The typewriter’s keys had faded. Though an age-old relic, it had a certain magic lingering around it—a feeling of days long passed, of simpler times, of Sundays spent in church and eating homemade dinners with the family, of sunny days and pastoral rides through the undeveloped countryside. It had the smell of the old newspaper rooms, of men bent over it, frantically writing, trying to capture a fire, flood, or politician’s speech. It smelled of deadlines and bylines, of newsprint and headlines. It seemed to whisper, ever so slightly, of the journey it had taken and of the times it had been through.
If it could type itself, the stories it would tell, thought the young woman. She ran her hand over the bumpy paint, captivated by this antique, fascinated by its internal mechanisms. The individual keys had the upper and lower cases on them, but she noticed there was no exclamation point. She pushed a key and was rewarded with a loud whack as the key struck the ribbon and left its mark on a piece of paper that had been left inside. There was no quiet whisper of keystrokes, there was no impersonal monitor. This typewriter physically struck the page, forever changing it, with no backspacing able to erase the mark.
“Do you like what you see?” a voice at the counter called.
She turned her head and saw an elderly gentleman there, dressed like men in old pictures she had seen. She imagined him to be a man who would open doors for a lady and carry her packages. A man who, like the typewriter, seemed an antique and a relic in today’s society of equal rights, long hours at work, and few common courtesies. He seemed strongly human, in an age of impersonal communications.
She looked at him and at the typewriter, and gave a laugh. “I’m just wondering why anyone would buy a typewriter in the age of the computer.”
The gentleman gave her a smile, “There’s not much magic in a computer. There’s no soul to drive it, that’s why.”
He walked over to her, his hands outstretched as if he was greeting an old friend. “Ah! The Royal Arrow. An excellent typewriter. The ribbon was replaced recently, and it’s as good as new—much better for writing than those computers. One develops a connection with a typewriter that one does not get with a computer.” He smiled widely at her, and gave the typewriter a pat. “This one was used by several beginning authors. They wrote some of their best works on this, and then traded it in and used a computer.” He sighed. “Their work was never quite the same after that.” He gazed at the typewriter. “A typewriter keeps the writer humble. It doesn’t have the storage space for an ego,” he said and winked at her.
A bell chimed, and the old man turned. “Mildred! How wonderful to see you.” He turned back to her. “Pardon me, my dear. I must help Mildred. If there are any questions, please ask.”
She smiled at him, and he turned to help the elderly woman. “Arthur, can you help me? I’m looking for something for my grandson…”
“Of course! Of course! And how is Dillon?”
The young lady tuned out the rest of the conversation and focused on the typewriter. It was a beast, now that she looked at it. It was heavier than her laptop and took up more space. But no wires and plugs, she thought to herself. Less clutter behind the desk. She could put it anywhere in her apartment since it didn’t need an outlet, only something sturdy to rest on, and somewhere to hold the paper it would use.
She sighed, running her hands over the black, crinkly finish. The typewriter would stick out like a sore thumb at her modest apartment, which she had painstakingly repainted last summer in sage green and linen white. The colors were designed to brighten the apartment, to give it a feeling of spring and of vegetation, to breathe a little life into the originally drab apartment. The more she thought about it, she couldn’t remember any black at all in her apartment. The tables were a natural finish, and the darkest thing she had in the place was the afghan her grandma made her in shades of blues – deep-ocean blues to pale-sky blues.
The typewriter looked beaten and well used. Well loved, her mind called back to her. It would take a lot to clean it, some rubbing alcohol to get the dirt out of the nooks and crannies. An urgent voice whispered from her heart: Don’t change a thing.
And how to get it home? she thought, ignoring the internal arguments. It’s not like I have a lot of room for this machine.
But the word “machine” stuck in her head. It didn’t fit the typewriter. It didn’t describe it. It was like calling a tomato a fruit. While to some people the definition fit, it didn’t work for her. This typewriter wasn’t a machine, it didn’t have prompts and beeps and squiggly red lines that appeared when something was misspelled. There would be no worries during a storm about power surges. He’s right, she thought, remembering what the old man had said. A typewriter is soul-driven, with no worries about electricity and storage space.
