Donald’s Gramophone

Through the window of the Oval Office, the sunlight tried to shine, only to be dimmed by thin curtains, and illuminating nothing of importance.

At his desk, the president flipped over the game board. Red and white pegs scattered across the carpet; tiny plastic battleships lay capsized upon the desk.

‘I’m sorry,’ Melania apologized. She awkwardly adjusted the pink Chanel pillbox hat upon her silken hair. ‘I shouldn’t have said B-6.’

The president stared at his wife. His eyes were empty, his lips downturned. He scowled. ‘Who told you my submarine was there?’ he snarled, standing up, towering over his wife. The president reached across the desk, and smacked the pillbox hat from the first lady’s head. She bent down to pick it up.

‘Where did you get that fucking thing?’ he asked, then glanced down. His wife wore a pink Chanel dress and jacket to match. Much of the outfit was stained with dried blood. ‘Looks like you’re still on the rag, huh? Tremendous.’ The President smiled and raised a thumb. ‘Tremendous,’ he repeated.

There was a knock at the door. The president stood as if frozen, his thumb still raised, his eyes staring beyond…

There came the knock again and again.

‘Well,’ said the president to his wife. She looked up at him. ‘Well,’ he said louder, gesturing to the knocking. ‘Are you getting the door or not?’

Melania leapt to her feet, rushing to the door. She pulled the doorknob, and Kellyanne Conway spilled into the Oval Office, sending the first lady sprawling onto the floor.

‘Oh! Watch out there, Mel!’ cried Kellyanne, stepping over Melania.

The president welcomed his counselor with a hug.

‘I don’t know why you married this Eurotrash,’ hissed Kellyanne Conway, glaring back at the first lady, who was picking herself up from the floor. ‘When she talks there’s no there there,’ she said and tapped her head.

‘Did you bring it?’ asked the president, peering around his counselor, toward the open door.

Kellyanne turned and barked. ‘Bring it in!’

A squeaky, gilded trolley appeared in the doorway, pushed by Mike Pompeo. ‘M-M-Mr. President,’ the Secretary of State stuttered, bowing his head.

Upon the golden trolley sat a 19th century Austrian gramophone.

The president’s pupils dilated; his mouth hung agape in wonder. ‘On – on – on my desk, put it on my desk,’ he mumbled.

Carefully, delicately, Mike Pompeo placed the gramophone onto the center of the president’s desk, and swiftly backed away, raising his hands to be rid of the music player.

The president approached the gramophone, and caressed the pavillon, gazing down into its blackness, sucked into its vortex. He was absolutely mesmerized.

He turned to a portrait of Ronald Reagan, and pushed it aside, revealing a hole bore into the wall. From it, the president pulled a golden record.

‘Wagner,’ he told those in the room with him, smiling. The president placed the record on the gramophone, and dropped the needle on the first groove. The overture from Rienzi played through the gramophone’s pavillon. The president waved his hands, pretending he was the conductor. ‘I want this played at the start of each rally from now on.’ He glared at Kellyanne, and she nodded. ‘From this gramophone. Okay? The crowd will really love this, believe me.’ He closed his eyes, continuing to wave his hands, conducting an orchestra that wasn’t there.

Sir,’ said a voice like something far and lost. The president opened his eyes. A shadowy, smoky mass floated before him. ‘Sir, the press would like to speak with you.’ The entity swirled and rested, wispy tendrils reaching outward and pulling back in.

The others in the Oval Office were cautious in the presence of this creature of nothing and night. They held themselves against the walls.

‘Kellyanne,’ the president sighed. ‘Tell the fake news I’ll be there shortly.’

His counselor dashed from the office without speaking.

Glancing at the Secretary of State, the president said, ‘Fuck off, will you?’ and Mike Pompeo chased after Kellyanne Conway.

The swirling press secretary shadow-being dissipated.

The president approached a portrait of Lincoln, and as with the Reagan portrait, he shoved it aside. Again, there was a hole bore in the wall, and from this one, the president retrieved a red MAGA hat.

The Wagner record played on.

‘Come here,’ he beckoned to his wife.

The first lady stood before him, and using her pupils as a mirror, the president situated the MAGA hat over his strange, yellow-orange hair.

