Thanks to Sam Slaughter for posting my latest fiction at Revolution John. Warm yourself up with this excerpt, then head on over and read the whole thing, a romp through patriotism, office life, and federal worker morale in the face of congressional dysfunction.
In God We Trust (excerpt)
Towards the head of the table Howard Graves sat in the chair reserved for the person filling in for the person serving as Marci Apron’s deputy. In the other chair flanking Apron’s empty chair sat Ralph Dvorak, upright, smiling around the table between wet, slurping sips from his mug. He wore a bow tie and a bushy, rust-colored mustache. He looked alert, watchful, and prepared to take over at a moment’s notice.
Graves, on the other hand, sat hunched and miserable. He kept his eyes on his Skilcraft steno book: “Proudly manufactured in the U.S.A. by Americans who are blind”. Along one side of the table was the print team, starting with the empty chair Graves would have sat in if he were still only acting senior print editor. Manny Teague came next, then Chloe Gilchrist, then an empty chair for one of the guys from Graphics. On the other side sat N.B. Harcourt, the contractor supervisor, Morton, and the other guy from Graphics. There were three empty chairs towards the foot of the table. One was for LaR__, who would arrive with Marci. Another was for the contract crew union rep, who wasn’t there because his position was under negotiation. Neither Miles nor Karen felt right about taking the remaining chairs at the table if there wasn’t room for us all, so they sat in the chairs along the wall with Justin and I.
Teague was filling the silence with a story about his sons when LaR__ stuck her head in and flagged Graves.
“There it is,” he said, lumbering to his feet. “You folks sit tight. I’ll be back momentarily with the latest.”
Silence returned. Teague seemed to have lost the thread of his story. Unable to tolerate the quiet, he started telling nobody in particular that William and Henry would have to recite the Pledge of Allegiance when Kindergarten opened in September.
Harcourt detected something he didn’t like in Teague’s tone. “What have you got against the Pledge of Allegiance?” he said.
“I don’t have anything against the Pledge of Allegiance.”
“Because it’s a very patriotic thing to say.”
Teague paused, cautious. “I don’t know if it’s necessarily patriotic.”
“How is it not patriotic? It’s the Pledge of Allegiance.”
Around the room eyes took refuge in the blank pages of Skilcraft stenos. Only Dvorak watched, monitoring the confrontation with great interest.
Teague conceded, “Yes. Ok. There’s an element of patriotism to the Pledge of Allegiance.”
This wasn’t enough for Harcourt. “I grew up saying it.”
Teague said nothing about whether or not he’d grown up saying the Pledge of Allegiance. Under the circumstances, the omission indicated he’d grown up not saying it. Worse, that he rejected the very idea of saying it.
“All my kids grew up saying it. Every day. And there’s nothing wrong with them.”
“Look, let’s just drop it.”
“I grew up saying it, and there’s nothing wrong with me.”
“You don’t have to misunderstand me. I probably wasn’t being very clear.”
“Are you saying there’s something wrong with me?”
“I really have nothing against the Pledge of Allegiance.”
“Is that right?”
“Really Harcourt. The Pledge is fine. It really is. I have nothing against the Pledge.”
Harcourt viewed Teague with suspicion but said nothing more. He glared across the table, face red, slick hair slightly disheveled. But still handsome, even with the deep scar running diagonally across his chin. He glanced at Chloe, who blushed, pulled her pink cardigan closed, and looked down at her steno. Harcourt turned his attention to Karen, who stiffened beside me and crossed her legs.
Dvorak, trying to appear helpful, instead stoked the tension. “I think what Teague was getting at is his objection to reciting the Pledge.” He spoke to Harcourt. Nobody looked at either of them. “Isn’t that right, Teague?”
“Why not just let it go?” Chloe said.
Dvorak pounced, glad to have another voice to keep up the conflict. “I’m just clarifying that Teague’s point had nothing to do with the Pledge itself.”
“Why doesn’t he want his children saying it?” Harcourt demanded. “Why? He says he has nothing against the Pledge, but in the same breath he says he doesn’t want his children saying it. So which is it, Teague? Which is it?”
“No, I… It’s the recitation, ok. The blind loyalty.”
