short story

Board Game

In the Oval Office of the White House, a game is being played. The participants are Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel and Xi Jinping. They all sit on pillows in front of the Resolute Desk. On the floor in the middle of them is a board. The board features a colored twirly path that starts in one corner and ends in another, similar to that of a “CandyLand” board. The main difference between this board and “CandyLand” is the cards. Depending on the color of the spot you land on, you have to draw a card from a specific deck. A green card corresponds to the policy deck, a red card to the military deck and a blue card to the law and order deck. The object of the game is to be the first to get your game piece from one side of the board to the other. The winner gets to be the Ruler of the World.

“Rock, paper, scissors, and shoot,” the four presidents say in unison. Xi is showing paper while the other three are all showing rock. It is agreed upon that Xi will roll first, and that the game will proceed in a clockwise direction.

Xi shakes the dice in his hand and tosses it on the board. Three. Xi slides his game piece three spots and lands on red. He picks up a card from the military deck. He reads the card out loud. “The choice is yours,” the card reads. “Ramp up military action in the South China Sea, and you get to move three more spots. Xi leans back on his pillow and weighs the option. He shoots a look to an aide standing in the corner. The aide comes over and leans down so Xi can whisper something to him. The aide nods and leaves the office.

Holding back a smile, Xi slides his game piece three more spots.

Putin is next, and he rolls a one. He grimaces and then moves his game piece a solitary spot. He lifts a card from the policy deck and reads out loud: “If you open gay internment camps in Chechnya, you can pick one participant to lose his or her turn.” Putin cracks a smile and then snaps his finger. A Russian aide walks over and leans down so Putin can whisper something to him. They both laugh. Then the aide hustles out of the office.

Putin goes to hand the die to Trump but Trump stops him. “If you all would just wait one moment,” Trump says. The door to the Oval Office opens and Jared Kushner hustles in holding a silver platter with a chocolate milkshake on it. He leans down so Trump can take the milkshake. Trump snatches it and then runs his fingers through Jared’s hair. Jared can’t help but smile. Trump takes the bendy straw in his mouth and begins sucking down the milkshake.

“While we wait, I hope you don’t mind if I throw on a little TV,” Trump says while lifting a remote.

On CNN, a chyron on the bottom of the screen reads “China escalating tensions in the South China Sea.”

Trump gets to the bottom of his milkshake and snatches the die from Putin. He lets out an audible belch and tosses the die on the board. Six.

“I’m really so good at games like this,” Trump says as he slides his game piece so that he is even with Xi. He lifts a card from the policy deck. “Fire the director of the FBI and advance one more spot.” Without hesitation, Trump screams “JARED!!!” On the TV Wolf Blitzer is talking about gay internment camps in Chechnya.

Jared comes running back into the room. “Fire Comey,” Trump barks at him. “Make it snappy.” Jared nods and runs out again. Trump slides his game piece one more spot. “Ha, I’m in the lead now,” he says as he hands the dice to Merkel.

Merkel shakes the dice in her hands, but just as she is getting ready to toss, Putin reaches out his hand to stop her.

He nods towards the screen, where Blitzer is still talking about the gay internment camps. “You lose this turn, Angela.”

The German president lets out a sigh and hands the dice to Xi.

The game goes on like this for several hours. During that time many decisions of consequence are made.

Merkel had caught a string of tough cards and opted to allow over one million Syrian refugees into her country. The catch being that after every turn, she had to move her piece backward one spot. This put her far behind all the others.

Xi was in a close third, with Trump two spots ahead of him. Xi was very measured in his gameplay. When he had the option to advance six spaces by sending the Chinese Army to the North Korean border, he opted against it. Trump, on the other hand, had made a series of drastic moves in order to maximize the number of spaces he advanced. Over the last few hours, Trump had decided to pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement, pass an extremely unpopular health care bill, slash funding to dozens of programs for the poor and end the Iranian nuclear deal,

Putin was ten spots clear of Trump, and only needed to roll a four or higher to win the game and become ruler of the world. Putin had played the game very tactfully, making a series of moves that benefitted him while also doing what he could to take turns away from both Merkel and Xi.

