JAMES BUCHANAN

by Greg Gerke

 

And so, yes, I surely knew Buchanan as well as his mother. Better than his mother — Buchanan smoked with me. And he told me his plans for a new America and though I served, I also probed. America is already quite new, I said, and he said, Ninety years new nothing, and I laughed because I thought he’d finally found his sense of humor, but he didn’t and stayed stern, so I said, sorry.

Of course the trust never wavered, you think four ingrown toenails is something to squawk about with senators? The man liked his foot powders more than pressing palms with businessman and journalists. No, I don’t know if he ever studied podiatry, maybe you should research that before you finish the monograph. Of course I saw his feet — we were close, I told you. He walked many miles every day on those feet — loved them, liked to use them. More proud of his walk than his policies. Why are you smiling?

No, he didn’t start making shoes until the end of the term. Lonely nights in the White House without a wife around. He did it in a room that had maps in it, but it wasn’t the Maps Room. I don’t know where he got the hides from, he was the President. Big sewing machines, everything — lots of stuff from Chicago. Most nights he’d be in there till dawn and he was quiet, he didn’t talk to himself like Fillmore and Pierce. Though I think he said, For you, feet, when he finished making a pair.

No, I don’t think it’s strange to talk about someone so tied to their shoes. You thought you’d find other answers for why it went wrong? Well, Buchanan wasn’t interested in anything else — that’s an answer. Precipice of war you say? Ever had arch issues? Ever try to climb a peak with soles thin as dimes?

He left in the spring for Wheatland, but they didn’t let him take anything. I never saw him again — the government employed me to serve whoever was the active president. They had to use that room to figure a route in Virginia for the war when the Maps Room didn’t have an answer. All those generals and the tall, skinny, big bearded President saw Buchanan’s footwear. Lincoln laughed.

 

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Greg Gerke’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Tin House, The Kenyon Review Online, Denver Quarterly, Quarterly West, Brooklyn Rail, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, and others. He lives in Brooklyn.

* thanks to Amber Sparks and Brian Carr for their editorial work on this project.

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