‘Who did it?! Who signed it?!’
The President stalked the hallways outside the Oval Office. He bellowed again. ‘Who signed it?!’
Jared Kushner, who was in conversation with his wife, peeked his head around a corner. His eyes connected with the President’s. And the President charged at him like a bear hungry for a cub.
‘Donald,’ said Jared, trying to sound pleased to see him. ‘You okay?’
‘Did you sign it?’ the President hissed.
Jared looked to his wife, puzzled.
‘I’m talking to you, boy,’ snarled the President. ‘Don’t look to my daughter for help. Okay? But seriously, folks, look at her. Isn’t she beautiful, folks? She is really something. Tremendous.’
Jared and his wife exchanged a glance.
‘Someone signed it,’ the President repeated.
‘Dad, I don’t think we’re sure what you’re referring to,’ said Jared’s wife, Ivanka. Her husband was nodding.
The President pointed his finger in Jared’s face. ‘Somebody signed it. People can try to keep their mouths shut, but I’ll find the son of a bitch.’
And with that, the President stormed away.
His heavy feet seemed to shake the carpeted hallways as he mumbled to himself, staring down at his shining shoes. ‘This is really not good. Someone signed it. I gotta say, it’s not looking good at all. I’ll find the son of a bitch.’
He looked up, and saw Nikki Haley standing prone against the wall. They looked at one another for an excruciating moment before Nikki, with a tremor in her voice, asked, ‘Can – can it see me?’
The President’s eyebrows cocked. ‘Huh?’
Nikki gasped and held herself tighter against the wall, turning her head away.
‘Did you sign it?’ the President barked. ‘One of you assholes signed it, that’s what I know. In ink, black as the deepest shadow. His shadow.’
Nikki closed her eyes, still twisting her face from the President’s. His breath was dank and sour, as if his teeth and tongue were dying in a dark wetness.
‘One of you walks with Him,’ the President went on. ‘Did not my son, Baron, see one of you lot dancing in the Lincoln bedroom? Nude! Dancing nude! Baron says he saw someone sign the book! My own son saw it!’
Nikki was trembling, her eyes firmly shut. ‘I – I – I know not of what you speak, Donald. Of which book did Baron see signed?’
A White House intern came dashing by, a stack of papers in his arms, his red MAGA hat clasped tightly upon his head. He was clearly in a hurry. The President reached out and snagged the young man by his collar. The intern dropped the papers, and they scattered across the hallway. The President put his arm around the young man’s shoulder, held up a thumb, and bent forward slightly, posing for a photo with the overworked intern. The President grinned for the camera that was not there. He turned toward the young man. ‘Love the hat. That is really great. Love that hat.’ The President shook the intern’s hand. ‘Thanks for coming out, and believe me, tonight is big. Oh boy, is it a big one tonight. We are gonna win because . . . there’s no question. Oh yes. We’re gonna win big tonight. I love Ohio. I really do. Love the hat, sir.’
The befuddled young man nodded and crouched down to collect the strewn paperwork.
The President turned back to Nikki, but she was gone. He frowned.
Tiny footsteps approached from behind. ‘Donald,’ came the little voice of Jeff Sessions.
The President whipped around. ‘Was it you?’ he growled. ‘Twas it thou who did dance nude with Him in the Lincoln Bedroom? And thence did sign in ink, blackest of all darknesses, thine own name within the pages of His most unholy of books?’
Jeff shook his head in bewilderment. ‘Uh . . . say that again, sir.’
The President thundered. ‘Answer thee!’
‘I, uh, don’t think you’re using those fancy, archaic words correctly,’ Jeff said.
‘Who signed the book?!’ roared the President, and he tore off, racing down the hallway, throwing vases from tables, tossing portraits from walls. ‘Ahh!’ he exploded. ‘Who signed it?! One of you tight-lipped assholes knows! Treason?! Treason?! Hello?! The failing New York Times can’t save you!’