The chyron on CNN currently read “North Korean soldiers marching to meet US troops at the border.”

Trump’s Blackberry had been ringing uncontrollably for the past hour. The United States president had stationed Kushner outside the door to the Oval Office to stop Mike Pence, James Mattis and others from getting in.

Putin tossed the dice and rolled a two. The other three presidents breathed a sigh of relief. He slid his game piece down the map and lifted a policy card. “Wildcard: You may choose to switch places with any other contestant on the board, or remain where you are.”

On CNN Wolf Blitzer was now talking about an angry mob marching towards the White House. The ticker on the bottom of the screen spoke of anti-refugee riots happening across the European continent. Blitzer then switched subjects to talk about how the Phillippines, Japan and Taiwan had mobilized their naval fleets to interfere with Chinese aggression in the South China Sea.

“Donald, I would like to switch game pieces with you,” Putin said.

Trump couldn’t hide is astonishment. He nearly spit up his milkshake.

Putin made the switch and handed Trump the dice. “You aren’t as smart as I thought, Putin” Trump said. He rolled a five.

“HA, I win,” Trump says. He slid his game piece across the finish line.

The other three world leaders stood up to shake his hand.

“Very well played, Donald,” Merkel tells him.

“Yes, a master class,” adds Xi.

“I underestimated you, Donald,” Putin says as he shakes Trump’s hand. Trump goes to wrest his hand free but Putin only grips tighter. Finally, Putin releases his grip. Trump stumbles backward.

The door to the Oval Office bursts open and dozens of Trump staff rush in.

“Sir, the Iranians have burned down the US Embassy in Tehran,” Mike Pence yells.

“A Chinese submarine has sunk a US warship off the coast of Taiwan,” Mattis shouts.

“The North Koreans have launched a ballistic missile that is headed towards Los Angeles,” Reince Preibus screams.

“Forget all that,” says Kushner. “An angry mob has breached the gates and is marching up the White House lawn as we speak!”

Trump turns around and goes to the window. The White House is surrounded on all sides by a sea of protesters, all chanting in unison “bring us Trump.” He turns around to his staff, all of whom are waiting for him to give some kind of order. He can’t speak.

“We’ll leave you to it, Mr. Ruler of the World,” Merkel says as she heads towards the door. “We know you will do a fine job.”

Xi and Putin fall in behind her. At the doorway, Putin turns around and puts a hand on Mike Pence’s shoulder.

“If you’re free next week,” the Russian president says. “We’re playing again at my house.”

Candy

Reese was placed on a big ugly desk by the supple hands of a woman. He knew he was in grave danger. For days Reese had been living in a dark cabinet with dozens of other Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. One by one they had all been grabbed by the supple hands of the same woman. None had ever returned.

Reese considered his existence to be a cruel one. From the moment of his conception in a factory in Hershey, Pennsylvania he had only experienced confusion and pain. He couldn’t see the light of day for more than a second before being packaged, boxed and shipped to an unknown location against his will with hundreds of others like him. But even in such a dire situation, he was able to strike up friendships with the other peanut butter cups in his box. But one by one they had all been taken away. And he remained in the dark cabinet, helpless.

He had begun to think that perhaps he was put on this earth to suffer.

A large white man walked past Reese and sat down behind the desk. Reese didn’t know who this man was, but he had a feeling he was an enemy. He needed to think of an escape. Suddenly, the room got very bright. Reese could see lots of video cameras all around him and people standing behind them. Reese started to consider escape routes. Immediately in his surroundings was a stack of papers and a coffee mug. Below the desk was a garbage can. Perhaps if Reese could fall off the desk into the garbage can the large white man would forget about him and he would be safe.

