It began and ended with a word.
Not a particularly strong or powerful word, but a word that changed everything. It wasn't too long or difficult to spell. It wasn't uncommon either. In fact, it was a perfectly ordinary word, but, I suppose, its commonplace origin is what made it so special.
I loved that word.
But the word doesn't mean much without the story along with it and I was always one for telling good stories.
I ignored the call from the other room and remained seated. That tone wasn't unfamiliar. Taking a bite from my toast, I waited for him to call again. It wouldn't be more than ten—
"Sammy! Come quickly! I've gone an' done it!" he shouted. I turned just as he poked his head into the room with a bright smile across his face.
"What did you do?" I asked as I walked towards his study. Chris had said those same words nearly twelve times this week. Every other day he had called me in for some discovery.
I pushed open the door to the study and took in the mess before me. Large typewriters that had been taken apart and reassembled were scattered under tables and propped against walls. Stacks upon stacks of loose papers and journals littered every flat surface: most with detailed drawings of Henry Mill's original design and other prototypes by other inventors, and the rest of the sheets were covered in his messy scrawl. Poetry was his hobby, but inventing was his passion.
That was how I had seen him first: tinkering with some watch parts, a rubber band and a pencil while sitting on a bench at the newspaper office. I had asked him what he had been doing, and he responded cheerfully and endearingly, "I'm on the brink becoming a famous inventor." I didn't understand how a pencil, an old watch and a rubber band was going to make him famous, but something in the way his eyes lit up and how he was so fixated on the scraps in his hands had made me believe him. And I still believed in him. Christopher will be a famous inventor one day, but I doubted today was that day.
"Look, Sammy! It's brilliant!"
I slowly focused on the blurred lines of the sketch he held up, helpfully placed right in front of my face. I snatched away and studied it from a reasonable distance. On it was a very different drawing than ones I was accustomed to. This typewriter had been drawn in a sleeker fashion: with its key levers out of sight and the ribbon spool smaller than made originally. The alphabet layout was the same but he had put in two space bars on either side, which had only been done once before. The design was…beautiful.
I looked up from the sheet of paper and saw Chris beaming. He could barely contain his excitement, and I began to think that soon neither would I. "Get me a chair, Chris. Show me everything."
And so for the rest of the day and late into the night, Chris has shown me every scrap of paper he had written on that had brought him to this final design. Of course, it needed a lot of work. The type wheel would not connect properly and I knew it would mix the letters, but the feed roller was wonderful and this design was truly something even I would call brilliant.
I eased back into my chair and stared at my roommate, thinking how amazing it was that this all began when we were granted the patent for a page-numbering system machine. I never thought our work on that would lead to the idea of recreating the typewriter and formulating this design.
But, we had a problem. "Chris," I said, "Even though this is wonderful, you know that we can't—
"No, Sammy," he groaned as he smashed his palms to his eyes. "Don't bring that up again."
"You know we need Glidden's help. He has the money we need to get this off the ground and he was the one who suggested we should investigate typewriters." I pulled his hands from his eyes and stared. "You know I wouldn't ask this of you unless necessary. We don't make enough money to build this and perfect it."
"We have always managed before without Carlos' help. We don't need him." He spun dramatically in his chair and declared in a singsong voice, "You and me against the world, right Sammy?"
"Yes. It is," I said patiently. "But you know he can help us. He could make your original design work much faster than I ever could. I dislike him, much more than you do, but at least I'm willing to admit that we need his help." I stood and made for the parlor.
"No! Please, Sammy?"
"I'm making the call."
He pouted and crossed his arms, which was extremely childish but made me pause. "That's it. Your name isn't going first anymore. It's going to be the Sholes & Soule Typewriter."
I smirked. "My name was never going to be first."
"Stop mind reading," he said with a smile.
I made the call.
The knocking on my door did not end until it was open. Standing before me was a man impeccably dressed: he wore his bright green waist coat over a pewter shirt and in his front pocket hung a golden chain for a pocket watch. Compared to my own plain button up shirt and brown trousers, Glidden looked overdressed. That was in his nature though, to gloat and gush over his wealth.
