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Chapter I: President of the Gilded Cage
Abraham Lincoln sighed the sigh of the constitutionally obligated as his spindly fingers massaged the craters and ridges of his misshapen forehead. His posture crumbled slightly at the physical realization of his ugliness—always careful to avoid mirrors, the truth emerged startlingly clear as he pawed himself: he even felt hideous.
His fingertips revolved around the throbbing trigger-points of pain in his temples, and he found himself briefly fantasizing about being able to push his index and middle-digits through his skull and into the undoubtedly gooey front part of his brain.
He'd heard rumors from France of a certain Messr. Broca, who claimed that it was possibly this part of the brain that controlled the ability to speak, and there was even a bit of scuttlebutt proposing that the brain and the mind were actually the same thing if you could believe it! It all sounded ludicrous, but he felt more strongly as each day passed that if ever there was a chance of making himself into a drooling cipher, he would gladly take it.
Throwing his hands onto his lap in exasperation, the President of the United States of America exclaimed in the dulcet tenor of a master orator:
He threw his oddly-formed head back as this primal declaration petered out into a final half-whistle of stale breath, before lazily rolling it to the side like a balloon deflating. Looking aimlessly over his shoulder, he froze at the sight of the fireplace tools stationed beside the elaborate white mantelpiece.
'Hmmm...Which one would be the best for beating myself in the head with so I can leave early and go home?' he pondered before realizing to his dismay that the White House was his home now, and he would simply be moved from one sitting room to another.
'The little broom is probably a last resort, and the flat surface of the shovel would probably distribute the force of impact, so perhaps the poker, jabbed soundly into my eye-socket-'
Lincoln looked up at the entrance of the Council Room, where stood William Seward, his Secretary of State.
"Hm?" he said, his voice emerging from the deeper chambers of his self-immolating reverie.
"Are you feeling well, Sir?" Seward asked with a look of appalled concern, having seemingly walked in on the Commander in Chief gazing adoringly at—what was he looking at? The wall? Was the man actually falling in love with the wall? Stranger things had happened during his time in this bizarre man’s administration.
Lincoln stuck his lower lip out with an air of torpid carelessness and tilted his head to the side with an arching of unkempt eyebrow, committing to absolutely nothing in response. Seward frowned, waiting for something more. Realizing his Secretary of State was not going to let him off the hook, Lincoln groaned and clapped his palms on his knees as he reluctantly turned to face forward.
“Yesss…” he said, shaking his head, “Unfortunately I feel just fine, Mr. Seward. Mrs. Lincoln had another one of her ‘visions’ last night.”
“Ah, yes… the visions…”
“Mmm…” said Lincoln, nodding.
“What was it this time, Sir? Not the one where you run off with your one-room high school sweetheart again, I hope,” Seward said, shuddering inside at the thought of being regaled with the details of that particular dream once more. He pushed the image of his superior’s long, black-clad limbs surrounding a bonneted Hoosier woman like a starving arachnid from his mind and focused on the present.
“No, not that one,” Lincoln said, waving him off. “Bleh, don’t even remind me…”
“Oh, thank god,” Seward said with a sigh of relief.
“That’s all we need right now, me blocking out huge segments of desk calendar for apologies regarding something I didn’t actually do…” Lincoln’s eyes rolled skyward. “No, it was more carnage, more corpses on rolling battlefields, you know the drill.”
Seward nodded in understanding. “Yes, I see.”
“You married, Mr. Seward?”
“Yes, Sir. You’ve met my wife many, many times,” Seward said, squinting at him.
“Does she ever, uh… you know…” Lincoln began.
“Have visions of cadavers piling up on sylvan glens in a conflict of endless suffering?”
Lincoln nodded, a ray of hope dawning in his eyes.
“No, Sir,” Seward said, cringing as Lincoln’s face fell. “No, I’m afraid it's all pretty standard-issue with Mrs. Seward and me. She resents me quietly and I nod off in front of the fireplace every night.”
“Oh, to be you, Mr. Seward!” Lincoln exclaimed as he stood and began pacing the rug. “What I would give to have that sweet silence of quiet resentment and a fireplace to fall asleep in front of... and perhaps even... roll into on accident one night…” He paused mid-stride. “No one would ever suspect a thing…” he mumbled to himself, a grin flickering across his lined face.
“Sir?” said Seward, staring at him in bewilderment.
Lincoln snapped back to his Secretary of State and began pacing once more.
“Don't you ever just wish you could get away from it all, Mr. Seward!?” he said, gesticulating wildly with one hand while dragging the other through his hair and down the back of his cranium.
“Like a vacation?” Seward asked, puzzled.
Lincoln paused. “Dare I?” He turned to Seward with pleading eyes.
