GEORGE W. BUSH
by Mike Meginnis
One day, after his second term and the speaking tour that followed, 43 found a hole in the antique desk in his second study. The hole was in his leftmost upper desk drawer, beside the Smith & Wesson Model #2 revolver (manufactured 1855, rosewood grips, excellent working condition), where women keep their chocolate.
When 43 saw the hole he did something impulsive. He put his left index finger inside up to the second knuckle. It didn’t feel like anything. When he took the finger back it was gone up to that second knuckle. The finger’s end was sealed with skin, like the end of any other finger — like it had always been this way.
43’s wife did not ask about the finger. Instead, over dinner, she asked what he was reading. Ancient history, he said. I’m learning brass makes all the difference.
43 had a new hobby. What he liked to do was collect expensive liquor bottles. Then he liked to pour these bottles out. He would do this in the bathroom across the hall from his second study, which is where he kept the bottles before and after. He poured them into the toilet. He held them just so, to make a certain arc, as it changed the toilet water’s color, as the water line therein rose, and as the stinging fumes began to waft up from the bowl. When he was done he flushed and washed his hands with vanilla-scented soap. He tucked the bottles underneath his shirt, (their glass was cold), and crept back to the study, where he would hide the empties behind some of his books, in a desk drawer, or inside the vent.
His eyes turned red around their rims. His tear ducts produced a stinging saline residue that did not overflow the lids. His wife did not ask about his eyes. At first he made excuses. (He spoke often about how tired he was. He said he couldn’t sleep, which wasn’t true. He slept for most of the day, in his various studies, in the truck, on the roof; wherever no one would see him.) His wife didn’t care for excuses. If he never let her see the bottles there would never be a crime.
Now 43 could drop his empties down the hole. They did not clink, crash, or rattle at the bottom.
43 concluded that there was no bottom.
One day 43 was reading his memoir. The publisher had rushed him on the first edition. They said he could take as much time as he needed to perfect the second. (As far as they were concerned, he could work on it forever. The book had not sold as well as expected.) He combed the page once for grammatical errors and infelicities of style; he marked these with the red pen. He read the page again for factual errors. These he corrected in green. He read the page a third time for logical fallacies. These he highlighted in yellow. When he saw a point that needed expansion or refinement, he wrote a draft of the addition in pencil, in the margins and between the lines. The resulting page was badly wrinkled, damp with ink, exhausted.
On this one certain day, 43 saw a grievous new error, one he had never noticed before. He had misspelled his own name, transposed the e and the o. There was no room to fix the error. He tore the page out of the book. He balled it up and dropped it down the hole.
It felt good.
He tore another page loose, folded it into a small paper airplane, and sent it nose-first through the hole.
He opened a bottle, dropped the lid down the hole, and called a former high school sweetheart on one of his many secret mobile phones. (The former high school sweetheart was not surprised to get the call. They had spoken often, though never regularly, for several years. She was a nurse at a hospice. She also had two girls. They never talked about their work.) He didn’t tell her what he was doing just then. (He was pouring the bottle down the hole. He was beginning to feel woozy.) They talked about old times. There was a certain football game to which they often returned, though neither believed they had really been there that night, and in fact they hadn’t been.
One day 43 called his wife a certain word. It had been a long time. They were eating dinner when it happened. They were both overcome with the bittersweet pain of nostalgia. He wept into his potatoes and he was very, very sorry. His wife forgave him again and again without persuading him she meant it.
Sticks and stones, she said.
She went looking for the housekeeper.
43 resolved to pour out all his bottles down the hole. The streams of liquor wavered as they rolled out of the bottles’ mouths, lapping at the edges of the hole and the Smith & Wesson’s handle. Bubbles formed and drifted upward, toward the bottles’ bottoms, where they combined and grew into an absence that would soon consume all drink.
It was on the second fifth of fine whiskey that 43 realized he was buzzing head to toe. He understood the hole was giving him the drink. He’d never been so drunk in all his life. It felt so good and he was going to feel so bad when it was over.
He thought of all he had given the hole. Not only his book, but every word he brought into the second study. He no longer read. He fed the language to the hole. He no longer listened to music. He put the speakers to the hole. He no longer ate when his wife was not watching. He scraped his plates into the hole. He told the hole his dreams.
All these things he’d thought were surely gone, all somewhere inside him.
Mike Meginnis has published stories in Hobart, The Collagist, The Lifted Brow, Booth, PANK, SmokeLong Quarterly, and many others. He serves as prose editor for Noemi Press, co-edits Uncanny Valley with his wife Tracy Rae Bowling, and plays collaborative text adventures with many other writers at exitsare.com. Read the next story, BARACK OBAMA, here.
* thanks to Amber Sparks and Brian Carr for their editorial work on this project.