by Alan Stewart Carl
Jefferson Davis would have had his men commandeer the body and bring it back to Georgia where his government was hiding. There, with his cabinet wearied and watching, Davis would have lashed the body to a pole and raised it alongside his nation’s battle flag. The wind would have whipped and flayed it. The Union army would have come. But instead of running to Florida or Havana or some other Georgian town, damp and mosquitoed, Davis would have put the dare to the infantry and the artillery, and he would have shimmied up that pole in all his gentlemanly finery, gripping Lincoln’s body with his arms and his legs as the battlefield began to churn. “Try to keep this indivisible,” he would have said above the roar, his arms clinging tighter, his gaze now focused on the president. Not blinking. Not wavering. Not quieting until an impact of lead turned them both into fibers and skin, scattering them over fields, proving their cells as separable as every other man’s.
William Tecumseh Sherman would have hauled the body to a bar in Atlanta and propped it there in a well-lit seat. He would have proceeded to order two glasses of Ohioan whiskey, repeating his request in an increasingly agitated manner and suggesting to the barkeep and patrons that the great and heroic president would soon lose his temper should he fail to receive the well-ambered joy of northern spirits. Once it had become apparent that no Ohioan whiskey would be procured, Sherman would have removed his revolver and placed it in the president’s limp hand. Then, looking somber and subservient, Sherman would have looped the dead president’s finger around the trigger and squeezed it with a rhythmic deliberation, aiming for and cleanly killing one man after the next. This would have continued for however long it took to purge the place of southern men. Then, there in the glorious stench of gunpowder and discharged bowels, William Tecumseh Sherman would have removed the president’s hat and wiped the president’s brow, and he would have rested his cheek on the president’s shoulder, holding himself still and maybe crying a little, listening intently for the whispers that would deliver his next command.
P.T. Barnum would have had the body mummified and placed on a pedestal covered in granite-toned papier-mâché. At first, the exhibit would have attracted dollar-fisted men and fan-flapping women who’d been lured by the bills Barnum pasted to fences: ‘Spend a Moment with the Majestic Savior of a Nation.’ ‘Sit at the Knee of Honest Abe,’ ‘Come See What’s Left of Lincoln’s Head.’ Many would have come. Then come again. Then, to keep them coming, Barnum would have put the president in blackface, then dressed him in frocks, then set him in a mock log cabin between two stuffed grizzlies in stylish top hats. This would have worked for a while. Years maybe. But finally — inevitably — Barnum would have begun leaving the president out of the show, tucking the body into a corner of a wagon, propped alongside an albino bat and a baby in a bottle. “Don’t you have Lincoln?” some old man would have occasionally asked. And Barnum, gray and small in his multicolored suits would have said, “Got newer things than that, my friend. Got things truly grand.”
Frederick Douglass would have hollowed out the body and transformed it into a horn, deep and resonant. From Maine to Florida to California and back, he would have proclaimed the freedom of men. The sound would have filled the mountains and reverberated from the seas. And after he’d spoken for days and months and years — after every inch of the nation had felt the vibrations of his words — he would have started from the beginning again. Then again. Then again until the president’s body was nothing but tattered bits of skin. At this, Frederick Douglass would have finally rested, choosing a Maryland hill in the sun, closing his eyes and feeling his echoes hum and hum.
Mary Todd would have hidden with the body in the basement of the White House. She would have eaten nothing. Slept only by accident. In the mornings, she would have rubbed her husband’s long and blood-swollen feet. In the afternoons, she would have kissed his calloused hands. Through the nights, she would have pressed a finger into the burrow where the bullet had entered, touching his bone, his mind, the absence that was so little and yet so much. When finally they came for him, she would have barred the door and refused to answer their shouts. The banging would have continued for days and days. Demands. Claims. Mary Todd would have ignored them all. “Shh,” she would have said to her husband. “Shhh.” Then there in the dimness she would have curled beside him, nakedness against nakedness, warmth against thinness. Slowly, the banging would have waned. And the flies would have thickened. And together, Mary Todd and her husband would have lain. The two of them alone in the darkness. Allowing no one else to come near.
Alan Stewart Carl is a writer of fiction and other such living in San Antonio, Texas. His work has appeared in Mid-American Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Collagist, and elsewhere. His occasional thoughts and ramblings on matters of life and literature appear online at AlanStewartCarl.com. Read the next story, ANDREW JOHNSON, here.
* thanks to Amber Sparks and Brian Carr for their editorial work on this project.