The Proclamation

Last week’s submission for my fiction class. Enjoy.

As the time for him to walk onto the stage drew nearer, Philip’s deep sense of pride at having been chosen to read his essay at the town celebration became all the more completely eclipsed by his intense nervousness. This year was a big celebration—one hundred fortieth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation—so everyone was talking about how the crowd would be the biggest one until, of course, the big one-five-oh. Among all the seventh graders in Hardin County, Kentucky—proud birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, only Philip had been ballsy enough to write an essay about the vast differences between what it meant to be a Republican in Lincoln’s time and what it means now.

Of course, he knew better than to submit that essay. The essay contest was judged by several prominent Republicans, so he submitted instead an essay about how proud Hardin County should be of having such an integral connection to the only United States President yet to have had a patent in his name. In the “ringer” essay, as Philip liked to call it, he wrote extensively about how shameful it was that the commercial boating industry of Lincoln’s time had failed to pick up on his ingenious ballast tanks, which would have worked wonders to help buoy ships over shoals. The essay judges fell for his trick, and now he was set to read his real essay in front of this large crowd.

As he waited in his seat, next to the podium on the rickety stage in the hot Autumn sun, Philip felt a drop of sweat dribble slowly from his knee down the side of his calf. He knew he shouldn’t have worn his favorite black corduroy pants. Would the man at the podium—an ass of a man with an ugly bowtie and a bushy moustache—ever just shut up and introduce him already? At least the white button-up shirt he’d worn wasn’t soaking up as much heat as his pants. He wondered if these Republicans knew his father was a die-hard Democrat; it would explain why they hadn’t given him a bottle of water, or anything at all to help with his parched throat. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

Finally, the bow-tied brustache man introduced Philip to the crowd and initiated a round of applause. Philip stood up slowly, clutching his essay tightly in his sweaty left hand while the brustache man overzealously shook the right one. He stepped up onto the small box they had provided for him behind the podium, set his papers down, and looked out at the crowd. Now standing, he could clearly make out the scent of funnel cakes and corn dogs, and he felt a drop of sweat form on his temple and roll slowly down his cheek.

“Republicans,” he said, not yet looking down at his paper. He had memorized the entire first paragraph. “Republicans are not today,” he said. He stared out at the crowd of people who had come to celebrate Lincoln’s birthplace, and he didn’t see a single person who wasn’t white. The edges of his field of vision, too, began to go white, and he felt the box below slip out from beneath him as he collapsed behind the podium.

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