God Bless America
by TOM GUMBERT
I feign interest in the introduction while using my peripheral to scope for groupies. I see one in the cheap seats in the back, if you can call a five hundred dollar dinner cheap. She’s practically drooling as she stares at me, her eyes filled with adoration, her breast spilling out of her sleeveless gown. Out-standing.
I chuckle on cue, having already heard this spiel three times this week. I’m getting pretty good at the game, appearing amused, sincere, righteous and/or indignant as the situation calls. When he finishes, I rise to thunderous applause, flashing my best smile, showing off my bleached teeth, compliments of the PR firm hired by the deep pocket party puppet masters.
At the podium I ask the audience to join me in the Pledge of Allegiance. This is one of my favorite photo op moments, and later, perhaps when lying naked with Ms. Groupie, I’ll scan social media sites, admiring these images. Cameras flash and whirl as I put my hand over my heart and recite a poem written by a Socialist and edited by Congress at the height of their Communist witch hunts. It amazes me when I consider that people somehow associate this pledge with patriotism, as if a spy—or perhaps a terrorist, would never utter these words, and that those who do are unimpeachable. God Bless America.
I launch into my speech, covering all the points my backers are paying for. My ideals? Does it matter? In this partnership they get a candidate they can sell to the public—a God fearing, pull yourself up by your bootstraps military hero, and I get the spoils of office. I’ll be your Howdy Doody.
I finish to a standing ovation. Moving from the podium toward the receiving line I see a pathetic looking Vietnam War vet in a wheelchair. Man, they think of everything! I stop, come to attention, and salute him. Cameras flash and whirl. Fucking genius. “Thank you,” I say, and of course everyone thinks I refer to his service. What I actually mean is for setting the table. This guy probably got spit on when he returned home, and the national guilt over that has swung the pendulum to where vets returning home today are practically demigods, throwing out the first pitch at major league baseball games and being Grand Marshals of parades. God Bless America.
Just before the receiving line I see her, causing me to stumble. I flash my pearly whites. “First day with the new feet,” I joke, and those within earshot laugh.
Pushing my hair back from my forehead, I straighten my tie as my eyes attempt, and fail, to locate her. It was just my imagination. After all, she’s dead.
I take my place in line and for the next hour, shake a few hundred hands, allow a dozen or so pictures and assure my constituents that I absolutely share their convictions on any number of issues that I care nothing about. If I had to guess, I’d say at least twenty people told me how honored they were to meet a true American hero and maybe a half dozen called, “Oorah,” to which I responded in kind.
What? Oh, you think the hero remark referred to my military service? Yes and no. I have been branded a military hero, not for my service in general but rather for a specific act that occurred during my time in the sandbox. Not familiar with my story? Are you kidding? Have you been living in a cave?
Iraq, 2010, I, along with a good friend of mine, found ourselves reassigned to a unit in Tal Afar after a Sand Queen complained about the attention we were giving her. Inappropriate? Not in my opinion. Convoys are ultra-stressful and what better way to relieve stress than a little post convoy sexual healing? Instead of crying to the C.O., that bitch should have thanked us.
Anyway, long story short, my friend was attacked while on patrol and I shot and killed his attacker. The locals claim she was trying to avenge her seventeen year old sister, who my friend allegedly raped and killed. That story was reported on Al Jazeera. That’s not my story. My story was that an extremist, recruited by Al Qaeda and attempting to inflict mass casualties on our patrol, was killed after wounding a Marine. That story was carried on Fox News, and that, my friends, is how I became an American Hero. God Bless America.
In the limo I sip my scotch and gaze out the window while my aide checks the polls. He blathers about trailing in Cleveland but locking Cincinnati and Columbus—when I see her standing on the corner. I turn around in my seat as the limo speeds past, losing sight of her when we turn a corner.
“Easy, boss,” my aide says. “There’s one waiting in your room. You can’t have them all.”
I drain the scotch, then two more, trying to rid myself of her image, those eyes—those fucking accusing eyes.
I hear the shower when I enter the room. Pulling off my tie, I toss it on the bed and grab a bottle from the mini bar. The shower stops and my eyes shift to the bathroom door.
When it opens, she has a towel around her torso while drying her hair with another. She flips her hair back and smiles at me and for a second my heart stops. It’s not the Groupie looking at me—it’s her.
Blind rage replaces shock and I honestly don’t know what happened, only that once again she looked up at me with those eyes—those dead, accusing eyes.
A few discreet calls, a few cash transactions and none of this ever happened. In a couple weeks, if all goes according to plan, I’ll take the oath of office. A nice, influential State office that could lead to…who knows? God Bless America.
***Tom Gumbert lives near Cincinnati, OH with his wife Andrea (Andy) in a log home overlooking the Ohio River, in an area that was an active part of the Underground Railroad. An Operations Manager by day, he has been writing for over a decade with an eclectic taste in what he reads and writes.
His work has appeared in over a dozen publications in the U.S., U.K. and Australia. He co-authored the anthology, “Nine Lives,” which was published by All Things That Matter Press in March 2014, and he is currently editing his novel. He tweets at: https://twitter.com/TomGumbert ******