The Pen That Bleeds / by Zoe Paskett

The ink seeps beneath my nails and onto the page. For a few seconds, I pretend I haven’t noticed and let the black run freely down my fingers. I like the way it feels. It’s silky and light and it lets me be anyone.

I am an artist – a painter in the throes of a passionate affair, committing my lover to canvas. A calligrapher, delicately putting the final serif to the final inch of holy scroll. A Victorian school girl, blotting the page and starting her spellings from scratch.

Ink is magic. It is potential; words yet to be written and stories untold. The power of pigment is undervalued in its ability to inform and shape and damage. In the end, words are all we have. In the beginning was the word, but without ink how would we know?


The steward passes me on his patrol of the aisle, sourcing empty cups and used napkins. He looks at me with pity and places a stack of wipes on the fold-down table, cautious of contamination. I run them over my fingers, smearing the dark blood into my skin until it resembles ripe blackberry juice.

Feeling as though I’m breaking every British bone in my body, I wake the girl asleep in her coveted aisle chair and battle against the turbulence to the loo. The light flickers on as I lock the door. A face covered in ink stares bewildered at me from the mirror. I note two lost causes and start with the hands. A painter, a calligrapher and a schoolgirl are washed away, evaporating into the ether somewhere over Budapest.

Returning to my seat as clean as I am able to make myself, I edge back towards the window and carefully wrap my pen in tissue before stowing it in my bag. The pen that has birthed countless tales of travel, desperation and reunion. The pen that bleeds has regaled the bloodshed of a thousand lives and more, and will do so a thousand times again.

I’m cruising on a bed of cloud, sunset melting below the surface like dusk on the ocean. It’s mesmerising. Mesmerising that colours such as these exist, that I can fly. That every lucky chance encounter has brought me up here, alone.