by James Tadd Adcox
A dream: schoolchildren taunting him, Millard Failmore, Millard Failmore…
Caroline, his second wife, takes him to meet with the No-Nothings. She gives the sign to the No-Nothing guard, who turns his gun to one side and lets the couple pass. “This is the great No-Nothing Hall,” Caroline says. “Into which History itself disappears.”
Caroline leads him to an altar. “I have nothing to declare,” says Fillmore before the altar, the oath of the No-Nothings.
Not a terrible president, Fillmore thinks. Certain decisions — some of them, at any rate, shall not be looked upon unkindly — abolishment of the slave trade in Washington DC — Japanese-American affairs — a strongly-worded letter to Napoleon III; not unkindly, not all of them; surely not all of them will be looked upon unkindly by the Angel of History …
The Angel of History turns its great jaws on Fillmore, Failmore — another dream. Fillmore awakes, dry as death, thinks: What kind of a man am I, who cannot even sweat in fear, fear of not only death, but extinction? The erasure of the self from history?
Daniel Webster, Secretary of State under Millard Fillmore (and later No-Nothing Party presidential nominee) described the No-Nothings as “a productive gulf, a sort of Negative Theology of the political.”
(“What do you have to declare?” “I have nothing to declare.” “Is that your declaration?” “Yes.”)
The second wife as a means of destroying the vampire of the first, driving a stake through her memory. “Is nothingness the medium in which Being is suspended?” asks Millard. “Does the Nothing, ontologically, represent the very ground or possibility of being?” Caroline puts her hand to his lips, smiles.
(Caroline, sickly, prone to sudden changes of mood, quiet, cultivating, one might say, many did, an “air of mystery”; known later, after Millard’s death, to have grown increasingly eccentric, changing her will — according to our records — several times a week, burning old copies, quizzing lawyers on what they recalled of the burnt documents and dismissing those whose memories proved too exact; Caroline increasingly erratic, increasingly hard-to-pin down, increasingly as unlikely to be in this place as that, until finally, August 11, 1881, aged 67, no place at all.)
The Angel of History, with its “head turned back upon itself”; “every document of civilization is a document of savagery, of barbarism.” (Another dream.)
The woman, Millard Fillmore thinks, is nothing. The woman, understood psychologically, you must understand, is —
The large silent No-Nothings raise Fillmore up onto the Altar of Nothingness. I am floating, Millard Fillmore thinks. He can see his wife in the audience of silent, deathly silent No-Nothings. He does not think that he is supposed to wave. He does not think that he is supposed to speak. He is only supposed to Be, he thinks, floating, suspended on this granite block of Nothingness …
“What do you have to declare?”
“Is that your declaration?”
James Tadd Adcox lives in Chicago, where he edits Artifice Magazine. His work has been published or is forthcoming in The Literary Review, Mid-American Review, Quick Fiction, Requited, and > kill author. Read the next story, FRANKLIN PIERCE, here.
* thanks to Amber Sparks and Brian Carr for their editorial work on this project.