“At 7:40 yesterday morning—no no no…” He took a deep breath and tried again. “Yesterday morning, a tragedy struck and—no, I can’t do that. Panic is not what we need right now.”
The mirror didn’t offer any constructive criticism as he looked into it. All it showed was his tired face and new wrinkles. He grimaced and rubbed at the crows feet at the side of his eyes. Perhaps he ought to take Ellie up on her offer of some night cream. He sighed and tried not to meet his own gaze in the mirror. Eye contact with himself was unnerving. Instead he focused on the spot between his brows.
“My dearest constit—Oh God, I sound like a governor.” He grimaced at the thought.
He sighed and rubbed at the wheel of his chair, missing the frantic energy of pacing.
The bathroom was large enough for him to freely move around in his wheelchair but it wasn’t the same. Still, he rolled away from the mirror and carefully wheeled up and down the space, accidentally clipping the toilet as he did.
He returned to the mirror and glanced down at his notes.
“Ladies and gentlemen, it is with a solemn heart that I must announce a tragedy has struck.” Not good enough. He couldn’t announce this the way he might a flood or an earthquake. “My friends, no, my family, I come to you with—oh, now I sound like Jack Worthing.”
Once again, the mirror offered no help. He washed his hands again and patted some of the cool water on his face. The tap dripped loudly in the quiet as he tried to calm his racing heart. Ellie would get on him about that if she knew he was close to panicking.
“Your heart is fragile!” She would say. “Don’t make me call the doctor and worry everyone again!”
He really needed to get her flowers. Or had he already ordered some? It was nearly Christmas, after all. He always got her flowers before Christmas. He’d have to recheck that.
“Sir?” The knock sent his heart racing.
“I’ll be out in a few minutes!” He called.
“Is everything alright, sir?”
“Yes, yes my dear. I’m just rehearsing.”
“Is the speech acceptable?”
He glanced down at the different drafts. “Yes. I’ll be out in a few minutes!”
He shuffled the papers and made a note on his favorite.
“Maybe if I don’t focus on the start…” He picked up the second page and cleared his throat. “In the intervening time, they sought to deceive us, offering hope of continued peace.” He shook his head. “No, that makes us sound like fools.”
As the maid took the plates, he reached for his stamp book. It was such a quiet afternoon, and he had new stamps to add. Anne, sweetheart that she was, had sent some from Canada. Perhaps he ought to start a section just for the stamps the children brought him. Wouldn’t that be fun?
Rushing footsteps stopped him cold. An aide stood in his doorways, doubled over and breathing hard, a paper clutched in his white knuckled grip.
His stomach swooped with dread.
“What is it?” He asked quietly.
The aide looked up, his brown eyes wide. “Sir…”
He never got around to his stamps.
“I can’t include the part about death tolls,” he said to the mirror. “It’ll cause a panic.”
Another knock sounded on the door.
“Sir,” a new voice called. “It’s almost time.”
“Come get me when everyone is here,” he called back.
“Is everything alright, sir?”
“Yes. I’m just… making some last minute notes.”
“Alright, sir.” The voice walked away and he sighed.
“I have a name,” he informed the mirror. “Only Ellie ever seems to use it. What good is a name if no one ever calls you it?”
The mirror stared at him.
“Oh, what do you know?” He grumbled. “You’re just some shiny, silver backed glass.” A second passed. “I’m sorry, that was rude. I’m under a lot of pressure right now.”
He blinked at himself.
“Perhaps I ought to consult a psychiatrist when this is over if I’m apologizing to a mirror…” Ellie was never going to let him live that one down, he just knew it.
He lifted the papers and cleared his throat.
“Let’s try this properly now, shall we?”
He made it halfway through the speech this time.
“Something is wrong. Maybe it’s me.” He stared into the mirror and took off his glasses. “I’m too old for this,” he murmured wearily. “War is supposed to be a young man’s game.” And there were going to be young men in it, but not in the way they should be. And some were gone now. Many, in fact, were gone.
“Don’t mention specifics,” he muttered. “Go in, say this, and leave. Go home, go to meetings, and let Ellie get on me about missing dinner again.”
How many dinners were going cold right now? How many place-mats were left untouched? How many would stay that way? Were there apartments that would never see their occupants again?
Numbers. Ellie always told him that he should never look at numbers. He’d drive himself insane worrying about them. She was right, as usual. But this time, he couldn’t even stop to think how right she was. All he could think about was how many mothers were receiving letters, fathers sitting to cry in their offices, and fiancées vowing to never love again. Those numbers were sure to drive him mad but he couldn’t help it. Ellie was right, though; some things shouldn’t just be numbers. Human lives shouldn’t be numbers.
“Ah, yes,” he called weakly.
“They’re ready for you, sir.”
“I see.” He looked in the mirror one last time and took a deep breath. “Could you get the door for me?”
The door opened and an agent of his Secret Service stood there.
“Thank you. Could you help me up?”
The agent helped him stand. He locked his braces and began the very careful walk to the lectern on the floor, leaning heavily on his cane as he went. The agent knew better than to offer to help, though.
As soon as he stepped up to the podium, the clamor for his attention began.
“Mr. President, Mr. President!” Questions flew from every direction.
He raised his hand, and waited for them to fall silent.
He looked down at his notes and took a deep breath.
“Yesterday, December 7th, 1941—a date which will live in infamy…”