SNAPSHOT OF A BUREAUCRAT • by Ben M. Wolk

A river ran beneath the trees among which they used to stroll, hand-in-hand. She leaped into it.

A precipice stared over the valley that they used to tread, arm-in-arm. He hurled himself off of it.

The most momentous, most catastrophic day in their young lives. Merely a Thursday for me.

“Is it not,” I remarked, taking my accustomed seat at my accustomed desk, my accustomed assistant behind me, “the pettiest of pettinesses that impels them to this gravest sin? I don’t recall the last truly tragic figure to take this step — some beleaguered soul who might justify it. Why is that?”

My assistant observed that it was not their methods of coming to us that counted, but their comprehension of its meaning. Quite right.

“Huberville, Silt. Twenty-eight. Etcetera.” Stifling an unprofessional yawn, I laid aside the dossier and gestured the harum-scarum fellow before me to a chair. “Silt.”

“Huh?” He stared with eyes still reeling from the onrushing valley floor.

Huh is a boorish non-word, Mr. Huberville,” I said, “and never acceptable even as an informal interrogatory.”

“Hoo!” he rejoined, and sat with a thump.

“Speaking of non-words… Silt?”

“It’s short for…”

“Nothing. Our intelligence derives exclusively from primary sources — birth certificates, for instance. You were christened Silt.”

“It wasn’t my fault.”

“True enough. Now you have fourteen minutes to make yourself presentable and put your thoughts in order. Be grateful for that. We expected the young lady first, but your descent proved swifter than her submersion.”

“Fourteen…”

A hard case, this. Conspicuous want of self-possession, I jotted in my notes, while my assistant showed Mr. Huberville to the refreshing chamber.

The time elapsed and “Blink, Suzannah, Twenty-five, etc.,” appeared, sopping wet and purple-lipped, but more composed than her Romeo. The latter had not yet emerged, so I engaged the former in conversation.

“The heartache was unbearable,” she said, sniffling through a tangle of dripping tresses. “To love someone and know they love you and never to be together! It was a terrible sin, but…”

“But?”

She pushed back her hair and seemed suddenly to observe her environs. “I’m sorry. I expected to be someplace else.”

“We don’t have a blanket policy, miss, regarding suicides or anything else. We decide everything on a case-by-case basis. Ah! Mr. Huberville.”

His appearance was improved, so far as a bath and new attire could do so. Unfortunately we hadn’t had time to reassemble his splintered skeleton and so he was out of joint, physically and otherwise.

“Suzie? Suzie?” he all but shrieked.

“Silt!” Miss Blink did shriek. I dislike shrieking and rapped my desk.

“Sit, both. Yes, beside each other. Nothing to fear. You can’t be any more dead than you are now.”

My assistant sighed. He had heard the joke a thousand times too many; and besides it was not strictly true.

“Let us,” I said, “be relevant. We know more than you are aware; more than you know. The breakup, as you might say, occurred over a series of trifles…”

“He loves football more than me!” Miss Blink cried. “Every Sunday — ”

”Only during the season,” retorted Mr. Huberville, moved to surly coherence. “Only, what, five months a year…”

“He loves everything more than me! It’s not the football — ” She rounded on him. “The football is a…”

“Metaphor?” I suggested.

“Yes! Do you think I care if you watch football? But watch it with me. Be with me when you’re with me!”

“I’m always with you…” feebly protested the other party.

“And you — and he — ”

”Address youself to whomever you please, miss,” I said. “We are not relationship counselers. We are functionaries.”

Silence, awkward but altogether natural. Then…

“Oh, what does it matter!” cried Miss Blink in a perfect frenzy. “It’s too late! We’re — ”

Ahem from my assistant. I nodded.

“You,” I said, rising and motioning, “as you were saying, are not. Neither in your mortal sense nor in our esoteric one are you.”

“But we should be!” said the girl.