Once more, he looked at the pink, blood-covered Chanel dress and pillbox hat she wore. ‘Why wouldn’t you get that cleaned before putting it on?’ he asked, grimacing.

‘It’s the blood of John F. Kennedy, Donald,’ his wife informed him.

The president sneered and rolled his eyes. ‘Who?’

‘He was a former president. You must know who he is.’

‘Believe me, I know who he is. No-Brains Johnny. A real loser. Oh well, I’m the president.’ He picked at a drop of dried blood on the pillbox hat. ‘You should really get this washed.’

‘It would be erasing history to wash it off, don’t you think?’ the first lady asked.

History?’ the president laughed. ‘This is history,’ he said, pointing to the ghastly, red cap on his head, before pointing his thumbs to his chest. ‘I’m history.’

The president stepped around Melania, making for the door. ‘Maybe you could clean a bathroom or something while I meet with the fake news. Scrub a shitter, make yourself useful.’ He looked back. The first lady nodded and turned away. She never let her husband see her cry.

He closed the door, and trudged down the White House hallways. The president hated dealing with the fake news. They always seemed to hound him for attention when he was feeling his hungriest, when his tummy was rumbliest.

A man in a white smock and tall white hat was stepping from a bathroom, wiping his hands on his shirt.

‘Just the man I wanted to see,’ the president said, smiling at his personal chef.

The chef returned the smile, forced and toothy. ‘Monsieur Trump.’

‘The fake news is here.’ The president shook his head. ‘They really think I want to answer their questions. I really think it might be illegal to ask me questions. It’s something we’ll be looking into, believe me, we have top people looking into it.’

The chef said nothing, simply stared, uncomprehending.

A rumbling came from the president’s stomach.

‘Monsieur Trump, you sound quite hungry, non?’ asked the chef.

‘I really am, believe me. I’ve been exercising a lot, doing a lot of walking, this way, that way, I could go forever. People are amazed at my stamina. I could keep going if I wanted to.’ The president gave the chef a thumbs up. ‘Could you have a burger ready for me when I’m done meeting with the fake news?’

‘Oui, Monsieur. What would you like on le burger?’

The president thought for a moment, then replied, ‘Nothing. Just a beefy, juicy burger on a bun.’ He smiled thinking about his burger with nothing on it.

‘Oui, Monsieur, I could have guessed. You love a burger with nothing on it.’

‘I really do, believe me. I could have anything I want on a burger, I really could, you just say what you want on a burger, and people do it for you because you’re the president. It’s incredible. But I love nothing on my burger. The fake news, they’ll tell you I always have lots of different things on a burger. I don’t, it’s not true. Some fucking loser like Jim Acosta would order a burger with a gay aioli on it. It’s amazing how high my approval ratings are, believe me, we’re gonna win, that’s not a question. Highest unemployment in decades.’

‘Oui, Monsieur,’ the chef repeated. ‘I will have le burger ready for you. Would you like anything on the side?’

‘French fries, many, many French fries,’ the president said, and the two men parted ways.

______________________

He could smell the rose garden, and he shuddered. The president threw open the doors. There waited the fake news press-hounds under the afternoon sun.

He stepped up to the podium, putting on a grin for the unwashed news horde.

They called out and raised hands and talked over each other.

‘Jim Acosta,’ the president snarled, baring his teeth. ‘Let’s hear what you’ve got for me. You know, I really think you might be a Muslim. I really do, I really do. Treason? Anyways, let’s hear your question.’

The CNN correspondent nodded. ‘Thank you, Mr. President. You said yesterday that Kurds in northern Syria were, quote, “Crybaby traitors with ugly wives,” and that the president of Turkey was a “tremendous shithead.” Do you still stand by those words?’

‘Well, he is!’ the president shouted, gesticulating wildly. ‘And the Kurds, let me tell you, I didn’t get any help from the Kurds in Scotland at the opening of my golf course. And it’s a great golf course, it really is. I mean, where were they then, when we needed a little help? And that’s all we needed, a little help, we can take care of ourselves, we don’t need much help, believe me, we don’t even ask for it. Now they want help? They’re bad hombres, let me tell you. They want to be our allies? It’s ridiculous. Since when do we ally ourselves with moochers? They’re moochers. That’s what they are, believe me. We have top people looking into it.’