He leaned against the door frame and used his height to stare down at me. "Sammy, you rang?"
Straightening up, he pushed his way through the door and past me. "Now, where is Christopher? The real inventors have to discuss important matters." He peeked into the kitchen and then turned back to me. "Come now, Sammy. You know you were never as interested in inventing as we are."
"Don't call me that." Fighting a scowl, I walked into the back hallway with him trailing behind me. Maybe I haven't been inventing for as long, but I was still just as interested. Well, maybe not as much as Chris, but certainly as much as Glidden. So what if the majority of what it wrote down were ideas for stories and short poems? That didn't make me any less of an inventor because I preferred writing. Glidden was just being annoying.
We entered into the study to find Chris furiously sketching away at his wooden desk. He did not notice our entrance, so I tapped him lightly on the shoulder. He jerked up, startled. "Carlos!" he smiled in that way I knew was forced. "You came."
Glidden pushed me to the side with one arm and held out his hand to Chris. He hesitantly took it before looking back down to his sketches. Pulling out one sheet near the top of the stack, Chris sat back down and handed it to him. "That's what I have so far."
Glidden studied the paper quickly before leaning down and began to systematically cross off parts in the design. I didn't know what he was doing, but by the look on Chris' face, I knew it was something good. I watched as Chris' expression slowly changed from unimpressed to excited, as Glidden sat down and began redrawing the typewriter with his changes. I watched from the doorway as they feverishly talked about the improvements and how brilliant they both were.
I walked out and shut the door to my room. It was going to be a long night.
Two weeks after Glidden's first involvement into the project, he had all but nearly excluded me from the invention. Chris was oblivious, which stung a little, but I kept myself busy. Working at the printing plant was a very taxing job, and as Chris involved himself more with the typewriter, he began to skip days at work. So, being the oh-so-kind friend that I was, I took it upon myself to do the unfinished articles at his desk…and it wasn't easy. I've never worked as an editor before; while Chris was already recognized by multiple publications and was greatly involved with politics. There wasn't a single thing he wasn't good at.
And I did admire him for all of his successes; however, I knew that when he lifted this typewriter off the ground and became well known, I would fall off the map entirely. Not intentionally, of course, that was just the type of person he was.
Glidden, however, is another story. I knew from the second I met him that he would be eager to rip away all credit from Chris and me to take it for himself. As the days went by, I saw the greedy words that fell from his lips and sought to push him out of the affair for good, but Chris wanted him around. In these past weeks, they had grown closer, and I farther away.
So, until he needed me, I would remain in the background.
I opened the door to the flat to find Chris sitting on the sofa with his head in his hands. I dropped my bag to the floor, sat across from him in the armchair, and pulled his hands away. He had been crying.
He smiled weakly, "We just got stuck is all." He sniffled and wiped some wet stuff from his nose. "And then we fought and he said he might not come back and…I cannot do this alone, Sammy. I'm not smart enough."
I gave my best smile. "Come now, you know you are much smarter than both of us."
He shook his head.
I rolled my eyes and stood upright, straightening out my jacket. "Now, let's go see if I can be of any use." He didn't move as I went into the study and grabbed his notes. I came back, sat beside him and put the papers on his lap. "So, what's the problem?"
Chris sluggishly sifted through the papers until he came across an inked drawing of the improved design he and Glidden had come up with. He thought I hadn't seen it yet, but in the early hours of the morning when Chris was sleeping, I had read over all the changes they had been making over the past two weeks before going to work. I was simply curious.
I acted like I had never seen the design and scanned over the paper. I didn't see anything wrong with it. "And?"
"Don't you see, Sammy?" he gestured. "The way the type wheel is positioned, the letters will not fall in place properly!"
On closer inspection, I realized this was true. The positioning of the letter keys was too spaced out to fit in the shift key and fit within the confines of the paper. I looked up at him. "And you can't fix this?"
