Thursday, 5 September 2013

Penelope At Her Typerwriter

Click-clack, click-clack, ding! Click-clack, click-clack, ding! A muttered curse, a pause while white-out was applied and blown on, then the click-clacking resumed and carried through to the partner's rooms next door. Every day, without fail, Penelope obediently typed letters dictated by her father-in-law: replies to clients, and strongly worded inquiries to ministers and military personnel. Searching for his missing son, her husband, had hijacked his work and hers at his busy firm of solicitors. Missing in action, presumed dead or deserted was how his regiment conveyed it, but that was almost a year ago, and still they would not reveal whereabouts they might have 'lost' him. Penelope, used to these absences, waited patiently with a photo of him on her desk, and dedicated herself to her typewriter.
The typewriter was a present brought especially for her after her father-in-law had appointed her his personal secretary. An antique, it had quirks: the 'a' had to be pounded twice, 'h' lost it's tall head, and capital 'R' its pointed leg, plus replacing the ribbon was fiddly, but Penelope was comforted by the click-clacking sound and the ding! was very satisfactory. Her father-in-law's firm was progressive, but its office equipment old-fashioned, and Penelope found she preferred the productive noisiness to the unobtrusive hum and tap of computers. The tips of her fingers were sore and her wrists ached, but she was winning this war – she felt useful, but as she grew accustomed to this new forbearing attitude, her fingers craved more exercise. After office hours, she stayed behind to type, improving her speed and accuracy as day turned into night. These efforts soon led to short stories, then a d├ębut novel, and a hostile relationship with the cleaner who was forced to clean around her.
During business hours, Penelope doubled her workload as other partners and clients requested her typing services, and with this demand she glowed. Her steady click-clack, ding! was music to their ears and won her many admirers who courted her with scribbled manuscripts and begged her to type them. Penelope refused, telling each hopeful suitor she would choose when her own novel was completed, and so she continued to hold their advances off by crossing out words and crumpling up balls of paper. Every morning, the waste-paper baskets overflowed with her re-workings and a memo was pinned to the noticeboard to say she was not finished. Her objective, in fact, was never to accomplish it and for twelve months she deceived them.
During this time, her relationship with the cleaner had further deteriorated, as she blamed Penelope for the handwritten notes now regularly left about her lax standards: 'Why haven't the bins been emptied?' 'When did you last vacuum?.' 'My desk hasn't been dusted!' Twenty years without a single reprimand and Penelope had tarnished it, but she knew her secret. One evening she arrived before the office closed and stormed in to reveal it: flinging open a cupboard to expose deep shelves of manuscripts. “Completed!” The cleaner declared triumphantly. And there were many... All with the same beginning, but different middles and endings.
Penelope relented and asked her admirers to submit their scribbled drafts. The winner was a page-turner; a fictional narrative based on scraps of memories which seemed to her familiar, and was penned by 'No Name.' This anonymous author, invited to the office, was a man recovering from a head injury, whom Penelope instantly recognised as her husband and proved it to the authorities. Her returned husband in his diminished faculties shredded her admirers' laboured attempts to win her, but Penelope was contented: she had been rewarded for her faithfulness to her typewriter and to her husband's memory.

*Inspired by Penelope At Her Loom by Angelica Kauffman & Homer's Odyssey