RUTHERFORD B. HAYES

by Katrina Gray

 

Your wife keeps a framed photograph of Rutherford B. Hayes on her nightstand. You are used to this by now; you are even impressed by his sure, solid stance, the way he clutches the edges of his lapels with no reticence about revealing his overhanging paunch.

Years ago, when you dated the woman who is now your wife, you noticed how she darted her eyes toward the bedside frame just as she teetered at the edge of orgasm, and the moment her eyes met his, steely and sharp, she thrashed, she squealed, she pinned your buttocks between her legs and then went limp.

But you hadn’t been in a beautiful woman’s bed, or any woman’s bed, in nearly a year, nor had any woman been in yours. You were lonely, and getting a little too comfortable with yourself for such a young guy — leaving the bathroom door open, neglecting to brush your teeth weekend mornings, drinking Dewar’s straight from the jug rather than washing a glass. If this is how it had to be, you decided — if you had to play second fiddle to a dead president — then okay. There were worse things.

This week you have grown a goatee. You attempted a beard, nothing that Rutherford B. Hayes would envy, but a beard nonetheless. You kept waking perplexed that your cheeks remained bare and smooth, but decided a goatee would be better anyway. Corporate grooming policy prohibits beards extending more than one-half inch beyond the tip of the chin. Rutherford B. Hayes could not work where you work; he would not have chosen the job over the beard, which, if measured, would have extended at least three-and-one-half inches past the maximum allowable length. Rutherford B. Hayes would have been written up. Rutherford B. Hayes would have given the vice president of program engineering the finger, a gesture he would have punctuated with a sarcastic bow.

You share a birthday, you and Rutherford B. Hayes. You are both charming Libras. It was, in fact, your birthday that got you a date with your future wife, because she told the dating service that she was only interested in men born on October fourth. The year did not matter. The older the better, she said. You were young, but not too young. You had already been promoted to senior systems analyst. You had begun to consider the future, imagined filling your newly purchased home with the smell of sizzling hashbrowns and the sound of bright gentle children humming along to smooth jazz hits.

You were the only match born on October fourth. You wore oxfords and knew to pick up the check. You were no boy. You would do.

There are no bright gentle children. Your wife’s ovaries are wonky, and you say “wonky” because you don’t want to say “impaired” or “damaged” or “useless.” You can come and come and come inside her, and nothing will happen. It is a free-for-all, no precautions needed. You search for ways to use two spare bedrooms and wonder about trading the Altima for a Mini Cooper.

Your wife sleeps, and Rutherford B. Hayes watches. Rutherford B. Hayes had eight children and never drank. You are about to have eight drinks, and heat up the griddle. You will make hashbrowns and turn on smooth jazz hits. This is not so bad, being the kind of guy who does these things on a Saturday morning, in a nearly empty house, while his wife sleeps.

It would be nice, you think, to eat your hashbrowns by the pool, and for someone to take a photograph of you there, in your new goatee and flannel pajamas. You imagine a lovely woman, a redhead maybe, caressing your framed figure in one-hundred and twenty-five years, and you feel the intensity of being held in someone’s gaze. You have never been there before. You look back and follow her with your eyes — as she undresses, as she loses her virginity, as she frets over math problems. You are in love.

You should not have thrown the frame; you know this now. You should not have scolded your wife for having “bum” ovaries, and you should not have blamed your lack of children on Rutherford B. Hayes. You might have stopped at three drinks, or just gone to bed. There were other choices you could have made, certainly. You are a man. You are no boy.

You stroke your goatee. You feel smart. You hope that, when she wakes, she can see something in you — something frame-able and worth keeping. But if she doesn’t, there are worse things. Like not having any sex at all. And you can find sex. There is sex everywhere. There is sex out there that has nothing at all to do with Rutherford B. Hayes.

But you want her sex. You want her eyes. You want her children and you want her future and you want her to feel like getting out of bed. You will keep wanting these things.

Rutherford B. Hayes did not have a second term. He did not get another chance.

You are feeling drunk already and you smell hashbrowns burning. The smoke alarm reacts, and you like that the house is not so quiet. Your goatee smells like mimosa. The hashbrowns will no longer be viable, and you wish the doctor would stop using that word.

Rutherford B. Hayes tells you to try harder. That’s the problem. Go deeper. Give it to her good. Fuck the living daylights out of her like only a man with a goatee can do. Ram it, stab it, punch it, nail it.

You do not approve of his tone or his gestures. You thank him for his suggestion. He smugly stares back. You had wanted to turn the cracked frame over, smothering Rutherford B. Hayes on the nightstand, but you give him a second term. Surely, there are worse things.

***

Katrina Gray does not keep a photo of Rutherford B. Hayes by her bedside, but since writing this story, she’s become inspired to erect a collective shrine to Lindsey Buckingham, Alan Watts, Bobby Kennedy, and Liv Tyler. Because she is the editor-in-chief of Atticus Review, the mother of a four-year-old fledgling comedian, and the wife of the virile Italian writer John Minichillo, she usually doesn’t have the time to update www.katrinagray.com very often, but please humor her and visit anyway. Please? Read the next story, JAMES GARFIELD, here.

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

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