3rd Place – January 2022

                                                Madam President

By

Donna Pierce

She could feel the growing rumble within her as the thunder began to build. Trembling and cold, Lisa watched as the rain poured down in torrents and spilled over the bridge above her. The storm groaned louder and deeper, bringing back memories that tore at her soul, and took her breath away. Suddenly a boom exploded and rattled her inner being. Lightning streaked across the sky, one after another, revealing tall trees around her.

“They are after me! Momma!” She cried and began to sob.

Lisa hung on tight to her teddy bear.

Fearing for her life, she crawled up underneath the metal beams for shelter and sat in the darkness.

A jolt of lightning took her by surprise as it struck some twisted metal and debris at the river’s edge. She screamed and buried her face in the teddy bear, then curled up into a fetal position, ready to die.

Suddenly, a loud crash filled the air as a car struck the bridge above her. She held her breath as the sound of squealing brakes followed, and within seconds, plowed into a pillar.

Voices began to yell back and forth through the roar of the storm.

Within minutes, sirens filled the air, and Lisa watched revolving lights coming towards her. Light from all the headlights flowed down below the bridge and surrounding area.

“It is ok Tommy, don’t worry. I am here with you. You will be ok.” She whispered through trembling lips.

In horror, Lisa saw a flashlight coming down the embankment, heading towards her.

“Run Tommy!”

She bolted out from underneath the bridge and ran towards a patch of trees.

“Turn left,” someone yelled. “They ran for that thicket of trees!”

“Oh no, Tommy, I think they see us!”

She jumped up and turned to run, and ran straight into the legs of a tall man.

Kicking and screaming, he picked her up and began to carry her towards the top of the bridge.

“No, no! I dropped Tommy! Let me go, I need Tommy!”

The man turned around, picked up the soiled teddy bear, and placed him in her arms.

                                                            ***

“She is only eight years old! How would an eight-year-old get underneath the Tomahawk bridge so late at night? Where are her parents?”

Lisa listened as another woman spoke up.

“Apparently she had run away,” the social worker said. “She is a foster child and was living over at Tom Nobel’s house. They had taken her in a few months back and was waiting to see if she would get along there. I remember her. I pulled her records this morning at the office when I heard she was in the hospital. Poor thing, her family life was unacceptable, and she was neglected terribly. The state took custody of her a few years ago and placed her with the Nobels the first of September.”

“I wonder why she ran away?” The nurse asked.

“I don’t know, but it doesn’t appear that they want her back.” The social worker said. “I know that they had applied for a boy, but they were told that all the boys were too young. They were encouraged to take this little girl.”

“I wonder why they wanted a boy,” the nurse asked?

“They live on a farm, we had our suspicions, and were right, I guess. They were looking for a child that could do farm work.”

The nurse closed her eyes and shook her head.

The social worker fought back tears, then cleared her throat.

“That was a terrible crash last night,” she said. “I live a few miles down the road and could hear it over the storm. Was anyone killed?”

“An older woman,” the nurse replied, as she wiped her eyes. “Her poor husband is in shock. His leg was broken, and he has a few gashes on his forehead. The three that were in the other car are all in ICU.”

“That is terrible. I will keep them in my prayers. When do you think this child can be released to go back to the agency?”

“She isn’t hurt,” the nurse said. “Clearly, she is suffering from malnutrition. I think her mental state needs to be addressed. She is a pleasant child but don’t try and take that teddy bear away from her, that was my mistake. Her teddy bear seems to be her life support. She calls it Tommy.”

“Tommy! That was the name of her little brother,” the social worker replied. “Tommy died the same year the agency took Lisa from their home. I’ll see to it that she gets the help she needs.”

Lisa pulled her teddy up close to her face and held it tightly.”

“Don’t listen to them Tommy. They don’t know what they are talking about.”

                                                            ***

An office worker watched an older gentleman make his way into the front door carrying a doll. He took off his hat as he approached her.

“Hello. My name is Henry Baker. I am here to inquire about a small child that was found under the Tomahawk bridge last year during the rainstorm.  I spoke to a nurse at the hospital regarding her when I was there for physical therapy. She told me the child was brought here.”

“Sir, I am sorry, but you cannot just walk in and ask to speak to one of our children. You will need to speak to Hilda Riley in the front office. She will give you some forms to fill out and explain the process to you. Why do you want to see this child?”

“I am a retired history professor at Brown’s University. I lost my wife in the accident. I have four grown children that are spread out across the country. I really don’t get a chance to see them much. I guess you might call me a lonely old man at this point. I was hoping that maybe the girl might need a father figure in her life or at least a friend to talk too. It was probably a half lame idea.”

“No sir, I actually think it would be a good idea. She has no one. You might just be the opening we are looking for; we will see.”

                                                            ***

“Father, they have excepted me at Harvard! I can’t believe it!”

“Why Lisa, you are as smart as a whip, and they are lucky to get you. You’ll be the Dean in no time,” Mr. Baker laughed and gave her a hug. “I am so proud of you.”

“Please, it is all because of you.”

“No, my darling daughter. It is because you are determined, bold, and ambitious. The sky is no limit for you Lisa. I have an idea for your graduation gift.”

“Give me a hint father, does it have four wheels?” Lisa laughed

“No, but it is better. It will always be with you, and you will never be alone. Each time you look at it I want you to remember how you started and where you are now. I want you to know that you are strong and can do anything you truly want to do. Only the future matters, not the past.”

                                                            ***

Lisa walked down a long corridor and into a room filled with beeping monitors, an oxygen machine, and the smell of urine. She reached down and kissed her father on the forehead and slowly placed her teddy bear in his arms.

“Father, I am here. I brought you Tommy. You can keep him now. He wants to be with you.”

Mr. Bates slowly moved his arm up and out of the covers. He grabbed ahold of the teddy bear and pulled it to his face. Lisa watched him hold it the way she did.

Swallowing hard, she sat down beside him on the bed and watched him struggle to breathe.

“Father, I won the election.”

It doesn’t seem that important anymore. She thought.

She watched a smile cross his face.

“You are our first woman president Lisa! A father could not be any prouder.”

“No, it is I father, who am proud. You taught me so much.”

“Well, I was a teacher,” Mr. Baker said and slowly reached for her hand. “You my child, was a gift. you gave me a reason to live after Alice died.”

“My time has come. I will take good care of Tommy for you. Remember my gift. You are never alone, Tommy is always with you, as am I.”

He turned and looked at Lisa. A smile crossed his face.

“Goodbye.”

                                                            ***

The woman quickly back brushed the top of Lisa’s hair, giving it a lift, as Lisa closed her eyes and mentally reviewed her speech. The camara men worked feverishly around her.

“We are ready. Everyone step back out of the camaras view.”

“10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1,”

“You are live Madam President.”

Lisa quickly turned her wrist and to see her teddy bear tattoo.

“Don’t be scared Tommy.”

Writers’ workshop and writing group