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"A Tailor's Heart" by Bernadette Miller A short story about a man who prefers his sewing machine to people. Published: Jewish Currents, February 2000

Domestic Blisters Two short story collections by Bernadette Miller & Janet Kuypers Scars Publications December 2003 front cover

DOMESTIC BLISTERS back cover

Family Values

  "No, my friends, this war isn't simply about unseating a dictator," said President Gilbert Thorne solemnly at the podium. "It's about family values that make America great and prove our intention to create a perfect world." He smiled boyishly just the way Charlie, his aide, had instructed: one side of his mouth slightly curved and his blond eyebrows raised. He then smoothed his tiny blond mustache, nodded at the applause from the American Family Values Association members gathered in the huge Belmont, Texas, auditorium, and raised an arm for silence.
   "My friends," he continued, "you've all heard about Dictator Dassan Hudein's numerous wives and twenty-five children in Barak, but despite these obligations, we recently learned of his Paris mistress. Well, as you all know, we conservative Republicans are truly forgiving. We can forgive Hudein destroying countrymen with mustard gas. We can forgive his mass torture and shutting down a free press. We can even forgive his genocide of the unpopular Purdish, but this illigitimate affair is intolerable! As for the continuing terrorism threat of Yokama Bin Haden, that's simply the Democrats' propaganda. Our real threat is Hudein's filthy lust. And that is why, my friends, next month it's bombs away in Barak!"
   Again he bowed to thunderous applause, and nodded modestly at the members standing up and cheering, "Long Live Thorne!" that resounded throughout the paneled auditorium with its massive overhead beams and whirring ceiling fan. The blue-jean clad members stomped enthusiastically with their boots on the triangular-tiled floor.
   With a monogrammed handkerchief, President Thorne dabbed at his face, damp under the makeup, straightened his red, white and blue tie, and again motioned for silence. "I want to thank this wonderful organization for inviting me here to speak. Just remember on November Four who protected your family values. Certainly not my Democratic opponent, Harry McCarey, that irresponsible Senator who wouldn't cut the taxes of the affluent, thereby hurting many friends, and who stupidly fought in Vietnam and won those silly Purple Hearts while I wisely hung out in the National Guard. McCarey isn't fit to be Commander-in-Chief. He couldn't shield America from Dasan Hudein's immorality. I bid you good night."
   Still smiling and waving at the crowd while a band on stage played, "Hail to the Chief," President Thorne ignored the reporters surging toward him with pointed microphones and even more pointed questions, and hurried behind the stage where Charlie waited with a smile and a pat on the President's back.
   Bespectacled, gray-haired Charlie, who was the President's age, said, "Well done, Gil, great job! I'm sure they'll back this war and harrass Congress to approve funding."
   He hustled President Thorne out the back door and toward a waiting limousine with Secret Service men standing stiffly nearby, faces frozen in smiles as the President climbed into the back seat of the limo, wiped his perspiring face in the June heat, and gratefully gulped cold milk from a bottle. The Secret Service men revved their car engines and pursued the limo at a discreet distance as they sped along the highway.
   "But, Charlie, do you really think Americans love me?" President Thorne asked his aide beside him in the limo. The president gulped more milk and pressed the cold bottle against his face despite the limo's air-conditioning.
   Charlie, smiling to reassure him, dabbed with a towel at milk spills dotting the presidential jacket. "The truth, sir, is that you're the most beloved president America ever had! Wealthy voters appreciated your generous tax gift. And what about your cleverly diverting attention from our spiraling deficit by accusing the Democrats of an extravagant tax-and-spend policy? Even better: your courageously squashing that absurd ninety million dollars promised to New York firefighters at Ground Zero for their health care, and later exploiting those warm, inspiring images of being close with them."
   He massaged the president's damp hand. "Oh, Gil, I could go on and on. There's your ingenious reversal on dealing with North Korea's nuclear weapons program, while accusing your opponent of flip flopping. Not to mention your independent spirit, disdaining allies and the United Nations in the war on Barak to prove that America and the world don't need anyone but Gilbert H. Thorne."
