Life's not fair


Matt Paust

Matt Paust
Gloucester, Virginia,
December 31
Sorry - writer's block... BTW the "birthday" listed above is false. I prefer to keep that day private, but am not permitted to do so here, so I'm forced to lie.


NOVEMBER 4, 2012 6:21PM

When the buck stops (flash fiction)

Rate: 18 Flag

truman desk

I saw surprise distort Albert's face when he appeared in the doorway that separated his office from what he called “the big office”. He was holding the morning mail pouch, which he ordinarily carries to my working office across the oval room where I sit now.

Good morning Albert,” I said. My voice came out unusually light, almost cheerful. I found myself giving him the smile I usually save for the public.

Good morning, ma'am,” he said, after quickly composing himself. He added, “You're here early.”

I held the smile and nodded. “I am. This is an important day and I just felt like getting a head start.”

Yes, ma'am, I left a note on your...other desk that the ambassador has taken ill and won't be in this morning as scheduled.”

Oh? Well, that's just as well. Gives me more time to prepare.” He set the mail pouch on the corner of the Truman Desk, bowed slightly and hesitated. I knew he was concerned about my haggard appearance, but I had no desire to tell him what was wrong and he knew better than to ask. “Thanks, Albert,” I said, and he bowed again and returned to his office.

The stress I've been feeling the previous couple of weeks has been unprecedented, ever since the second call came in. This call had no video, but I dreaded it as I had dreaded nothing else. The call came after breakfast as I walked from our living quarters down to the West Wing. I recognized the unique ring tone that had heralded the first call, the trumpet flourishes that introduce “Hail to the Chief.”

The first call had come on Inauguration Day as my husband and I were getting ready for bed. There was a short video and the text message: “Congratulations! We'll be in touch.”

Bill was in the bathroom. The video ended before he came out. I didn't tell him, partly because I didn't wish to spoil the moment and also because I was unable to save the images. There was no evidence of what I had just seen.

The video was old. Its colors were faded and marked by scratches and other signs of deterioration incurred by film over time. What the video depicted was a familiar scene, one I had seen many times over the years, filmed by a man named Abraham Zapruder. The only difference was this film had been shot from a higher elevation and at a considerable distance from where Zapruder was standing. This was looking down from what we know as The Grassy Knoll.



I decided not to tell anyone about the call, sensing intuitively it was not a prank, that the video was real and represented a conspiracy so enduring and complex I knew I couldn't trust anybody with what I'd seen. I served the next two years with a darkness on my heart. I avoided the Oval Office except when absolutely necessary, feeling its mockery of the neutered office it represented. Finally two years later came the moment of truth.

In an Oval Office ceremony later today I am to sign the most controversial piece of legislation of my presidency thus far. It's the health care reform bill we should have gotten in 2010. It passed Congress by the slimmest of margins. It could not withstand a veto. The second phone call informed me a veto was expected. My constituents will disown me if I do so. I would sooner die.



All rights for use of the text reserved by Mathew Paust 2012


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Heck of a quandary. Who are the villains in this piece- the people trying to control the president or the president who sold their soul?
Very haunting. It is sad when you can't even trust your own people. R
Good question, Phyllis. Surely nobody gets elected to that office without knowing who really calls the shots. BTW, this was my entry in Round 9 of NPR's 3-Minute Fiction contest. They announced the winner about an hour ago. This wasn't it. :-(
Thanks, Trudge. I expect that job is one of the loneliest there are.
Good story. I see you now know about having to win the NPR contest before you're eligible for an EP. We did tell you about that, right?
Now you tell me! Kosh, if I had known that I would have written a winning story.
Got to watch out for those grassy knolls... R&R ;-)
Especially if your carrying.
I thought you were trying to start a new Sunday night flash fiction trend.
will feel this one a long time, matt r.
Nope, Phyllis, altho I'm considering entering Round 10. I found 600 words to be a challenge.

Ya gotta wonder, Jon. It's possible.
I was the last vote in the NPR 3-minute contest. Unfortunately, the envelope didn't arrive in time. Next time, you'll learn. Great story,"it coulda beena winna!"
You'll be a judge one of these days, Scanman.
That's called "Zapruder Film: The Director's Cut."
Sometimes I wonder, Steel.

Crank, they even have an "enhanced" version on YouTube. Not sure I'd want to see that one.
Matt, I just LOVE this. MORE MORE MORE
Thanks, Bea. You know, it might've worked as a season storyline for 24. Might even work as a novel along those lines.
You sure got a bee in your bonnet over 11/22/63!
Me too. Always have.
I wish to see your screenplay in 6 months.
Screw NPR. Buncha pointy heads with sonorous voices.
This is Hollywood material.
If ya give me a short haircut, I bear an uncanny resemblance
to Lee Harvey oswald, so remember that
when the director says, "Matt, casting ideas?"
OMG, Jim, you do look like Oswald! So, who pulled your strings, huh? C'mon, suspicious minds wanna know!
Oh, and I'm subbing again today -- high school history. Maybe I should show them the Zapruder film?
Didn't I read this and comment somewhere else, Matt ? I think the word count constraints only improve your storytelling. This is a gem. I loved this: I found myself giving him the smile I usually save for the public.
Can't wait to see your next one. They can't either.
I had never seen that bit of film before.. I would not want t be president or any elected official as if you cannot trust anyone what personal good can you do.
Imagine knowing something like that...
well done my friend. You are still a winner with me!
You did, Emily. I also posted it on Facebook. Thanks for your kind words in both places!

Me, neither, Linda. When Lincoln was having dreams of seeing himself in a coffin, not long before his visit to Ford's Theater, he told his two secretaries that if someone was determined enuf to kill him, then kill him they would, and nothing could stop it from happening.
Really well done. And sad.....
That film ends the same way every time. What's the deal?
I have always believed it was our own government that offed poor Kennedy.

Let righteous men with your wisdom sit in the high governmental of my city and nation. Proverbs 9:3

I make supplication, prayer, and intercession and give thanks to all the people of my nation, and for the leaders of my nation, that I might live a peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

Great post Matt!