He sat next to me on the lawn chairs positioned on the gentle, grassy rise above the lake. The colors took on their richer, darker aspects because of the dusk. They seemed at once more grounded and more magical. I thanked him for having been president. I was surprised by the welling up in my throat, clotting the words. The simple meaning I anticipated defied by bodily experience. His eyes welled up, too. He had not intended that he become so indispensable. He was not moved because his ego was touched by my show of emotion, instead, he felt a kind of compassion for me, as representative of those whom he had let down. In a flash of expression, a slight down turn of his mouth and dilation of his pupils, I understood his kind of leadership. Success could only mean that once he was finished, the edifice would remain standing, impervious to the absence of his hand, insensible to it’s withdrawal.
He sat slightly above me, slightly behind me, on the hillside. He held my hand as we looked out onto the still water. People played in the waning light. They too, taking on a deeper glow.
As if from nowhere, I did not see them coming and could not tell you from which direction, a group of men ridiculed the former president for holding my hand. They insinuated something untoward. Not because they noticed it, but because they were clustered together and of one mind, and it was a practiced mind. Practiced at attack and slander and vulgarity. Practiced at the en masse conversion of those impulses into reality. Manifestation.
I felt deeply uncomfortable. The manifestation had been a success, for I felt ashamed. The president, however, he continued to hold my hand, his gaze over the calm, dark, lake water unwavering. I felt my shame run down my arm and pulse through my hand, tempted to pull it from his and abandon the peace. This is how infection spreads, but it stopped there in his palm. He did not tighten his grasp or loosen it. He did not continue in reaction. He just continued. The itching small spasms in my hand, slowly dissipating, perhaps through sweat from my palm. The tightening in my arm that would bend my elbow and pull away, it too relaxed again.
I stopped looking back at him, but instead adopted his gaze toward the water.