Unprompted, the man behind the desk began to talk: “The O’Reilly Factor is on,” he said. “Hello folks, I’m Bill O’Reilly and you have entered the no spin zone.”

Reese had no idea what any of that meant, but he felt that he was part of some kind of performance. Perhaps the large white man intended to execute him in front of all these cameras. That would be so very wicked. Reese thought harder about how he could get himself into the garbage can. The fact that he was born inanimate was proving to be a challenge.

The large white man continued: “President Trump’s missile attack on Syria sent a new message to the world that the US is going to hold war criminals accountable. The previous president Barack Obama would not do that. Instead, he used negotiations which often failed.”

Reese spotted the woman off to the side of the stage. She was pacing back and forth and looking very uncomfortable. If only Reese could get her attention in some way. She had put him in this situation, maybe she could take him out of it. The bright lights were making Reese sweat.

Another large white man was now talking to the first large white man through a monitor. He said “Trump is an impulsive man. That’s why he tweets the way he does, that’s why he responds to criticism the way he does. Acting impulsively, while satisfying, is not a substitute for well thought out foreign policy.”

The first large white man responded: “I think you’re being unfair. Trump is now in a position where he can stop war crimes and I think he exercised strong judgment in striking against Assad. It is easy for you to come on my show and bloviate and be a theorist when you don’t have to make the same tough calls that our commander and chief does.”

The large white man on the monitor started to speak but was quickly cut off by the first large white man: “Directly ahead, a horrifying story in Idaho involving child refugees attacking a 5-year-old girl.”

The lights in the studio shut off. The woman started walking towards the desk. Now was Reese’s chance. He thought vigorously of how he could get the woman’s attention. It was no use. She walked right past him and approached the large white man.

“Here are the notes you asked for on the health care bill,” she told the large white man.

“Thanks sugar,” the large white man said. He leaned forward and rested his head in his palm. “What say after the show you and I go get dinner at Morton’s.”

“60 seconds” a voice shouted from somewhere in the studio.

“Mr. O’Reilly, I just want to do my job,” the woman said.

“We can talk about your job. We can talk about a lot of things.” As he said this, the large white man reached out his hand and grasped the woman’s thigh.

The woman stood straight up, startled.

“30 seconds” the voice said.

“I would prefer if you don’t do that Mr. O’Reilly.”

“Call me Bill,” O’Reilly said. “And you’ve got to learn to get along if you want to move along hun.”

He reached out again to grab another handful. She swatted his hand down.

“I don’t need to put up with this shit. You are a disgusting man. I quit.”

“10 seconds.”

She reached back and slapped the large white man hard across the face. Then she stormed off the stage.

As she walked past Reese he did everything in his power to get her attention. But it was no use, she moved past him as if he was not even there.

The lights came back up on O’Reilly rubbing the red mark on his face where he had just been slapped. For a moment he couldn’t recall his line. Then he began: “Our Fox News correspondent in Idaho has learned of a truly awful story involving an innocent five-year-old girl…” His voice trailed off. He leaned back in his chair and exhaled.

“Excuse me folks, 20 years behind this desk can sometimes wear on you.”

The large white man reached out his hand and grabs Reese. Horrified, Reese considers what he can do to escape the clutches of his captor. He knows time is running out. The large white man pinches Reese’s packaging with two fingers and tears it off. Reese is now naked for the cameras but still determined to escape. He looks to the coffee mug. He looks at the stack of papers and the garbage can on the floor. The lights are so bright.

The large white man opens his mouth and drops Reese inside. The last thing Reese sees is the woman heading for the door. Then the large white man closes his mouth and Reese is gone.

“That’s better,” the large white man says. “Sometimes all I need is a little piece of candy.”

Salad Bar

The salad bar stands apart from the shelves of veggies in the produce section. An approach from any direction would leave one exposed, out in the open. It is independent. Nonpartisan and freewheeling. An island.

