The editor, writer, and illustrator sat around an oak table in a conference room on the fortieth floor of the Chrysler Building. An end-of-year deadline loomed, the project due before the staid Fifties gave way to the uncertain Sixties. The editor, a short, squat, bald man in a faded navy three-piece said, “Right, so we’ve got the Ps locked in, yes? Now, before lunch, I want to try to finish the Qs. ‘You must mind your Ps and Qs’ as Mother used to say. I suppose ‘Quail’ is an obvious choice but my mind’s a blank with regards to his frolicsome friends. We need at least five friendly, happy animals to cover a two-page spread, so what’ve we got?”
“Well, there’s quail, of course, and I believe I’ve located his four companions: quetzal, a type of bird; quokka, a teddy bear of a macropod; quoll, a rat-faced marsupial; and, finally, quink, a type of goose. There may be more Q-animals out there, but that’s what I could find in the dictionaries and encyclopedias. I do have an acquaintance with a zoologist upstate, if necessary,” said the writer, a wizened man in a shambolic and ill-fitting brown suit. A large green steno book decorated with jagged handwriting sat open in front of him.
The illustrator, a young woman in a white blouse and long black skirt, pushed a strand of dark hair off her forehead and used a quill pen to write notes in an off-white sketch book. After a few long, looping strokes, she dipped the pen into a black Parker Quink ink pot.
“A quink, you say?” asked the editor. He squinted in the general direction of the writer—his eyesight had started to blur, but he was too vain to consult an optometrist. “A type of goose you say? How odd—my grandfather Arliss used to whisper, when off for his nightly visit to the corner bar, ‘I’m off for a quick quink and I’ll be back in a blink.’ That was rarely the case but it is what Grandpap Arliss used to say.”
“Sometimes the geese at the park sound as if they’re warbling ‘quink, quink’ with their honks. Perhaps this class of goose especially.” The writer rubbed his right ear—a troublesome ringing, acquired after a nasty fall in September, plagued his waking hours.
The illustrator had something else on her mind. “I’m not especially sure children would like seeing a rat or something rat-faced in their book. Rats give me the shivering creeps.”
“Now is that the quoll or the quokka?” asked the editor.
“The quoll. It’s more marsupial than rat. Found mostly in the outback, I believe. I imagine it’s a bit friendlier than the ones in this city.”
“What about a Quarter Horse?” the illustrator asked. She’d graduated with an art degree, but her paintings hadn’t attracted much interest. She didn’t mind the editor and the writer, but she wondered if this was her destiny, taking orders from uncreative men.
“I’m sure we already have horses for H,” the editor said.
“Oh yes, that’s our very first H animal,” said the writer.
“We wouldn’t want the children to become confused, you see, with special variations and such. The options at Q are limited, so we’ll have to let the quoll live. I’m sure you understand. We have to stick with the basic living organisms that can be depicted, however exotic and strange our Q-section may be. To do otherwise, to get down into certain elementary particles, atoms, quarks, maybe even quinks—I know it’s a goose but it somehow seems to fit—well, we’re not producing a physics textbook. Although considering the times...” the editor said, following his thoughts out past the blocky, frosted windows into the smeary rectangles of the cityscape.
The illustrator said, “I guess an Australian rat would be more pleasant to look at than an American one. I just can’t stand rats. Our apartment building has what you’d call an infestation.”
“And our quokka balances the quoll out. He’s as cute as the devil! I located a wonderful picture for you. Although I’m not sure how I feel about quinks, myself. If those are the type of geese in the park, they’re very aggressive, territorial. Quite bothersome, but they’ll have to do.”
The editor turned his gaze back to the conference table. “So it’s settled? We’ve got our five animals for the letter Q?”
The illustrator and writer nodded.
“Wonderful! And so we adjourn for our parsimonious hour. The three merry book quinks, bringing the alphabet to life for America’s young minds. A worthy endeavor. We’ll reconvene at one.”
The editor and writer walked out of the conference room together. The illustrator stayed for a few minutes, dreamily sketching a large and ornate letter Q on a blank page of her pad.
—One of five semi-finalists in MacQ’s
Quink Writing Challenge
teaches in the MFA Program at Lindenwood University. His nonfiction has appeared in Natural Bridge and Thin Air Magazine.