President’s Day

Posted on May 3, 2010

6


He walked up the front path as the limousine drove away. He looked at his mother’s well-kept garden as if seeing it for the first time; roses in full red bloom lined the porch. Clusters of white lilies, interspersed among the roses, bobbed their heads in the warm June breeze, and the two old oak trees, at either end of the house, rustled softly, as if welcoming him home.

The front door flew open; Mom had been waiting for him. She ran down the steps and threw her arms around him.

“David,” she said tearfully. “I’m so happy you’re here. It’s just… I didn’t dare believe it until I had you safe at home.”

“Glad to see you, Mom,” David said, feeling his own throat tighten. She let him go, looking him up and down, inspecting him for signs of maltreatment.

“Well, you do look very handsome in your uniform, but the Army could have fed you a little better. Come on in, honey, and I’ll have lunch ready in no time.”

“Thanks, Mom. I’ve been dreaming about your cooking for about a year now.”

He followed her into the house and on into the kitchen. She had been cooking already, even though it was not yet noon. The aromas of warm bread and roasting chicken filled the air, making his mouth water.

“Wow, it smells like heaven in here,” he said, feeling light-headed. She chuckled and put on her apron.

“You see, I knew you’d be hungry. I… I had to keep busy today. Why don’t you go upstairs and get changed while I finish up in here? I got you some new civilian clothes, and don’t worry, they’ll suit you. They’re on your bed.”

“Oh, Mom, you’re the best,” he said. He went and gave her another hug, then let her go. “I have to admit, I can’t wait to get out of this uniform. It—it was never really me.”

“No, it wasn’t. And it shouldn’t have been anybody.”

Her eyes were troubled for a moment, but then she smiled and the cloud passed.

“But that’s all over now. You’re home and safe. All the wars are finished. Things will be better, I know they will. We should have done this thing a hundred years ago. Now go and get your real clothes on, before all this talking makes me burn my chicken.”

He smiled as she turned to the stove, and then went upstairs.

“I’m really glad to be home, Mom,” he called over his shoulder.

* * *

While David was upstairs changing, his mother, Laura, turned on the television.

“We are coming to you live from the Mall in front of the U.S. Capitol Building. I’m your commentator, Sam Blake. With me today is Ralph Winston, Dean of History at George Washington University. Dr. Winston, this is truly an historic day in the life of the United States, and for the global community, too.”

Laura looked at the two overly-groomed talking heads with some skepticism. They could not tell the real story, in their tiny sound bytes, of what had brought the world to this moment. She turned and went into the kitchen to take the chicken out of the oven. The drone of their voices followed her.

“Yes, Sam, this is correct.”

“Tell me, Dr. Winston, has there ever been an occasion like this in the known history of the world?”

“There was a ritual several thousand years ago that had some similarities with today’s event. But really, in my opinion, it compares little with what we are doing here.”

“Can you explain that ritual for the viewers at home, and comment on the differences between the two?”

“Now I don’t want to mislead the public into thinking we’ve reverted to superstitious pagan practices, but I will give a brief overview.”

Sam laughed politely.

“The ancient ritual was known as the Great Marriage and took place once every four years. In it, the people would sacrifice the king, who was considered a sacred being, to the Earth, which they saw as the body of their Goddess, the Great Mother. They believed he would become part of them as his strength was absorbed by the land, and the land supported them.”

“That’s very interesting, Dr. Winston. How does our ceremony today differ from that ancient Great Marriage?”

“It’s a matter of historical record, really. Today’s ceremony is the final part of the world population’s response to the use of war to settle political, corporate, and religious differences.”

“Indeed, Dr. Winston. The military industry has been rendered obsolete, and all military personnel have been released from duty. They are all safely home today, and I’m sure they’ll be watching this historic moment with their loved ones and families.”

***

David set the table in the kitchen as his mother carved the chicken. The TV in the den was loud enough for them to hear, but they had decided not to watch.

“It’s a big day,” Laura said with a sigh. “The world is changing forever.”

David poured water into their glasses.

“Yep, I don’t think we understand yet how very different things will be.”

Laura brought the platter of chicken to the table, and they sat down and began serving their plates.

She nodded. “Maybe now the shouting is all over, this will be a temporary solution while we find a better way to live. We tried everything else, and it all failed.”

“I wonder if we’ve really learned anything from our mistakes. What if this is just another one?”