A faceless and shadowless MSNBC journalist raised a hand to ask a question, but the president lowered his head to rest on the podium. He pulled the microphone to his mouth. ‘Wrong,’ he said. ‘Whatever you’re going to ask: wrong.’

‘The whistleblower!’ the shapeless MSNBC reporter called out. ‘Is your administration still investigating the identity of the whistleblower?’

‘Yeah,’ the president chuckled. ‘We’re looking for whosever pronouns are fucking/traitor. Believe me, we have top people looking into it, we’ll find them, that I can promise you. There’s something we used to do to traitors, but oh well.’

‘Mr. President!’ yelled an indistinct voice from the mass of media. ‘How do you respond to today’s news that the impeachment inquiry is continuing to move forward regardless of whether you give a shit or not?’

The president sighed heavily into the microphone. He spoke not a word for a moment. Then he lifted his head. ‘We knew the world would not be the same, let me tell you. A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered my line from a recent tweet storm, @realDonaldTrump: Donald is trying to persuade the president of Turkey that he should do his duty and, to impress him, takes on his multi-tweet form and says, “Now I am become Debt, the destroyer of economies.” I suppose we all thought that, one way or another, believe me.’

The press horde called out and shouted. ‘Mr. President! Mr. President!’

But he was done. He had considered telling the fake news about his newly acquired 19th century Austrian gramophone, but they weren’t deserving of knowing. Wagner wasn’t for these swine, these legions of termites. The president looked out at them, their jaws clacking, their hands raised, desperate for his attention. Losers, he thought.

He turned and sprinted back into the White House. The doors slammed closed behind him. A flash of pain tore through his head. The president clutched his temples. A migraine had arrived out of nowhere. Stumbling and holding his head, the president made his way back to the Oval Office. He had a bottle of 800 milligram ibuprofen in a desk drawer, and some Adderall and diet pills. A quick cocktail of all three should make the migraine disappear.

He pushed open the Oval Office doors.

The room was dark. No sun penetrating the windows.

Night already. Impossible.

The president checked the time on his phone. The numbers on the digital clock switched again and again and again. What was happening? He didn’t care. His head was killing him, blurring his vision. The gramophone, yes, that would soothe his brain. He would put on his Wagner record and lay on the floor.

‘Leave the lights off, Don,’ said a milky, warm, dulcet voice.

‘Who’s there?’ the president whispered.

‘I’ll give you—uh—all the light you need.’

A lantern sparked to life, then another and then another, all around the office.

Lounging in a chair, legs crossed, sat Barack Obama, swirling a glass of water in his left hand. ‘Come and sit with me, Donald.’ Barack held out his right hand, gesturing to the floor by his feet. ‘Please.’

And the president did as told. He sat on the floor at Barack’s feet, gazing up at the former president. ‘What’s happening to me?’ The president’s eyed welled with tears. ‘My head kills. I have a headache, a huge headache, let me tell you.’ He looked to the gramophone on the desk. ‘Can we put on my Wagner record?’ he asked Obama.

Barack shook his head, and raised a finger to his lips. ‘Shh,’ he shushed. ‘I don’t care for Wagner. There’s—uh—something else I’d rather us listen to.’

The delicate notes of a Steinway emanated behind them. Soft chords repeated and repeated. In the golden lantern light, Tulsi Gabbard, seated at the piano, followed the sheet music.

The president stood and he couldn’t stop himself, he swayed to the music. He danced, slowly and serenely, awkwardly, feebly, with only himself. He moved toward the piano, and glanced at the sheet music. “Peace Piece – Bill Evans… improvise where you see fit” was scribbled at the top.

The president closed his eyes, Tulsi pressed the piano keys. Barack sipped from his glass of water, and nodded along with the chords.

The migraine rattling the president’s head had passed; he danced around the Oval Office, stilted and oddly, exhausting himself. The song ended, and the congresswoman started it over.

And the night remained as the song was played a few more times after that until the president fell asleep under his desk.

Tulsi closed the cover over the piano keys. Barack blew out the lanterns. They left, taking the gramophone with them.

In the morning, the president would weep searching for it.

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