She put her fingers to the round keys and typed, “It was a dark and stormy night, when the quick fox jumped over the lazy brown dog.” She found a comfort in the staccato rhythm of the keys. Almost like it was a reassurance that if the rhythm was going, words were going on the page. And if words were going on the page, they couldn’t be accidentally erased, backspaced, or underlined in an angry red or green. Her only concern was making sure the pages wouldn’t get lost. She looked at the page again, and typed, “Over the rainbow, typewriters are still being used, and people are still nice to each other.” She laughed at that line, once bantered about by her and her fellow writing students. Both thoughts, at the time, seemed archaic, and not conducive to writing stories.
What if I start on the typewriter, and rewrite the story, correcting it as I go, into the computer. A forced edit session and a forced rewrite at the same time. Get the idea down, and then work out the kinks. The idea appealed immensely to her, as editing was always hard, and a pain. And this would ensure she always had a hardcopy, in case her computer went on the fritz or was hit by a virus (again).
She heard the bell chime, and looked over to see that Mildred had left. Arthur was writing up a ticket and she walked over to him, passing by bookcases filled with musty, well-loved volumes.
“Excuse me,” she began.
”One moment, let me finish,” Arthur said, cheerfully. With a flourish, he finished, and looked up at her. “Mildred always has specific instructions. Known her most of my life, and I never like to disappoint an old friend. Or a customer.” He smiled broadly at her. “Now, young lady, what can I do for you?”
“How much is the typewriter?” She asked, slowly. Part of her couldn’t believe she wanted a typewriter with her laptop in her bag.
”Ah, it cast its spell again.” He looked wistfully at the typewriter. “Well, being a businessman, it’ll be $40. For $50 I’ll make sure all the keys work and the workings are well lubricated.” He looked back over to the typewriter. “There shouldn’t be much, but I’ll clean out any dust, and there shouldn’t be any rust. I use it every night to make sure it stays well used and, normally, it’s covered.” He looked at her. “It’s a fair offer. Some people sell a typewriter like this for a fair amount on that eBay place with shipping—or so my grandson tells me.”
She nodded, although she didn’t know why. She’d never looked into owning a typewriter. “I think I can do without the look-over, but what about repairs after I leave the store with it?”
Arthur shook his head. “If anything goes wrong, bring it back.” He tilted his head a bit, “My sons and I know how to repair just about anything on a typewriter, and we have plenty of ribbons in stock if ever you need one. We’re one of the few places that have ribbons. Most just sell the typewriters without knowing where to get the parts that make them work.” He moved from behind the counter and nimbly went to the typewriter. Picking it up he brought it to the counter. “There is a carrying case with it, as it’s a portable typewriter.”
She gave him a wry smile. “Not very portable by today’s standards. I have a laptop that’s less than five pounds and is not bigger than a three-ringed binder.” She looked at the typewriter. “But this, ” she said, fondly running her hand over the Royal Arrow, “is a marvel.” She looked up and smiled at Arthur.
“Yes, it was for its time. And it’s still a better way to write than those soulless, electricity-driven machines.” Arthur paused, wearily then continued. “Now, if you ever decide to get rid of this marvel, all I ask is that you bring it back here and we’ll pay you a fair price for it. Those are the only conditions of buying the Royal Arrow.”
She gave him a quizzical look, but nodded. “Alright.” As he reached down and pulled up the carrying case, she fought with herself, but finally asked, “Any reason?”
Arthur stood up straight, and looked at her. “This was my typewriter growing up, and was with us while my sons grew up.” He smiled. “I wrote many a poem to my wife while I was courting her on this Royal Arrow. My sons wrote all their papers on it. Called it ‘Old Reliable’ because it never gave them any trouble.” The man looked down at the typewriter, running his hand over it. “It’s been in and out of this shop a half dozen times, since we decided to sell it. But each time, like I said, the owner got too big for it, and brought it back.” He began to write out a receipt for her.
She gave him a weak smile, and pulled out her wallet. “Well, I hope it likes my apartment. And I hope you don’t mind if I keep it for a long, long time.”
Arthur just smiled at her. “I hope it finds a new home someday. Typewriters weren’t meant to be kept in a store, never used.”
She grabbed the handle of the carrying case, and began to lug it towards the door. “Thank you,” she said and gave him a small wave as she pushed the door open. Amid the chimes, she missed his last words: “Good luck.”
After she left, he went to the backroom, picked up a large volume of papers, all recently typed on the Royal Arrow, and began to put them in a folder. He wiped his eyes, and sighed, the smile gone, “Godspeed, old friend. Come home to me again.”
Copyright 2005, Julie Dereu
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