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Today's Story by Meriwether O'Connor

In every other street in every other state, he had died 27 minutes before.

Jane And The President

In Gary, Indiana down on Humbole Street, past the Five And Dime and around the corner from the park, the president was still alive. In every other street in every other state, he had died 27 minutes before. Mourners poured into the streets, news anchors cried and grown men asked each other why.

Humbole Street however was home to the state sanitarium. It housed those who had no where else to go, who were deemed unfit in one way or another, or those whose relatives simply could not put up with them for one more minute. It is also where Jane Hathaway began her days with seven pills, two sips of water and a yellow sun she had painted on her wall.

She was not allowed to have a sun in her room, so she had painted it rather low down on the horizon so that her pillow when propped on the bed hid it wonderfully. It made her neck a bit crooked to sleep this way, but sleeping with the heat of the warm sun made it a bit better.

It was Jane who first heard on the transistor about the president being shot. She ran screaming through the halls. She was met with laughter, puzzled looks, knowing looks or hostility depending on whom she told. The janitor was the most sympathetic. That’s okay honey. Go back to your room and he’ll be back on tv in probably another half an hour or so. Don’t you worry none.

The rest were not so polite.

She knew a needle was headed her way soon when she saw Dr. Commist heading around the corner. She smiled, curtsied to him and began a hasty retreat. I’m sure I just misunderstood. You know how I am. I just got nervous. He was so handsome. I’m sorry I upset everybody. And I know running in the halls is wrong. I’ll just go have lunch now, if they’re still serving, if that’s okay with you. She paused and took a step back, hoping her ingratiating performance would win her three more minutes without the needle.

Commist was tired that morning. He had been up drinking with his neighbor the night before and was not in the mood for crazies firs thing. He was also not in the mood to call for an orderly to bring her to where she needed to go or to fill out paperwork on the incident. Because of his hangover, he told her to watch herself and kept going to his office for some aspirin and some hair of the dog that bit him.

Jane headed off to find Norma or Lola or even Mr. Anklebiters. They would believe her. She bumped into Mr. A just as she was headed back to her room to grab a notecard to remember the event in case they thorazined it out of her later.

Waddya doing girl? You almost smacked me down!

Oh, Biters, it’s horrible.

Yeah it was. you coulda killed me. he smiled his crooked teeth, stinky breath smile at her.

He’s dead.

Who’s dead? Your dad? I’m sorry.

No, the president. He’s dead. Dead.

Mr. Anklebiters pondered this. Are you sure. I was just watching tv in the rec room. I didn’t hear anything.

They don’t let the news on in there. You know that. Just wishy washy stuff.I was snatching a candybar over by the nurses’ station.

That old guard who falls asleep, he had it on his transistor.

Henry? He always hides out in the toilet asleep til shift change.

Whatever. I don’t know.I just heard the words floating outta his black plastic box. It’s true. They said it six times. Then the guy sounded like he would cry and another voice came on.

Anklebiters tugged her arm. C’mon let’s go tell people.

We can’t. I almost got the shot trying to myself. Commist has a hangover and was going for the whiskey. That’s the only reason I got by him.


I know.

Well. what about Johnson? She would believe you.

Yeah, I thought of Norma. Is she on shift yet?

She comes on in about…he scanned the hall for a clock… six minutes.

The two unfits walked down the hall, careful not to hold hands or cry or do anything but stare straight down at their toes as was appropriate in these halls. They found a place by the nurses entrance, or as close as they’re were allowed to get and waited.

They waited. Doctors, nurses, foodworkers, everyone passed by. They hummed, they sang, they griped. They chewed gum. They looked at their toes wondering if it was time for a visit to the cobbler. Some of them poked each other in the ribs with jokes, others hurried by on important missions for important paperwork for important medicines. Still others, one or two, just slowly walked up to a water fountain, paused and took a sip. Waiting for shift end.

After the third water sipper, they saw Norma’s shoes coming up the stairs. They were orange and inappropriate for work, but she wore them anyway. She had been there along enough that she only got reprimanded verbally and nothing ever went into her file. So, she of the orange shoes stepped her way toward the two on the dilapidated couch to say good morning or get the hell back in your rooms, whichever they deserved this morning.

He’s dead. The presidents’ dead. You’ve got to tell people. no one believes us.

She pulled out a cigarette. I think they know Lincoln’s dead. She laughed, but with them not at them like the rest.

No, I’m serious. He-is-dead.

He’s dead? She blinked.

She blinked some more.

Norma ran to the transistor the guards put themselves to sleep by at the desk by the candy machine. she turned it up full blast. It was some kinda crap, and then more crap and then she found a news channel.

President John F. Kennedy is dead. He has been assassinated. First lady Jacqueline Kennedy seems to be unhurt. We are unsure about vice president Johnson. We are unsure about the others in the motorcade. Reports are just coming in. We’ll let you know more the moment we know more.

Norma ran with her smokes down the corridor to find the secretary to make an announcement. she tripped on a mop bucket, pushed past Commist and rounded the corner just as Zelda was leaving for coffee break. wait. you’ve got to go back in. Zelda, the secretary saw the frightened, hysterical woman coming toward her and followed her back into the administration office to find out what had happened. She was reaching for the mike, readying her fingers on the button as nurse Johnson was speaking. Zelda bit her lip and began.

I’m sorry. I’m very sorry. The president is dead.

And, so, at 1:27 pm the president died on Humbole street. It’s probable that he went where all presidents and little children and dogs wind up eventually. Here on Humbole street, however, he had survived 27 minutes longer. Was he marooned in a temporary purgatory, or whirling about as a ghost? Did he bother to go see Khrushchev or Castro? Did he hop back to the White House to hide a few photos from his dear wife? Maybe he stayed by her side, silently with his hand on her shoulder. Devoted in death as he was not quite able to be in life. No one who knew him personally was aware, so they could not be grateful. he himself was beyond caring. the only two who knew, who really knew, were angry.

Still, being tired of shots, while the floor erupted with doctors screaming and nurses hugging each other in pain, they went single file back to Jane’s room. And played cards. Gin rummy, to be precise. Mr. Anklebiters let Jane win. It was the best he could do under the circumstances.


Meriwether O’Connor is a farmer, short story writer and columnist.

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