The President has a third arm. A mouse claw, a bird’s leg, a ferret’s foot. Hoppy and scritchy. Or so people say.
This arm would not matter so much if the other arms were not normal, even hefty. At stump speeches the third arm hangs in its jacket sleeve fluttering, as if in there a creature like a mouse or a bird or a ferret fluttered.
The President sometimes hides the third arm behind the back of his otherwise hefty body. The arm can’t reliably hold a cup of coffee or water, and so the President has to forgo coffee and water so he can wave his other, normal-even-hefty arms up in the air when he hollers things like, And so it is just as I said! His throat scratches. Sometimes he hollers scratches, like an old-timey record.
The President believes that besides his third arm one of the great issues facing him is his hair and he tries, he tries, modeling it into curving identical rows with handfuls of mayonnaise. He does not otherwise use mayonnaise and may be confused about its purposes. His housekeeper keeps mayo stocked in his night table, two full jars and one half-empty, always. When there are three full jars, she has to spoon it into her mouth
At meetings with world leaders the president begins by bending his head so they can admire the rows with a part in the middle, like a cut made by a scimitar. They can, the president offers, rub his hair in order to lubricate their hands, as they would slather their hands with lotion if they were not world leaders.
The only use the President can find for the third arm is to wind it around the necks and shoulders of other world leaders during photo ops. Only a hand shows, randomly patting some part of a dress or a suit. Sometimes other world leaders see the photos later and claim they’re doctored. They are simply jealous.
The President’s skin shines, covered with edible paper. Every morning his Edible Paper Aide wraps his body, including his face, with pale orange paper. Sometimes the paper has a distinct flavor: shrimp, beef, blue cheese. Sometimes it tastes like paper and sometimes it tastes like skin.
When the President gets nervous, giving a presser, flying, or climbing stairs, talking about foreign policy or domestic political errands, he scratches his paper arms on furniture, shedding. Sometimes, when no one is looking and all the cameras are pointed at his wife, he licks his wrists.
When the cameras are pointing at his wife, he licks his wrists and does a little dance. No one sees him then, because the paper covers him so thoughtfully, with such exquisite design. He blends into walls, furniture, fountains. His dance involves kicking his feet up, one at a time, while shaking his hips side to side to hear the paper crinkle.
At night, he bathes in Epsom salts and the paper floats off his skin, forming orange shimmers on the water, goldfish or coins. He dreams of roller-skating down long hallways papered with orange fish, fins flickering.
The President and his wife don’t sleep in the same bed because he has sharp parts. Born with tiny knives protruding from his elbows, the President has learned to be careful with gestures of affection, such as handshakes and hugs, and with all things concerning sleep.
On their wedding night, the President and his wife slept together for the first and only time. His wife woke frightened at 2am. Although he consoled her, showing her how tiny each knife was, and how it slid back up into its little sheath, how he covered it with bandages every night after bathing away his paper skin, still she felt it was a form of love she couldn’t risk. After all, her nails occasionally flared into talons in the presence of danger, and what kind of love could two birds of prey actually make?
In photographs and videos, occasionally he reaches for her hand, but she brushes him away, afraid her talons might scratch his paper skin, afraid his elbows will accidentally draw blood from her ribs.
The President’s feet have never been seen by the public which is normal as he is the President and they are feet. His housekeeper has seen them. He’s molded her so her body changes–her belly can house an oil rig, a wildfire, it can house a cell phone, and then it glows blue through her black uniform. His tapping seems to make her itch like a red rash.
Aides and reporters think they have forgotten the housekeeper’s name but her name has been spit out and written on paper dropped in water and so she doesn’t have one and this is normal.
The housekeeper leaves sketches on the floor around the West Wing and they show a man whose legs end in lizards, Komodo dragons, topless dancers. It’s true sometimes the President’s shiny shoes roll and slink beneath the leather. The housekeeper might leave a trail of sketches in the path of a world leader like flat but meaningful crumbs. Aides see the world leaders’ dilemma. Do they bend and pick up? They suffer under Dignity Checks. They suffer under Curiosity Limits. But the President might lock himself in a room and aides hear the clunk of shoes on the floor and he will stay in the room a long long time.
