Well, now that I know I lost NPR’s 3 Minute Fiction competition for sure, I guess I’ll post my entry here. There was another entry about the same topic that received an honorable mention, and when that one went up, I knew my chances were shot. While I do admire the cleverness of the Taft story that was chosen, I tried to do something different in mine—to make it about power and its implications, positive and negative. I think I did an okay job, so I’m posting it here. Hope you enjoy!
THE BATHTUB INCIDENT
He knew that as long as he lived, the bathtub incident would haunt him. In the days since it had happened, he thought more than ever of the future, of his legacy, of his own death. The images in his mind were not flags around the country snapping in the wind at half-staff, or the thunder of 21-gun salutes, or the ring of brass instruments of military bands—he thought of the face of his wife crumpled in mourning, but every now and again struggling to suppress the smile that inched up the corners of her mouth as she recalled his shouts, his demands of the White House staff to get blocks of butter, to slide it against his pale, dimpled skin, to grease him out of the bathtub.
Taft took a deep breath and spread his hands out on the dark wood of the huge desk before him. He tried to press the memory down with each inhale, but the details rose into his mind, stark and unforgettable. The water splashed across the floor, the men grabbing his hands and pulling, the almost cheesy smell of the butter as his warm, ample flesh melted it. He looked down at his hands, trying to focus on something in the present moment. Spread across the expanse of the desktop, they looked small as they rarely did. This desk was president-sized, long and large enough to seat several men comfortably on its far side, large enough for not only his expansive powers, but his ample frame. Here in his office, the main seat of power of the United States of America, he was sized correctly. It was in every other space that he was too great of a man.
The sound of a throat being cleared came through the open door of the Oval Office, and Taft looked up. There in the doorway was one of his aides, a man who had been with him on the night of the bathtub incident. He was dressed now in a dark blue suit, and held a stack of papers in his hand.
“The workers are here. They’ve delivered the…the new bathtub.”
President William Taft squeezed his hands together into fists, making them seem even smaller and more insignificant in the vast plane of the desktop. Was that a whisper of a smile on the aide’s face? How difficult it must be for him to stand there, mirthless, and deliver this news. In Taft’s mind, a crack appeared down the center of the desk, and more cracks spiderwebbed off of it. Soon the desk had fallen to pieces of rubble and lie like an ancient, ruined temple all around his ankles. There was just him and the aide with nothing between them. He was naked. His chin and eyes dropped down.
“The bathtub, sir?”
He was the most powerful man in the country, he told himself. The aide walked from the room, his face mercifully turned away.