She hated when Lily came to visit. Smiling or not, Lily was a constant, aching reminder of the smiles that once were. A constant reminder of the people they once were. As Lily grew up, they grew apart, never noticing the increasing distance or the speed at which they were traveling. Now, they stood at opposite corners of the world, jumping up and down in hopes of catching a fleeting glimpse of one another. With her parents so far apart, Lily often felt like a vagrant, swimming in the endless ocean that separated the two emotional continents said parents had subjugated. Generally speaking, neither the President nor the First Lady noticed the vast expanse between them. It was only when Lily graced them with her presence that they were given a point of reference. As she unknowingly guided them on a trip down memory lane, they were able to clearly discern the difference between what their lives once were and where they currently stood. Fortunately, following Lily’s departure, all recognition of the tragic situation they faced at present was frequently forgotten, or ignored, with very little time wasted.
Lily had come to see them off knowing that once they returned from Los Angeles, she would be studying in Europe and it would be months before she saw them again. Her father had been thrilled to see her, the majority of his excitement coming off the anticipation for his upcoming treaty signing with the Russian president. Trumpeting the treaty as the hallmark of his presidency, Charles Logan’s enthusiasm could not be curtailed, not even by the impending departure of his only child. Her mother, too, seemed completely unphased by the thought of losing her daughter for a few months, though not, Lily presumed, for the same reason her father was. In fact, Martha appeared to be entirely indifferent to both situations. Her thoughts on the treaty were minimal and her devastation about Lily’s imminent exodus came off forced and illusory. So unresponsive was she that it occurred to Lily that another “episode” may have been on the horizon. Although Lily had never given much credit to her father’s decision to send her mother to Vermont, the validity, or possible lack thereof, of the illness was always on her mind.
When she said her goodbyes, Lily discreetly requested that her father take care of his wife, knowing that Charles Logan was often not the most observant of men and was likely not to notice Martha’s apathetic, brooding silence. Charles gave his daughter his word, noting to himself to simply tell Evelyn and let her take care of it. His focus, he decided, was put to better use elsewhere.
They flew to California later that afternoon. Together, but only in the physical sense. Once they reached Hidden Valley they, once again, went their separate ways. Charles attended meeting after meeting briefing him on the events that were to take place the following day while Martha paced her bedroom accompanied only by Evelyn’s watchful eyes. The President returned to the bedroom shortly after nine, temporarily relieving Evelyn of her duties. Having been notified in advance of her husband’s arrival, Martha confined herself to the bathroom. This was not unusual and as a result, Charles thought nothing of it. He loosened his tie and reached for the remote to turn on the television. As expected, his face was plastered all over CNN as the venerable new station reminded the public of the upcoming treaty signing. Pleased, he smiled to himself and pulled his tie off. When he heard the bathroom door open, he immediately muted the volume on the television and turned around.
He couldn’t read her when she walked out of the bathroom. This problem was becoming increasingly prevalent in their relationship of late and, to be honest, it made him uneasy. He smiled at her as warmly as he could, hoping she would respond in kind. She did not. Having anticipated this, he nodded to himself and turned away from her. The moment his expectant eyes left hers, every ounce of confidence within her rose to the surface and she found herself mindlessly approaching him. The sound of her footsteps captured his attention and he turned around. They stopped, both of them, with two feet between them. He could read her now, and the story written all over her face had no foreseeable end to it. None whatsoever.
He thwarted the urge to question her and instead handed her the reins, giving her full control of the situation at hand. Whatever situation that was.
She had accepted the reins with little trepidation and the tone of her voice thanked him. He nodded, waiting.
“We need to talk.”
This was inevitable and he was prepared for it.
He sat down on the bed, his attention never diverting from her.
“Something happened when we saw Lily today. When I saw Lily today. It wasn’t the first time, but it’s the only time that really matters now.” Her voice was trembling slightly, indicating to Charles that she was not comfortable with what she was about to say anymore that he was sure he would be. “I think you know.”
“I assure you, I don’t,” he lied, not knowing whether it was out of self-preservation, curiosity, or just ignorance.
She sighed and began pacing the room in small steps, wringing her hands together.
“I know you see it when you look at her. You see exactly what I see. You see us, twenty years ago. The difference is, it’s not a problem for you. Our relationship may have changed, but that’s not an issue. You’ve got an appropriate distraction, you’re serving a higher purpose, and somehow, that’s enough for you. But me…all I see are broken pieces scattered across time. There’s nothing to distract me anymore. I know you don’t think I’m capable of…examining a situation like this, or any, clearly, but I can and I am.”
His expression hadn’t changed any throughout her speech and didn’t show any signs of changing now.
“What are you thinking?” Martha asked, frightened as she had ever been to hear his answer.
“I…” He shook his head. “Nothing.”
She rolled her eyes in his direction.
“Come on, Charles.”
“What do you want me to think, Marty? Hmm?”
“Oh, for God’s sake. Do you need me to give you a prompt?!” Martha exclaimed, folding her arms across her chest, not trusting herself to keep them away from him.
His first instinct was to fire back rapidly with some insensitive remark. He had done it a thousand times and there had never been a consequence realer than sleeping on the couch. But he didn’t. He didn’t have the reins. She did. It was the very least he could give her.
