Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Madame President

Mira stood in the hallway outside her father’s room and looked around.  She had passed a couple of nurses, but the floor was otherwise deserted.  The scene was utterly different from the last time, when it had been her mother dying in the next room.

That time, the hallways had been crammed with people -- media correspondents, government officials, aides, consultants -- all waiting for something to happen.  She and her father had barricaded themselves in the room, but it was still unnerving to have to face the whole world every time they wanted a cup of coffee.

And now? A couple of junior reporters had come by earlier, but they only stayed long enough to drop off their cards.  After all, her mother had been the first female president.  She had brought up the entire nation, while the only person her husband had brought up was Mira.

But Mira was not a stranger to Bethesda Naval Hospital.  Her first visit had happened just after the assassination attempt, sometime during the middle of her mother's first term.  And it was the only time she remembered her father losing his temper.  She had arrived just in time to hear him yelling.

“She’s my wife,” he’d shouted, his hands clenching into tight fists.

“Yes, sir,” someone said, “but she’s also the President.”

“It’s my job to protect her.  Don’t you get it?”

Someone must have, for shortly thereafter, her father had filed for a concealed weapons permit and took a few special courses with the secret service.  It had taken Mira a lifetime to understand the full import of that conversation, and, to tell the truth, she was still a little angry -- but not at him.  Never at him. 

While her mother served in Congress, Mira's father had taken her to her first day of kindergarten.  He had helped her shop for school clothes and decorated her locker while her mother campaigned.  When Mira started her period, he raided the cupboard under the bathroom sink and brought one of everything.  Her mother didn’t find out for a week.

And then the analysts had said, “The time is ripe for the first female president in America.”  So she campaigned for months, while Mira and her father smiled and waved.  When the time came, they moved into the white house.  Eight years later, they moved out.  By then it was too late.  Mira was already grown up.

But now her father lay dying on the other side of the door, and neither of them could save the other from the truth.  

Mira pushed opened the door and walked into the room.    

“Bethany?”  He was finally awake.

“No, Dad.  It’s Mira.”

“Turtle.”  His first name for her.  Mira had turned out thick-skinned and introverted.  “It’s coming,” he said.

“I know.  Are you afraid?”

“Only a little.”

Mira sat down and took his hand in both of hers.

“I love you.”

“Me too, Dad.”

He tried to laugh, but he was too weak.  “I loved your mother, too.  Almost more than I love you.”

With his dying breaths, her father was trying to tell her what she’d known all along -- the reason he had sacrificed everything: he had loved her mother.

Only, he wasn’t finished.  He squeezed her hand, and she leaned in.

“I loved her,” he said again, his voice strained with the effort of talking, “but I never voted for her.  Not even once.  You should know that.”

Mira stared at him, and he smiled with his eyes.  Of course not, she thought.  Of course he didn’t.  

He was gone within the hour.