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Aprés le Mort, le Travail

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Bill Clinton was dead. Had been, in fact, since some time in June 2017. He’d never wanted to learn the exact date, but the schedule that ruled their lives had paused, for him, that June, and then resumed in time for the Fourth of July. They’d been waiting ever since for the right time for him to pass on.

Now, as he lay panting between someone’s legs, he wondered exactly how long that wait was going to be.

“You’re squashing me, Bill,” the woman complained.

“Sorry,” he said, and levered himself up and over.

He could tell that she was dissatisfied, though of course she didn’t say so. She was also ambitious. This connection, she hoped, would be useful to her career at some point in the future. The sex being good would have been a bonus.

Now that he’d spent this much time with her, though, he didn’t think he was going to use his influence for her. Ambition in the right cause was one thing – God knew he and Hillary had that – but ordinary, self-serving, crass ambition was another. Something about being dead made the difference clear to him. Although her face and eyes didn’t show it, this one was all greed, with no higher goals.

At least he never made mistakes, any more, about which women were after the sex-based route to success. Finding himself making “love” with unpleasant women faded into insignificance beside that danger.

And she wouldn’t critique his poor performance to anyone. Probably.

They made their trips to the bathroom and settled down for some good brandy in the hotel water glasses. No cigarettes any more. He’d been surprised, a while back, to realize how grubby everything got from cigarette smoke and ashes.

He couldn’t recall, five minutes after the shared drink, what either of them said. Maybe something about how cigarettes had been the thing, once. Certainly he hadn’t made any promises, though. Living on borrowed time had made him triply careful about those. Finally, good manners required him to put on a hotel bathrobe and see her to the door. He didn’t have the kind of luck that let him hope he’d never see her again. But for now, it wasn’t even midnight yet.

He returned, not to the bed, but to one of the room’s armchairs, grabbing the brandy bottle for company. His knobby old man’s legs stuck out palely against the dark carpeting. How long was he going to be marooned here?

The reasons for his revival were sound. Hillary had explained, half-sobbing and half-shouting, that the campaign couldn’t have survived his death. “Imagine it, Bill. ‘What a heartless creature, going on with the campaign after her husband’s death!’ Or, ‘Obviously she only stayed with him out of cold ambition.’ They’d hound me about it no matter what I said or did. It would be hopeless.”

And she was right; she usually was. The Opposition had that cultural double bind practically written in its DNA, and could play it like the Devil’s own fiddle.

He took another drink and decided to let that ungainly pair of metaphors stand.

Historically, of course, there were quite a few women politicians who’d “carried on her husband’s legacy,” but they’d had husbands who were conveniently dead *before* they started down that path. Hillary, whose ambition had been plenty evident while he was still alive, couldn’t play that card.

So, the ritual. Whatever it was; he’d been absent for that part, and had certainly never researched such things. The esoteric side had never been his thing. Nor Hillary’s, either, but desperate measures and so forth. They’d agreed that he’d carry on for a few months after the inauguration, to some point with a minimum of ongoing crises, and then be found dead one afternoon while she was out Presidenting. It was the best they could do in the circumstances.

And then – the defeat.

They’d held hands that night, feeling grim and lost. The power of the Opposition had been manifest to them both for a long time, of course, but the strategy, the auguries, and the essential optimism required to even attempt a political campaign (never mind to see it through) had combined to leave them vulnerable to shock. To horror. To grasping, for the first time, that its naked, crass, unlooked-for leap into the open had not been a miscalculation but a vital edge.

Alone, he said aloud, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was to convince people he doesn’t exist.” It was no consolation to think that the tens of thousands of people who hadn’t gotten around to voting against blatant evil would live to regret their misplaced priorities. It was so hard for people of genuine good will to believe that virtue alone would not protect them, or their neighbors, or the country. And telling them they were naïve rarely worked. You had to motivate them to act on their unexamined ideals. Which was why he and Hillary were still traveling around and talking to audiences; separately, for this week and the next, before reuniting in … Denver, was it? Or was he in Denver already? Whatever.

Now, the people who’d gone around saying there was no difference between the two parties – he gave himself permission to enjoy the thought of their chagrin. Or the chagrin of at least some of them. There were still those who tried to insist on the point. Those might still come to true understanding, eventually, but for now they were pawns of the Opposition, if not willing partners.

The brandy was getting low enough, now, for him to get maudlin. He’d become too self-aware to not admit that he didn’t like the fact that he and Hillary were now second string. It rankled. It was reasonable, necessary, and obvious, and he’d probably never had the level of humility necessary to simply accept it.

And now he was brooding. Brooding had never looked good on him, even when he was young and anxious. Wrong kind of face. Wrong kind of attitude. Can-do, that was Bill Clinton. If he started brooding, he wasn’t being true to himself.

Deliberately, he put the bottle on the floor. It wasn’t empty yet. He’d take that as a good sign about his control. But he also didn’t want to get up. It wasn’t as if he really slept any more, not properly. It was more of a doze, a period of rest for a reanimated body that his soul wasn’t naturally connected to any more. It was a wonder he hadn’t gone crazy.

So he dozed in the armchair, pointlessly risking a crick in his neck. Maybe he was handling this worse than he thought. But it still wasn’t worth the effort to move; the body was tired. All of him was tired. What would the right time for him to leave even look like?

It was still pitch dark outside when the television clicked on. The faint hum, and the competition of its bluish light with the warmer bedside lamp, drew his attention. Which was a bit insane, since his body had its eyes closed and its auditory functions on standby.

All the same, he got up. The television faced the bed, naturally, so he had to turn around, too. Meanwhile the body kept on snoring faintly.

The screen held the image of a fake wood door in a white wall. It looked like any door in a low-rent campaign office or bureaucratic stronghold anywhere.

On the door, a piece of plastic emblazoned with two words: APPLY HERE.

“Thank you, angel of obvious symbolism,” Bill muttered to himself. And he didn’t move, not yet. In the film, portentous music would be swelling in the background. The hero, amazed and credulous as a new-born babe, would simply accept the foregone conclusion demanded by the narrative. But to him, those days were long gone. He was going to give this obscure offer the serious consideration it deserved. Whatever it was, it would be a change. It would be something he couldn’t imagine, because he had no idea what this meant. It could be something delightful, or something he wouldn’t like very much.

But it would be work. Something he could do besides tread water.

Maybe it would even not involve an endless succession of hotel rooms.

He reached out and opened the door.