A Life of Yellow Wood

January 22, 2010
Lying precariously on the edge of the gutter, the short, wooden pencil takes what may be his last minutes to look back on his life. He thinks first of his beginning, in a small factory in China overrun with rats and disease. He thinks back to his first memory of being held and inspected by a chubby-fingered child who will never read the letters he will write. From there he thinks of his trip overseas to America cramped in a box with hundreds of other pencils who look just like him. Those other yellow, round pencils with the gold ‘2’ inscribed below their metal heads and rubber hair are the closest things he has to a family.

In America, the pencil finds himself in a rundown school in Bronx New York. He watches from his perch on a classroom shelf with horror, day after day, as his comrades, his family, are snapped in half, stepped on, sharpened to stubs, bit, and eventually forgotten. They are forgotten in trashcans, on the floor, and at the bottom of backpacks. He hears their screams. Constantly. He knows, with sad certainty that he will one day fall to a similar fate.

Before he ever leaves his perch on that shelf, the school is condemned. Asbestos everywhere apparently—behind the walls, under the floor, in bathrooms. The school has no money—funding—to fix the problem, forcing hundreds of kids to leave for other schools. Hundreds of pencils sigh in relief that day. What isn’t used, like the pencil himself, is given to charity.
A drunk driver hits the truck transporting the pencil and the other forgotten supplies and sends them flying from the truck. Workers try to clean up the mess, but humans worry more about their own kind. Natural selection.

The pencil rolls, then stops by a mailbox. A rushing woman finds him, curses him for not being sharpened, and takes him home. Her house, so different from the factory and school, is clean. He can hear no rats, no screams. The other pencils here are happy, yet his first experience with a sharpener is, perhaps, the scariest moment of his life and no nice, clean home can change that. All he remembers is the pain, his leg twisted and cut. Deformed until it is as sharp as a weapon. A weapon he will never need, never want. He just wants his old leg back.

Eventually he rolls off his home on the woman’s desk. The cleaning lady finds him and takes him to her home. She lives in a small house with at least 20 other people. He has never seen anyone so young or so old. There is no order, not even the colors match, nothing like the woman’s home. He spend months here forgotten. For that he is appreciative. No one remembers to use him, move him, or sharpen him. He waits.

Authorities eventually kick out and arrest the people in the house, including the cleaning lady, for not having been born here in America. The pencil hadn’t been either, but no one kicks him out, sends him back to that factory. He doesn’t want to go back anyway.

The house is forgotten for years until the homeless pile in at night for shelter. The house has been abandoned long enough that no one cares what’s inside, just as long as they aren’t bothered. It isn’t a good neighborhood anyway. Only hypocrites complain.

A young girl finds him on the floor one night in the colder months. She is alone too. She has no family. She keeps him in her pocket. Safe, like a treasure. At night, when everyone else sleeps, she takes him out and writes on the walls with him. Sometimes just random words, sometimes poems so beautiful that the world melts away. She sharpens him with a pocketknife and, although it hurts, he looks forward to what she writes. The words she writes. He likes to think that he helps her, not only giving the words a physical form, but also letting her use him. He fears that if she doesn’t write she’ll explode; she is too small, too fragile to have so many words inside her.

Sometimes she falters and chews on his sides until she can think of something, even a single word. It hurt, but the pain is one, like the sharpening, that he enjoys, the pain and the great things the pain brings.

One morning, she wakes. She who lives during the night—a night owl and he screeches her words into the night. But, alas, she wakes on this bright morning. A morning so bright, a beautiful day—not to him, though, and not to her. She sets him down in the deep windowsill by what little else she possesses—a hairbrush, a broken mirror, and a jacket, and just walks out. Walks right out of the house into the broad daylight. For a moment the pencil thinks that maybe she will die in that light—perhaps, burst into flames. He waits. By nightfall she still hasn’t returned.

Months pass and he waits. Waits with that broken mirror, that hairbrush, and that jacket, but she never returns.

Several more owners claim the pencil, but none of them could compare to that girl, the girl who showed him that pleasure and pain are yin and yang. One could not exist without the other and in small instances they could mix in harmony.

Now the pencil lies in the gutters edge awaiting yet another adventure, wanting to be alone, to live out the rest of his life below the city where rats rule. A car drives past, close to the curb on the wet street. The car hits a puddle. The water hits the pencil. He is moving again; down into the gutter he floats away from people and heartbreak.

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IamtheshyStargirl said...
Jun. 17, 2011 at 5:16 pm
This is gorgeous, you unwound the tale so beautifully, saying so little, but so much was meant anyway, so much got through. I loved how you sent the pencil though, sort of, the lower levels of society, and I love how the pencil found beauty in, possibly, the lowest level of all. Thank you for writing this.
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