Three-Minute Fiction competitions are great fun. The challenge: create a terrific short, short story (600 word max) based on the theme de la ronde offered by the Weekend Edition of All Things Considered on NPR radio. The prize for Round 9 was radio and online recognition, plus publication in The Paris Review. Not too shabby.
Round 9 is over, the winnings are won, but consider this: if you write and you aren’t participating, why not jump in on the next round? The water’s fine. It’s a free way to compete for literary recognition. What could be better?
Stay poised for the next round by following Three-Minute Fiction on Facebook. I’ll also post updates on Chicken Scratch- A fun place for serious writers, a page started with my two writer-friends. Note: expect Chicken Scratch to become more active in 2013 as a virtual salon for aspiring authors! Like us on Facebook, for updates.
Acknowledging both my bias and the fact that I didn’t win this most recent round, I believe my story was a contender. The theme: Your story must revolve around a U.S. president, who can be fictional or real. With a nod to Rod Serling, I submit for your consideration, my story…
With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
He wore the prestige of his office like a cape. At times he could almost feel it billow and swell around him as he walked, and from his most peripheral vision he occasionally caught a glimpse of a crimson fold. He was like a superhero, with a posse of Secret Service agents to keep assassins at bay. Captain President. It was an image that protected him, psychologically, from his self-doubts, and reminded him to keep his shoulders drawn back and his chin held level to the ground.
At night, alone in his private quarters, it lay flaccidly over a chair allowing his shoulders to round forward and his head to sag. In those lonely hours between midnight and four, he was tormented. Daylight required responses to crises erupting in remote corners of the world. Wars killed innocents in small, hard-to-pronounce places, and he would make decisions to protect or stand back. He worried about the words falling from his lips and the ramifications of his actions as they rippled throughout the lives of people everywhere.
He was also concerned for his own safety. He was edgy when he ventured beyond the grounds of the White House, and yet the sanctity of his own bedroom offered no peace. The First Lady abandoned their room because she found his anxiety contagious. In the early days after the election, she tried to reassure and comfort him. Unsuccessful, she took permanent residence on the other side of the wall, where in her own private space she slept quite well.
Most mornings he awoke with a blissful measure of amnesia. For 30 seconds or so, he was just a guy, waking up for work. The weight of his position would then drop on him like a cartoon anvil crashing down on his head, but like a wile-y coyote, he’d manage to straighten up from the impact and continue with his day. So again today, despite his dread, he showered and donned a starched white shirt secured with gold cufflinks marked with the presidential seal. He marched to the Oval Office for his daily briefing, his personal secretary at his side, and the imaginary cape falling squarely from his shoulders.
After the briefing, he crossed the South Lawn with an entourage to board a helicopter bound for Bethesda. The propeller churned loudly overhead, and as he prepared to step onboard, his apprehension expanded, filling his chest. He paused momentarily and wiped his forehead with the back of his sleeve. His Chief of Staff leaned in and took his elbow. “You, okay?” he asked. The President nodded and climbed in, drawing the cape around him.
From the window of the helicopter he watched as they flew over suburban Washington, lawns and homes sitting neatly within the confines of property lines, roads delineating neighborhoods and communities. All of the men and women, their children, their cats and dogs, even the chimpanzees at the zoo, relying on him to make the right moves so that their lives would be okay. He coughed a little and tried to swallow but the muscles in his throat were constricted. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the roar of the propeller. He pictured himself flying alongside, red cape flowing, looking in at the helicopter passengers, throwing them a wink and a thumbs up before speeding off toward the horizon.
When they landed, his executive staff member whispered to him again, “Okay?”
He drew his shoulders back, his chin up and nodded, striding forth to shake the hand of the waiting Ambassador, who happened to be wearing a cape.