Peer Review #4

Just My Imagination, Running Away With Me.

*Whitfield & Strong

The President fumed, crushing buttons on his cell phone, as if each tab detonated an explosion. On the big screen Wolf Blitzer, voice flat and controlled, droned on how the President continued to lag in the polls. 

“Fake news,” he muttered out of habit, and switched the channel.

Perched on the edge of an upholstered armchair, he clutched his remote in one hand, and his cellphone in the other, seething at the unfairness of the coverage.The broadcast cut to a political commercial; a carefully spliced montage of his public faux pas, ending with an endorsement from his adversary. 

“Ukraine,” he muttered, “Got to talk to Mitch and Kevin about a new Ukraine investigation.” 

“You cannot coerce them, you know.” The voice came from behind. “The people. They cannot all be manipulated, much as you might try. Most are not fools, and any goodwill must be earned.”

Not accustomed to direct insolence, the President twisted around in his chair snapping, “Just who the hell are . . .,” then trailed off. A tall, painfully angular man stood near a richly paneled door. Attired in a long black coat with tails, the visitor sported whiskers along his jawline.

“And they will never all love you. Ever. Such is the raucous nature of American democracy.”

The apparition paused a long moment. “Sowing divisions through fear and vitriol is not governing, and you shall surely fail.” The visitor stepped closer as he spoke, prompting the President to spring out of his chair, phone and remote forgotten on the carpet. 

“I recognize you . . .,” the President sputtered.

“We, all of us, sought this office fueled with purpose and ambition,” the visitor continued in a prairie twang. “However, once under oath, the campaign is over. A president faces the duty of serving all Americans, a challenge in the best of circumstances.

From the flickering screen a news anchor admonished, “Aides have confirmed that the President knew of the virus as early as February.” 

“It’s those hacks,” the President stabbed his finger accusingly at the big screen. The press is out to. . .”

His visitor laughed without humor. “Criticism of elected officials is as natural as the sun rising, and as perpetual. ‘Baboon’ was the nicest insult slung my way . . .by a serving general, no less. Then he up and ran against me in 1864.” The visitor chuckled lightly. “Still, the truth is we are all better with free speech than without. In our differing views we discover our deepest truths.”

By now the President began tuning out much of what the visitor was saying, his irritation making him bold. “You need to leave,” he snapped. “I have a busy schedule.” 

Unruffled, the unwelcome guest studied the President intently. “In my time an entire section of the nation disputed the results of my election.”

“You lost the popular vote, but won the Electoral?” The President couldn’t help but ask.

“Indeed. Eleven southern states chose the battlefield over a peaceful transfer of power.” 

“What did you do?” 

“I defended the Republic.”

His visitor continued sadly. “However the butcher’s bill for this unity came dearly; 700,000 American lives.” The visitor heaved a weary sigh. “And that delicate balance has endured through all national crises, preserved only through considerable effort and executive leadership. A unity you undermine at every opportunity. ” 

“Wrong, wrong, wrong. My supporters all love me. You should see the crowds at my rallies.”

“And the rest of America?” The visitor peered intently at the President. “Remember sir, we are friends, not enemies. We must not be enemies.” His voice quietly trailed off in an echo, and he was gone.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles are available on Kindle.

gailchumbley@gmail.com

The Play, “Clay”

This excerpt comes from my unpublished drama exploring the life of Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky. Unlike the current Senate majority leader from the Bluegrass State, Clay put our nation over the empty exercise of power.

SCENE TWO
The stage is dark. A painting of the White House on Andrew Jackson’s riotous inauguration day appears on the back curtain. The tune, “Turkey In The Hay” plays for a moment.

Clay speaks in the darkness.
CLAY
A mob dressed in homespun and broadcloth descended upon the Executive Mansion. Fighting, biting and kicking, rowdy supporters scuffled in the crush, jockeying to seize a glimpse of their man.


Clay produces a small stemmed glass, drops and crushes it underfoot.
CLAY
Delicate crystal crunched beneath rustic clogs and muddy brogans, while tributaries of hard liquor streamed over polished floors and carpets. Furniture buckled under the weight of gawkers, until the forlorn new President, nearly crushed, had to be secreted out a ground floor window. Desperate servants towed tubs of alcohol to the outside grounds and eventually cleared the residence.


