Bartleby at The Accounting Firm murdered a ficus. Stems, leaves, dirt mashed into the carpet of his office. Two jagged branches lay like antlers on his desk.
“I can’t replace this,” I said firmly. “It’s not in the contract.”
“They’re fake,” he said. “You’ve been in here fifty, sixty times, Plantman, and still you haven’t noticed.”
I sniffed a leaf.
“Not the trees, you ass. The Loved Ones,” said Bartleby. “The goddam Loved Ones.”
On his desk were photographs of an elderly couple; a large clan at a barbecue; a family of four: mother, father, daughter, son. The father wasn’t Bartleby. Bartleby did not appear in any of the pix.
“They came with the frames. They’re artificial kin,” he said. “Everyone needs a home to come to work to. I grow so tired of your stupid fig trees.”
“Ficus,” I said. “They’re not fig trees, they’re ficus. Well, same thing, I imagine. . . .”
“What have we learned today?” he asked.
I couldn’t say.
“He does not know. He really does not know.”
“So. Who knows?”
“Why bother me, then?”
“You’re here. You always come, sooner or later. You’ll be back. It’s a continuity thing. With whom else would I share my grief? Who better than the Plantman?”