Monday, March 26, 2012

Per Your Suggestion #2: "The Calligraphic Stenographer"

Today's story comes from a writing prompt suggested by my friend and fellow drama enthusiast, Bryce Kime. Bryce came up with several great titles for me – no back stories, no suggested story arcs, just titles – all of which, I think, have great potential to be interesting posts and/or stories. Hope you'll enjoy reading this one as much as I did in writing it!


"Are you getting all this?" Mr. Madham sighed impatiently.

"Yes, of course, sir," replied Windy. "It reads: 'Dr. Dash, It has come to our attention that your account is in our ears, and –"

"No, no, no, Miss Day!" Mr. Madham huffed. "I didn't say that his account was 'in our ears', I said it was 'in arrears'."

"'In our rears', sir? Are you sure about that?" Windy frowned at her boss disapprovingly.

"No, no, no!" Madham was nearly screaming now.  "I said 'in arrears' – UH-REARS – do you know what that word means, Miss Day?"

"Can't say as I do, Mr. Madham." Wendy shrugged to further emphasize the fact. "Could you perhaps use it in a sentence?"

"I did use it in a sentence, Miss Day! The sentence you just took down! 'It has come to our attention that your account is in arrears!'" Madham slammed his fist on his desk in anger. Having forgotten momentarily that the desk was solid marble, he shook his wounded hand and continued. "The word is 'arrears', Miss Day! A-R-R-E-A-R-S. It means the account is past due. Dr. Dash owes us money!"

"But why?" Windy asked. "We didn't win the case. He was convicted of haberdashery."

"First of all, Miss Day, we didn't win or lose anything. I am the attorney here, you are my stenographer. Secondly, it doesn't matter whether or not I won the case – the client is still obligated to pay for my services. Thirdly, the man was not convicted of haberdashery. A haberdashery is a store that sells clothing, which is perfectly legal. Dr. Dash was convicted of harassment – he was making advances on his secretary, and –"

"Ooh, ooh, speaking of advances –" Windy interrupted excitedly. "I was hoping, sir – if you please – to get an advance on this week's paycheck. There's a one-day-only sale at Macy's tomorrow and, as you know, I could really use a new scarf."

Mr. Madham threw up his hands in disbelief. "And how would I know that?"

"Know what?" said Windy, innocently.

"That you needed a new scarf, Miss Day," Madham replied.

"Oh, that! Well, because I just told you, of course. So...?"

"So what, Miss Day?" Mr. Madham stood before her, hoping to intimidate Windy enough that she would just go away. He didn't know why he kept her on anyway. Sure, she answered his phone calls, managed his appointments, made excellent coffee, and wasn't at all bad to look at – but what did she do?

" about that advance?" Windy smiled sweetly.

"Fine," Mr. Madham sighed, thoroughly exasperated. "Now can we please get back to the letter?"

"Certainly, Mr. Madham!" Windy picked up her pen, poised to write. "So far it reads: 'Dr. Dash, It has come to our attention that your account is in arrears –"

"Yes, of course," replied Mr. Madham. "'Your account is in arrears, and if we do not receive payment in full by the 20th of this month, we shall be forced' – What on earth are you doing, Miss Day?"

Madham had tried to ignore the scratching sound of Windy's pen on the page and the wild flourishes of ink she was scrawling across her notepad, but it was simply too much.

Windy looked up at him, confused. "What do you mean, sir? I'm taking down your letter. Just a sec, though, I'm a few words behind you. 'Do not receive payment in full –'"

"That's more than a few words, Miss Day, that's half a sentence!" Mr. Madham buried his face in his hands and sighed. He seemed to be doing a lot of sighing today.

"Well, good writing takes time, ya know," answered Windy. "And besides, you want it to look nice when Dr. Dash reads it, don't you?" With that, Windy held up the steno pad for her boss's approval.

Mr. Madham squinted at the page, which did indeed contain exactly the words he'd dictated, but in hardly the fashion he'd expected.

Dr. Dash,
It has come to our attention that your account is in our ears our rears arrears, and if we do not receive payment in full by the 20th of this month, we shall be forced to

"Do you always write like that, Miss Day?" inquired Mr. Madham, astonished at the perfectly formed lettering. It reminded Madham of most wedding invitations he'd seen, but the words were somehow more beautiful – perhaps because they were his own?

"Of course, Mr. Madham," said Windy. "How else would you expect me to write?"

"Well, I just assumed – I mean, you're just taking down what I'm saying and then typing it up on your computer, right?" Mr. Madham was every bit as confused as Windy looked at this moment.

"The computer? You mean I'm supposed to use that thing?" Windy shook her head, disbelieving. "I thought that was just for show. You know, to make us look professional to our walk-in clients."

Mr. Madham frowned, furrowing his brow tightly. "So...let me get this straight, Miss Day. You have never used the computer at your desk?"

"Nope. I mean, nope, sir." Windy grinned sheepishly.

"And you've never typed up a single letter that I've dictated to you?"

"Not a one, sir!"

"Then, Miss Day," continued Mr. Madham. "You're saying that you've taken down every letter I've ever given you in this fancy-schmancy handwriting, and you've sent them all out like that?"

"Yes, sir, I have!" said Windy proudly.

"Incredible!" cried Mr. Madham. "Do you even know how to use a computer?"

"Not really," replied Windy. "But I have lots of friends who know how to use a computer. They tell me it's just wonderful!"

"Yes," said Mr. Madham, unable to answer her further. 

How wonderful it must be, Madham thought. To live a life so uncomplicated, so free from enslaving technology. A life where all the thoughts inside your head are lettered in beautifully flowing lines and curves, and you don't even know the meaning of arrears or haberdashery. To be so blissfully simple and yet so refreshingly complex. What I wouldn't give to...

"What will you be forced to do?" Windy's voice interrupted the silence. She'd frowned as she noticed Mr. Madham staring at her intently, his thoughts a million miles away but apparently involving herself as well.

"Excuse me?" Mr. Madham blushed and looked away nervously.

"If you don't receive Dr. Dash's payment. What will you be forced to do?" Windy frowned slightly, awaiting his reply.

"Oh, of course! Well," Mr. Madham paused, pondering. "I shall be forced to take you out to lunch today."


"Unless, of course, you have other plans," Madham said. He looked her straight in the eye, and continued. "You are remarkable, Miss Day."

"I don't have any plans for lunch," Windy replied, not knowing quite what to make of her boss's comment. "Though I was going to the post office to mail this letter once we finished it."

"The letter can wait." Madham smiled at his lovely stenographer, seeing her now as though for the first time.

"If you say so, Mr. Madham," Windy shrugged. "But if you try any funny business, I'll sue you for haberdashery!" She giggled unabashedly, taking the hand her boss had extended toward her.

POSTSCRIPT:  The letter text above is supposed to show up in a fancy script font. I realized after the fact that it may not show up as such on everyone's computer, a fact which might cause the story to lose a lot of its punch, since a lot hinges on that epiphany. If you read the story and didn't "get it" because the font didn't show up right, I'm truly sorry. I'll try to figure how to fix this problem going forward.

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