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GUY RAZ, HOST:
Close to 4,000 stories - that's how many pieces of original fiction you submitted to us for this latest round of our Three-Minute Fiction contest. Now, if you missed the deadline this time, don't worry. We're gonna launch a new round right after this one. But in the meantime, we're going to start poring through those stories that did come in with help from graduate students at more than a dozen schools, including NYU, the University of Alabama and Wash U in St. Louis.
Every story will be read. The best ones will be passed on to our judge this round, the novelist Brad Meltzer. Now, the challenge was to write a story - under 600 words, as always - but this time, it had to revolve around a U.S. president, fictional or real. And over the next few weeks, we're going to read excerpts from some of the standouts, including this one. It's called "Butterflies."
SUSAN STAMBERG, BYLINE: (Reading) He finishes knotting his American-flagged tie and steps back, assessing. The office has taken its toll. He looks older, more jowly, slackened. His hair is grayer than it was four years, seven years ago? Some days he thinks it's his father looking back at him, and he waves, two-fingered. His wife is in the kitchen, sipping a cup of coffee, the rest of the pot keeping warm. He crosses the room to pour himself a cup but stops midway, thinking of something else. Is today my speech? Avis smiles. It could be.
He takes a piece of bread from the bag and plate from the cabinet, and then he stands, the bread limp and pliable in his hand, wondering what he meant to do with it. These days, thoughts slip in and out like butterflies. If he tries too hard to capture one, it slaps against his skull, escapes beneath his eyelids. It's the speech on the deficit, isn't it? Maybe.
There's a wrongness to the kitchen, the way the light falls unfamiliar, overly white. Avis is still wearing her blue-daisied housedress. There should be a cluster of people. He shouldn't be the only one dressed. He pauses, listening for the expedient footsteps of his chief of staff. And then, a fluttering in his throat, nerves like he used to get before big crowds. We're still in Washington, aren't we? Once president, always president, right? Not strictly speaking. No.
Avis pours him a cup of coffee, sugar and cream. At least he still remembers what he likes. And there, the butterfly alights, its wings still, and Alan Prestwick knows they are not in the White House any longer.
RAZ: That was NPR's Susan Stamberg reading an excerpt from the story "Butterflies" written by Jennifer Dupree of Harrison, Maine. You can read the entire story and others we'll be posting at our website, npr.org/threeminutefiction. Three-Minute Fiction is all spelled out with no spaces. And be sure to tune in tomorrow to hear another excerpt from another story. And in the coming weeks, we're going to pick the winner, and that story will be published in the Paris Review.
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