by Scott Lambridis
Jackie sits cross-legged on her white velvet loveseat in the dressing room of the Presidential Bedroom Suite. She’s alone, her posture casual and easily mistaken for cocky, though elegant and always discrete. She picks up the white telephone resting on the lacquered credenza to deliver her news. She dials the numbers, using two fingers to spin the rotor in her playful way, and counts the clicks on its return.
The telephone receiver hovers just shy of her ear, never quite touching, almost tickling the downy fuzz coating her lobes. In her other hand, between thumb and forefinger, is the paperwork—a list of five names, culled from a list of 500 nominees. A surprisingly large number of nominees, she thinks, which excites, comforts, and saddens her.
Below her dangling foot is a delicate pattern of blue and white carpet. She waits as the phone rings. Would the nominees, the judges, the reporters, all be surprised to see her like this, in a beaten-up simple black shift, a towel still wrapped around her head like one of her scarves? On the sixth ring, she untucks one of her legs, and someone picks up.
“Hello please, is this…” says Jackie, pausing briefly to double-check the name. “Mrs. Julia Harrison of Lubbock, Texas? My name is Jacqueline Kennedy, and I’m calling to…”
“…express my condolences. As a grieving mother myself, I want you to know that my heart goes out to you. His life may have only lasted two days, but that doesn’t really change the hurt, does it?”
Jackie inhales softly and smiles, awaiting a cue to continue. She worries that suggesting two days was a bit insensitive. Her paperwork doesn’t say anything about how long the woman’s son had lived. Two days was Pattie’s life. Two lost days she and Jack don’t speak of, and since then Jack’s been tenderer and more attentive, though they pretend he’s always been that way. So what exactly is the hurt then? It was a bit insensitive to ask a question of Mrs. Julia Harrison of Lubbock, Texas that she can’t answer herself.
“That’s right, Mrs. Harrison,” she says, and draws in a deep but silent breath. “And I’ve just established the First Lady’s Stillbirth Fund for bereaved mothers like us, which includes funds which you can use for burial or cremation services, counseling services, healthcare, or anything else you need while attempting to repair the hole torn in your life. Doctors can be such bitter men. Their passing condolences are certainly not sufficient. You’re gonna be one of the first recipients of a grant issued from that fund. I hope it will make even a small impact on you, and help you continue to nourish the lives of other Lubbockians. One must be strong, ma’am, women even more so, don’t you think?”
Be strong, Jackie tells herself. Like they said.
“You can’t fool me, Lucille,” says the voice on the other end of the line. “It’s a shit imitation. Lopping off the ends of words like you’ve got soda in your throat. I know who you are, and you’re no private school upper crust or Locust Valley lockjaw and if you think calling to harass me is going to change anything at all with your shithead brother, I’ll remind you that he’s my ex-husband, mine and mine alone…” Jackie listens, her smile slowly sagging as the woman continues, “…and I refuse to let you make my life a living hell for no other reason than dumb redneck vengeance,” and then Jackie hangs up on her.
Jackie Kennedy, a tolerant woman, considers a moment. She loosens her grip on the document containing the list of award recipients. She smooths out the paper and adjusts her legs so that she’s facing the phone more directly, no longer obliquely but head on. Humanitarian outreach, they’d said.
Jack’s handlers told her to improve her image—they said the White House restoration tour had ingratiated her plenty well to the Hill folk, but what did the rest of the country care about honorary Emmys and presidential furniture? Dig deep, champion something that hurts, they’d said. But what could she really say about the hurt? The initial pain of seeing the dead child passed long ago. There is only the longing for what might have been, for an imagined life, full of joy. Does that count for hurt as well? And does it still count if she feels more love from Jack now than she has in years?
Sometimes it’s hard for her to think straight. What right does she have to make these calls? Jackie glances in the mirror. Still collected not disheveled, save for a tremor between her nostril and the corner of her mouth. It’s her tell, but thankfully it resembles the placid smile she’d inherited. When it came right down to it, she didn’t need to improve her image. Others improved theirs by acting like her, Jack said. No, this was human to human outreach. She adjusts her dress, wipes an errant piece of pink lint from the couch. She dials again: Benefit of the doubt, she always said.
“I think we had a bad connection,” says Jackie. “My name is Jacqueline Kennedy, and I’m calling …”
“If you ever call me again, Lucille, I’m going to heat up a wire hanger so hot the smell of your burning nose hairs will knock you out cold before I can even reach past the tongue stuck in the back of your throat and start the lobotomy, you cunt, now fuck off.”
Jackie hears the line click. She hangs up. She places the list of names beside the phone. The caryatids grin placidly under the mantel. The world is violent and confused, Jackie. Leave it alone; stay close to those you still have. She wants Jack, but Jack is out. She crosses the room, fingers grazing the large central table as she heads toward the garden to find Tom Kitten, and ask him what to do.
Scott Lambridis completed an MFA from San Francisco State where he received the Miriam Ylvisaker Fellowship and three literary awards. Before that, Scott earned a degree in neurobiology, and co-founded Omnibucket.com, through which he co-hosts the Action Fiction! performance series.
Scott’s stories have appeared in Slice, Fence, Cafe Irreal, and other journals, and his short story “Blind Sticks” was nominated for a 2021 Pushcart award. Scott was recently a finalist for the Halifax Prize and the Tobias Wolff Award for Fiction. Read more at scottlambridis.com.