“Loyalty? You’re against loyalty? Loyalty to the flag, and to the Republic for which it stands?”
“I should emphasize the blindness, not the loyalty. The repetition. Every day. And I’ve no doubt most of the children aren’t even aware of its meaning.”
“Are you playing games with comprehension over an act of loyalty? You’re either for the Republic, or you’re against it. Isn’t that what we learned on 9/11? Where were you on 9/11?”
“This has nothing to do with 9/11. I just mean that maybe, that at five and six years old, kids are too young for brainwashing.”
“Brainwashing? Brainwashing!” Harcourt boiled over. “Now the Pledge of Allegiance is brainwashing?!”
Teague remained calm. “You have to admit, it’s a little Orwellian.”
“Orwellian! Isn’t that a communist word?”
“In this day and age, knowing what we know about education, to have children repeating and repeating…”
“I don’t know about you, but here at BOGIE we should stand beside our desks every morning with our hands over our hearts and say the Pledge of Allegiance. We work for the federal government, for crying out loud.”
“But what purpose would that serve?”
“It would serve to prove that we’re better than those Jihadis over there, many of whom are reciting death pledges and blood oaths from the Koran at age five and six.”
“But… First of all, that’s inaccurate. Second, it just goes to prove my point.”
“Listen to me, Teague. You liberals may have-”
“Whoa, whoa,” Dvorak said, pleased at the conflict. “Let’s not make this about politics.”
“But it already is politics,” Harcourt said.
“I’m not talking about politics,” Teague said. “I’m talking about education.”
“So maybe you can tell us where you stand on including ‘under God’ in the Pledge.”
Teague looked away.
“I say it,” Harcourt said. “One nation, under God, indivisible. In God we trust. God bless America. I have no problem whatever using the name of God. God made America great. I’m proud to say that. And if we could just change that television in the no-water room to Fox for a minute, for just one minute get away from the world according to Wolf Blitzer and put on Fox, you’d see that God is under attack right now in America.”
Miles’ cough interrupted, a deep, indomitable cough that bent him over double. He sat up straight, pounded his chest and said, “I’m ok,” though nobody had asked.
“What about the moment of silence?” Dvorak said. “Where do you stand on the moment of silence?”
“I’m all for silence,” Miles said, leaning forward. “A little silence while we wait?”
Dvorak said, “You can sit in silence, Miles. I’m asking Teague for his views on a matter of relevance to this very office. Teague, what is it? How do you feel your children taking a moment of silence at school?”
Feebly, Teague said, “This is a federal facility.”
“I said, this is a federal facility. We aren’t allowed to talk about that in a federal facility.”
“Liberal commie sympathizer.”
Teague threw up his hands and looked around for help but nobody wanted to take on Harcourt. Harcourt, for his part, wasn’t done. He went back at Teague.
“So you don’t want your children to pledge their allegiance, but if I remember correctly from your endless chatter about your children you don’t mind them celebrating Pride Day at school.”
“It wasn’t Pride Day, Harcourt. PRIDE is an acronym for the school’s educational philosophy.”
“It’s a public school, is it not? What ‘educational philosophy’ should they have other than ‘One Nation, Under God, indivisible…? Anything else is just more of the liberal, subversive subliminal messaging. That’s what it is. Telling children that it’s ok to be gay.”
“But it is ok to be gay.”
“Not at that age, it’s not.”
“Harcourt, just think about what the slogan is and what it isn’t. What it is, is an attempt to inspire and instill confidence in our students. To put a stop to bullying. What it’s not, well, one thing it’s not is a reference to homosexuality.”
“There are plenty of other words that instill confidence. Why not “proudness”?”
“Proudness isn’t a word. It’s pride.”
“I don’t’ see why they can’t choose another word.”
“PRIDE is an acronym.”
“The school’s logo is already a rainbow. Now we have Rainbow Pride. Next thing you know there are going to be Rainbow Pride marches. It’s too much!”
There’s no telling how far the conversation might have gone had Graves not entered, stoop-shouldered and weary, his shirt half untucked, his yellowed collar not quite right. The summer humidity seemed to have followed him in.