A White Lie – Submit Your Fourth Short Story Today


It is May already and we are submitting our fourth stories for the 12 Short Story Challenge. Congratulations to everyone who made it.

I will accept and approve posts for A White Lie (Word count: 2500 words) from 17 May 2017, 8:00 (Johannesburg time), until 18 May, 8:00 (Johannesburg time). Please ask Google to figure out what time that will be in your part of the world.

If you missed the previous deadlines please keep writing. We are almost done creating a platform where you will be able to post the stories for the deadlines you missed, but don’t use this as an excuse. This is about getting things done.

Good news: The new platform is almost ready and we should be switching over in the next month or two.

New request:

  1. Please include THE PROMPT, the title, genre and word count on the first line.
  2. Please add a warning for sensitive readers at the beginning of your story, if needed.
  3. Please follow the posting procedure below.

Here is the procedure:

  1. Read today’s post.
  2. Post your story as a status update on the Facebook group, 12 Short Stories In 12 Months, on 17 May 2017.
  3. Read and comment on at least four other stories. Please spread the love. Look for stories that haven’t been read, instead of everyone reading and commenting on the same stories. If you want tips on how to comment, read this post: The Complete Guide To Evaluating Your Short Story.
  4. This is an exercise in discipline. The comments are a bonus. There is no prize because I want you focus on writing for yourself and to try and take more risks.
  5. Be kind when you comment. Start with a positive comment, suggest an improvement, and end with something positive. We are here to learn.
  6. Our next prompt is at the end of this post.

A few more points:

  1. I will try to read as many posts as possible, but I do have a day job that I would like to keep.
  2. NO hate speak. None. If you see something nasty that I should be made aware of, please send me a message.
  3. Be careful of profanity. Less is always more in writing and we don’t want Facebook to think we are up to no good and block us.
  4. I need to approve every post. Please be patient with me. I am teaching during the day and I will approve them as quickly as I can. They will all go up.

You guys rock!

Here is my story:

Title: A Not-So-White Lie  Word count: 2500  Genre: Women’s fiction

Disclaimer: Facts, alternative facts and quotes courtesy of Wikipedia, but the lies are all my own.

She smoothed down the folds of the wool skirt, it glided over the lining and settled on her hips. Just the right of shade of pink. The buttons slipped into place, double breasted in all its Chanel glory. The little pill box hat perched on her hair, she turned and examined it from every angle as she pulled on her gloves. The air force base bathroom wasn’t exactly presidential, but she was a woman who could make do and she had done quite well on this occasion. 

Her husband was talking to Lyndon and listening carefully to what his second in command had to say. He glanced at her as she approached, but turned his attention back to the conversation. She made her way to the woman waiting off to the side. 

She was one of them after all. A diligent, purse-clutching, waiting-for-her-man woman. It was her duty, and privilege, after all.

“Morning Dear.”
 
“Morning Mrs Kennedy, may I just be the first to say that you look absolutely perfect.” Lady Bird Johnson gushed as the cameras clicked and clicked and clicked. Only a taste of what was to come.

“Thank you, Mrs Johnson, and so do you, look absolutely perfect, that is.” She returned the gesture with an even bigger smile. Big enough so that even the furthest cameras could see.

“You’re too kind.” Said Lady Bird as Jackie linked arms with her and turned away.

“I am really looking forward to this evening.” Jackie said as they stepped around the corner, away from the prying eyes. Clint, her secret service escort followed, but still gave the ladies their privacy. 

“So am I. I hope we can all just relax.” Said Lady Bird. Jackie slouched against the wall and rolled her eyes, savouring the chance to be undocumented, unjudged, unseen.

“Where are we? San Antonio?” Jackie said, the exhaustion creeping into her voice. “Fort Worth? No, that was yesterday.” Lady Bird suggested.

They looked around for a clue.

“Dallas.” Jackie said, spotting a nearby sign that declared: Love Field, Dallas.

Oh, the irony.

“Been to one air force base, you’ve been to them all.”  Lady Bird said.

After a few years in the White House it all started to blur together. The towns, that parades, the women, the excuses. And now they were already planning for the next campaign, for another four years.

Jackie stifled a yawn.

“Late night?” Lady Bird asked.

Jackie looked off into the distance. “Something like that.”

“What was the excuse this time?”

“Foreign policy.” Jackie smirked and she pulled at her gloves, examined the wrinkle-free result. “For the good of the country, and all that, you know?”

“Was it her again?”

“I think so. He seems to able to see the others, once, maybe twice, but this one is different. She keeps coming back.”

“A bad penny.”

“And costing me a pretty penny. Keeps my therapist in the lap of luxury, though.”   

Clint stepped forward and he nodded, his sunglasses bobbed along with the action, indicating that it was time to leave.  Jackie sighed and he gave her a tight smile. That was as spontaneous as her secret service agent got. She moved away from the wall, adjusted her skirt and stepped back towards the clicking reporters.

