Author's Note: This was first posted on JDFF in January 2009. Most of it takes place sometime after "King Corn" and before "Freedonia," but it goes off into its own little world quite quickly, as you will see. Other than a bit of strong language, which isn't anything any twelve-year-old doesn't hear on the school playground every day, I can think of only three things to warn people about:
1) This might not be the best story for anyone who hates Will.
2) The Beatles song doesn't show up anywhere except the title. I just thought it fit the mood of the piece.
3) If you're not a fan of John Donne, don't be alarmed, just keep reading. All you need to know about it gets explained. And to anyone who wants to argue with me that Josh wouldn't know these poems, I say, go check the Harvard curriculum for the years he would have been there (by my calculations, 1977 or 8 to 1981 or 2). I'll bet you anything you'll find Donne on the reading list for the Freshman English classes, right there with the Frost poem he talks to Donna about in—what was it, "Guns Not Butter"?
I'd never have posted this if it hadn't been for Liz's encouragement, so my thanks to her for all she did on it.
Here Comes the Sun
Somewhere in the middle of December, Josh stops sleeping. It's pretty ironic, really, he thinks: longest nights of the year and he's not getting any good out of them. Oh, he sleeps a little, of course; it doesn't feel like enough, but then, nothing does these days. Though if he thinks about it, he can't really remember the last time anything did. So he doesn't think about it. He doesn't let himself think about it, except in those sudden, unbidden snapshots that come to him when he isn't looking for them and doesn't want them: a flash of golden hair; the two of them singing a song together, her voice weaving in and out of his; holding her on his lap in a taxi as they drive laughing through the snow; or sitting together in his darkened office, watching TV, sharing a beer.
When that happens, he shakes his head and gets up and walks somewhere, fast. It mostly happens when he's trying to sleep, which is why he doesn't try as much as he should. One night a line from a poem starts dinging around in his head and won't stop until he gets up and goes and finds it in one of his old college texts, stuck away in a corner of a shelf in his living room. It's one of Donne's: "A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy's Day, Being the Shortest Day." He reads the first verse out loud but under his breath, as if there were somebody lurking around the corner who might hear and laugh at him for reading poetry:
'Tis the year's midnight, and it is the day's,
Lucy's, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays;
The world's whole sap is sunk;
The general balm th' hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed's-feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr'd; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compared with me, who am their epitaph.
Yeah, he'd always liked that one: the words so strange and twisted and difficult, but even in college they'd made a shiver run up his back. He'd liked quite a few of Donne's poems—liked their flagrant sexiness, of course, and the way they worked like little puzzles, so intricate and clever, so much more intriguing to his mind than most of the tedious stuff they'd had to slog through in those required classes. But what had really hit him had been the intensity of the feeling that came through in some of them—four hundred years later, and you could still feel the man's passion for the woman he loved, the acuteness of his need for her, the giddiness of his exhilaration when they were together, his absolute devastation when she was gone. Like this one: the shortest day, the midnight of the year—the life-force of everything dropped to its lowest point, like trees' sap sunk down into the frozen winter earth—the whole world utterly dark and cold and dead—and yet this man feeling darker and colder and deader than anything else around him, because he was never going to see the woman he loved again.
Josh hunches his shoulders and chucks the book onto a chair, then slips on a coat and lets himself out of the apartment for another hell-paced walk through Georgetown's slushy streets. A late party is just breaking up in one of the houses near his; the door opens, sending light flooding out onto the sidewalk, along with a stream of well-dressed men and women calling out their thank-yous and good-nights. A tall woman with long, shimmering blonde hair is leaning on the arm of some guy in a tuxedo, laughing. Josh turns on his heel and walks back abruptly the way he came. Get a grip, he tells himself, harshly. You might have a campaign to run soon; you've got to get a grip.
The Congressman's call comes, and he says his good-byes. It's every bit as hard as he expects it to be, everyone except the President angry or disappointed—and he must have been disappointed too, surely. Or was he? Maybe more relieved to see Josh go; he must have been messing up for quite a while not to be trusted with Leo's job when Leo had that heart attack, for C.J. to be trusted more than he was. . . . But that's another one of those things he shouldn't let himself think about. He stays up most of the night planning the first six weeks of the campaign.
New Hampshire is the first stop. They take the red-eye to Logan and drive from there; it's cheaper than the alternatives. Book an inexpensive motel. Shake hands by the dump. Look for a place to rent for headquarters; it had better be cheap, too.
He goes to see Will. It's funny having him on the other team; it's been a long time since Josh has been on the other side from anyone he actually liked. Though if it's strange with Will, it's beyond strange with—his mind switches gears, fast. It zooms in on the differences between the offices: all that dark, establishment wood in Russell's, all that junk in his. He wishes he'd got to the other building before Will, but they couldn't have afforded it anyway. He tells Ronna to make sure they're meeting firecode, and gets on with the job. But when he's trying to get to sleep at night the Russell office drifts into his mind again, and with it Donna, working there with Will. This time he can't make himself stop: the images are too fresh and raw, the soundtrack stuck on an endless loop: "You should be with me . . . with me . . . with me . . . ." And her response, angry and jabbing, again and again and again. . . .
Five weeks later he's running on empty, running on fumes—and the fumes are drying up. Alternative energy, that's what he needs. What the campaign needs, too—solar cells, wind power, geothermal—and now he's off, making notes to talk over when the Congressman wakes up. He's got his own sources of alternative energy: caffeine, and too much to do. As long as he's got ten times too many things for one man to think about, he's okay. He does sleep, of course. You can't live without some sleep, and he's still alive, isn't he? He's getting enough. Enough, enough, enough. . . .
