Updated: Jan 13
“Jack, can you imagine if we had Twitter in our day?”
“I know, Bobby. The civil rights movement would have happened a lot faster.”
“What about in your day, Abe?”
“I dare say, young Bobby, the war could have gone very differently.”
Jim and Billy entered the room, our favourite to get together and spook the staff when they worked late for the sitting president. “I wonder how many conspiracy theories would have surfaced if we had Twitter back in our day,” said Jim, referring to the stories about my brother’s murder.
“He, he. Fake news!” It was Billy. After Billy’s murder, presidents were given Secret Service protection. Not that it helped Jack. People talked a lot about some stupid curse on my family, with how many of us were killed in “suspicious circumstances”, like the same number of deaths wouldn’t happen to other families.
Billy always pondered the reason behind his own shooting, because the others had assassins with a decent backstory. Billy’s just seemed utterly random; whereas Abe and Jack fought for equality in times when many white people didn’t agree that non-white people were their peers; and Jim’s assassin wanted a position of power that Jim didn’t offer him.
Not that killing a person is reasonable. And I believe that killing a good person, whether they are well-known or not, is assassination. That one person who was making a real difference, can no longer.
The Dead Presidents’ Society would gather around the sitting president in the lead-up to the election, and those who were assassinated, like Jack, would stay close. They knew what it was like to be focussed on doing a good job for the people, and to be shot. It always made me wonder why we allowed a constitutional right to “bear arms”, when all the assassinated presidents were shot with firearms. Most of the failed attempts involved firearms too. I think that those who believe this right should remain, might want to think about other ways to protect themselves and their loved ones. It is an outdated part of the constitution, to my mind.
I joined the Dead Presidents’ Society as an honorary member after I was fatally shot, because Abe put it to the others that I “would have been the best president among us”. I always felt Abe’s respect for me. In fact, in my previous life, I could feel his presence with me, and was inspired by him. His courage and perseverance motivated me to bravely step forward and speak my mind against the poverty and other injustices suffered by my non-white brothers and sisters. Just because I had the best education, and the most privileged upbringing, didn’t mean I could lord it over others. I had a responsibility to lead by good example. I was no saint; but I tried my best.
Abe and I would often talk, just the two of us, about Dr King. “What a man. What a light to all of us,” he would say, and there we’d be with Martin. It would only take a thought, and we’d be together.
That’s how it happens in this, our afterlife. In my heart, Dr King would have been the best president among us, had he run for office. I would have been the one to endorse him, and vote him in. I would have rallied all to stand behind him. I remember how his soul would burst through his words when he spoke. What a man. What a human being. What a light to all of us.
Now, the Dead Presidents’ Society was gathering around the current president in the excitement of pre-election activities. This one was a hard president for us to rally behind. Erratic and narcissistic, this one would bully staff and accost women. His disrespect was utterly abhorrent. This one would even get away with tax evasion. Despite calls for impeachment, this one escaped like he was lathered in oil.
Slippery. Fake. Arrogant.
I couldn’t believe how he was elected president in the first place. The people had him in one corner, and one of the most brilliant lawyers of the time in the other corner, who had experience in company and family law, and had worked for better conditions for women and children. Noble causes and exemplary education. I would eavesdrop on people discussing their politics, and some would say that the only reason they voted for this sycophantic sociopath was because the other option was a woman.
In my pre-afterlife, I tried my best to develop jobs for non-white people in my department. I could have done more. If I had survived my gunshot wound, and been elected president, I could have paved the way for women to be treated equally too. They have equal rights in other countries, and brilliant women have been elected into office in other nations; successfully leading their people through the toughest of times. And yet, here we are, in the most powerful nation on earth (some would say, frequently), and we still don’t respect or trust women enough to elect them president.
I look at this sitting president, and, sure, I see similarities between the two. The woman was given a position of great authority by her husband when he presided over our nation, and the current president has done the same for his family. The difference, though, is that she was qualified for the job; and his family members are the recipients of his autocratic nepotism.
Personally, I think there should be a law to forbid the president from employing or directing their family and friends to work in any roles of authority. Sure, I was Attorney-General while Jack was president. But I’m seeing the potential for misuse of this privilege now.
Now, I’m seeing how the system could fail the people, within a short space of time. I can see how a person can own news media and disseminate false information. I can see how a business-person can make deals under the table, and generous offers with “no strings attached”; so that when the time comes, strings are obviously attached and pulled, and the recipient of generosity becomes entangled in feelings of obligation. It’s a mafia method, but it works. “I’ll scratch your back. If I need your help one day in the future, I’ll call for it,” and one day on the way to the hustings, the call is made.
Our system allows for political parties to manipulate the electoral boundaries after the ten-year census. Can you imagine if all the electoral boundaries favoured one party? I can. It is called gerrymandering, and it happens very quickly with computer programs that find voter preferences and stack them, one way or another. Racial representation has previously been influenced by state legislature, this way. It can happen again, even though it is unconstitutional. It could happen to reduce the representation of women too, or of young people or the elderly, or the poor. And still, we maintain the constitutional right to bear arms.
I wonder what we would have tackled, if we were in office today. It has been a tumultuous year. There is a delicate balance between keeping the economy strong, and protecting the people from an incredibly painful death due to this plague that sweeps the earth. It has no moral compass, no compassion for those it infects. It just touches the innocent and guilty alike; the poor and wealthy, in the same way. It probably has more egalitarianism than we, the people.
But the difference, I think, is that the poor have no health insurance, and the wealthy do. The poor do not have equal access to health care. As much as the health-workers want to treat everyone, and give all a fighting chance; the wealthy are the ones who come first.
That’s what I see, the unseen observer from afar. You don’t know I’m here, watching, praying. Wondering. Fearing. I see what could have been, and ask, “Why not?”
I see what is, and am left dumbfounded.
And we gather; Abraham, James, William, Jack and I, and Martin (because the others agree with my feelings about him being the best among us). We watch this president and dread the possibilities of another term in office. Another 216,025 deaths? More slippery escapes from further impeachment calls? Or worse. I see a man who is intent on becoming the first emperor of our nation. He has given his family members important roles, and removed dissidents from his advisors. I hear his words and the nasty tone of voice he uses to denigrate those who would disagree with him. I see a small man with too much power, and I wonder, “What will it take?”.
So, instead of gathering around the president, like we always do at these times, to protect and keep them from harm, we ghosts have met for another purpose.
Now, it’s time to take a stand. Now, we need (more than ever before) to speak the truth and perceive it in others. We need to exercise discernment and have compassion; and most of all, we need peace and safety of all to be our priority.
“In my day, Gentlemen, we fought for what was right,” says Abe.
“In my day, we would have done our stoic best,” continues Jim.
“Unfortunately, Gentlemen, we are not talking about the good old days,” clarifies Billy.
“No. These are uncharted waters for our people. We need to guide them to safer harbors,” suggests Jack.
I think Martin, whom I admired long before I met him, says it best, when he responds, “So little has changed; because there is still poverty and division. But I believe we can find a way forward from this dark night. Our souls and the souls of our people can find a voice and lift it in song, in unison. I believe that the dream is still alive, and that given breath and given wings, the dream will take flight. It will soar through the clouds and into Heaven itself, so that social justice can be a reality in this lifetime. It takes one vote. One vote more. And then another. As long as the people realise their power; as long as they exercise their God-given right to freedom and their hard-won right to equality, there is a way. Let us pray together, my friends, for the people as they embark on this new horizon.”
He still brings the tears to my eyes.
Submitted to Reedsy for Contest #64 in response to: Write a ghost story where there’s more going on than it first appears.