[Finger on the Button]
The following story was written as a submission for the NPR contest, “Three Minute Fiction.” All submissions had to be under six-hundred words and involve a U.S. President (either real or fictional).
The president walked through the halls of the White House with purpose. His rapidly graying hair disheveled,
his steps heavy,
his mind churning with thoughts.
He had wanted this responsibility– fought for it even.
Our country exists as a ladder with many rungs, but from the top you see only repercussions, he thought.
The decisions ended with him.
He had never rested well in this house. Sleep always felt like a luxury afforded to men of a more ignoble calling.
Every decision was crucial–lives, careers, futures were always in the crosshairs.
It is possible to over-think decisions. He remembered playing board games with his family as a boy. His father would always try to convince him that he was making the wrong decision. Inevitably, he would let his father’s doubts sway his decision.
His father would take him aside afterwards and say, “Son, you mustn’t let any man alter your course. Destiny is reserved for the man at the wheel.”
The president paused before entering his destination.
Strange when memories decide to come back to you, he thought.
He had always had an impeccable memory for information of all kinds, but memories were often wispy and difficult to grasp.
It was during the Cold War that Americans really understood what it meant to live in a country where your president needed to have his “finger on the button.”
Nuclear war was considered not merely possible, but inevitable.
It’s funny how we can take something as complicated as cultural differences, tensions between two countries, the might of their militaries, and the likelihood that their impetuous decisions will end at a nihilistic zenith and boil it down to the simple act of pushing a button.
And yet here he was.
He stared at the button contemplatively.
He thought of all the fingers that had reached this point before. The decision was entirely up to him. Unlike many critical situations a president faces–he was not at a loss for options, but different choices always bring different variables.
Thankfully, the threat of pushing the button had been enough to alleviate tensions with many enemies over the years.
The most effective way to avoid war is to be eminently prepared for it. The president, firm in his resolve, walked to the corner of the room.
His hands were shaking, a side effect of the low-blood sugar he had dealt with since his youth.
He slowly reached forward with his finger extended —
pressing the buttons A 1.
Damn it to hell! He was so tired of shaky hands.
He had accidentally pressed the wrong numeral.
He wanted Cheetos. The first lady was much more forgiving of cheesy fingers than she was of bad breath.
But without any spare change– Funyuns would have to do.