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Lincoln (iStockphoto.com)

Great Men

by Sarah Healy
Oct 27, 2012

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He had hoped that getting close to it would steady his heart. It had been rolling like a drum all day, a relentless build with no release. Padding blindly forward, the density of the thick turf caused him to stumble slightly, but he caught himself and kept going. As if it hadn't happened.

He could see it now as it glowed, elegant and elegiac against the navy sweep of sky. The house of the man carved in stone usually soothed him, but tonight he couldn't escape the air, which was thick and fingered, reaching down the collar of his shirt, making him feel cold and hot and wet all at once.

As he moved through the Mall, he didn't look back at them, though knew they were there, wading through the dark in their black suits like lions in waist-high swaths of African grass.

The Reflecting Pool was now to his left. He felt the urge to run into it, to disrupt its pristine surface, letting it become chaos and violence and all the things that would be a more accurate mirror to the world. He wanted to submerge himself in the water, wanted to let it find its way down his mouth, into his ears, up his nose, pushing out air and sound and thoughts. But he kept walking, knowing his purpose.

And then he was there, in front of it. He climbed the stairs as quickly as he could, watching the shiny black tips of his shoes charge competently up the stone. He had played baseball in college. They used to run up the stadium steps in training and the heat in his muscles felt good; the burning sensation of the physical.

When he saw the man, he stopped, his chest still rising and falling with labored breath, undignified in its volume. Then he straightened up, as you do in the presence of someone who was called great. That's why they built it, the Lincoln Memorial. That's why they carved the man in stone. But he knew that Lincoln was as pragmatic and compromised as the rest of them. He had to be. Because ideals were as mythical as Great Men.

Without warning, he felt his face tighten and a need grow in his chest, but he kept his hands planted firmly on his hips. When he submitted to it, a breath screeched down his throat and then rushed back out again. A single sob. He felt the men move in, wondering if they should act and how quickly.

He stepped closer to Lincoln, over the chain barrier to stand below the statue's enormous right foot, which jutted out past the platform. He always thought that was a nice touch, a humanizing one.

Turning, he saw that the men were in a line now, their muscles tensed like springs. He stood above them and the vantage point brought him some comfort but his damn heart still wouldn't slow. He saw the one in the middle tentatively lift his leg to cross the chain.

He swallowed. "Just give me a minute," he said, then he raised his eyes to look out at the monument, and the capital building behind it. As he stared at their immaculate glory he was reminded of those conspiracists who thought the lunar landing was a hoax. That what millions believed to be the moon was actually an elaborate set. He laughed silently to himself, then took a breath and swallowed again.

Finally, one of the men spoke. "Mr. President," he said. "You can't stay here."

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