The President’s Pumpkins
by Matt Athanasiou
Drizzle glossed the rows of pumpkins. Inclement weather kept the farm mostly vacant, but media and supporters hung around Pamela and Grant, waiting for the president and her husband to choose pumpkins. Dainty, delicate, petite, all words she wanted to avoid reading in headlines about her gourd.
Grant touched her back, and she released the handle of the wagon and crouched by two forty-pounders. One appeared pregnant, the other as if it was dividing into two equal parts. She wiped the latter with her sleeve. It rocked.
Grant sniffled. “That big?” Hands pocketed, he raised an elbow toward pumpkins slightly larger than women’s professional basketballs.
“I’ll help lift yours,” she said loud enough for onlookers and wondered if they would consider her joke an insult. Then she wondered if Grant did. Last night he had said no to getting pumpkins, said he had quit asking her to lunch and movies because he was tired of rejection; they only went places when it benefitted her PR.
But he came out today, always there for support.
She rapped the wet husk. “You have muscles.”
He scraped his tongue between his teeth. Voice low, he said, “Pam.”
A nearby couple turned their heads, eyes wide as Pamela’s. Since she had taken office, her more misogynous opposition had designed posters of the cooking spray with the slogan: Where does this belong? Now the public knew that shortening her name was no longer for her. Neither was talking about cooking.
She forced her fingers into a crease on the pumpkin. Had her nails been longer, she might have scored it with crescents.
Grant crouched beside her and whispered, “Want to ease up? FDR didn’t need to lift crap for show.”
She refrained from saying that she wasn’t an assertive, wartime president like Roosevelt.
“We’re together.” He placed a hand near hers on the husk. “That’s enough, yeah?”
Warmth from his flesh prickled hers. She couldn’t remember when she last held his hand in public. Probably around the time she had been billed as a clingy wife, an insult that somehow equated her to being frail. Until his recent disinterest in all things political, he had comforted her by saying those critics had never seen her open a pickle jar with ease.
“Let’s get smaller ones.” His hand moved closer.
Her fingers straightened, and her thumb inched toward his pinkie. The gap between them became negligible.
A man shot photos on his phone.
She moved her hand away. “Got this.”
He scraped his tongue between his teeth again.
“Turn the wagon sideways, please.” She reached both arms around the wide pumpkin.
“I’ll grab a side.”
He got the wagon. His knuckles were white around the handle.
More people gathered and snapped photos. She tried to concentrate on not making an exasperated face, but she envisioned a picture of herself standing over a cracked pumpkin, orange guts covering her shoes. What would they say if she was too weak to lift this? She grasped the husk firmly. Her jacket dampened.
She lifted too hard, nearly lost her balance. It began slipping through her arms. She spun toward the wagon and had a fleeting worry that Grant would yank it away. She lowered the pumpkin, practically dropped onto the cart. It struck the bottom and rested against the side.
People clapped, and she patted Grant’s shoulder, almost thanked him. She asked if he could manage lifting his, and people laughed.
“They love you,” he said and stepped back, pocketing his hands.