Broken Pencil - - Table Of Contents -

it fits into the larger script, but — you know — baby steps.”


KAREN (20s) lies on the sofa, mid-ses­sion, while DR. BLEDSOE (40s, wear­ing glasses) takes notes on a yel­low le­gal pad, oc­ca­sion­ally glanc­ing over her steely frames at Karen.

KAREN ...And this layabout wants to start a fam­ily with me? Like, what the fuck?

Dis­mayed — but not sur­prised — the doc­tor takes off her glasses and sets her pen­cil down.

DR. BLEDSOE Now, Karen, we’ve talked about this. When you put a la­bel on some­one, you stop see­ing them in all their com­plex­ity. Your thoughts be­come writ­ten in stone, and you can’t help but be­tray those thoughts in your ac­tions...

KAREN (rolling her eyes) I know, I know... But, Dr. Bledsoe, I’ve been in nar­ra­tive ther­apy for ex­actly 4 months, and all I’ve learned is that I’m a ’care­taker’ and I’ve crip­pled my­self by try­ing to please oth­ers.

DR. BLEDSOE That’s good. Un­earthing that old fos­silized nar­ra­tive is the first step to­ward rewrit­ing it with a hap­pier end­ing. But only you can do that work, Karen.

Karen lets out a grunt of bone-weary ex­haus­tion.

KAREN Can’t I just out­source it? I’m not much of a writer.

The doc­tor takes up her pen­cil and le­gal pad again, shak­ing her head ever so slightly.

To­day’s lunch was a pair of tri­an­gu­lar sand­wiches in cel­lo­phane from a cafe­te­ria vend­ing ma­chine and liq­uids that were all too sweet (ruby red fruit punch and blood-pinked choco­late milk). She’d waited un­til they were al­most ready to head back up to the re­hab ward be­fore nearly blurt­ing out:

“Dad, Nick and I are think­ing of hav­ing a baby.”

A flake of turkey and smear of mayo on his beard, he stopped mid-chew. “A baby?” “Yeah.” “Think­ing about, or…?” “Well, try­ing, ac­tu­ally. But, no luck yet.” He didn’t look im­pressed. She raised a nap­kin to his chin, try­ing to help him recover the turkey from his beard. But he waved her off, like an in­sect. “We wanna make you a grandpa.” “I’m not sure I’m ready to be a grand­fa­ther. Or you a mother. Isn’t Nick un­em­ployed?”

“He’s work­ing, he’s just not get­ting paid. It takes time.” “So, un­em­ployed.” Funny, she thought, how his ex­pec­ta­tions for her bore no re­la­tion to what he de­manded of his own broke ass.

She took the straw in her mouth one last time. The con­tents of the waxed car­ton came to a noisy fin­ish. “Aren’t you happy for me?”

“‘Happy’?” he scoffed. “Does any­body know how to be ‘happy’?”

He had a go at wip­ing his own beard. All it did was add lit­tle shreds of pa­per to the other de­tri­tus col­lect­ing there.

“That’s it? That’s the sum to­tal of wis­dom you have to of­fer your daugh­ter af­ter 61 years on the planet?”

“Wis­dom? Je­sus Christ, where is this com­ing from? All I know about be­ing hu­man is we all got a soul, sweetie. What you do with it is your busi­ness.”

A ‘soul’. An ego, more like — for he was not a re­li­gious man. He poured the sum to­tal of what­ever he meant by ‘soul’ into his mu­sic. She couldn’t help but feel like he was suck­ing it out of her at the same time.

“Well, I gotta talk to the in­surance man and see what I can get for that bike,” he said. “Maybe it’ll pay for a lit­tle stu­dio time, so I can get some of this new ma­te­rial down on tape. My leg may be broke, but ev­ery­thing’s got a sil­ver lin­ing, ya know?”

She let out a scep­ti­cal puff of air. There was no sil­ver lin­ing for her. “Is that… funny to you?” he glared at her. “Dad,” she said, grip­ping her plas­tic tray, “the cul­ture is flow­ing past you in great tor­rents, and you’re over in a dusty corner with your guitar say­ing, ‘Isn’t it clever what I’ve done with this old riff?’ No! No­body cares, be­cause you don’t pay any at­ten­tion to what peo­ple do ac­tu­ally care about. You’re com­pletely out of it.”

“Is that how it is?” he said, his mouth sag­ging grimly at the cor­ners.

She cast her eyes any­where but at him. He sniffed, went for an­other nap­kin, then de­cided he didn’t need it.

She’d found the lo­cus of his power, and was tempted to press it fur­ther, to wound him. But no — her in­abil­ity to hurt him was in­versely pro­por­tional to his abil­ity to hurt her.

“I don’t know much,” he said, “but I know enough not to let a girl barely out of her train­ing bra school me about life.”

He got up and limped over to the trash, still in his leathers.


Karen sits up­right in a chair, poised, self-pos­sessed. The doc­tor, behind her desk, is work­ing qui­etly on her com­puter.

KAREN ...So I left him. I left them both.

Stunned, Dr. Bledsoe turns from the screen to look at Karen.

DR. BLEDSOE That’s... that’s a big step, Karen. How did you ar­rive at this de­ci­sion?

KAREN Easy. The test strip turned up blue and I thought — Fuck, I am not rais­ing a child with these two in the pic­ture.

DR. BLEDSOE How does Ja­son feel about that?

Karen’s eyes fall, guiltily. He doesn’t know. KAREN

DR. BLEDSOE Well, I... I’m here to sup­port what­ever de­ci­sion you make.

There’s a glint in the doc­tor’s eye. Dol­lar signs stretch to the horizon with the mess Karen’s about to make of her life.

DR. BLEDSOE (CONT’D) Oh, that re­minds me...

She turns to her com­puter and calls up her calendar.

DR. BLEDSOE (CONT’D) ...I’m not go­ing to be able to see you at our reg­u­lar time next week. I’m off to a con­fer­ence for 3 days, so I won­dered if we could—

KAREN That won’t be nec­es­sary. I’m fin­ished with this.

DR. BLEDSOE (look­ing at her) I’m sorry?

KAREN You told me to re­write the end­ing. This is the new end­ing. I’m done.

DR. BLEDSOE Karen, I think that’s rather rash.

KAREN Well, it’s my soul. What I do with it is my busi­ness.

Nick was puz­zled when he opened his lap­top, the cur­sor blink­ing in the mid­dle of his script. He found the new scene snuck in there amidst the oth­ers, most of them in­com­plete. But it worked. It pointed a way for­ward. He couldn’t wait for Katie to get back so he could thank her.

It was the best gift she could ever have given him.

The din­ner he sweated to make from scratch (co­conut-crusted cau­li­flower and pop­corn chicken) was three hours cold be­fore he re­al­ized just ex­actly what kind of gift it was.

Born and based in Toronto, P.D. Wal­ter has also lived in Banff, Van­cou­ver, and Saitama City, Ja­pan. His 2016 novella‚ Adul­tes­cence‚ (re­viewed in Bro­ken Pen­cil #72) chron­i­cles a young cre­ative’s strug­gle to over­come his in­flu­ences, while fight­ing off...

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