NPR's 3-Minute Fiction Contest, Round 9, had one rule: it had to include a U.S. President real or fictional. It was a great diversion to read these posts amid the latest election. Each story had to be no more than 600 words (a three-minute read over the radio) which is a challenge in and of itself. Below is my entry. I started with two ideas: What if a poet had as much power as a President and what happens to those long-term friendships/confidantes that are used to access and telling the truth once the President takes the oath? I encourage you to read the winning selection along with a sampling of three-minute stories at http://www.npr.org/series/105660765/three-minute-fiction
“So, am I the jerk?”
She recognized the voice. Deep, throaty, and nothing like the boy she used to know. They had grown up together, attended catechism and took first communion all gussied up in their wedding-like attire, vowing to be chaste and true under the watchful eye of God. He teased her on the school bus, she hid behind her hair, and together they discovered many reasons to frequent the confessional. It was a childhood spent in suburbia, hidden behind their respective front doors watching their parents’ marriages fall apart as they ran for cover.
“It’s just a poem,” she lied.
“Really, I need to know. I honestly don’t remember. Was it me?”
“What does it matter?”
She thought about all the poems she used to write, now gone; obliterated like the twin towers of the World Trade Center. She had innocently shared her work broadly and even published a few in various literary magazines. That was before, before the election, and before the mysterious wiping of her hard drive. She continued composing poems, sending single lines to various people encoded into an email, a tweet, a text, or a Facebook post. They would meet for drinks and assemble her work, she editing on the fly, eventually uploading the finished work to a secure site. It didn’t take long before she was dealing with the corruption of her Facebook and Twitter accounts and drowning in the aftermath of having her email accounts hacked. She lost her ability to work as a freelance writer, never knowing when her content would disappear. She was told that it was serendipity when she was offered a senior editor position for a political magazine that was the official mouthpiece for the current administration. The rules were clear: take the lead from the press secretary and always give the White House final sign-off.
He said the same thing when they argued about the merits of marriage and choosing the right spouse. While she was straddling the back of a motorcycle, helmet-free, speeding through the forgotten roads of Mexico, he chose a wife. He described her as a saint. She would keep him in line, make family values come alive, and would be above scrutiny. He said he could live with vanilla.
“If vanilla is all I get and it gets me where I want to go, then vanilla it is.”
Many years later, he would hold her face in his hands, kiss her passionately and tell her that she was all the flavors in the universe. He would lament his austere life while stealing moments and intimacies from her as if it was the only thing keeping him alive. On the phone she could say something so unexpected that he would spew his coffee over important documents, swearing and laughing at the same time. He would call her from airports and read poetry to her. Sometimes it was hers and sometimes it was a cherished favorite. Afterward, as if poetry was sex, he would go quiet and she would say his name only to be left with a click and a dial tone. That unwavering, empty dial tone had been her companion for the past four years stealing her words, silencing her voice.
She pulled the cell phone away from her ear and pressed “end” waiting for the knock at her door. As she slid back the deadbolt, two men in suits reached for their credentials: Secret Service protocol. She swung the door open and relinquished her cell phone.
“Tell the President that the answer is ‘yes.’ Yes, he is.”
(c) Kelly Tweeddale 2012