Monica in Georgetown
Pie Sisters isn’t packed on a Sunday night, and though I want it to be darker, the place is airy and bright, and the smell of butter and sugar almost knocks you out. On first glance, it’s just students with Macs and books, and couples over slices of pie and cups of coffee. Then, toward the back, her black hair and unmistakable profile jump out. My palms sweat and they never do. My mouth goes dry. Sure, this was Mom’s idea, and I’m only appeasing her yet again, but shit, this is Monica Lewinsky.
“Ms. Lewinsky?” I reach, then pull back. No hand offered from the cool invisible bubble that surrounds her.
“Oh, hi.” Only a flat acknowledgment of a smile. “Troy?”
“Are you alone?” I say.
Monica shifts her eyes left. A big, bulky brother in plain clothes, sits a table away, deep into his smart phone. It would make sense she has protection. The presidents and their families have it for life. Why not their mistresses? Though Monica, not the taxpayer, must be fitting the bill for this guy.
I’m overdressed in a button-down and tie against Monica’s modest Gap-ad wear and her detail’s gym clothes. Her manicured fingers lace around a latte.
Way back, when I wrote for my high school newspaper in Little Rock, our advisor, the lovely Ms. Georgiou, drilled it into me to be a train on a track when interviewing. “They’re giving you their time. Don’t waste it,” she’d say. I had brought that into my budding journalism career in D.C., had it wired for years, but right now, it won’t work. My skin is shriveling up into itself.
Monica gives me the flat smile again, takes the lead.
“I typically don’t meet with strangers, or discuss the Clintons, but the story you told my publicist sounded—provocative.”
“Well, thank you for meeting me. Especially here in D.C. I’m sure it’s the last place—”
She waves it off. “I happened to be here for a fundraiser. It all lined up.” She waits, but I’m still speechless. Here’s Monica Lewinsky, not that much older than me, both of us merely children in the summer of ’98, both of us starry-eyed for the man that would never love us back. She: that woman, publically shamed, and me, her lover’s illegitimate son, waiting, plotting to come forward.
“So,” she says, “you claim your mother had a liaison with President Clinton?”
According to Mom, it was back in 1978 in Arkansas. Nine months later, me. I’ve told her a million times it would make a much sexier story if she came forward first, Clinton’s secret African-American mistress, and then me, the product of that affair, but she’s too chicken. She’s been putting me up to this since I first came out here for college.
“Well, he was just elected Governor of Arkansas then.” I lick my lips, trying to get my mouth to move again. Monica must think I’m a perv. But wow, she is pretty. “She was a staffer on his campaign.”
“And you know, without a doubt, that he’s your father?” she says.
“Yes. That’s what my mother says.” I can channel Mom when I need to. She adjusts her frame when talking about Dad, like I’m doing now.
“Well, you’ll need DNA proof,” Monica says, “otherwise there’s nothing.”
She sips her coffee, makes brief eye contact with her guard. He gives her an imperceptible nod. This won’t last long, I know. The vultures could swoop in any second. I used to do it all the time as a reporter.
“What do you do, Troy?” she says.
“I’m out of work. My paper shut down. Right now I’m just spending a lot of time at the Libertarian Party office. Getting ready for the election.”
“Are you running?” she says.
“One of these days.” My palms have stopped sweating, and her face has softened. Still no vultures. “I want to be President some day.”
“Oh,” she says. “Just like your father.” She flashes that classic toothy smile from her intern I.D. badge, circa 1990-something.
“Yeah, just like him,” I say, embarrassed. At least that’s what Mom has always wanted for me. Our plan has never changed: expose the truth with Monica’s help, then use that vortex fame to topple the Clintons and build my own campaign to be the first third-party president.
Monica’s smile vanishes. She moves her coffee aside. “Do you know the full story? Has your mother told you everything?”
“No.” Every time I’ve tried, she changes the subject. Gets testy. Something hurts.
“It’s quite possible she was a victim—who knows?” Monica says. “And I understand if she wanted to keep it secret and avoid the humiliation. But you need to know the truth.”
“Yeah, you’re right.”
“And, I’m never one to bash anyone’s dreams, so please don’t take this the wrong way, but I think a Libertarian president in this country is a long shot. It’s a two-party system.”
Her bodyguard stands. Monica glances up at him. It suddenly feels like a break up. No. A straight-up dumping. I’ve got a fresh one in mind: Deepa Viswanathan. A cute Indian girl from Philly and a die hard Democrat. Hillary all the way. Deepa spent one night at my place in Alexandria a couple of weeks ago. We had two more dates, then she dropped me when I told her the family secret.
“No, no, I get it. I just—we just thought you could help us. I’m sorry to trouble you. Coming out here tonight.”
She leans forward. “Troy, I wish I could do something for you, but this is between you and mother. Face her.”
Monica stands. Flat smile. She seems so alone. I know exactly how she feels.
The Oakwood has that depressing Sunday night vibe. Grills gone cold, pool decks dry and empty, and cars waiting to be rocketed back into the Beltway come Monday. It’s the time of night you’d want to watch a movie and open some wine with your lady, if you had one.