   He started to pat the president's bleached blond curls and stopped himself. "Why, sir, for many Americans you're the lone cowboy, the spirit of our Old West when disputes were settled with guns and not courts of law. In fact, the very fact that you can't pronounce nuclear correctly has endeared you to millions of Americans who don't trust--and rightly so--anyone highly intelligent and well-read to be their president. In short, you're the most magnificent, handsomest, and generous politician I've ever met and it's a privilege to work for you."
   President Thorne sighed with relief and handed Charlie the empty milk bottle. "My boy, I appreciate your honesty. I really do." Singing softly, "God Save the King," he glanced through the limo at empty fields as they sped toward Dallas and the next Family Values conference.
   During the ensuing weeks, President Thorne, although exhausted, forced himself to attend numerous conferences and fund raisers, traveling by Air Force One from Maine to California to spread his message: a vote for Thorne is a vote for decency--unlike his opponent McCarey who had the gall to admit he didn't mind civil unions of homosexuals, a stance that shocked President Thorne.
   "After all," President Thorne reasoned with his blonde wife, Belinda, in the White House dining room, "this country must cherish Christian principles which also means ending the separation of church and state. It's too bad our colonial Congressmen didn't realize that this senseless separation would encourage all kinds of religions in America: Jews, Catholics, Hindus. You call this a democracy?" He licked his fingers from fried chicken. "Of course, I've never read anything about Hindus but I can tell you I felt real uncomfortable while campaigning in Queens, New York, and seeing those sexy girls with their exposed bosoms engraved on Indian temple roofs and claiming to be holy. Well, you just know that any good-hearted, well-meaning family man, despite good intentions, is bound to go astray."
   Belinda sighed as she passed the sterling silver catsup bottle. "Yes, dear." She paused and poured his milk. "Gil, you know I adore your middle-age boyishness but I'm concerned about Friday's Pandorian Ambassador's reception. Wearing knickers again simply won't do."
   He nodded meekly and dipped chocolate chip cookies into his milk.
   As President Thorne traveled around America, rallying voters to heed his heartfelt message of family values while ridiculing the Democrats, McCarey's aide researched skeletons in the Thornes' family closet and discovered one. Way back, several generations, a direct male ancestor of President Thorne was Ahmed Hudein, directly related to Dassan Hudein, the president's avowed enemy.
   Excitedly Mack, the senator's short, heavy-set aide, rushed into Harry McCarey's office, and said, "You'll never guess the dynamite I've just uncovered--this will blast our nitwit president with his twelve-year-old mentality."
   Slim Senator McCarey with his black wavy hair and blue eyes looked up, smiled, and said, "What is it?"
   Mack triumphantly placed a thick file on the senator's crowded desk. "Right there in black and white are documents proving that President Thorne is related to Barakian dictator, Dassan Hudein."
   "What? How did you find out?"
   "Hard work," Mack said softly, brushing dark hair from his eyes.
   The Senator jumped up and hugged his grinning aide. "Thorne's attack dogs unleased lies about me from the start of my campaign. Let's notify the media and watch Thorne squirm."
   That very evening on FOP, Channel 899, Claudia, the sweet-faced blonde announcer, said breathlessly, "Folks, you simply can't imagine the history we're about to disclose about President Thorne. FOP News has just learned of a secret lineage via his father to Barakian dictator Dassan Hudein. Apparently, Thorne's great, great, great grandfather, Ahmed Hudein, lived in the same Barakian village as Dassan and had many children, one of whom gave birth to Dassan's great, great grandfather."
   She paused, waiting for this jolt to sink in, then continued with a serious countenance, "Another descendant, Ali Hudein, who made his living by smuggling countraband, eventually entered the United States illegally from Mexico, changed his name to Thorne and developed a dry cleaning business; one of his descendants later settled in Oklahoma and became a real estate tycoon, and you know the rest. Naturally, we're all super shocked and wonder how our president will react to this astounding revelation."
   President Thorne reacted in stunned silence as he and Belinda watched the wall-sized television in the White House den. With slack mouth and widened green eyes, he stared at the glowing screen, then turned to Charlie and snarled, "It's a damned lie McCarey invented to win the election! Charlie, you've got to prove I'm not related to Hudein. Find those documents and burn them. Otherwise, how can I destroy a relative?"