“Should, miss? Should? In the technical, medical sense of cause-and-effect? ‘I inhaled vast quantities of water, ergo I am drowned. I crashed from a dizzy height into a bed of shale, thus I am atomized.’ Or do you speak morally? ‘Because I deliberately inhaled vast quantities of water, desiring its effect, I deserve to be — ”

My assistant murmured Exposition.

“Er, yes. Etcetera. You perceive my point, miss and sir.”

“I don’t,” said Mr. Huberville.

I motioned again, and Miss Blink, trailed by her mate, joined me at a gap in the firmament, a vaporous, eddying gap that, even as we watched, opened ever so briefly. Miss Blink reeled, Mr. Huberville wheezed, and even I looked away. Once glimpse per annum is my personal limit.

There?” Mr. Huberville bellowed — the first sign of sentience he had yet displayed. “You’re sending us there?”

“He doesn’t deserve it!” cried Miss Blink. “I don’t deserve it. It doesn’t matter how we died, or what we did to each other or to ourselves. No one deserves that!”

“On that score we must agree to disa — well, in fact,” catching myself with a start, “you are simply wrong…”

Miss Blink. “No one deserves that.”

We faced one another for, perhaps, one-quarter of an eternity; and then, “My dear, you utterly miss the Crux. Everyone deserves that.”

I truly am a functionary, a mere cog in the Wheel; but now and again I am permitted a glimpse of the neverending dawn, and I beheld it in her eyes.

More satisfied than usual, I stepped to my desk and stamped both dossiers APPROVED. True, Mr. Huberville had not evinced quite the same epiphany, but with Miss Blink’s influence, in time…

Before I looked back, both were gone.

“There is something to be said,” I commented, resuming my seat, “for that elusive quality of transcendence — a young mind’s flexibility, or the want of dogmatism, or…”

Love, suggested my assistant.

I turned severely. “We will not, if you please, indulge in sentimentality. Next case.”


Ben M. Wolk is a writer of both fiction and non-fiction. A native of Philadelphia, he currently resides in north Georgia.


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Every Day Fiction

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    The decision seems to me to be a negative sentence – to live only with each other and have no other people with them.

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    A story which is a warning possibly that decision by those who consider love merely a “sentimentality” is a cruelty.

    Well written to evoke fear of such decision.

  • It seems to me they were looking through the crack at heaven. “No one deserves that!” And then: “Everyone deserves that.”

  • Richard Pasky

    a person without a soul is what we all think of a bureaucrat. A clever, yet extreme plot.

  • Chris Antenen

    This was well written and the dialogue vague but readaable. Sorry, but I thought it was somewhat of an unintended letdown not to let the reader in on the final discovery.
    I went back to reread the piece and still found the dialogue vague. I missed the meanings of most of the responses by the assistant, so I went into the following sentences puzzled. I wonder if I’m just ignorant of this type of writing. Still enjoyable to read.

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    Richard – “We all?” I think bureaucrats have souls. Even pornographers and first cousins have souls.

    Erin – It seems to me they were looking at a void.

  • Trollopian

    “My dear, you utterly miss the Crux. Everyone deserves that [which was glimpsed by both for a brief second.]” I assumed that Crux = Cross, and that what they glimpsed was Hell. But I might be wrong.

    I felt the beginning was very funny (despite its morbid subject), the premise original, the execution labored. Keep up the good work, Ben, but (unless you’re striving for ambiguity) learn from your confused readers.

  • I did kind of like the story, but I still am not sure what happened to the couple and reading the other comments didn’t help me decide because everyone seemed to have a different idea of what happened. Maybe that was the author’s objective.

  • I struggled to get anything out of the vagaries of this story.

  • Kathy

    I think I understand the intent of this story and I like the concept, but agree it is confusing. As #7 Trollopian said, the writing is labored (as a reader I am too aware of the writer’s efforts to be clever.)

  • Carl

    I enjoyed it, but I too am scratching my head over the glimpse at the end.