White clay from Stonehenge, red clay from Uluru, yellow ash from Easter Island, black clay from Black Mesa, and then the finest graphite from Ceylon, Phae measured them all into her mortar, then ground them together. This time, this one was going to be something special.
The grinding process took hours, but Phae wouldn’t do it by machine. No, that wouldn’t do at all. It took the touch of a human hand to bring out the magic. Around and around the pestle went, until all that remained was a soft, dark powder. Phae mixed in enough water to make a soft lump, then patted it into a cake to dry.
The next day she ground it up again, singing as she worked. At last she was satisfied with the texture, and mixed in water once more. She put the lump in the extruder and pressed the lever. Out came long, thin lines, which she carefully cut to the right length, then set aside.
Now for the wood. Up until now, Phae had focused on the graphite and clay mixture, but this time she had a very special piece of wood. She had found it at an antique shop, a straight rod with a carved handle. When she picked it up she knew at once it had once been a magic wand. It was made of fine cedar, oiled and polished, and what had given her the idea was that it was just about the right size around for a pencil.
Phae chose her thinnest saw blade and set the rod very carefully on the saw table. She took a deep breath to still her shaking hands, then turned on the machine. The cut went straight and true, and the rod was in two halves. Then Phae switched to the grooving blade and cut a round groove down the center of each flat side.
The leads had dried, so Phae packed them in a crucible and slid them into the kiln in the corner. By tomorrow she would be ready to assemble the pencil.
The next morning, Phae selected the best lead from the batch, and set it between the two halves of the rod, and glued it together. After waiting another day, she painted the pencil silver, and a few hours later used the little crimping machine she’d inherited from her great-grandfather’s pencil factory to clamp the metal band that held the eraser into place.
The finished pencil almost tingled in her fingers. Surely this one would work as well as the one she’d had when she was a little girl. She looked out the window to the clear blue sky, then took out a new white sheet of paper and wrote a little poem about the rain.
Still clear blue. Phae sighed. Maybe next time.