HARRY S. TRUMAN
by Christy Crutchfield
And hasn’t every Congress member, really every American, been there? Finally settling into the new job, having a good cooperative day with the team, and then getting that awful, urgent message that changes everything? Harry was just settling down for a drink with the Speaker when he got it. He assumed Roosevelt was just back early from Warm Springs. But he was met by Eleanor instead.
Now Harry packs up the Oval Office, one pen set at a time. He blows the dust off, a long caress before placing each item in the box. This is the way presidents are supposed to end their terms. It is supposed to be bittersweet.
Harry wants to say, You try to be President. See what your approval ratings look like then. Harry wants to say, Mr. Senators, I have filled your shoes, and I have found them much easier to fill than mine.
Harry is not sure what to do with the Russian vodka he was given — how long ago now — six years? He searches for his Scotch.
And hasn’t everyone experienced the sentiment of sympathy, turned on its head? That British-trained New York accent of Eleanor’s: “Is there anything we can do for you? You are the one in trouble now!”
But, poor Harry, not everyone sees the most obvious signs in times of crisis.
And we all know that feeling of schoolroom exclusion. An entire room of colleagues forced to admit they forgot to invite you. When it was finally Harry’s turn to give the insider information about Little Boy and Fat Man, he found even Stalin — Stalin! — knew about the Bomb before he did. But Harry was the one to drop it. To drop both of them. And he has no regrets about that. He has said he has no regrets.
Harry forgets and opens his middle drawer. He finds the Purple Heart there. Not his, but sent to him by a soldier’s father. As you have been directly responsible for our son’s life in Korea …
But must we only focus on the keywords, Harry wonders. Must we never focus on the whole? Must this be true even for the students of history, only the bold words in the glossary? Is there some young girl writing a report right now, writing onlybomb, only lowest approval rating? Only thinking poor Harry? Poor, poor Harry.
Because there was a whole. Yes, the Bomb, but also the United Nations. Yes, the failed Fair Deal, but also the desegregation of the armed forces. NATO and, yes okay, another bomb. But was the H-Bomb really worth all that worry? Was it really worth voting against every proposal? Was it worth putting your faith in goddamn Dewey?
Harry closes the drawer — he’ll leave the Purple Heart for Eisenhower — and drinks the last of his Scotch. How lucky Roosevelt was to have his condition. That hidden crippling, excuse enough to get away from this office, travel to warmer climates. Harry wonders what it would have been like, just one time in his life, to let the sulfur smell of those warm Georgia springs fill his head instead. If, at the end of at least one long and terrible decision, he lowered into those bubbles he’d only seen in pictures. Let himself be overtaken by just one soothing, healing thing at last.
Christy Crutchfield writes and teaches in Western Massachusetts. Her works have appeared or are forthcoming in Mississippi Review, PANK, Salt Hill, and others. You can find out about her writing and other monsters at thehopelessmonster.blogspot.com. Read the next story, DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER, here.
* thanks to Amber Sparks and Brian Carr for their editorial work on this project.