"No!" he jumped up. "We can't! And neither I nor Carlos can think of a way to fix it!"
"Sit down." He did. "Well here's a thought, maybe create your own sequence of letters." His face was blank and as white as a sheet. "Rework the letters? Don't follow the alphabet and create your own keyboard."
He suddenly exploded from the couch in a whirlwind of excitement. I flinched at his outburst. "Samuel Soule, you brilliant, brilliant man! That's perfect! I am so stupid for not seeing it before! I have to call Carlos and this will change everything! I—what is it, Sammy?"
I cast my eyes downward. "It's nothing."
He gripped my shoulders and pulled me upright. "Obviously, it isn't nothing, and I'll find out eventually, so you might as well tell me," he demanded with a big grin.
"It is just that Glidden is bad news, Chris. I've seen him. He's not…in the right mindset."
"You suggest he's insane?"
"Of course not. But he's been driving a wedge between us and I think eventually he's going to cut you right out of the patent!" I immediately wished I had not said that.
He looked taken aback and then outraged. "You think Carlos is going to steal my invention? You don't even know him! He is my friend! He wouldn't do that to me! And you were the one who wanted him involved anyway!"
There wasn't anything I could say to make this any worse, so I shouted, "No! You don't know him, not really! He's greedy and manipulative and doesn't care about you at all. All he cares about is this stupid design and taking it for his own. I never would have called him if I had known how he was!"
He stepped back a bit. "You have no idea how involved he has been in the project and he deserves equal credit."
"Equal?! He wants it for himself and himself alone!" I exhaled and reigned in my anger outburst. "Chris, he's going to take advantage of you."
"I trust him."
"I wouldn't trust Carlos Glidden as far as I could throw him, and he's a pretty large man."
Chris grabbed the papers off the couch and grabbed the phone, and dialed Glidden’s number. As he waited for the ring he said in the most serious and sad voice I've ever heard come from his mouth, "Get out of my house."
"I live here."
"This is my house. You pay me to live here." He snaked his head forward and whispered, "Leave."
A month later I was not surprised to hear in the papers and in the gossip of the town that two inventors have revolutionized the writing industry; one who was a long time inventor and well known for his work, and the other who owned a wealthy machine shop downtown. They hadn't gotten the patent as of yet, but the word was spreading around none the less.
I had found out when I was in a flower shop to pick up something for my cousin, Mary, whom I had begun to live with after Christopher removed me from his house. I looked at some yellow and black flowers but they didn't really appeal to me, and that was when I heard Miss Rosendale and Mrs. Brady from down the aisle.
"…It is simply not interesting, I find. I don't understand what the big fuss is all about with this writing machine," came the scratchy voice belonging to Mrs. Brady.
"Well, I think it's wonderful," said Miss Rosendale, with a voice as soft as a wisp of smoke. "It would certainly made things easier on you, Lissa. You could write more to your brother in New York if you had one."
"None of it matters anyway, Eve. They haven't even sold the darn thing yet."
I strained to hear Eve's voice from down the lane but only caught, "…going today. Carlos told me just yesterday afternoon." She giggled, "It's a secret he said, but everyone's already been talking about it."
"Yes, yes. I have heard the stories and I still don't give two—" at that point I had rushed up and stopped in front of them.
"Excuse me, good afternoon, but what was it you said about Glidden?"
They looked at each other, and then Miss Rosendale, probably because she loved gossip, leaned forward and disclosed quietly, "If you mean Carlos, he and his partner are going right now to get some advice from the inventor who lives uptown. Then, tomorrow they are going to the manufacturer and get a patent."
"Tomorrow you say?" If Carlos is planning on taking Chris out of the credit, he would have to do it just before they submitted their application for the patent. And that means they would have to print the application at the printing plant.
"Yes. It's all very exciting. I'm fairly close to Carlos, so I know things others wouldn't," she said.
"Well, if it is so secret, my dear, then you would try not to run your mouth so much," Mrs. Brady chided. "Then, there wouldn't be a secret at all."
