“Who here has ever heard the word quink?” The question was met with a collective shrug. Some of the students had the decency to look through him; while the rest just discovered something new to look at: a laminated poster with the ever confusing tenses, or that generic mountain range accompanied with a non-specific quote meant to inspire greatness.
He turned to write the word on the board.
While most of the class kept busy with their own distractions, Richard Yewly sat up. Quink? he thought. He watched as the chalk revealed the word in, what he considered to be, unnecessarily slanted lines. “Definition?” he demanded. A few heads turned. The abrupt response sparked some interest from the surrounding tables. Mr. Mallard looked about the room, desperately trying to lock eyes with anyone else. No one came to his aid.
Mr. Mallard slipped his hand into the side of his jacket. “Ink. Produced by a company known as the Parker Pen Company. Quink, the miracle ink made in the 1930s for fountain pens.” Mr. Mallard smiled, fingering his silver flask.
“That’s not a word,” Richard said. A snigger came from the back of the class.
“You’re right—it is actually two words. A clever mix between ‘quick’ and ‘ink.’ Quink.”
“That’s not a word,” Richard repeated, starting to feel uncomfortable. The stuffy air still smelt of dusty chalk and damp deodorant. The sun felt smooth and warm and far away. But there, here, was something else; something dreadfully unseen by the others whose only concerns were to mock, to gossip, or, in Mr. Mallard’s case, to drink. Richard felt it like the sun; heard it like Tom’s sluggish remark: “You’re a quink!” He saw it like that terrible, slanted word but was forever unable to describe it. Nausea. And it was not because of the snigger, nor Tom Putney’s insult. Richard did not understand the others; at worst he struggled to understand anyone.
“Just because it’s confusing doesn’t mean it cannot be, Mr. Yewly. In fact, the word itself has several different meanings.” Mr. Mallard started writing down a neat list and the world felt like it slipped. A list, Richard thought. For a ‘clever mix’ between quick and ink? Ink and quick? Ink, quick? Quick, ink? Quick-ink? Qui...nk?
“We call it a portmanteau, which refers to the blending of words...” Richard tried to listen but Mr. Mallard’s voice faded in and out.
“A European goose...imitative of the duck’s quack...a subcomponent of quarks.”
He pushed his heels against the floor. It was still there, but he was lost in a kind of invisible crashing that pulled his mind this way and that. Kwink, quack, quink. It stained the room like ink, dismantled the very air and birthed violently vibrating particles that quivered into the very soles of his feet. Some students watched as Richard started straightening his already straightened pencils; the rest couldn’t be bothered.
The peas were where they belonged, on the right side of the plate. It had been that way since he could remember. Now, however, it seemed unusual. Do they belong there? he wondered while the others ate. He turned the plate around, slowly. On this side? Is this better? He plonked his hand on the plate, creating a frustrating mess. “Richard?” his mother asked as she watched him push an indiscernible smush of mushy green to the middle of his plate. Her smile, like the sun, was warm and far away.
Right or left? Quick or ink? The plate didn’t live long enough to hear the answer. It died against the wall in an explosion of confused and brilliant shards, followed by a sigh which reminded him of this afternoon’s snigger. He still did not understand. “Quink!” he shouted and somewhere in a bar, Mr. Mallard, who promised he’d only stay for a quink, raised his head in quite a different state of confusion.
—One of five semi-finalists in MacQ’s
Quink Writing Challenge
is an aspiring creative writer from South Africa. She has a postgraduate degree in English Studies and is currently completing her M.A. in Postmodern Literature. In a myriad of online writing competitions, the MacQ “Quink” Challenge caught her attention. The metamorphic nature of the word inspired her to think of “blending” in relation to extreme categorization and narration.