   He broke down in sobs while seated in the velvet wing chair. "Charlie, help me," he said softly. "A connection to Hudein could ruin me."
   "But, Gil, dear," Belinda said, embracing her sobbing husband, "let's first find out if it's true."
   "Oh, no, ma'am," Charlie said, nervously recleaning his spectacles. "It doesn't matter whether it's true or not. We must prove it's false. Otherwise, as Gil said, we've got to backtrack on killing Hudein."
   "Backtrack?" Belinda said, still embracing her sniffling husband. "You mean flip flop?"
   "No, Ma'am," Gil coached her politely but firmly, "conservative Republicans don't use the word flip flop when referring to fellow Republicans. We say, 'change of heart,' or 'sensible backtracking,' because that kind of wording appeals to our constituents, especially those favoring family values."
   "I see," Belinda said vaguely as if still confused, her arms around her distraught husband. "Then, let's backtrack or do whatever we can to help poor Gil. Look at him; you can't leave him in this despondent condition."
   President Thorne looked up, dabbing at his swollen eyes with his monogrammed handkerchief, and said in disgust to Charlie, "Imagine if I had to use a handkerchief that read GHH: Gilbert H. Hudein. I'd be delineated."
   "Devastated. Trust me, sir, we'll find a solution."
   "Charlie, I depend on you as if you were my own son. Free me of this mess, my boy, and I'll give you a cabinet post after the electon."
   Buoyed by his political career potentially soaring, Charlie managed to do some investigating of his own. He hired Barakian spies to enter the Hudein Museum archives to uncover Hudein's ancestors. To his horror, Charlie learned that Senator McCarey's current accusation against President Thorne was true, as were, unfortunately, previous accusations. America's president was directly related to the dastardly Dassan Hudein, a very distant cousin, but related nonetheless. For two weeks Charlie pondered which spin to apply to his boss's latest dilemma. Finally came a burst of inspiration for the presidential speech.
   A week later, his heart racing, President Thorne spoke at a Family Values fund raiser in New York and announced his new policy which he was certain would warm the hearts of all Americans who espoused family values.
   "Tonight," he said, flashing his irresistibly boyish smile at the Family Values Association members gathered at the auditorium tables, "I am ending the war on Barak before it's even begun. Why, you may ask. Because, ladies and gentlemen"--he paused dramatically--"all that you have heard is true: I am a direct descendant of Dassan Hudein's ancestors and therefore a distant cousin. How could I viciously attack my own kin? It would violate everything I believe in." He paused at the podium during the hushed silence. "Therefore, I am rededicating myself to an updated interpretation of family values."
   He smiled with relief at the sudden cheers and bravos from the audience, the members jumping up to stomp on the parquet floor. One member shouted, "A toast to our brave President Thorne who holds family values so dear he would not destroy his own!"
   "Amen!" the others shouted in agreement, and burst out singing, "For he's a jolly good fellow!"
   President Thorne nodded and beamed, confidence renewed at winning the November election. In the limo, on his way back to the Honeymoon Suite at the Waldorf to dine with Belinda, he asked Charlie for a diversion to win over wavering independent voters since the Barakian war was no longer usable.
   "Gil," his aide said while anxiously cleaning his spectacles, "I thought you should know that we were wrong about Dassan Hudein's mistress. She's a first cousin, not a lover. She was very ill; his parents insisted he visit. There is no mistress. We must, indeed create a diversion or your popularity will sink."
   President Thorne grew silent, his brow wrinkling in thought, and then he snapped his fingers, and said brightly, "Charlie, no problem--we'll contact NASA and search for ancient life on Mars!"
   "Gil, you've done it again--brilliant! The Family Values Association will love it and the independents will admire your vision for our space program."
   "Hmm," President Thorne mused aloud as he drank his cold milk and then handed the empty bottle to Charlie. "Maybe we could find a direct link between my ancestors and a Martian? It's possible, you know. Then, when Senator McCarey objects to the space mission's cost, we can accuse him of being unpatriotic: thumbing his nose at family values by refusing to help locate loved ones."



--THE END--



SELECTED PUBLISHED STORIES" The Performer,"Writer's Intl.Forum 1996; "Scheherazade,"Medicinal Purposes,End of Year 1999; "A Tailor's Heart,"Jewish Currents, 2000; "Hide-and-Seek,"Eyes,2001

A character study
A political satire

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