Trump in the Bardo

March 31, 2017 | 1 book mentioned 5 min read

Picture, as a backdrop, one of those primitively drawn 19th-century mourning paintings with rickety white gravestones and age-worn monuments standing under the faded green canopy of a couple of delicately sketched trees. Add…some Edward Gorey-style ghosts, skittering across the landscape — at once menacing, comical and slightly tongue-in-cheek
— From The New York Times Review of George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo

It was an uneventful evening, much like any other.

roger bevins iii

Mr. Bevins and I were reflecting upon the sounds the branches made as the night wind gusted through the premises.

hans vollman

Quite dull, really.

roger bevins iii

As we spoke, Mr. Bevins held up a hand, bidding me to fall quiet. A number of his ears seemed to strain. Someone is coming, he said, his voice low. And I, too, heard a visitor’s approach.

hans vollman

It was a man, not young, rambling down the path in a state most aggrieved.

roger bevins iii

It was clear to Mr. Bevins and I that he was from the other place.

hans vollman

Even from a distance, I comprehended that I had never seen a man such as this.

roger bevins iii

As he neared, we were able to hear his diction, such as it was, with greater clarity.

hans vollman

Gotta get out of there, he said, struggling for his wind. Gotta get away from everything. Mr. Vollman and I looked upon one another with bemusement: get out of where? What was meant by gotta?

roger bevins iii

He sat heavily upon the steps of Mr. Carroll’s white stone home, emitting a sound of pained satisfaction.

hans vollman

I heard the commotion and run-skimmed to Mr. Bevins and Mr. Vollman as rapidly as I could manage. When I arrived, they were standing before a most disagreeable creature.

the reverend everly thomas

Even in the gloom, his skin held an unhealthy rusty glow; his hair, if one might call it that, had an aspect of spun sugar, though it did not appetize.

hans vollman

There was the look of the beast about him, but there was little in his eyes.

the reverend everly thomas

Smell of stale perspiration and soured milk.

hans vollman

Necktie so long it seemed an extra shirtsleeve.

roger bevins iii

We regarded him with cautious wonder.

hans vollman

We have witnessed many visitors, but there was something unsettling about this one.

roger bevins iii

From his suitcoat, he retrieved an object the likes of which I had never before seen.

hans vollman

A glowing, black-edged thing, the size of a pocket-Bible, though thinner.

the reverend everly thomas

I’ll tweet at those bastards, he said, and I thought he might commence a little birdsong, right there, on the steps of the white stone home.

roger bevins iii

I moved towards the man, my better instincts failing me. In the light radiating from his — what was it? A hand-lantern of some kind? — in that light, his countenance was positively mad.

hans vollman

Mr. Vollman stood above him, looking down at the queer little lamp, and said, He appears to be writing a missive of some kind — directly upon the light!

the reverend everly thomas

What a marvel! I leaned in, further laying aside my native revulsion, to obtain a more advantageous view. What I saw staggered me: he used his thumbs, it seemed, to rap out a series of words — right upon the glowing pane! How could he hold such an object, I wondered, without burning up his palms?

hans vollman

Given Mr. Vollman’s intrigue, the Reverend and myself dared to gather near, taking care to ignore the rankness of the man’s odor.

roger bevins iii

Though it was difficult to keep my eyes upon the fire-bright band of light, I discerned the following words as they flashed forthwith: When Russia fake news goes away, I will make America great! As promised! President of the people! The man then said Tweet! — again bringing to mind a horrible overgrown bird — and slid the thing into his suitcoat, muttering all the while.

hans vollman

He seemed to be laboring under a great strain. Yet I found I could not pity him.

the reverend everly thomas

His lamp safely stowed, blessed darkness returned.

roger bevins iii

What was that thing? Mr. Bevins asked. And whatever is Russia fake news?

the reverend everly thomas

Something to do with the Emperor Nicholas? I ventured, yet my answer did not satisfy. We watched the visitor, in hopes that he might resolve our queries, but he remained in a sitting position, inspecting a nostril with what I judged to be an unusually short index finger.

hans vollman

Given the overall size of him, you see. Proportionally.

roger bevins iii

After a period of silence, Mr. Vollman whispered, Who would make America great? Who is the President of the people? We mulled this over for a time.

the reverend everly thomas

Zachary Taylor was President; it could not be this man.

roger bevins iii

The President was Polk, of course. Of that much I was certain.

hans vollman

It was then that our visitor drew forth his hand-lamp and, again using his thumbs, pressed more words into being.

the reverend everly thomas

It’s hard to be President, he wrote. President written with two t’s.

hans vollman

The words It’s hard to be President leapt upon his strip of light. I believe he wrote President with an extra t.

roger bevins iii

It’s hard to be President was the phrase I saw. President was misspelled.

the reverend everly thomas

Then he again called out, Tweet! And again slipped the peculiar object into his suitcoat.

roger bevins iii

He lay against the wall of the white stone home and hummed a tuneless little song, again picking at a nostril, this time with his pinky-finger.

hans vollman

Is this man… Mr. Vollman trailed off.

the reverend everly thomas

You don’t suppose, Mr. Bevins asked.

hans vollman

It wouldn’t be possible that… the Reverend said.

roger bevins iii

Our visitor gazed up at the stars, at one point placing the contents from his nostril directly upon his tongue, seeming to savor the saltiness of the morsel.

hans vollman

Plainly, this was a low breed of fellow.

the reverend everly thomas

Could he be… the President? Mr. Vollman said, utterly incredulous. After an uneasy period — the only sounds the water rushing through the creek and the incomprehensible murmurs of our visitor — I replied, with equal incredulity, that it must be so.

roger bevins iii

I gazed at the fool before us, and thought with sadness of Presidents past. George Washington, John Adams. It could not be helped.

hans vollman

Could this man occupy the same lofty position as Thomas Jefferson? James Madison?

roger bevins iii

Why had he, above all others, been thusly elevated?

the reverend everly thomas

Wish I could just go back to my tee vee show, the man moaned.

roger bevins iii

Whatever that meant.

hans vollman

Being the President is no fun, the man said with a petulant whimper.

roger bevins iii

It was thus verified: this was America’s President.

hans vollman

We were thunderstruck.

roger bevins iii

What, by the grace of God, was transpiring in that other place?

the reverend everly thomas

For the first time since I had come to know him, Mr. Vollman’s impressively engorged member began to lose its heft.

roger bevins iii

I understood that when I returned to health and rose from my sick-box, this man would endeavor to be my leader, and the leader of my fellow-men. The sadness went all through me, including my protuberance.

hans vollman

Our visitor sat, the three of us hanging about, for what might have been minutes, or perhaps even hours. He took out his hand-lamp a number of times, as if compelled, staring at it, making shapes move with his thumb. At one point he offered an opinion, aloud, about people of the Muslim faith that I shall not repeat.

the reverend everly thomas

He struggled to his feet, loosing a great burst of flatulence.

roger bevins iii

Back to the G—damned White House, he said. What a bunch of s—t. And then he stumbled off.

hans vollman

I have never been more pleased to witness the departure of a visitor.

the reverend everly thomas

I felt sullied somehow, just having been in his presence.

roger bevins iii

The Reverend, Mr. Bevins and I were at a loss for words. I was again aware of the wind rustling through the trees.

hans vollman

After a time, Mr. Vollman said, If that man is the President, I believe I would prefer to stay on here. To remain within my sick-box, apart from the other place. The Reverend and myself, I am saddened to report, were obliged to agree.

roger bevins iii

 

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

is a staff writer for The Millions and an associate editor at MAD magazine. Find links to more of his work and follow him @Jacob_Lambert.

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