The President kicked the wall, again and again, harder and harder still, until there was a small hole. He bent down and gazed through it, peering into the Vice President’s office. Inside, Mike Pence could see the President’s reptilian eye through the hole, scanning the interior of the room – there was nothing in that eye, yet there was also so much, like the eye of a velociraptor: ferocious, calculating, but in the end, just an animal, desperate for its next kill.
‘Mike!’ the President cawed. ‘You lucky asshole!’ He stood up, and threw his body against the Vice President’s door. The wood splintered, and the door fell from its hinges. ‘You lucky prick,’ he laughed, stepping over the fallen door, and spitting at the Vice President’s feet. ‘Riding my wave all the way to the White House. You think you’re pretty slick, huh, Mikey? How long before you were nude? What did He have to say to get you nude and dancing in the Lincoln Bedroom? And you signed His book. Don’t look at me like I’m paranoid. You and Sessions, a couple of assholes.’
The Vice President attempted to calm the President, putting a hand on his shoulder.
‘Ahh!’ The President leapt back. ‘What are you doing? Treason?!’ He began to flail his arms, and screw up his face. He was mocking the physically disabled. In context, it was horribly offensive. Now, out of context, it was just bizarre, and the Vice President found it unsettling, the way the President was jerking and thrashing his body about the office.
‘Donald, please,’ the Vice President said. ‘Please, stop. You’re going to hurt yourself. Why are you doing this?’
The President fell to the floor. A White House aide rushed in to his side. ‘Mr. President, sir, are you all right?’
The President was pointing to the ceiling. ‘There,’ he whispered. ‘There.’ Then he hollered. ‘There! Don’t you see it?!’
The aide looked to where the President pointed, but saw only the ceiling.
‘There!’ he cried. ‘A lodestar! I see a lodestar! The lodestar, it follows him!’ The President jabbed his finger at the Vice President. ‘He is afflicting me! He causes great spasms in my body! You saw it! You saw what Goody Pence did to me!’
The aide shifted her gaze to the Vice President, who was shrugging, mildly concerned for the President.
‘Goody Pence signed the Devil’s book!’ shouted the President. ‘And did dance nude with Him in the midnight moon! My son, Baron, he saw it all! He is witness to these sins! Treason?!’
The aide helped the President to his feet, and pulled him from the Vice President’s office.
Back in the hallway, the aide was brushing off the President’s lapels, asking him if he wanted to see a doctor. The President shoved the aide, and she went tumbling over a desk.
He trudged down one hallway and then another and then another, unsure of where he was going, unsure of who he could trust. ‘Assholes,’ he muttered. ‘Sons of bitches.’ He stumbled by a portrait of John F. Kennedy, glancing at it briefly. ‘Loser.’
The hallways seemed to stretch on and on. The President saw fewer and fewer people, and soon, there was no one. His breathing was a rumble in the silence.
He came upon a door. The Lincoln Bedroom. ‘Knock-knock,’ he said.
Two voices replied in unison. ‘Come in.’
The President eased open the door. Sitting on the bed was the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and leaning against the fireplace mantel was the Secretary of Education.
‘What is this?’ asked the President. ‘Some kind of secret meeting? Treason? Is this about the book? Who signed it?’ He looked between the two. ‘Ben? Betsy? Answer me, assholes.’
The woman held out her hand. ‘Come here,’ she whispered. The fire crackled below her. ‘Come here,’ she repeated.
And the President came to her. He was helpless. He removed his clothes, and his suit lay like a lost shadow upon the carpet.
He danced there in the flickering light of the red fire, careless and nude, like a toddler in the moonlight.
‘Come here,’ beckoned the man on the bed. And the President did as he was told. He went to the man, who held open a book made of angel flesh. The man placed a pen into the President’s hand. ‘Sign here, and initial here, if you wouldn’t mind.’
And the President did so, signing and initialing his name in ink, black as plague.
And he closed his eyes. And the fire burned out. And sleep found the President, nude on the Lincoln Bedroom floor.
In the morning, the President awoke in his own bed, groggy, his body aching all over. The last remaining star shone through the window, glimmering in the violet sky.
A beautiful star, he thought, a tremendous wonder of light, and just for me. He smiled, warm under a soft blanket. All just for me.