This is a short story that I recently wrote as a basis for entry in the NPR 3MF Contest, Round 9. You might recall that I also wrote a story for NPR last year. That was my 3rd blog post (ever!) and was the same contest only it was for Round 7, "Coming and Going."
For Round 9, a short fiction original must be submitted that can be read in about three minutes, which means no more than 600 words. Story entries must revolve around a U.S. president, who can be real or fictional.
This is in no way meant to be a political statement. It is a short story written for the contest. It is fiction, and as you can see, like most politicians, it is too verbose and must be shortened by at least half. And no, that was not a political statement either. LOL. Enjoy!
Happy Birthday, Mr. President
He opened the French doors and stepped out on to the veranda. It was a crisp night so he pulled his robe a little tighter. He would be taking the Oath of Office tomorrow. They had won. He had won. And it was what he wanted, wasn’t it?
He leaned on the railing with both hands and hung his head. A car horn in the distance caught his attention and he looked out over the city. Washington, D.C. never slept. “So many people,” he thought. “What if I let them down?”
His wife came up behind him and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. For a moment she just laid her head on the back of his neck.
“Can’t sleep?” They both knew it was a rhetorical question, but he turned to hold her and answered anyway.
“No. Not so much.” He rubbed her arms and looked out over the city again. “Am I doing the right thing?”
She looked up and stared deeply in to his eyes, trying to find the source of this fear that she had never witnessed before. He continued.
“Our lives are never going to be the same. We knew that going in to this, but if I fail, their lives are going to be worse.” He pointed his chin toward the city.
She turned to shut the doors, buying time before replying.
“There are some out there that would argue their lives can’t get much worse. And there are those who have struggled for a long time to keep from losing more than they already have. Others have managed to keep a quality of life that they are looking to you to help them maintain. People, businesses, and this country – collectively, all need help. They’ve chosen you to lead the way.”
He threw an arm casually over his wife’s shoulder, “It’s a good thing I know you’re on my side or I would say ‘Ouch, throw a dog a bone.’ You’re supposed to say something to make me feel better here.”
She grinned and they braced against the wind that bit their cheeks.
He turned to take her inside.
“Just a moment,” she said gently. “Let me finish... They chose the right man. You successfully ran one of the world’s largest corporations for two decades. It was one of the few conglomerates in our country that didn’t have to downsize or take a bail out. You took great care to keep the company’s finances lean and healthy while also looking out for your employees and their financial status as well as their personal health and well-being. I have no doubt that you will take care of “We, the People of the United States of America” with the same or even greater fervor.”
Relieved to see some of the tension gone, she laid a hand on his cheek and repeated, “They chose the right man.”
“Well, I guess that’s a good thing because it’s too late to turn back now.”
They both chuckled and held each other close for a long while before returning to the room.
The next day, in a world far from the likes of the Presidential Suite, Mary woke up a little disoriented. In a panic, she grabbed the clock and looked at the time. “Oh, thank God.”
She sat the clock back down and tried to shake the cobwebs out of her head. She hated working nights but was very grateful to have found the work. It had taken her 10 months to find anything, and with any luck she’d be able to get the heat turned back on before the next cold front hit. She shivered and rubbed her arms.
She had to hurry now. The bell would ring at Kennedy’s school in 30 minutes and it was a 20-minute walk. She loved seeing him fly through the doors every afternoon.
Hand-in-hand they walked back to the apartment. She knew it wouldn’t be too long before he would be too old to hold hands, but not today. Today, he was still happy to skip along beside her. She enjoyed every moment even though her feet and back hurt.
“Do you know what tomorrow is Momma?”
She knew why he was asking but decided to tease a little. “Well, I don’t know about tomorrow but we get a new President today.”
The frown of confusion on his face could not have been more priceless.
“By ‘we’, Kennedy, I mean the nation. That means you’re going to have to add another name to the list when you recite it.”
He rolled his eyes. Impatient, he tried again “Okay momma, but I’m talking about tomorrow. What is tomorrow?”
She laughed to herself as she answered, “Well, I’m not sure.”
He was about to protest when he saw the puppy. For the life of her she could not imagine having another mouth to feed, and could not understand why her neighbor had let her kids keep it, but Kennedy loved it too so off he ran.
She was glad she had the night off so Kennedy didn’t have to spend the night next door. That meant he could wake up in his own apartment for his birthday. That, in and of itself, was a gift – for both of them.
As they got ready for bed, the neighbors across the hall were arguing again so she turned the little black-and-white TV on. As was tradition, they put foil on their heads to match the foil on the TV antennas. It had been a game for them for as long as she could remember. She didn’t want her son ever feeling sad about being poor.
The inaugural celebrations were on. Champagne flowed. Bands were playing in every city and someone was singing to the President. One announcer was talking about all the gifts that the President had received from heads-of-state all around the world.
She fought back tears and rolled her eyes as she held Kennedy a little tighter. How on earth was she going to tell her son that she didn’t have a birthday gift for him? He stirred. She thought he was asleep.
“Momma, I want to be the President some day.”
“That is wonderful Kennedy. Maybe you can.”
“Yeah, look at all the parties and gifts he gets for his birthday!”
She looked at the screen and realized how it must appear to Kennedy.
Something shattered across the hallway as the fighting escalated.
“Momma, if I’m President, I’m going to make everyone give you gifts too.”
She kissed the top of his head. “You’re a good son, Kennedy, but you need to go to sleep. You have elementary school to finish before you can think about being President.”
By the time Kennedy finally crashed, they were replaying the President’s acceptance speech. She didn’t even bother to listen. The rhetoric had been the same every four years for as long as she could remember. She used to believe. Now she just wanted heat, a birthday gift for her son, and a raise so she could buy him a coat.
The TV station returned to the celebrations and parties. She made sure Kennedy was bundled in covers and still asleep. As she dozed off she halfway mumbled a tune, “Happy birthday, Mr. newest President. Whoop ta da ta, big friggin’ Whoop.”