Three-Minute Fiction: Warren G. Harding Meets A President I'll tell you this: I had wanted this thing, really wanted it, almost the whole time I was running. I say almost, because at first I thought I couldn't win.
NPR logo Warren G. Harding Meets A President

Warren G. Harding Meets A President

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."
crossed fingers

I'll tell you this: I had wanted this thing, really wanted it, almost the whole time I was running. I say almost, because at first I thought I couldn't win.

But then I started to think I could, and as the campaign dragged on, I began to think I actually would, while practically all I had to do was sit out on the porch there in Marion and wait for the reporters and well-wishers and job-seekers to show up with their notepads and their bottles of whiskey.

All I had to do was drink their booze and make them chuckle, and I'd have them on my side — heck, I had them eating out of my hand, and after a while I started thinking not only was it possible, but it was absolutely going to happen. As Flo would say, it was in the stars.

So I bloviated, I joked around, I got good and drunk, I made promises, public and private. Publicly I promised "normalcy," which when I first said it I didn't think was even a word, but apparently it was, because it won us the election.

Normalcy. Real or not, I didn't know what it meant. I suppose boys not rotting in filthy French earthen-works, or the federal government not hounding the rich man 'til he couldn't think straight, or folks not trying to balance everything out with the blacks and whites and the rich and poor and man and woman all at once, and all that.

What you're used to. Heck, it's what I wanted, is all. If you want to know what normalcy means, I guess it's that: the way things were, just a little while ago, here in town. Normal. See?

As for private promises, I didn't know what I was giving away. Your friends' friends, they give you money, they drum up votes and they wink at you. And you wink back.

Next thing you know, you're in Washington and every last one of these "friends" has managed to get his name in for a job. And you feel like you must, you simply have to be a good fellow and sign off on them all.

So bang, you're surrounded by a whole lot of boys that are smarter than you, and greedier, and after you give them what they want, why, you never see them again, or even hear of them, until they wind up in the Times with their hands in the cookie jar.

Despite all that, it was really my first 10 minutes on the job that made me want to take it all back, and let some other fool have it. Inauguration Day.

We were in the Blue Room, waiting for President Wilson to join us for the ride to the Capitol, all just pleased as punch, cigars and top hats, Flo in a gaudy fur, somebody smelling like brandy. Then in crawls Woodrow, this wretch, leaning heavily upon poor Edith. In he stumbles, this bag of sticks, ruined, almost dead.

If there's a special place in hell for assassins, look there for Henry Cabot Lodge, I thought — and for all the scoundrels to whom I'm now pledged for favors. For here staggers the victim of their treachery.

I tried to make conversation during the ride. Expecting a chuckle, I told the old boy a story, one my sister had told me, about an elephant. But on my soul, the pale, poor, righteous, defeated wreck only burst into tears, big fat yellow ones that rolled over his paralyzed cheek. And friends, right then I could have died. Really just died.