Adult Children of the President’s Body
The adult children of the President’s body also have bodies. This is surprising given their origin, their heft in spite of the third arm which must have been used to hold that wife around the hips, so as not to draw blood. Or perhaps it drew blood. When the President’s children marry other adult children’s bodies, their weddings spiral, concentric circles, a concrete block bound to a body hogtied with handcuffs and dropped in a pond.
One of the adult children of the President’s body has hiccups. Her body shakes uncontrollably, so she lives in an internal turret, like a belly button pointed in. On quiet nights her hiccups are audible in the ballroom. When the President’s wife decorates the long hall for Christmas the glass ornaments shake, but none fall far from the tree.
It’s a fake news conspiracy that the President dislikes animals and has no pets. He enjoys both dogs and cats equally and would enjoy a huge horse if a world leader would be thoughtful enough to gift him in the mouth. The President’s dog and cat are both named Deep State, but the adult children of the President’s body call the dog “Deep” and the cat “Pretend Mittens.” Both Deep and Pretend Mittens are imaginary, but because food vanishes from their bowls at night, they’ve entered the lexicon of the real.
The President’s Wife
The President’s wife keeps useful items stitched into the hem of her skirt. Scraps of mutton, instant coffee, an emery board, an AK-47, and a burner phone all serve to weight her hem, so her skirt never flies up when exiting an airplane or walking back progress. Her face is erased with foundation every morning, a blank canvas onto which a public face gets projected. The projectionist, too, has a body; she, too, wears a skirt with items stitched into the hem. But because she claims that nothing could be farther from the truth, everything heavy must be left to the imagination.
The President’s wife considers the high cost of words and wants to save money by using as few words as possible. This leaves more money in the budget for knives and birds, which she herself kills behind the large, white house. When the President’s wife kills a chicken, duck, or owl for dinner, she first names the bird, allowing it that moment of dignity. She puts one fingertip on its forehead, above its beak, and speaks its new name for the first and last time. This ritual requires the projectionist to bend and sway; during the killing, the projectionist sometimes loses sight of the President’s wife and accidentally projects the image of her public face onto the headless stump of the dead dinner bird.
Aides and Their Bodies
It is also true that TV anchors and reporters have little to say about the aides’ bodies or their faces when the aides come to work for the President. But then they notice things and they try to be sensitive, they air remarks like ____ wasn’t himself today. But the aides develop little dribbles from their lips that form themselves into zeros and ones, their suits grow reddish and bald along the backside, like the butts of baboons. Their sweat breaks out quickly and fiercely and as the aides run out of the room, they leave long puddles on the floor.
At first the White House replaces staff every eight weeks, but that changes: the press secretary stops his briefings, the West Wing offices are sealed and encrypted behind a giant twisty wheel.
Reporters gaggle to consider language. To agree to say quiet day for the White House, to say there’s a profound air over the White House today, to wonder about pin-like hairs growing from their knuckles.
This is not our fault, the aides Morse Code to reporters through the wall. It’s you, who are turning us all into computers, into waterfalls, into baboons.
Microphones become so starved they squeak to each other for sound bites.
The aides’ taps become staggery and yearning. Our names are fading, they say, but we give ourselves nicknames, I am Panic Room, I am Jagged Margin, I am He Whose Name Shall Not Be Known but It is Known. We will write these names on little papers. We will drop them on the floor and they will cover all the other papers fluttering there.
Susanne Paola Antonetta is the author of Make Me A Mother, Curious Atoms: A History with Physics, A Mind Apart: Travels in a Neurodiverse World, and Body Toxic. Awards include a Pushcart prize, A New York Times Notable Book, an American Book Award and more. She lives in Bellingham, Washington, and is the Editor-in-Chief of the Bellingham Review.
Carol Guess is the author of twenty books of poetry and prose, including Darling Endangered, Doll Studies: Forensics, and Tinderbox Lawn. A frequent collaborator, she writes across genres and illuminates historically marginalized material. In 2014 she was awarded the Philolexian Award for Distinguished Literary Achievement by Columbia University. She teaches at Western Washington University and lives in Seattle.