Transcribing a long series of haiku written by her grandfather, Kate sometimes encountered words she couldn’t make out. The pencil marks were faded, and her grandfather never did have clean script. She set a sheet of trace paper over the notebook, and followed the lines with her pencil: the letters’ path helped her to decipher the words, for her hand was was like his. The trail that looked like a snake was “river of moonlight.”
She flashed on a scene she’d forgotten from her childhood. She had sat at the kitchen table with her grandfather’s notebook, tracing word after word until she could write like him. That was how she achieved a similar hand.
She had done this, for hours, so that she could sign her grandfather’s name. It was during the months when his door was mostly closed. School was always sending home letters that needed to be returned with his signature. She didn’t mind being held back from the field trips, for it meant she got to spend the day alone in the library and avoid additional rides on a bus full of kids. There seemed to be no consequences for her not returning the report cards and midterm report notices. But she wanted him to sign the testing release form, for if she were tested, and if she got into the program, that meant fewer hours in the big classroom with the kids who wouldn’t look at her or else would glare. Instead, she would join one or two others–the quiet ones, the ones who asked the good questions, the ones who also had books always at hand–in a small room with Dr. Sanchez (who wasn’t a real doctor, but was the kind like her grandfather, someone who’d gone to extra school) where they would paint on actual easels with paint from tubes, listen to classical music on the stereo–with two speakers–read anything from the double-tall bookshelf, talk about anything they wanted–even imaginary stuff, or what they might have discovered outside–do science, and even sit quietly, thinking. She wanted to get to do that. And the only way she could was if her grandfather signed the form, and his door was closed, and the form had to be turned in on Thursday.
So she spent the week tracing the lines in his notebook. Though she didn’t concentrate on the sense of the words, she remembered one line that sank deep inside of her–it stuck to this day:
When I see the moon, I want nothing.
By Thursday morning, she was able to replicate his signature passably. She turned in the form. After she took the test and got accepted into the program, the principal called her into the office.
“I hear you’re doing very well in the gifted program, young Miss Elder,” the principal said. “It’s a good fit. A good fit. We have only a slight problem. Can you write your grandfather’s name for me?”
He handed her a permission form and a black pen.
She looked at him, flushing with guilt and shame.
“Go on!” urged Mr. Simon. “It’s quite a skill to be able to write like someone else! Show me you can do it!”
Kate knew she was caught. She didn’t know how. She was always found out. She signed her grandfather’s name, doing her best: If her forgery had been detected, she might as well receive the honor of being a skilled forger.
“Excellent! You are quite a marvel!” laughed the principal, before growing stern. “Now you know, you mustn’t do this. It isn’t fair to your grandfather to sign his name without his knowledge. And you know, you nearly got the school into a heap of trouble! Now, what would be a good consequence?” Mr. Simon made an act of thinking, pacing the room. “Perhaps you should be put to work as the official signature person. Yes. I think that would be good.”
He handed her a stack of forms, a rubber stamp of his own signature, and a red ink pad. She spent the next half hour stamping Ignatius Simon on every paper in the stack.
“Good job, young Miss Elder,” Mr. Simon said when she finished. “You have saved Mrs. Holly a heap of work!”
Every Friday for the rest of the year, she was to report to the office after school for her tasks as the official signature person.
One day, Mr. Simon called her into his office. “I need these signed, but they can’t be stamped. Think you can do my signature?”
He gave her a piece of paper and black pen that dribbled ink, like a monk’s quill. By the time the first sheet was full, Ignatius Simon was written in a slant nearly identical to that on the stamp.
“It’ll do!” said Mr. Simon.
“But I thought it was wrong,” said Kate, softly.
“Not if someone asks you to.”
From then on, she reported directly to Mr. Simon’s office. Usually, she used the stamp. But now and then, he gave her a clipboard with a thin stack of forms on it, fastened to the board with a rubber band, so she could only read the one on top. She lifted up the bottom portion to sign the form beneath it, and in this way, worked her way through to the back.
One afternoon, when she reported to Mr. Simon’s office, no one answered the knock at the door.
She sat in the hall.
“Can you believe it?” Mrs. Holly said to Nurse Jane. “A principal driving a Ferrari?”
“Did they think we wouldn’t notice?”
“Did you hear how much they think he got?”
“I heard a few thousand.”
“Much more,” said Mrs. Holly.
“So where is he now?”
“No one knows. Not even the wife!”
“The ex, by now, I’d assume,” said Jane.
“What are you doing there, child?” asked Mrs. Holly, as she came around the corner. Kate jumped. “Get along, now! No more office work for you!”
That was the end of Kate’s career as a forger. She never found out exactly what Mr. Simon had done, other than some sort of embezzlement from the school’s budget. As she thought back on this incident now, she could remember clearly some of the forms he’d had her sign. Some were terribly official looking! Suppose he had asked her to forge his signature on the budget transfers! But why would he do that? So that, if caught, he could claim it wasn’t his signature! After all, how skilled could a ten-year-old forger be!
Kate chuckled at her unwitting part in his petty thievery. Or maybe it hadn’t been petty at all! Strange she never heard more about it. And then she thought that wasn’t the strangest part of the incident. No, what was strange was that no one inquired why she had needed to sign her grandfather’s signature. Surely, a professor would grant permission for his granddaughter to be tested for the gifted program!
What was strange was that all that year, the year he stopped teaching at the university, no one inquired as to why he never came to any of the parent-teacher conferences and why he didn’t come to a single school event. What was strange was that no one besides her seemed to know–or take the effort to find out–that he had spent most of the year behind a closed door, leaving his ten-year-old granddaughter to care for herself.
Prompt for May 8: “Put your character in a mundane, everyday situation. Then introduce a strong element of conflict,” from StoryADay.org
Author’s note: Somehow, when I woke up this morning with this story in mind, I thought it fit the prompt. Now that I’ve written it, I see it doesn’t exactly. But it’s a story that wanted to be told! It’s fitting its way into this collection of stories about Kate Elder and her grandfather. I’m not terrifically pleased with the prompts–but I am pleased with the stories that are coming out of them, whether they fit the prompt or not–and I guess that’s what matters!