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And now… Part 3, the bizarre conclusion:
But in the cold, glassy sunlight filtering through wispy gray drizzle clouds on Inauguration Day, he knew. Moments before stepping out on the stage, standing head bowed behind heavy navy curtains blazoned with the eagle of the Seal, he knew. A moment later, his cue, and he stepped out into sudden applause. The applause died quickly, leaving behind a confused coda of isolated claps, then a hush.
He shuffled. His back was bent. He looked old. Intricate combover abandoned limp on one shoulder like a dying cotton candy stole, shiny pink skullcap skin stretched tight to the chilly gusty wind, he shuffled. Old.
Election night, he’d been twenty years younger. And he’d been old and dark-baggy-eyed then.
“Is the President going to die?” a little girl in the front row asked her mommy, loud, into the silence. Mommy shushed her. The news cameras zeroed in, producers hissed did we get it? Did we get it? Into earbuds. But it didn’t make the news. Trump took the podium and the crowd tensed so viewers at home could feel it in their bones. Waiting for him to stumble on the step behind the high podium, fall, break a hip, end the term before it was begun. But he stepped up. Bent the mike. Leaned his head in. Pursed lips. Brushed rotten cotton candy hair off his shoulder into the wind’s cold. Spoke.
“THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?” he thundered, back straightening, shoulders broadening, wrinkles filling in, years falling off, eyes raking the crowd. The crowd recoiled, a step back, stomping toes and bumping shoulders, catching balance, milling in shock like ducks frozen in the bellow of a hunting dog.
Blazing copper hair like Trump had never had spilled out of his scalp like Play-doh out of a Fun Factory, defying the wind to lay itself in a defiant sweep. His wrinkles filled in flat and vanished. The bags under his eyes sucked up and smoothed over. Muscle swelled the arms and shoulders of his jacket. His gut sucked in and stayed sucked.
Like plucking a daisy, Trump plucked the microphone from its stand and ripped it from its wood mount, the cable tearing the wood open in an abrupt line down the front of the podium like a root ripped out of clay soil by the lever of a falling tree. His other hand, of its own accord, popped a tiny rhizome of raw tumeric into his mouth and he chewed it in jagged crimson teeth. His eyes lit baleful blue, the color of the hidden sky.
“Go, they said,” Trump said to the crowd as it surged and stamped like a half-panicked beast, its million heads locked to the stage unwilling, captured on the tether of his amplified voice. “Go and see what they are. And I went. I went. I went among the rubes forty years, stepped into the shoes of this gilded Narcissus and played carnival barker to you until—I thought it could never happen and you proved me wrong—you made me your leader. You cheered as I spit on your institutions. Ruled by fiat, ignored your rules, declared wars, bombed the brothers you called others, played your prejudices and emotions, watched you tear down opposition by force and declaration, watched those who knew better fall quiet and cringe back and the few who dared stand torn down by your hands without a word of encouragement from my lips.”
“Mommy? What’s the President?” the little girl asked mommy, but nobody heard. Nobody but Trump, growing taller, ears unfurling and spreading wide, sliding higher on his head. Sudden claws bit bright lines into the microphone in his hand.
“They’ve learned, I said. They’ve passed through their crisis in the last century. But over the last four years, even on the lands most ravaged by that crisis, the other-hate has risen yet higher, emboldened. By me. By you. Still ready to hate your other-brothers, back and forth, both sides of your politics, all the multitudinous sides, fighting, slouching into violence.”
He stepped to the edge of the stage. The microphone finally gave up with a low wail of feedback; crumpled in his inky claws it fell to the stage decapitated. The little girl, mommy now fled, stood in a half-circle of trampled sod. The crowd behind her compressed backward, wide eyes flashing white fear, gazes still held. Broad silky wings, gold and copper, unfolded and shredded Trump’s jacket. The slabs of his chest and abdomen, covered in copper velvet with the nap of the short dense fur of a cat’s nose, heaved in deep breaths. Trump knelt at the edge of the timbers, down, down, chest laid almost on his knees, wings thrust upward like blooming flowers.
“Little girl, you know the truth. You are afraid, yes?”
“Yes, sir,” she said. Her knees quivered slightly, but she held her spine straight and her eyes full open.
“Bravery is doing right in the face of fear. It is seeing what is truly there when fear tells you to see threat. It is seeing threat only where threat is real.”
“Yes, sir,” she said.
Trump spread his wings and leapt. In moments, the clouds swallowed him. The frantic milling of the crowd stilled and the people began to pull deep breaths and blink, as if waking. Only the claw-torn shreds of his shoes fell back, scattered wide by the twisting wind.
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