He was afraid it was a tumor, and so his time in the waiting room was spent worrying little strips of paper into even smaller strips of paper. He did the same to his patient gown.
The doctor thumped his chest and felt his head and his testicles, and finally sent him through an ultrasound machine as if he were pregnant. Pregnancy would have been no less shocking than what the doctor found.
They were quiet at the other end of the bed, and, unless he craned his head to the far right, he could not see even a sliver of the screen. Of course he feared the worst. Finally the doctor turned to him with bemused eyes.
“You have a story.”
His mouth gaped open. “What?”
But the doctor was already wheeling the machine about-face so he could see. There, snug between his stomach and pancreas, was the lump of wonder. Relief filled him, as did pride. He tried to seem humble.
“Really?” he said, “a story? To someone like me? This is incredible!”
The nurse gave light applause. The doctor waved her down, but he was smiling as well.
“Now there will be more tests,” he said, “and a government inspector to validate it, but in my professional opinion it is a story.”
He thanked the doctor, shook hands with the nurse, and handed over his health card to be punched.
It was hard to go back to routine afterwards. He lived a mild, nondescript life with a mild, nondescript job as a filing clerk in one of the larger archival libraries. All day he worked as if in a dream, stopping at times to glance around him. Everyone behaved as if nothing had changed and, for them, it hadn’t. He now carried with him a secret, a fantastic secret that buoyed him up beyond his body, into possible futures.
He planned his responses for the congratulations, the slaps on the back tinged with envy. He would stay humble; he was, after all, a humble man.
He rearranged his assigned sleeping cubicle several times, wondering what was expected of a story host’s home. He bought food differently, sometimes going out of his way to visit exotic stores. When the black-framed envelope arrived in his mail, his surprise had long dissapated into happy expectation. He hummed on the elevator ride to the doctor’s office. There, he shook hands with the government inspector, a grim fellow whose teeth showed through his lips in bas-relief. He undressed hastily and did not bother to fasten his gown; the nurse did before placing the machine’s head against his belly.
He waited, this time in happy silence. The inspector and the doctor studied his screen, heads together. He smiled and restrained himself from swinging his feet like a little boy.
Suddenly, the inspector shook his head. Dread lanced through his happy mood, though he recovered nicely. He wondered if it was only a small story. He wouldn’t mind, he was a humble man. But then a rapid, muttering conversation took place, and the doctor started shaking his head too.
“Is…is everything all right?” he croaked. He was ignored.
The inspector shoved the screen aside as if swatting at a fly.
“I’m sorry,” the doctor said, “I’ll summon security.”
“Wait,” he cried, “what is it? What’s going on?”
The doctor looked at him, all traces of good humor gone. “This cannot be your story.”
He felt all the color drain from the world. “…what?”
“This story belongs to a woman,” the inspector asserted, “you cannot have come by it fairly.”
A panicked smile crawled across his face. “Wait, please, there must be some mistake—”
The doctor pressed a button, and the doors opened. Two heavy-set nurses flanked the aperture.
“Wait,” he entreated them, “wait, wait!”
They did not, because an untold story was a small miracle. But a stolen story? A crime unforgivable.