"What I would like to know is should we buy one if it ever becomes available to the public." She turned to me, and tucked a brown lock behind her ear. "What do you think?"
I didn't know what I was going to say before I said it, but when I spoke, I knew it was the only thing I could have ever had said. "This invention is revolutionary and every household should have one I should think. It might eventually help young people such as you ladies become more able to find work. As writers maybe?"
Eve looked awestruck at the idea of writing something and having many different people of all classes read it, but Mrs. Brady quickly said, "There are places we need to be now, Eve. Let's go." She guided the younger lady towards the door way and before they both exited, they called back a goodbye.
"Good day," I muttered, rooted to the spot. I was about to do something I shouldn't, but nothing could prevent me now.
I figured I had a couple of hours to prepare for whatever storm I was about to bring upon myself if I were to get caught by Glidden. The first place I went was to the paper plant; for one, to finish the article I was writing, and two, to prevent Glidden from taking away the lifelong dream of my old friend.
They arrived at the newspaper plant five hours after I had arrived, and since it was at such a late hour, I was nearly the only person left in the building. Chris and Glidden walked through the doors, glancing around with some papers in hand. Finally, Chris' eyes settled on me at my desk, with a pencil in hand and my brown hair tousled. The expression in his eyes was a mixture of sadness and guilt before he hastily, and poorly, wiped the look away. Glidden just smirked.
"Sammy, I trust you've been well this past month?" he said triumphantly. I had heard that Glidden moved in with Chris now, and if he didn't know I knew that, I'd be in disbelief.
"Don't call me that," I said, ignoring as best as I could the look in his eyes. "Now what do you need?"
"My good friend here and I need something printed four times. Can that be arranged?"
"Yes," I muttered, snatching away the papers. "What is this?" I wasn't going to let him know I knew what it was.
He walked closer and I could smell the smoke wafting off of his clothing from the bar he went to previously. "That's none of your concern now, isn't that right?"
I glared, but before I could say anything, Chris spoke up, looking a little like a punished child who had just gained some courage back. "I want to talk to him, Carlos. Is that okay?"
Glidden stared down at the shorter man. "I—I guess so." Looking surprised, he turned and shuffled out the door.
"I want you to be credited."
I shifted through the papers, out of his line of eyesight. "Oh really now?" I was looking for something very specific.
"Yes, Sammy, you did the work too. It was your ideas that helped create this brilliant thing."
I turned a page and saw the title of the machine had been changed to QWERTY, whatever that meant. Then, I spotted someone I didn't recognize on the sheet and asked, "Who is James Densmore?"
Chris waved his hand dismissively, "Just a man who helped to finalize some issues with the machine. He wanted partial credit." I didn't look off the paper, but I knew he moved closer. "Sammy, I'm sorry for what I said. You were only looking out for me. I—I shouldn't have thrown you out. Please take equal credit to yourself. You deserve it."
I flipped to the last page, and there it was, the box that showed who was getting the majority of the credit. And the name there was not Christopher's. I looked up about to tell him I was right, but I realized in that moment that it wouldn't make a difference if he knew. All that would come of it would be Chris and Glidden arguing and me being given apologies that I didn't want. I would be better if Chris never found out.
"Okay. Equal credit." I took my pen in one hand and, with my stack of articles blocking the document from Chris, I whited out Carlos Glidden's name and in its place put Christopher Sholes. Underneath, where it said partial credit, I put three names, mine, James Densmore and unfortunately Glidden's.
Sometimes I really disliked doing the right thing.
I put the papers into the feed and turned back to Chris. "It'll be finished in the morning."
He rushed up and embraced me. "Thank you, old friend. For everything."
Slowly, I hugged him in return and patted his back. "I did nothing, remember? You're the smart one."
He grinned so wide, I thought his cheeks would be hurting. "We are going to be famous, Sammy. We are going to be inventors! All because of a silly machine."
I smiled back. "It's not silly, Chris. It's brilliant."