The lead broke on the tail of a “g,” and he pressed the metal tip forward again.
When nothing came out, he took off the cap and shook the pencil upside down. A handful of lead pieces fell out at once. He looked at me and laughed in amused exasperation.
It was noon and our deadline was approaching. I chuckled as I sat back in my chair away from the keyboard, resting my wrists on the handles. I watched him pick up the pieces of his signature green pencil.
“Have you always had this pencil?” I asked curiously. “Yep,” he replied, feeding in the last few pieces of lead. “Have I never told you the story?”
The story was that at one of his first magazine jobs, he jabbed himself with a pencil, and the lead still remains in his palm. He spread his fingers wide to show me, and I caught a glimpse of the tiniest silver-green dot over the joint of his thumb.
I glanced down at my own hand and studied the same dot on the side of my pinky. “I’ve had it too for a long time,” I said. I paused. ” Since third grade, actually.”
“Oh, yeah?” he asked, distracted. “How did you get yours?”
I thought back to third grade. A bright kitchen overlooking the Aegean. Brown wooden cupboards. The way the heat clung to the ceiling, chilling the feet that dared to step on the marble floors in the afternoons. The cold silence of the ugly kitchen at night. Books spread out on the kitchen table. A fork left over from dinner. Breadcrumbs and erasures. Lots of them.
I’m so tired, I can’t see the history lesson ahead anymore. My feet have long since left the floor; now they’re burrowed in opposite pant legs. I’m sitting cross-legged on the hard wooden chair that’s missing a pillow. A deep square incision is where the pillow was. It’s ugly too. I want to go to bed. School is so hard. My eyes are closing. My pencil lingers between my fingers, threatening to fall, slowly, quietly like my thoughts upon the table.
There I am, that little girl I now can tell apart in the distance. In the quiet, spotless kitchen, when sometimes on a rare occasion we’d see a cokcroach, scrurrying under the dishes. My mom would yell then, scream at my dad to kill it, then mutter under her breath afterward as she washed each dish, enlisting us to wipe and put away. The same kitchen where my sister cried, watching the sunset behind the woolen curtains adorned with a pattern of openings, before mom kicked her out of the house. The one where I spilled my chickpea soup and watched the silky yellow stain expand on the new tablecloth in those moments before my mother caught me.
There will be many more memories after this moment in this kitchen, as many as those that have passed. I’m sure I know that then. What I don’t know is that in a minute, a hand will slam into mine and make a terrifying noise on the kitchen table. I will wake up fully then, my doe eyes still and black as the cold, angry stare of my mother, who will be standing over me then in this moment of silence.
I look up at my boss. “An accident,” I say, and he nods, his full attention on his now functional pencil. He presses it again, and it ticks forth lead freely. “Shall we continue?” he asks and smiles.
I nod. As I pull my chair back up to my computer screen and my hands reach for the keyboard, I glance down at the mark one last time.
It’s stayed with me for a lifetime.