Bartleby is dressed in a starched white high-collar button-up; red, green and blue plaid pants; and simple cartoon-style brown leather shoes. No one cares about or even understands the press card in his short-brimmed grays-and-browns reporter’s hat, but still he pulls it out and presents it to everyone.
“Bartleby Willard, reporter. Here’s my press card.”
“What?,” comes the bemused smile of a middle-aged Treewoman — her flat, gray face surrounded in a soft hood of reddish orange fur. She’s fresh off the reed boat and is now snugly perched atop a giant wrinkly branch over the rocks that jumble along that portion of the bank. The intrepid newsman, his erstwhile shiny brown shoes slightly scuffed from the prerequisite rock and tree scrambling, sits crosslegged next to her.
The word “reporter” doesn’t exist in their language. Bartleby created it by smooshing together concepts. What he really said was. “Bartleby of Willard, professional-recorder-and-teller-of-current-happenings. Here’s my proof-of-and-right-to-be-a-professional-recorder-and-repeater-of-things-that-are-happening.”
After quite a long discussion of the ins and outs of Treespeak’s grammar, what professions are and aren’t existent in this world and the one from which Bartleby has come, and how to make these yummy cakes and delicious tea that Sheonay of The Tree Growing Over The Cave had so kindly offered, they get down to the matter at hand:
“And what, Sheonay of The Tree Hanging Across The Rock Hole, what, in your opinion, is the cause of this Great Sorrow that has so thoroughly undermined the once lively and laugh-filled Water Folk?”
“I don’t know, can’t in my mind/heart discover. One day, spin back two years, we go to see them like always but they don’t speak, they don’t look up, they sit and stare down, you try to reach through their haze, but they cannot come out, they are trapped within the glum. I don’t know. No one know’s. Just is. Two years almost. Long long time. No children born. No one leaving the hut. Eating just enough mealtree fruit — not their favorite, but we cannot fish, not our way, too scary, wrestling against the water, could fall in: eating just enough to keep alive. Watch them eat. Slow. Empty. The animal takes over enough for that. But the person, the folk: never comes out, banished deep inside each one alone. We don’t know why. Strange. And bad.”
Bartleby had had a frustrating morning pointing his tape recorder’s microphone at the universally silent and downward-drooping faces of the Water Folk. If this slight, long-faced people, encased from long-nosed otters head to
wide webbed feet in a darkgreen oily (water-beading) skin made of just the slightest rubbery lining of an extremely compressed blubber: if they knew what the problem was, they weren’t talking about it.
Back at the SAWB headquarters — transported now from Somewhere Sometime Wall Street to a mountainside where heaped-up interwoven jungle greenery gives way to a drier, more sparse and scraggly wood with tufts of grass breaking through the sandy stony soils — Bartleby’s typewriter clicker-clacks out a few observations:
Down-cast faces. Water Folk of all ages sitting on the furnitureless floors of their little floating huts — either legs crossed with hands limply resting in their laps and heads tilted slightly down; or with knees up and wrapped by their long thin webbed fingers, foreheads resting on their forearms.
And the testimony of a few Tree Folk:
“No one knows why.”
“Everything was like always, and then suddenly it wasn’t. It was like this.”
And so on. Lots of typing, with a typewriter purposely designed to click and clack loud and metallic.
“Bartleby!” roared Tun, “We wanna run the piece about the Sorrowing Water Folk in the evening edition! You got sixty-three minutes! Make it sing! But leave time to edit yourself a bit before handing it off to Amble.”
Amble’s not there. He’s dancing with Susan and the children on the open-air platform meeting hall of the Tree Folk. It’s the monthly dance. Everyone goes. Bartleby will have to edit his own article.
Personally, I, your omniscient benevolent narrator, feel that there’s really no need to run morning and evening editions of a paper that’s glanced over by a few thousand Tree Folk, maybe a thousand Mountain Folk, and absolutely no Water People. But Bartleby, Thundration, and Archangelbert are trying to make the most of a difficult situation. And maybe there’s something in the old adage: “Once a news rat, always a news rat!” Nonetheless: I mean: Two papers!? Every day? Are you crazy?