by Ravi Mangla
A good servant should be neither seen nor heard. This was the first thing I was told, an order passed down from Hoover himself. I took these words to heart. At the first sight of the president I slipped into a nearby closet or crouched behind a cabinet. I listened to the president and his advisors discuss economic strategies: measures to protect the ailing investors, incentives for farmers, benefits for veterans and their families. Sometimes they passed only inches away from the harboring furniture, unaware of my presence. Invisibility afforded a kind of freedom I had never known. The days, once a difficult burden, unfolded before me with renewed possibility. I trained myself to pace my breaths, to move with untarnished silence, to fit my body into the smallest of spaces. Slowly I learned to separate the steps of the president from others that roamed the White House halls. From beyond the realm of the material I saw Hoover with perfect clarity. There were details about him that I wondered if his closest advisors knew, if his wife even knew. For instance, did they know that he flinched with every stroke of the straight razor, anticipating each nick and cut? Did they know that he kept a collection of polished stones in his dresser drawer, a reminder of his youth? As the situation worsened, Hoover spent longer hours in his office. He requested his meals be brought to his desk. His advisors seemed no longer to advise, only nod their heads. His wife visited in the evenings to kiss him goodnight. Sometimes he listened to the radio for hours at a time, waiting for a change in tenor, some shift in fortune. There were moments when I wished to offer consolation, a tacit understanding. I would cough, almost inaudibly. Hello? Hoover said, panning across his surroundings, the stark landscape of his office. Hello? he asked again, before conceding that no one was there.
Ravi Mangla lives in Fairport, NY. His short short stories have appeared in Mid-American Review, American Short Fiction, SmokeLong Quarterly, Wigleaf, and Gigantic. He keeps a blog at ravimangla.com. Read the next story, FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT, here.
* thanks to Amber Sparks and Brian Carr for their editorial work on this project.