His mouth is dry in the morning and tastes like stale coffee. It tastes that way even after he's brushed his teeth. His eyes feel like there's sandpaper in them, the muscles all down one side are aching with that deep ache that runs down to the bone, but a few minutes in the shower will loosen everything up enough to get by on. Five minutes. Maybe ten. He squints into the mirror when he's shaving, the razor feeling like a ten-pound weight at the end of his arm, and thinks he looks like crap but no one will notice; it's a good thing Donna—and he drops that thought in a hurry, and thinks about the ten-point alternative energy plan he drew up at 2:00 last night, wondering what he left out. He finds the coffee spilled all over the bureau because he didn't put the carafe down square on the base when he started it; he's doing that a lot lately. He tries to wipe the mess up, but misses the splash down the front of the bureau and a puddle in one corner. There's a little cold coffee left from last night in the bottom of the coffeemaker, and he drinks it straight over the side without looking for a cup, then puts the carafe down on the bureau top and wipes his mouth on the back of his hand while walking quickly out the door. His tie is crooked, and there's a couple of spots on it already, but only on the dark part of the stripe. Nobody's going to notice.
The campaign gets a bit more money, which means they can stay in a chain hotel instead of a mom-and-pop one. He wishes they hadn't when Russell's team turns out to be staying there, too. Bumping into her is more painful than he would have thought possible. He tries to break the ice with some lame banter, but she doesn't want it broken. That night he never even closes his eyes. Once he actually crosses the hall to take the bull by the horns and talk to her and try to fix things, but the thought of the cold looks he got from her that afternoon, and the still icier ones he's likely to get if he wakes her up in the middle of the night, stops him before his hand touches the door. He slumps and turns back to his room, feeling like the biggest coward on the face of the planet.
Back in New Hampshire he goes over to see Will again, to talk about debates. Will's told him come by at eight. He hears the alarm before he gets there and starts to move faster, almost a run. There's a crowd outside the building. He looks for her, can't see her. The pressure rises fast in his chest, hot, tight, suffocating. The alarm is screaming; he can't get it out of his ears. He grabs Will, screams at him even louder than that clanging bell—"Where the fuck is she?!" Will looks around, doesn't know. "Not here yet," he starts to say, but it's eight o'clock, Josh knows she'd never come into work that late. An image of her in that damn wheelchair flashes across his thought, and another of her hobbling on those god-awful crutches; she's been off them for months, but what if she's slipped and messed her leg up again, what if she's fallen—? The alarm is pounding into his head; he can hear sirens now, thinks he can smell smoke. He pushes Will away and starts to run. For the building. For the door.
Will yells at Josh to stop, but it's like yelling at the wind; Josh pays no attention, doesn't even hear him. Will starts to run after him, but Josh is hard to keep up with even when he's walking and doesn't have a head start; now he's running full out, like a crazy man, like he's running for his life. The door closes behind him, and someone's got Will by the arms now, telling him not to be an idiot and asking what the hell is going on, and nobody else is going after Josh.
The first fire truck pulls up at the same moment, the firemen piling out of it, all black boots and big strides, and Will pulls away from his staffers and runs towards the truck and the men. And that's when Donna shows up, making her way towards him from the street, a paper coffeecup from the shop on the corner clutched in her gloved hands. Will's face is greyer than the week-old snow under their feet, he's waving his arm towards the building, and two of the firemen take off at a run. Donna stops, asks what's going on. He shakes his head, can't find the words to say.
But the staffers around him don't have any trouble telling her how someone in the building smelled smoke and pulled the alarm, and how they all hurried down the stairs and out, and how this crazy guy showed up and started yelling at Will and then ran back into the building. Donna's staring at Will now, and something must be wrong with her voice, because she barely gets the word out: "Who?" And Will still can't tell her, but Devin, who's about twenty-one and smart as a whip and utterly clueless, says it was that guy from the Santos campaign, wasn't it, Mr. Bailey? And then Will finds his voice and tells the kid, for God's sake, how do you expect to be anything in this game if you don't even know who he is, and the kid is staring at him, and Donna's coffee is splashing all over their feet as her cup goes down. And then she starts to run, but the firemen are everywhere now and won't let her get anywhere near.
It's probably just a few minutes, but it seems like weeks or months or even years before the doors open and a couple of big firemen stride out with Josh between them. Their arms are under his, supporting him, or maybe just forcing him out of the building. His face is white, his tie's pulled down, and his collar's open, his shirt is soaked with sweat, but he's on his feet and he seems to be arguing with them. Will has caught up with Donna and puts his arm around her, which she hardly notices at first; but when Josh is brought out, she sags against it with relief. Then a camera flash goes off somewhere, and another, and another, and Will feels her go rigid again. "No," she whispers. "No."
But of course it's yes. Yes, the press has recognized Josh; yes, it's a story. The flashes are going full-blast as the firemen hand him over to a couple of burly cops who've followed them to the scene, and as the cops put him into their car. Donna tries to pull away from Will to run after them, but he tightens his grip around her, hard.
"No, Donna," he says. "Stay out of it. You can't go over there."
"I have to," she says, on a sob. "I have to!"
"You can't," he says. "I'll take you to the station, if you want, but you can't get into these shots now, you know that, Donna, you can't."
The squad car pulls away from the curb then anyway, so she doesn't have any choice except to run beside Will back to his parking space behind the building and get in his car. He puts it into gear and backs out onto the street. The police car's long gone and he has no idea where the station is, but he figures if he heads in the same direction they did, he'll find it. It's not that big a town.