Clay gestures toward the image.
CLAY
Behold, the majesty of people!


The painting and music fade.
CLAY
Home at Ashland, Lucretia and I beheld a residence in neglect and disrepair. Overgrown orchards, toppling fences, peeling white wash, collapsed wells. Our days were dedicated to mending, pruning, and scraping. Still, while I tended to my plantation, political allies faithfully kept me informed of developments in Washington City.


Clay settles in his chair, producing a corncob pipe, making ready to smoke.
CLAY
Scores of federal workers, preparing for the Jacksonian storm, quit their public offices to secure more certain employment elsewhere. This newly-minted President had warned Washington, announcing a policy he termed “rotation in office,” promising experienced employees they would be replaced. Jackson insisted that his action was a remedy to corruption and patronage. Then without a blush, he awarded those same jobs to his loyal allies. Loyalty, you see, is what he prized over all else, including honor and decency.


Clay scoffs, adjusting his pipe.
CLAY
The caliber of cabinet nominees proved unexceptional as well. Lackluster does not quite capture this collection of lackeys, particularly Roger Taney as Attorney General and John Eaton at War. But the official cabinet was of no consequence. If the President needed advice, a rare happenstance, he turned to personal cronies, his unofficial “Kitchen Cabinet.”

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, “River of January” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles available on Kindle.

gailchumbley@gmail.com

Englishman’s Foot

Englishman’s Foot is a non-native plant introduced by English settlers to the New World. The plant sprouted from the manure, dropping from the equally non-native cattle. It spread unabated throughout New England, and metaphorically named by the native people.

The story is a familiar one. Dissenters of the Church of England, disciples of reformer John Calvin, departed for Holland, washing their hands of what they viewed as English apostasy. After a time among the Dutch, these expatriates watched in horror as their children came of age in the secular world of the Continent. Alarmed, William Bradford and other Separatist leaders determined to leave Holland as well, to take their chances in the New World. 

Bradford, later explained this decision in On Plymouth Plantation, deciding it was better to lose their offspring to the tomahawk than to lose their mortal souls to God. 

You know the next part of this story. 

Pilgrims, The Mayflower, Plymouth Rock, Samoset, Squanto, Corn, Thanksgiving, shoe buckles, etc . .

But this story concerns those already inhabiting the New World, the indigenous peoples of America. In truth, white men had been poking around the shores of early America well before the Mayflower sailed. Explorers, trappers, and fishermen had already encountered native people, trading goods, microbes, cultural practices, and language. Some indigenous folk spoke a bit of English, or the French they had acquired from couriers du bois.

In 1621, the Pokanoket peoples of the Wampanoag Confederacy observed the arrival of the Pilgrims to Massachusetts Bay. Their sachem, or leader, Massasoit, made the decision to cautiously welcome these newcomers, rather than force them back to the sea.

Dispatching the English-speaking native, Samoset, Massasoit hoped to learn the intentions of these outsiders. His own people weakened, especially by small pox, and perpetual warfare, influenced his decision to feel out an alliance with these gun-toting English settlers. In particular, against the Narragansett of nearby Rhode Island. Massasoit’s peaceful reception forged an uneasy pact that helped the Separatists survive their “starving time.”

After Massasoit’s death in 1661, followed by his eldest son soon after, King Philip, became the new sachem of the Wampanoag.

Philip’s time witnessed a massive expansion of British New England. Ships from East Anglia seemed to appear daily on the horizon, emptying thousands of new settlers to the Bay Colony. Plymouth Separatists welcomed a massive influx of Puritan dissenters under Governor John Winthrop. The Massachusetts Bay Colony pressed hard on native lands. It wasn’t long until Philip’s tolerance for the English reached a breaking point. By 1675, King Philip determined to take the action his father had avoided-force the English back into the sea.

It was a forlorn hope, and Philip met his end at the hands of a fellow-Wampanoag, an informer. The sachem’s corpse was mutilated, his torso drawn and quartered, and his head posted on a pike in Plymouth as a warning. Philip’s head remained on that pike for decades. 

In the end, and it truly was the end, Philip’s wife and son were sold into slavery in the Caribbean.

Gail Chumbley is the author of “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight,” a two-part memoir. Both titles are available on Kindle.

gailchumbley@gmail.com

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