RICHARD NIXON

by Lindsay Hunter

 

I had an egg for breakfast. I put too much salt on it so Pat would notice and yell at me. She didn’t. Sipped her coffee like it was tea. Smiled like the machine of her mouth was winding down. A bit of hair had come loose from its setting. Like she was molting. I was grateful to see her flawed, I can’t tell you exactly why. That egg was like eating a jellyfish coated in sand. I endured. The last time I was at the beach a teenaged girl walked over. She was fully developed, I don’t mind telling you. Mr. Nixon, she said. Not, President Nixon, or, Mr. President. Mr. Nixon. I could try to forgive her for that but who has the time? Her voice was like a cartoon squirrel’s. Some moptop future Democrat might like to climb all over her. I held it together. I just wanted to come over and see if it was really you, the girl squeaked. In the flesh, I answered her. The truth was I could feel every inch of my flesh, even the dark catacombs in my trousers. Could have been the sun. Could have been the girl. Could have been any girl from the neck to the upper thigh. Wow, the girl said. Just wow! Super, was my reply. Whitehead, my day man, cleared his throat. Oh, the girl said. Is this your Secret Service man? If I told you that, I said, he’d have to kill you. I winked up at her. I was wearing sunglasses. No way she saw. I said the wrong thing, it was clear. The girl went stiff, like she’d been flashed in ice. Could have chipped pieces of her for my drink. And all right, I would have chosen her breasts. Two breasts floating in a tumbler of scotch, softening with melt into goosepimpled skin. That’s what I call a Saturday. The girl chopped at the sand with her feet, walking backward. Thanks for your interest, I called to her. Her body a ripple of movement. From ice to jelly. Jiggling, you understand. I looked at Whitehead, that block. He looked around, turning in a slow circle. Good man. The girl had vanished, absorbed into the landscape before me, a landscape owned and operated by teenagers. The world’s future leaders. My ulcers went zap. Instead of landscape perhaps I should say channel, should say program. All of them playing a part, all of them in Technicolor. Was there any real dialogue to be had, anymore? My God, what a boredom.

Pat took my plate, clacked it to the sink. Clacked back to me. Kissed my cheek. She smelled like the air in a forgotten trunk filled with flowers. I smelled it with my throat, in other words. Words burbled forth from the pink, oiled relief of her lips. That misplaced feather of hair fluttered near her ear. Pat, I wanted to say. Pat! Time is a thing that moves. We are not the ones moving. Back in our early days in the White House I had once balanced her on my lap in the tub. We were nearly 60. She’d come back from some dinner drunk, my favorite Pat. We went to the bath, we made a froth. Two men waited outside the door. You learned not to care about such things. Later Pat lurched from bed, upchucked into the gold wastebasket. I put her back to bed, handed the wastebasket to one of the men outside the door. In the morning I gave a televised speech. You beautiful citizens, I wanted to say, is there anything more important than having your wife in whatever room you choose? If there had been an amendment guaranteeing such a right, I’d have ratified it then and there. Instead I continued with my speech. Often, I wished for a lever that would allow me to send an electric current from my desk to every citizen’s home. I wish for that still. Did you hear me, Richie? Pat asked. Sure, I said. There came the lips. Other cheek, kissed. I palmed her breast. It was as loose and lifeless as a chicken cutlet. She didn’t notice. Clacked out the door. Her ass these days was still tight in her white pants, but was the shape of two halved apples. An old woman’s ass. Her day man followed a polite three steps behind.

Late morning, nine holes with an old lobbyist friend. After lunch, nap. During the nap, I’ll do my damnedest to enter my favorite dream, the dream in which I’ve mounted Jackie Kennedy on the steps of my alma mater. It’s a cold night and we are under my coat. The stars are like flecks of ice on a dark ocean. After nap, dinner with Pat. After dinner, telephone hour. After telephone hour, bed. Pat calls our bedroom The Secret Garden. Because of all the florals. Like we are preparing for the casket. Tonight I will reach for my wife the way I reach for Jackie in that dream. Like I mean it. Not open to discussion. It’s not Jackie Kennedy that is the draw. It is that in the dream neither of us has seen the inside of the White House. We are just two people getting primitive. History corrected. I can taste it like a brine: so many mistakes. Tonight I want to touch Pat. See her the way she was. Skin like cream, bright bright eyes. Present corrected. Forget how the world has turned on its axis for all of eternity. And will long after I’m gone.

 

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Lindsay Hunter is a writer living in Chicago. Her first book, Daddy’s, is out now on featherproof books. Her next book, DON’T KISS ME, will be released in the summer of 2013 by FSG. Find her at lindsayhunter.com. Read the next story, GERALD FORD, here.

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

 

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