The General Departs – An Excerpt from Rumi’s Field

The General looked up to the television screen as the image of Linda Travis pushed a stray lock of hair from her face and stepped to a podium decorated with the Presidential Seal. She was alone in her room, and everybody knew it, but the podium would give the impression of a press conference, and add a grace note of calm normality to the event. The General smiled as he sipped his beer. Image was everything. It always would be. He checked his watch. He still had an hour before his flight. Plenty of time to enjoy this.

Dressed in blue jeans and a loose-fitting University of Maine sweatshirt, her clothes no doubt chosen to hearken back to her first campaign, the President smiled briefly to the camera and began. “Good morning, all. Thank you for joining me. I am here today to announce my intention to seek re-election.” The President paused for a moment, as if giving the news a moment to sink in. The General glanced around the airport bar. There were only three other people in the room, including the bartender, but all were watching closely. This announcement had been a long time coming.

The President continued, glancing down at her notes. “This will likely come as a surprise to most of you,” she said, “given the events of the past year. And surely the timing could be better.” Linda looked directly into the camera. “The last thing a grieving nation needs is more self-serving blather from a politician.” She stopped and took a sip from the water glass on her podium. The General lifted his mug and drained it, then knocked on the bar to get the tender’s attention and motioned for a refill. The airport’s air conditioning was struggling to keep up and his throat was dry.

The door behind the President clicked open and Linda turned to see the surprised face of a nurse through the thick, protective faceplate of her biocontainment suit. “Sorry,” hissed the young woman, glancing at the camera in mortified horror before pulling the door quickly shut. Linda smiled grimly and turned back to her audience. The rash that stretched over the bridge of her nose from cheek to cheek glared brightly red under the overhead fluorescents.

Linda raised a hand as if she would rub the rash, then stopped herself. She grabbed both sides of the podium and continued. “But we do not always get to choose our circumstances,” she said firmly, “and the demands of this time outweigh mere political considerations. As hard as things have become, as mistaken as I have proven to be, as compromised as I now am, there is no one else as qualified and experienced as myself to lead this great nation forward at this time. Love me or hate me, you surely all know who I am. And you know that what I say is true.”

The General raised his mug in admiration. This was masterfully done, every detail in place, and it drew its power from Linda Travis’ proven ability to move people. All she had to do was tell people what to think, and most of them would just go ahead and think it. The General noted that the bartender and the other customers were all nodding their heads in agreement with the President’s words. He smirked. They had likely complained bitterly about Linda Travis in the past twenty-four hours, if the polls were to be believed. And yet they nodded. Such was her reputation for truth telling. Such was their longing for truth. And such was America’s seeming inability to remember anything for more than a day or two. It was only four years ago that Linda Travis had promised to serve only one term. Would they not remember even that?

“Whether I am elected to serve another term or not, I have not yet finished this one, and I still serve the vows I took on the day of my inauguration. To that end, I have called for a new summit of political, corporate, and military leaders to discuss our next steps. We will meet tomorrow, and will continue to meet until our course is clear. Certainly this most recent aggression cannot be allowed to stand. And certainly we must bring some strong measure of relief to the American people. I will accept nothing less.”

The President glanced back at the door behind her, as if wishing for escape, then looked again at the camera. Her pale skin tones heightened the effect of her rash, making it look more like war paint than the “alien flu” the papers reported. And the General detected an angry glint in her eyes and a shaking of her jaw that matched that war paint. It was an interesting decision, to show such anger. He wondered how that would play on the evening news.

“We are down,” the President said, her voice soft and full. “But we are not out. I am down. But I am not out. We have what we need to get through this. You have it. I have it. Your neighbors and friends and family have it. I saw that every time I walked amongst you. I see it still, even trapped in these rooms. We have what it takes. And we will make it through this.” Linda Travis stopped and took a long, deep breath. She nodded firmly and smiled a slight smile. “Have courage,” she said. With that she pressed a button on her podium. The screen went blank for just a moment, then switched back to the studio, where commentators would no doubt comment. The bartender muted the television.

The General drained his mug and wiped his lips with a paper napkin. As far as the public would be concerned, President Linda Travis had just admitted mistakes, threatened retaliation, and was now seeking counsel from the very people she’d spent the last two years excluding. Of course she was, given what had happened at Sebago Lake. The timing was perfect.

The General stood and pulled on his windbreaker, noting himself in the mirror behind the bar. Polo shirt. Twill slacks. He was a General no longer. Just some shrunken old guy rich enough to afford plane fare. He picked up his briefcase and headed toward the door. Time to find a good novel for the flight. Then maybe he’d head to the gate. He loved to be first in line, even with so few fellow flyers. And there were sure to be protestors at the security checkpoint.

The General patted his shirt pocket to make sure his ticket was there. It was. He’d bought a return ticket, to avoid questions, but he did not plan to use it. Soon enough, flights such as his would all be cancelled, but the General had no intention of ever coming back in any event.

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