Whatever happened to Mom on his Arkansas gubernatorial campaign shorted some fuses in her head. That much is clear. What kind of person goes from being a Democrat to Green, then Independent, then Republican, then eventually Libertarian? And who goes along with it, door-to-door, passing flyers, shaking hands, and serving chicken dinners, following along with her dream? A good co-dependent son, that’s who.
My phone blinks with a voice mail. Must have missed it on the Metro back to Alexandria. It’s Mom again. She’s frantic. Something about a pain in her left arm and neck. Headache, too. Calling Mrs. Wilson for a ride to the hospital. She didn’t have any of those symptoms when we talked earlier, just before I left to go meet Monica in Georgetown.
This might be a false alarm. It wouldn’t be the first.
There’s no answer at home in Little Rock. I try Mrs. Wilson, our life-long neighbor.
“Hi, Addie. It’s Troy. Is my mother okay?”
“Oh hi, honey. Yeah, she’s fine. They’re just running some tests. She needs to talk to you though. You ready for the phone number to her room?”
Mrs. Wilson’s daughter Niki and me used to fool around in our shed growing up. In elementary, we mostly kissed, and by junior high, we helped each other lose our virginities. Mom and Mrs. Wilson never knew a thing. Kids learn from the best how to keep secrets.
My phone vibrates. It’s a number I don’t know, but from a Little Rock area code.
I know what’s killing Mom in the hospital. Curiosity. She wants to know about Monica. She still thinks she’s the girl in the beret. But that girl is a ghost. Monica’s a grown woman now. She’s not a victim anymore. I shouldn’t be either.
A fourth ring. I answer. Mom’s out of breath.
“Oh baby,” she says. “I thought I was having a heart attack.”
“But you’re not.” What I’m about to say to her just might give her one.
“No. I’m—I’m just tired, I guess,” she says.
“Are you still lying down? Still comfortable?”
“Yes, baby, thank you.” She sounds suddenly all better. “So how did it—”
“Before that, let’s clear something up.”
“Oh, baby, I feel that pain coming back,” she says.
“You’re fine, Mom. You’re at the hospital. Now, listen to me. I need to know what actually happened with you and Bill Clinton. Did you two have a… sexual relationship?”
“Oh, son, I’m in so much pain.”
“Mom. The truth.”
There’s a certain silence between two people on the phone when the conversation temporarily dies. That living breathing person on the other side, regardless of their location, waits for you, and you for them. That absence of sound swallows you both.
“He—tapped me on the behind,” she says.
“It that all? Nothing else?”
“Yes, that’s all.”
“Who’s my real father?”
“Oh, honey let’s just talk about—”
“The bus driver?”
Willie Dumas. The older white bachelor all the kids knew, but no one ever thought a second more about. I had known him all the way from elementary to high school. The man who was checking up on me, asking why I never went out for sports.
“Why didn’t you two ever make it right?”
“It was a different time, son. Black women didn’t just have babies out of wedlock with a white—son, just come home. We’ll talk it over.”
The silence builds solid again. Reminds me when I actually spoke to Monica’s publicist a few months ago. The woman had said, “Yes, she can meet with you. Privately.” In the stillness of the open line, I couldn’t speak.
“Hello,” she had said. “Are you still there?”
“Are you still there, honey?” Mom says.
“No, Mom. I’m not coming home. Not for a while at least. We both need some professional help. We’ve needed it for so long. I mean, I don’t know why you’d keep up this twisted-ass revenge plot with me thinking Bill Clinton was my goddamned father. The politics, the story. Why? Why? You know, it’s kind of fucked.”
“I know, son. I did you wrong. I was confused and scared. Know that I love you more than anything. I always will.”
“I have to go, Mom.”
“Please call me, baby. I’m so sorry.”
“I will. Just give me some time. Bye.”
We hang up, and instead of smashing the phone against a wall, a sudden calm stirs up inside me. It surrounds me, like a hug. It’s that fear and confusion she was talking about, morphed into the truth you can’t ignore. It’s holding me tight, rocking me gently.
I’ve often wondered what it was like to have my father hold me. Maybe like this. But maybe not, because this is the feeling you get when you’ve known all along you’re all you need. Could be why Clinton always got out of the jams he was in. He was always holding on to number one.
My chest expands, fills with the best breath on record. I could probably grow wings and fly right out of this apartment if I tried. It’s been 17 years in this dead air, and it’s no coincidence I’ve been thinking about folding it all up.
Monica’s right: there won’t be a Libertarian anything. This chapter’s over. Boston’s been on my mind for some reason. Maybe Chicago. Hell, even California. Just the other day I read that in St. Croix, you drive on the left side of the road, and in certain bays, the water glows at night.
Taylor García’s short fiction has appeared in Chagrin River Review, Driftwood Press, Fifth Wednesday Journal, Hawaii Pacific Review, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and Caveat Lector. He also writes the weekly column Father Time at the GoodMenProject.com.
He lives in Southern California with his wife and young sons. www.btaylorgarcia.com