“You’re right, of course. Time will tell if we’ve done the right thing. So many people have sacrificed so much to see these changes through…”

David saw the hope struggling with the doubt in her face; he felt those same things clench his chest. He smiled in spite of it, for her sake, and reached out and squeezed her hand.

“Oh, man, Mom, this food looks so good. I’m starving. Let’s eat.”

***

“Mr. President,” said the Secretary, “please let me get you something to eat.”

Franklin James, 50th President of the United States, chuckled and shook his head. He was trying, without success, to get his tie straight. His fingers were trembling, and he was unable to steady them.

“What’s the point of food at this hour?” he said. “Just so the news feeds can discuss what I ate today, how it was prepared, whether it tasted good? No, thanks, Paul. It’s better if they focus on what’s really happening out there.”

He gave up on the tie and sat down on the sofa. A moment later, he was on his feet again, pacing.

“Sir, if you change your mind, there’s still time,” Paul said. “I could send word and have your family here in under an hour.”

The President stopped pacing a moment, then went to the window and looked down at a lovely rose garden. Laura’s roses at home would be prettier than these, better tended. He pictured them crowding up against the house, as dark and red as blood; he could almost smell their deep perfume.

“No, Paul. My decision stands. And frankly, I don’t want them here. I don’t want this to be what they remember about me. I’m keeping the oath I took and upholding the law I fought to put in place. But my family doesn’t have to watch. I won’t allow it. And my wife understands that, and she is in agreement.”

Paul joined him at the window and laid a hand on his shoulder. When he turned to face him, Paul straightened his tie for him.

“You’re a brave man, Mr. President,” he said. “You’re changing the world for the better today.”

“Ah, this is just a symbolic thing,” the President said. “Anyone could do this. I’m merely fulfilling my responsibility.”

He sighed deeply and walked to a tall cabinet behind his desk. He pulled out two glasses and a bottle of very old Scotch.

“What do you say, Paul? Drink with me to the new reality?”

“Of course, sir,” Paul said. “It’s an honor to have served with you, Mr. President.”

***

As hungry as he was, David found it hard to eat, and Laura merely pushed the food on her plate around with her fork. Finally they both gave up trying and cleaned up the kitchen.

Laura got out a bottle of Scotch and poured them each a double.

“Your father’s favorite,” she said, handing a glass to David. “I got this bottle for him on our honeymoon. He wanted to save it for a special occasion. I think today qualifies, don’t you?”

“To Dad,” he said, and they sipped in his honor.

They took their drinks and went out to the front porch, surrounded by the vibrant roses and lilies. They sat in the shade, listening to a soft breeze whisper through the tall oak trees. They left the front door open so that they could hear the news report when the time came.

“It’s so peaceful here,” David said. “When you’re away, you always remember these things, but when you come back it’s like… like it’s all brand new.” Laura smiled, resting her head against the tall back of the rocking chair in which she sat.

“It helps that we’re out in the country, away from everything,” she said. “No traffic, the closest neighbor acres from us. Your dad and I always loved this place. I’m glad we could finally come back.”

David saw her brows draw together over the words she did not say.

“I wish he could be here with us,” he said, and Laura closed her eyes. He went on, “Or I wish we could be there with him, especially today.”

She didn’t, or couldn’t, answer.

“I know it’s what he wanted, and you guys agreed. But he’s all alone out there. How are you and I going to live with ourselves for not being with him?”

He stood up and went to lean against the porch railing. There was a mockingbird singing in the top of one of the trees.

“It’s how he wanted it,” Laura said. “We respect his wishes, you and I, because we love him. But today he’s more than just my husband or your father. He’s setting an example that the world will have to honor and live up to.”

David turned to look at her.

“Theoretically,” he said. “Who’s to say whether Lowe will honor these new laws when he gets into office? He might already be having meetings with other heads of state to plan a takeover. The militaries could be restored in a very short time—if they’ve really been disbanded at all. If that happens, Dad will have done this for nothing. He’d just be another misguided martyr. And in another fifty years they’d be worshipping Dad like he was Jesus Christ or the Buddha or something. I can hear it now: ‘He died for us so that we might have hope.’ And my dad would never want that, not in a million years. And for the life of me, Mom, as hard as you all worked to make this happen, I can’t believe that’s what you would want for him, either. Is it?”

Laura looked at her hands lying in her lap for several moments. She got up and went down the front steps, and ran her hand over the red blooms of the nearest rosebush.