On one side of the salad bar are lettuce and tomato and cucumber and red onion and beets and celery and shredded carrots and chickpeas and olives and corn. On the other side are chicken and turkey and hard boiled eggs and quinoa and goat cheese and feta and miniature cubes of ham. At the end of the bar are plastic containers and bottles of dressing.

I make my approach on a Saturday afternoon. I had just come from exercise. I’m wearing shorts. I reach for a plastic container and side step another salad bar patron. I lift the tongs and let them clamp down on a mass of mixed greens. I lift the tongs and release my squeeze, allowing the greens to puddle in the container.

“There you are,” said a voice. Whose voice? The voice of the other salad bar patron. I lift my eyes from the salad bar and shift my stance so that I am about face with my solicitor.

He is a bear of a man. Ebony. Perhaps 6’4 or 6’5. Mid 30s. His shirt is sleeveless. He is wearing shorts. Perhaps he too came from exercise.

“Here I am,” I reply coyly, playfully. The ball has been punted.

“I didn’t see you there,” he says. The emphasis on the “see” is intriguing. The way the “s” slides from between his lips. It lingers with a touch of sass. Perhaps spice.

“I’m sorry about that,” I retort, with all the candor of a London gentleman.

“Well I was here first,” he replies. The sass is tinged with a sense of matter-of-factness.

Anxiety washes over me. Had I committed a social faux pas? Had I stuck my nose in the face of all those who came to receive salad before me? Had I merrily skipped past them in line, as if to say that my need for greens and veggies is greater than theirs?

I expand my gaze. The supermarket is utterly bereft of customers on this Saturday afternoon. I would be so daring as to say that my new friend and I make up exactly half the population of the produce section, and certainly the entire population of the salad bar. So why then must I adhere to formalities usually only reserved for a more lively salad bar? No social contract has been violated here. A minor clause at most. This is small potatoes. I decide to say as much.

“I didn’t realize there was a line.”

Not breaking eye contact, he raises a heap of iceberg lettuce and lets it fall into his containers like Christmas snow. He says “I think it would have been nice if you waited for me to go.”

What is this? Are we friends? Or is he suggesting I conduct myself with a level of decency that he has come to expect from his fellow man? If so, he is being awfully presumptuous to suggest that I maintain such a level of decency. I do believe I am a decent human man, but perhaps I’m in a rush and need to prepare my salad with haste. I’m not in a rush, but to think he didn’t even consider that as a motivation for my behavior before making his subjective statement fills me with resentment.

I shoot back “I didn’t think it was a big deal.

I emit a chuckle. The absurdity of my situation has forced a lapse in etiquette. Of all the behaviors I ever imagined would bring about criticism, stepping in front of somebody at an empty salad bar was not one of them. I believe that if I can make a salad quickly and without subtracting from the experience of anybody else, I should be allowed to do so. Surely this man comes from a world of more refined structure, and I can appreciate that. But if he cannot compromise in a situation such as this, an empty supermarket on a Saturday afternoon, then he will have to endure a chuckle from me.

A chickpea hits me in the eye.

“Ow,” I say, less impressively than I would have liked.

The man now steps around me and reaches for the grape tomatoes. One by one he places them around the edges of his container as if to frame the iceberg lettuce.

The chickpea has shocked my system. My reality is irreparably altered. I have decided that any respect I once had for this man is gone. I can understand somebody who chooses to stick to their own code of rules, even admire them. But to resort to violence when said code is breached? That puts you in company with some of the vilest men in history. Who’s to say the pain and suffering that could have been negated had calmer heads prevailed in moments of great consequence. This salad bar customer has now demonstrated to me the worst of impulses humanity has to offer. I am angered by his actions, but devastated for his soul.

Since I am redeemable, I petition to that basic decency that salad bar man had once tried to reach in me. I turn to him. A port in stormy waters. I toss a life preserver vest:

“What’s your problem man?”

He spins around and says “toss my salad frat boy.”

I take a step back and drown.