Bartleby Unveiled, by Prudence Crowther

Bartleby laid down his pen with finality. Did he mean to finish, I asked? He would “prefer not to.” And though I promised he needn’t meet his daily quota of 7,200 words but could stick to drawing up simple eviction notices, that month he wrote no more.

Desperate to recharge the clerk’s former industry, I asked the senior scrivener, “Turkey” by nickname, for advice. His moniker derived from an ale he favored and which, with a snort, he readily recommended for what “ailed” Bartleby. I let the pun pass, for besides fair penmanship the scriveners had few other outlets for a humanity I had small objection to. But as Turkey’s sobriety was a concern, I consulted next the apothecary at No. ___ Fulton Street. His sarsaparilla had saved me once when my bowels could not finesse a goulash the landlady swore by as a specific for bachelor solitude.

The old pharmacist listened thoughtfully while I described Bartleby’s indifference to the copy he used to go at with such relish and his obsessive-compulsive need not to perform certain actions over and over. Disappearing briefly, he returned with what he called a new Wretchedness Inhibitor, made from an extract of cannabis I could bake into small cakes myself, according to the recipe he wrote out on the spot. Bartleby’s work ethic might not return, but the morbidity, he believed, would pass. I thanked him and set out to buy a mortar and pestle in the mortar-and-pestle district, then on Pearl Street.

Monday morning came and went, as was its wont. At length, with a feigned casualness, I set out my brownies…

Read more in Little Star Weekly (#5)

Prudence Crowther works on the copy desk of a business magazine in New York.

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