Stenographer

a short story by Merry Butterfly

Merriam-Webster: Stenographer. A person employed chiefly to take and transcribe dictation.


They say you don't feel anything when you hit the water- not the sting of being slapped by the full force of San Francisco Bay, not the feeling of all the bones in your body exploding upon impact. They say that the water leaves no survivors, but then, one has to wonder where the stories come from.

High up in the rafters of the Golden Gate Bridge, youth puts one foot over the railing. Traffic moves along behind him in neatly-defined little lines. Before him the waters open, and the roar of the lioness wind in his ears.

But you're so young, the choir mourns him.

You wouldn't dare, they scorn him.

You've yet so much to live for! they exclaim.

Don't you ever think about our pain?

These are the coworkers who will always scratch their heads and wonder why. These are the doctors with their pitying looks and their seemingly endless capacity for doling out prescriptions. These are the psychologists, the two of three of them, bespectacled, with their annoying little pouts, none of whom can ever be made to understand. But their voices are so very faint now that he can barely hear them.

He puts two feet over the railing. Already the adrenaline has begun to kick in, though the mind remains rational, though it may be confined within these trembling bones, worth so much now to the world now that it realizes soon they will be worth nothing at all.

Excuse me, beckons a voice at his elbow. "Have you a moment to spare?"

He turns. A young man sits on the railing, swinging his legs out over the water. On his head is a black cloche hat; in his lap is a little white notebook in danger of being lost to the sea. The sun is behind him, and glowing, he smiles.

"Who are you?"

"I am the stenographer," says the young man in the black cloche hat.

"You're the what?"

"I'm the man who writes the stories."

The trembling human sighs and closes his eyes. "You know you can't stop me."

"I don't intend to."

Baffled, he asks: "Then why are you talking to me?"

"I'm a stenographer. You talk and I listen."

"Listen to what?"

He shrugs. "Your story. Your last will and testament. Anything you want to say to the world."

A moment passes in silence whilst gravity weighs on his muscles. He clutches the railing a little bit less than before. "You- you're serious about this, aren't you?" he asks.

"Yes," the stenographer replies. "Aren't you?"

He breathes in the pungent salt air and he thinks. "I don't see why I would need to leave something behind." With the wind dying down, he hears the scratching of pencil on paper. "I'm not a martyr. I'm not trying to make a statement. I'm just tired, that's all. I'm just tired of this world."

"A long time tired?"

"Yes," the words rustle like dry cicadas on the windowsill. "A long time tired. And you know what I hate? Is how they tell you that it's just a phase when they haven't lived with it. Everything's a phase, but some things are not. Where do they get the right to tell you what you feel?" He glances over at his companion and his little white notebook. "You really are writing this all down, aren't you?"

"Of course. I'm the stenographer."

The colors fan out behind him as the sun passes over. Lights flicker like faeries on both sides of the bay. One hand loosens its grip on the railing.

"Mind if I ask you a question?" he asks.

"What about?"

"'Bout you. Why you do what you do."

His companion takes off his hat and turns it precariously on his finger; a shock of blonde hair, matted and damp, escapes into the wind. "I guess I just don't know," he shrugs. "But I thought that you might want someone to listen, and not just to talk like a broken record."

The young man with one hand on the railing nods. "Yeah," he says quietly. "I like that."

The Pacific laps at the posts below them, and he closes his eyes once again and imagines himself being borne out to sea. He sees shifting sandbars licking at debris. He sees the deep, dark waters and the Shakespearean souls touching toes lightly with the ocean floor. In August the air and the sun are so gentle, and nostalgia of summers gone by tugs on his eyelids to close.

The stenographer with his black cloche hat scratches at his little white notebook with the stub of a pencil. One wonders if there is anything left to say.

Three fingers are all that remain on the railing. He sees figures moving towards him from the far corners of the bridge. The apathy of the people in traffic has subsided, and he finds himself drawing a crowd. How fast the world moves on around him, and still the young stenographer scribbles away, a child administering the dying's last rites.

"Hey," he says quietly. "I've got one more question for you."

The stenographer looks up at him. "Yes?"

"Is this gonna be in the paper?" he asks, eyes fixed on the little white notebook.

"Would you like it to be?" shrugs the stranger.

"No."

"Then the answer is no."

Christopher swallows. His limbs have been bled of their weakness. His pulse has lost its fervor to the placid lapping of the waves. "Thank you," he whispers with a dry little smile.

The stenographer removes his black hat and salutes him.

Christopher jumps.