The ladies fell into step behind their men as they made their way to the motorcade. Well bred. Well heeled. Well trained.

The cars lined up. The secret service car, their limo, the Johnsons’ limo, more secret service and a battalion of motorcycle officers. The little flags all a-flutter. 

“Oh heavens, they have the top off. Let’s hope my hair holds.” Jackie said as she  walked to the limousine. 

“Lady Bird’s hairspray is industrial strength. You should get some from her.” Lyndon smiled as he looked at his wife, her hand slipped in under his, like it had a million times before as he helped her into the car.

Jackie clambered on board under her own steam and settled into her seat at the back of the limousine. She folded her hands in her lap, her purse perched on her legs. Jack was already waving and smiling. The Connallys settled in on the front seat, and, at last, they set off. 

The crowds snaked along the road and the motorcade meandered past them and the people waved and waved and waved and they waved and waved and waved back.

She watched him, he didn’t take his eyes off the crowd. He was good. Engaged. A true politician. A few hours ago, he was passed out, snoring-drunk, stinking of perfume and here he was, hero of the nation. She smiled. She waved. She made do. A good wife does what she must. She lay her hand on the seat, a wide expanse of cold black leather and she inched her fingers toward her husband. Hope is an awful thing.

###

The shots burst into the sky. Into him. She didn’t realise what was happening until he slumped into her lap, she put her hand on his shoulder and his eyes found hers. Gunshots. He was hit, badly. The warm wetness on her hands matted his hair. Unreal. Too long. Abstract. His hand folded around hers and images of their life danced before her. She saw them as they were, as they had been: the dinner party where they had met, their wedding at the farm with her veil floating behind them. All their children. Caroline. John. Everything they had fought for. Lived for. He squeezed her hand and she watched his lips form words, he kept saying the same thing over and over.

“I can’t hear you.” She leaned closer and felt his lips move against her ear. His breath faint.

“Please tell,” he licks his lips, “please tell her, I love her. Tell her I will love her forever.”

It all crashed into her. The blinding, searing pain, cleaved her open. It split her in half. She was two people at once. The woman she was raised to be, the wife, the mother, the daughter. The culmination of her upbringing. And then there was the other woman, the one who hated it all. The pretending. The making do. The lies.

That woman won.

She pushed him away and he flopped back against the seat. His head bounced to the side before falling forward. A shot echoed again. His head disintegrated in front of her. She screamed for the first time and thrashed about, trying to keep him together. Scraping and holding.

“Get back in the car, ma’am.” There was more screaming. She didn’t know if it was her or them. “Get down, ma’am.” Clint yelled from the back of the car.

She scrambled back over the rear of the car and returned to her seat. She slipped down the wet leather. John lay there and he blinked, but his eyes were empty. She pulled his head onto her lap and the car sped away. The sounds disappeared, silent tears spilled from her eyes and wet his cheeks.

###

They took him away in a frenzy of lights and loud commands. He was pronounced dead at 1:00 PM. Dead. A procession of last rites, last goodbyes and last words followed. Last words. She tried to forget his. She must have misheard him. She was passed from one dark suit to the next, exchanging tears and condolences, until coming to rest beside Lady Bird and Clint.

Lady Bird perched on the hard hospital chair, Clint kept guard beside her, Jackie slumped between them, a puddle of pink and red. Lady Bird handed her a handkerchief and she mopped up the blood. It was dry, even the stickiness had gone. Her clothes were caked, sodden, drenched in his blood.  

“You can’t do that.” The angry words made their way through the fog in her brain.

She became herself again. She straightened her jacket and walked over to the men.

The doctors, aides and secret service men were clustered around the priest, seeking comfort from the proximity of holiness and possible absolution. They were all talking at once.

Her husband’s special assistant stood a foot away from the men, arms folded and glared at the blue-clad doctors who were waving and hissing in hushed words. It ended when she was close enough. She was absorbed into the group and washed in many unfinished sentences again, varying combinations of ‘Mrs Kennedy’ and ‘condolences’ and ‘sorry for your loss’.

She silenced them with a smile and a gentle wave. “Thank you, gentlemen for everything you have done. Who can tell me what happens next?”

The men shuffled and re-arranged themselves in a new formation. One of the surgeons stepped forward, he glanced at the special assistant who glared some more, “Ma’am, the secret service has informed us that the president’s body will be taken to Air Force One and transported back to Washington.” The words rushed out and he took a big breath. “Ma’am, we would like to point out that this is against hospital policy as well as state law and is not at all in accordance with our protocol.”