Seward grimaced. “Oooh... I don't know, Sir—Bull Run was not so good for your numbers.”
“Oh, that goddamned Bull Run...” Lincoln muttered. “We definitely can't have anything like that happen again.”
“Precisely—and we also don't want it looking like you've abandoned the country.”
“I suppose,” Lincoln said, sighing. “But they've just united Italy, did you hear?”
“Ah yes...” Seward nodded, “...Mr. Garibaldi and Il Risorgimento.”
“I know it, the food is to die for!” Lincoln said, beaming. “Finally, a stable political countertop on which to prepare such splendid dishes, can you believe it?”
“I'll believe it when I see it, Sir.”
“Well, exactly! I mean, fourth or fifth time's a charm, is that not the old saying?”
“Surely the region must be stable by now—perhaps it's time to take advantage! Think of the marvels there are to see—the glory of the Republic!”
“Not seen for quite some time, Sir.”
“If only they could get the trains to run on time—then they'd really have something going for them!”
“Perhaps this visit would be best left to your second term, Sir?”
“I tell you, Seward—I like the cut of that Gabardini-fellow’s peasant-frock.” Lincoln scratched his beard, deep in thought. “I have half a mind to bring him over here and make him our commanding general—now wouldn’t that be something.”
“That would certainly be… something, Sir.”
“Meanwhile, I have to deal with all of this,” the President said, gesturing to a desk covered in maps of the Confederate States of America. “Everywhere I turn, it’s more and more of this. I just want a room of my own, does that make any sense?”
Seward sighed. “Sir, if I’m not mistaken, this is a room of your own—in fact, isn’t this entire structure filled with rooms of your own?”
“Argh, yes, but no, Mr. Seward!” Lincoln replied, searching for the right words. “I want a place where I can kick back and be me, you know? Sure, this is a tremendous Council Room, but look at this wallpaper!” He gestured to the dark green diamond pattern covering the walls around them. “I mean, this isn’t me—it’s way too busy to be me!”
Seward began rubbing his own temples. “O-kay...and what did you have in mind, Sir?”
“I don't know, maybe we could go rustic—perhaps a hunting lodge-theme?”
“Do you even hunt, Sir?” Seward asked, looking dumbfounded and increasingly exhausted.
“No, but it's not about that—it's about atmosphere! Look at this...” Here, Lincoln began pounding on the wall beside the fireplace. “...is this a supporting wall? Could we take this out?”
“We could replace this vomitous wallpaper with cedar, no? Do kind of a log cabin thing—I mean, isn't that what everyone's expecting anyway?”
“You want to replace the walls of the White House with raw timber.”
“We could get some blackout drapes in here, turn up the fireplace—make it like the hollows beneath the Girkin Formation back in Kentucky! Far away from the world, where the fish have no eyes and the bats fly free...”
Seward stared at him, wide-eyed. “So, you'd like a... a bat-cave?”
“A cavern, Mr. Seward! A man-cavern! A place where I can revel in my own state of manliness! Why, I could start brewing my own ales, or put up a dartboard! Heck, we could roll a very long mattress in here and I could have my own bedroom!”
No longer able to muster a decent response to any of this, Seward's tongue traced the gums lining his upper jaw. He watched as Lincoln began taking measurements with his hands and muttering something about 'cubits' under his breath. Finally, having gathered himself, the Secretary of State addressed the President anew.
“Hmm...?” Lincoln began putting one foot directly in front of another, counting the steps away from the opposite wall.
“Sir, I hate to put a stopper in this, ah... intriguing cask of ideas you've begun pouring from, but I'm afraid we must try to stick to our agenda. By which I mean, the nation's agenda.”
“Oh, and a man's peace of mind isn't on the nation's confounded agenda?” Lincoln asked, his tone mildly petulant. “Isn't finding some peace of mind what being President is all about?”
“You have a meeting, Sir,” Seward said, ignoring his superior and seating himself at the map-covered desk. Looking down at the sheaf of papers in his hand, he reached for a nearby pen and crossed out 'Daily Ramblings of Desperation, 9-9:15 a.m.' from a lengthy list of Things To Do.
Lincoln halted mid-measurement, balancing on one foot. He looked over to Seward with an almost childlike inquisitiveness. “Do I?”
Seward blew on his list to dry the ink of the recent check mark. “Mm-hmm...”
Lincoln turned to him, suddenly overwhelmed with curiosity. “Well!? What kind of a meeting, Mr. Seward? Please don't leave me in the dark, dear fellow—do tell!”
“A meeting, Mr. President...” Seward said, tossing the pen aside and looking up at the rangy man, “...of grave importance.”
Please enjoy this sneak preview of an ongoing saga that will drag on and on atwww.BayonetsOfAngst.com