“I’m coming to you with this, with the pending breakdown of our marriage, and you…” She pursed her lips and closed her eyes, combating the tears that threatened to infiltrate the no-fly zone. “You…have no thoughts on the matter. No thoughts…whatsoever.”
“I have thoughts,” Charles replied defensively. “I just don’t feel it would be fair for me to divulge them right now, when neither of us are thinking clearly.”
“According to you, I’m never thinking clearly, so tell me, Charles, when is it going to be fair?”
“After this is all over.”
“After what’s all over?” She questioned.
“Once the treaty is signed and we’re back in Washington. I think you and I are just a little out of our comfort zones right now, our minds are elsewhere, and it’s just…it’s just not the right time,” Charles answered definitively, in his presidential voice.
Recognizing the tone of voice he had chosen to use with her as the voice he used with Congress and the Cabinet, something inside her ignited. He noticed the change in her expression and immediately felt the urge head for the hills.
“We’ll continue this conversation when we get back to D.C.,” he said, trying to pull in the reins.
He turned away from her and started walking, unwilling to let the discussion go any further. At least not that night. She wanted to scream and shout, throw a tantrum and force him to call in Secret Service, but her conscience kicked in. That method had never been successful for her, never helped her accomplish her original goal. All it had ever done was send her to Vermont and get her name dragged through the media. Instead, she invoked the practice of a more effective method, one that had served her well all those years ago.
“I wish you were here,” she whispered.
He stopped, and she felt an instant sense of satisfaction. Nothing is more liable to stop a man in his tracks than confusion and curiosity. He turned around.
“What did you say?”
“I said…” She took a deep breath and increased the volume of her voice slightly. “I wish you were here.”
She knew what he was thinking. Martha’s gone off the deep end again. Here come the delusions. True or not, causing him to think that was the only way to get his attention these days.
“What are you talking about?” He was speaking quickly now, a clear indication of his discomfort. “What is that, ‘I wish you were here’? I’m here, I’m standing in front of you now.”
She shook her head sadly.
“No, you’re not.” And she meant it, only not in the manner he perceived it.
“Oh, really.” He was bordering upon agitation now, so much so that Martha could almost feel his blood pressure rising. “Then who is?”
The question was a challenge; she was equal to the task.
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know.” He nodded his head and shoved his hands into his pockets. “You don’t know. I’m sorry, what does that mean?”
“I don’t know what it means, I can only feel what it means.”
He sighed audibly before closing the gap between them.
“Marty…sweetheart, I need you to listen to me. If you don’t know what you’re saying, I can’t know what you’re saying, and I can’t help you. I can’t help you.”
Martha shook her head in disbelief. There it was. All she had done was give him reason to patronize her, treat her as he did when he genuinely believed she had taken leave of her senses.
“Charles, I need you to listen to me. You haven’t heard a thing I’ve said all evening. I don’t need help. We need help. You and I, together. Do you remember what ‘together’ is like? I know you don’t. And that’s okay. It’s okay. We’re gonna find out.”
Overwhelmed and unprepared, Charles moved away from her and seated himself on the bed once again. She followed him slowly, silently observing his mannerisms.
“We can’t do this. Not…not right now. We can’t,” he insisted. “I can’t.”
Tears began welling up in her eyes as she shook her head at him angrily.
“God, you’re pathetic, you know that? You are pathetic!” She exclaimed. “How the hell is the public supposed to trust you to keep this country together when you can’t even be trusted to keep your own marriage from falling apart!”
The accusation shocked him and rendered him speechless which, granted, wasn’t all that difficult an achievement.
“Martha…” His voice reached out to her, barely a whisper, but she kept herself in check.
“How do you know when it’s time to give up, Charles?” She responded, the low volume of her voice matching his. “What is the deciding factor? When…will that defining moment arrive? Where is that little voice inside that says you’re ready to let go?”
A single tear slid down her cheek and his heart leapt out to catch it. But it was gone.
“I don’t know what to say.” He was being honest; she felt it.
She nodded her head.
“I said okay.”
His face was genuine when he spoke, reflecting the man she so sorely missed.
“I don’t know what means.”
Her lips curved into a faint, sympathetic smile.
“I know you don’t.” She paused, searching for the words that would describe her feelings without frightening either of them any further. “I believe it was Greta Garbo who said, ‘Life would be so wonderful if we only knew what to do with it.’ Same goes for marriage, Charles. Same goes for us.”
“So,” he ventured, quietly, attempting to shield his own surprise at comprehending her little metaphor. “What do we do with it?”
“We try,” Martha replied soundly. “We keep on walking till we find solid ground. Do you think you can do that?”
Every second that elapsed between her question and his answer caused her heart to beat a little faster.
“I can if you can.”
“Do I have your word on that?” She questioned with resolve.
“Martha, you’ve had my word on that every day since 1978.”
He reached out to her then, this time with both his hand and his heart. She knew that if she accepted his hand, as she had done all those years ago, she would have to fix them, not him. And although she was willing to give it a shot, nothing could have prepared her for what would happen next.
So, so you think you can tell heaven from hell,
Blue skies from pain.
Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?
And did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
And did you exchange a walk- on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?
How I wish, how I wish you were here.
We're just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year,
Running over the same old ground.
What have you found? The same old fears.
Wish you were here.