“All of that is possible. And no, none of us want that,” she said. “We can’t know what will happen in a year or even tomorrow. But this is what I do know—the people finally demanded accountability from the false rulers. We succeeded in taking the power away from them and giving it to everyone equally. Like it or not, we’ve created a new future, whatever that turns out to mean.”

She sat down on the bottom step, gazing out at the manicured lawn.

“We’ve done it. We succeeded where all our ancestors failed for more than two thousand years,” she went on. “We don’t have any guarantees that what we’ve done is right, or that it will last, or even lead to something better in time. But now that we have taken action, all we can do is trust that it is for the best. We have to believe the people will carry this new reality forward in time, and protect it from anyone or anything that might threaten it.”

David came and sat next to her on the steps.

“That’s a lot of faith to put in a bunch of folks you don’t know, Mom,” he said. She smiled and patted his hand.

“But it’s better than putting that faith in the hands of a greedy few, isn’t it?” she said. “We all made a new world together. That’s what your dad knows, too. When he does this thing in a little while, he will understand that it’s not just happening to him. It’s the experience of each person living at this moment. It’s an act of faith for every one of us. So, as much as I want to be with him when it happens, I can respect his wishes. This is what it means to share the power we’ve won.”

David sighed and put his arm around her.

“Well, maybe you’re right,” he said, “but that doesn’t make me feel any better.”

Laura smiled and kissed him on the cheek.

“I know, honey. Me, neither.”

***

“Sam Blake here, welcoming you back from the station break.  Well, ladies and gentlemen, we have arrived at an unprecedented occasion in the history of the United States. President James has arrived and has taken his place on the dais. Vice President Lowe is seated just to one side of the dais, and Secretary of State Paul Avery is with him. In accordance with the President’s wishes, his family is in seclusion in an undisclosed location, and no clergy is present here. Chief Justice Robert Thompson is on hand to swear in Vice President Lowe immediately after the ceremony.

“I’ve just received word that President James will make a statement… yes, yes, we are going to a live feed of the President’s final address.”

President James began to speak.

“Citizens of the New World, I am here today to honor what we have all accomplished in these last and difficult thirty years. Today all our children are freed from servitude to a machine that feeds on their innocent blood to fill the pockets of the criminal few.”

There was somber applause; it fell silent when he raised his hand.

“I am leaving this New World in the capable hands of all those who worked to create it: in the hands of each one of you, the people, in the hands of my wife and son, and in the hands of Vice President Lowe. This New World, this uncharted future, is hard-won, and I admonish you to care for it with every moment of your lives. Protect it from any who attempt to return it to the old ways of injustice. Your voices—our voices—have been heard and heeded, and you must never fall silent again.

“I will take my leave now. I know that what I do today is something we all chose, and so it is an experience in which we all share. Blessings to each one of you, and let us have faith in the future we have created.”

“This is Sam Blake again. What powerful words President James leaves us with. I have to admit that even this seasoned old journalist is feeling a bit emotional at the moment.

“President James has taken off his jacket and has laid down on the table now. Medical assistants are placing electrodes on the President’s forehead and chest to monitor his vital signals.

“Because of the new laws concerning violence, lethal injection has been chosen as the means to proceed with today’s ceremony and all those to follow. The combination of drugs formulated at the end of the old prison system will ensure that the President will experience no pain, no discomfort. He will merely go to sleep. I’m sure that all of you viewing today join me in wishing this brave President a quiet and painless transition.

“Dr. Albert Schumann, the President’s personal physician, is administering the shot now… the President’s eyes have closed. Dr. Schumann is checking the monitors… now he is checking the President’s pulse… he is using a stethoscope to check his heartbeat. Dr. Schumann is nodding. It is done.

“It is official. We have enacted the first ceremonial death of a head of state in more than two thousand years. The 50th President of the United States is dead. Our thoughts are with his wife and son in this historic moment, and our gratitude goes to this courageous family who have made the ultimate sacrifice for a better world.

“I say again, President Franklin James is dead. May his courage and strength live on in all of us. Long live President Franklin James.”

***

The warm midsummer breeze sighed through the oak trees, and the roses and lilies nodded their heads in the perfumed air. David and Laura sat on the front steps holding each other, weeping. The months of preparation for this moment had not been enough to soften the blow when it came.

Inside the house, the TV announcer’s voice droned on, but they did not hear it. They only knew what they had lost, what they had given up, and nothing else mattered. Her husband, his father, a responsible man, was dead, and his absence rent a hole in their future.

“Oh, Mom,” David sobbed into her hair, clasping her tight to his chest. “What have we done? What have we done?”



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