First Night

For Round 9 of our Three-Minute Fiction contest, we asked you to send us original works of fiction that revolve around a U.S. president, who can be real or fictional. Our winner was "The Dauphin."

Storm clouds over the White House in Washington, D.C. i i
iStockphoto.com
Storm clouds over the White House in Washington, D.C.
iStockphoto.com

Their first night in the White House, and he's still flossing his teeth in the bedroom.

What is it with this man? She frowns to remind him.

He looks straight at her, fingers in his mouth, and shrugs. Turning his back to her, he stands at the window.

She watches his reflection flossing. Beyond the glass, the darkness of the great lawn.

The distant monument an illuminated shaft. The floss snags and twangs on his teeth, the president's teeth. "What if someone's out there watching?" she says.

She imagines photos, more sarcastic commentary, more parodies. But the campaign is long since over, and the lawn is patrolled by the Secret Service, and no one is out there, and no one can reach them in their new bedroom on their first night.

Silhouetted in the window, he would make an easy target. She imagines a pinpoint of red light lancing through the layers of safety glass and privacy film and gauze curtain, the bright red dot dancing on his forehead. "Not in the window," she says. "You'll get flecks all over."

Into the darkness he waves like royalty, the floss still dangling from his fingers. "Off with their heads!" he calls. "I hereby declare Tuesdays to be naked for all. And our first war will be against Lichtenstein, thank you." She ignores him. Again he shrugs.

When he comes to bed, he pats the mattress.

"I'm already in bed," she says. "That gesture is for telling the other person to come to bed." Why am I whispering? she wonders. She pictures the carpeted hallway beyond their door, the Secret Service agents on patrol.

"What?" she says, and waves him away. She knows he is scanning her face for the exhaustion that some reporters have been claiming to detect. The "hint of weariness and irritation."

The bed is their own, the custom-built bed that almost sank the campaign. She lies there, underneath the president, and remembers the caricatures of her and her husband, asleep atop a pile of money. Instead of little zzz's, little dollar signs. His mouth tastes of mint floss.

"Just like at home," he says later, holding her hand as they wait to stop being awake.

Around them are their belongings, arranged by the relocation team to reproduce their old bedroom, down to the angle of the pictures and the books on the dresser. She feels as though unseen burglars have touched everything, everything, yet taken nothing.

She frees her hand, pretending to scratch. "On your first night under a strange roof, you will dream a dream that comes true." The ceiling is lost in shadow. Up on the roof, she knows, are more Secret Service agents, anti-aircraft guns, antennae.

"Make sure you dream something nice for everyone. Like jobs, I guess. And peace."

She listens to his breathing in the dark. Is he asleep already? "Make sure you dream of peace," she says.

Beside her, she feels the president shrug.

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