Bartleby Willard is in Thundration Whistletown’s expansive, hardwood, leatherbound, rhino-hide, ostrich-feather, and narwhale-tusk office.
Bartleby is seated in an ergonomic mesh-backed modern office swivel chair. He is swiveling from side to side, catching and tossing each quarter-rotation with the tops of his feet on the chair legs, which stretch out like open eagle talons from their shared metal-tube base to their separate roller-feet.
Thundration (“Tun”) sits in stern attention at his immense, square, high-back ancient-wood desk chair. A chair decidedly uncomfortable for mortal hacks, but just right for immortal publishing Titans (original sense of the word).
“You need to straighten up!”
“No, I need to bend slightly forward in this angler’s arch. Otherwise I couldn’t catch the sides of the chair feet with the tops of my feet so well.”
“You need to pull it together!”
“No, everything in my life is spread out about as much as it should be. I just have to orientate myself better within the layout.”
“Now look here, Bartleby!”
“But surely I am looking there. My body turns in gentle leaps from side to swinging side, but by adjusting my long thin neck, I maintain my gaze upon you, though thus far without much profit. You’re not really doing anything. I could gather more information by casting my vision hither and thither. Or even more by closing my large soft eyes and dreaming out into the infiniti of worlds. But I’m being polite, so I hold dutifully to this info-desert.”
Tun squishes his lips together in a squinty side pout and pushes his intercom’s red top button (below it is a line of white buttons; beside the buttons a lightbrown fabric speaker; the whole encased in an oak frame).
“What?,” crackles the deep, lullabying voice of Achangelbert (“Arch”) Skullvalley.
“Bartleby lacks focus!,” snaps Tom.
“What do you want me to do about it? I don’t live inside his conscious space!”
Now Tun settles back into his thick, right-angles, all-walnut, no-flourishes desk-throne (maybe I was lying about the rhinos and etc) and laces his hands together upon his plankish chest/belly. His speech takes a gentle, musing quality. “Is there perhaps an assignment that would sharpen his focus? Something that would show him enough of life so as to inculcate an abiding respect for its sacred fragility and enchanting beauty, but not so much of life so as to leave him an embittered, cynical, stone-hearted husk?”
A pause. The dull, rhythmically repeating brush, catch, toss of the tops of Bartleby’s detailless soft brown cartoon-shoes on the textured-steel chair feet is all that is heard. Except for the occasional errant crisp-pop of static from the intercom. After a minute of silent (apparent) reflection, Arch’s voice moves again through the intercom, where it flows crinkly within a large swath of scratchy sound. The edges of his low, cowpoke-drawling baritone are made a little sharper, more abrupt and precipitous.
“Back to the Mediterranean, back to The Stranger. Back to the jungle. Back to The Wolverine. Back to the moors. Back to The Secret Garden. Back to the desert. Back to the Bible. And to Achilles and the songs that wafted up through the floorboards during silent-reading time, sometimes even lingering through lights-out. But no, that won’t do, that’s not enough. Send him to the stories that wrote the stories that wrote him.”
Tun leaned forward, elbows on the table, his chin buckling the table formed by his still-interlaced fingers. “They say you need to know yourself before you can know others, that you need to love yourself before you can love others. There may be something in that. But the notion’s been used to justify an awful lot of self-centering.”