some of our clients simply can't do without it."
The man stared warily at the clerk who stood behind the counter,
his hands folded before him.
"Was this perhaps a gift?" inquired the clerk.
The man nodded, perplexed. "It seems she would have sent a note,"
"Perhaps she did," said the clerk with a placid smile.
"You mean—" said the man, his voice trailing off.
"Was there any card at all?" said the clerk. "A blank one, perhaps?"
The man reached into his jacket pocket and withdrew a crisp square
of vellum. He studied it, then said: "How exactly does one do it? Do
we need a flame to read it, like lemon juice?"
The clerk smiled broadly now, and instantly looked younger. "Not
at all. Just cup it over your ear, like this. Then wait. It's more a feeling
than anything else."
The man held it lightly. like a delicate leaf, and placed it over his ear.
"Good Lord," he said, as his face went strangely still. "She loves me."