She smiled and laid her hand on his arm. He looked at her stained fingers and met her eyes. “Thank you, Doctor. I appreciate your concern, and I am sure The White House will be of assistance, should any complications arise”

She turned away, clutching her handkerchief to still her trembling fingers. The noise and activity behind her confirming that they would be in the comforting presence of Air Force One soon.

A television set flickered on a counter in the nearby nurses’ lounge, she paused and held onto the doorframe. The press secretary spoke the words she hadn’t been able say herself.

“President John F. Kennedy died at approximately 1:00 CST today, here in Dallas. He died of a gunshot wound to the brain. I have no other details regarding the assassination of the president.”

It was followed by a series of photographs of him. Of her. Of them together. Of that woman. She slid to the floor and gave into the tears.

The plane slid into the sky and she sat next to her husband’s coffin. Lyndon and Lady Bird stood nearby. President Johnson, she would have to start thinking of him as President Johnson. Lady Bird laid a gentle hand on her back, “Jackie, we’re about to start.”

“I’ll be there in a moment. I’m just going to freshen up.” She smiled, but her bottom lip quivered.

“They’ve put some new clothes in the bathroom for you, Jackie. I think it’ll help you feel better.”

She looked down at her lap, her skirt and her jacket stained with his blood.

“No, I want them to see what they have done to Jack.” She stood, but her hand still rested on the smooth wood, she wanted to, but she couldn’t move.

“Could we have someone sit with him?” Her voice sounded small, weak. Not how she wanted to be portrayed. He would have hated that. She cleared her throat and tried again.

“I would like someone to sit with him, please.”

Lyndon smiled, “Of course, Jackie. I’ll arrange it immediately.” He motioned for the hovering aide to come closer and spoke to him in hushed tones. After a series of vigorous nods, he moved closer to the chair the Jackie had just vacated. 

She followed the Johnsons to the front of the plane and stood next to Lyndon Johnson as he swore the oath to become the 36th President of the United States. And she became, simply, a widow.

###

She sat on the carpet, legs folded, in their bedroom between the boxes. She only had three more days left to move. They had already given her two weeks, as a courtesy to a grieving widow.

She had barely begun. All she did was pack, unpack and repack their wedding photo. The staff hovered and worried, but she wanted to pack their personal items. They had already packed almost everything else, but she wanted to pack their life.

She unfolded the newspaper she had used to wrap their wedding photo, Lee Harvey Oswald stared back at her from the wrinkled paper. She rubbed the paper and smoothed the folds. She expected to feel, something, anything. She should be glad that he was dead, instead she felt nothing. There was nothing left inside her. She was hollow.

The door crashed open.

“Mommy, Mommy, Mommy.” Caroline screeched into the room, her nanny bolted in after her, out of breath and flustered. “I am so sorry, ma’am.”

“Don’t worry. I need a break.” Jackie said as Caroline settled into her lap. “What are you up to, my dear?”

“Mommy, Nanny wants to take my dollies.” She sulked into her mother’s shoulder.

Jackie smiled at the Nanny, who blushed and cowered in accordance with her crime.

“Darling, we’re going to move. We must pack our things. Why don’t you choose one doll and let Nanny pack the rest?”     

“Can’t I keep two?”

“Why do you need two dollies?”

“You have two children and so do I,” she declared, triumphant.

“Very well, two dollies then, but no more. Off you go now and choose.”  The child scampered out, tugging Nanny by her hand. The little girl vanished down the hall. She had two children, but they had no father and she wasn’t acting like a mother. She crumpled the newspaper and threw it in the bin.

Her stockinged feet sunk into the carpet, creating deep furrows to match those on her brow. She picked up the flower arrangement of her desk and dumped it into the bin as well. She couldn’t stand it. The funeral flowers. The stately horses. The nation in mourning. John John’s salute. She was not making do.

The phone on his table rang, and she answered

“Hello.”

She would know that voice anywhere.

“I’ve called so many times.”

“Where did you get this number?”

“He said I could call, anytime I needed anything.” 

“I don’t think this is what he had in mind.” 

“I just need to know, I need to know,” she had started to cry. Jackie wound the phone cord around her finger and wondered why she was listening to this.

“He said I would be first lady.”

Jackie smiled, her first smile in weeks, a fake hollow thing. 

“And if he were alive, I’d happily move out and you’d have all the problems.”

The crying had turned to sobs. “I need to know if he said anything. If he mentioned me at all? Before, before he died.” Her words slurred into the phone.

Jackie paused, “Why no, I can’t think he mentioned you at all, dear, but thank you for your call. I do appreciate that you are thinking of me and our children in this dreadful time. Good bye, now.”

She settled the phone back in the cradle and sunk into the bed. She ran her finger along the new crack in the old glass of the photo. She was done making do.

THE END

And here is the fifth prompt:

I hope you enjoy it.

Happy Writing!

P.S. Please join the group on Facebook if you want to submit your story every month: 12 Short Stories In 12 Months.

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