Moments of Doubt

By Patricia Smith

american flag waving

Daylight arrived like a long-overdue visitor. Chris had been awake for hours, listening to the sound of her husband Michael’s steady breathing. Before the day ended, she would become a part of history.

Mother Nature, seeming to understand the importance of this day, responded with a brilliant array of colors, bathing the sky in shades of pink and rose before gradually allowing golden rays of sunlight to emerge from the horizon. But the sunshine was not expected to last.  Weather forecasters had been predicting snow. Looking over the still sleeping city she would be calling home for at least four years and hopefully eight, Chris watched as light grey clouds crept into view.

For a few moments, Chris thought about attempting to slip, unnoticed, into the cold, crisp air, but knew that would be impossible. The days of going for long solitary walks ended four months before the election when her Secret Service detail was assigned. Now there were few places she could go alone.  She tried to concentrate on the events taking place later in the day, but longed for a taste of the freedom she had given up willingly; a freedom lost to the past.

She walked in the bathroom and stared at her reflection in the mirror.  The years were beginning to show. The tiny lines around her blue eyes had become more noticeable; her dark brown hair had traces of grey.  Still, she had aged well and retained much of her youthful beauty which had always been a liability rather than asset.

“What if I . . . fail?” She asked the image looking back at her. “What if I?”

The word stuck in her throat as if deliberately trying to choke her. Failure was never an option Christine O’Brien Bradley considered, especially not with Michelle at her side throughout her political career. Always successful, Chris never had any reason to doubt her own ability or Michelle’s. Now, the possibility of failing haunted her like a bad dream. She did not know how to deal with it; how to rid her mind of the doubts. She splashed her face with cold water hoping to break free from the spell of uncertainty that had suddenly cast itself upon her, but she could not. And the ominous question still remained, what if she failed? The answer was unthinkable.

Chris dressed quietly, so as not to wake her husband, and left their room.  As she walked down the hall, she thought about all the men who had served as President before her. For a moment, she thought she saw their images in the shadows.  Some were considered great, others mediocre and still others long since forgotten. How would she measure up? She was breaking new ground; treading where no woman had previously gone. If she succeeded, would she be remembered only because she was the first woman President? If she failed, would people then believe a woman simply was not capable of handling the job?

Chris knocked on the door of the room Michelle and Bill were using, hoping Michelle was awake. The door opened and Michelle, already dressed, joined Chris in the hall.

“I wasn’t sure you’d be awake.”  Chris said.

“I’ve been waiting for you.”

“Is Bill still sleeping?”

Chris really did not care whether her brother was sleeping.  She was a little surprised that he decided to attend her inauguration. They had not spoken since he congratulated her on election night. Chris knew Bill was angry because Michelle was moving to Washington.

“Yeah, he’s still on California time. How about Michael?”

Chris hesitated before answering. “He was asleep when I left.”

“Do you want to go for a walk?”

They had often gone for long walks during the early morning hours.

“No!” Chris frowned. “You know we can’t go out alone.”

“So we’ll have company. It won’t be the first time!”

They walked out into the chilly air of a city just opening its eyes. The sound of early morning traffic echoed in the distance, and the ground cracked beneath their feet as they strolled across the frozen lawn. It was one of those rare moments when Chris enjoyed even the slightest bit of anonymity. No cameras recording her every move; no reporters asking the same questions repeatedly.  Even the Secret Service Agents, though still with her, seemed farther away.

“Did you see the sunrise this morning?” Chris asked.

“Yes, I did and I couldn’t think of a more perfect beginning for this day.”

“It looks like it’s going to snow after all.”

“It does seem that way, but I don’t think you really want to discuss the weather, do you, Chris?”

“No, not really, Michelle.”

“What’s on your mind?”

“This is everything you and I have worked so hard for. I should be thrilled.  What is it they say, be careful what you ask for because you might just get it?”

“Are you having second thoughts about this?”

“I . . . don’t . . . know.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Do you realize my life has become an open book, and I have no control over who turns the pages! I cannot go anywhere without someone, somewhere, documenting my every move.”

“Chris, you knew this would happen.”

“But, Michelle, I never thought it would involve sacrificing all my privacy.  You and I can’t even go for a walk alone, and it’s not just me; this has affected my entire family as well. They will never be able to lead normal lives again.”

“They will be fine, Chris. Your children are adults, and they all knew what they were getting into, so did your husband. They all supported your decision.”

“I didn’t exactly give them a choice. This hasn’t been easy for them. The traveling, the constant exposure . . .”

“Christine, you don’t really expect me to believe that this is what’s bothering you. You have spent most of your adult life in the public eye and never expressed any concern over it. Now, what is wrong?”

Chris stopped. She looked everywhere but at Michelle and wished she could find a place to hide, but there wasn’t any. Finally, Chris turned and faced the woman who had guided her to this day.

“What if I can’t handle it, Michelle? What if the pressure is too much? Do I just give up . . . admit defeat and walk away . . . forget about how hard we worked to get here?”

“No, you know you can’t do that.”

“Then what do I do?” Chris’s voice trembled with uncertainty.

“You will get through it, Chris,” Michelle replied softly, aware that Chris needed reassurance. This isn’t the first time you’ve had to deal with pressure, and it won’t be the last. You have always handled it!”

“You cannot seriously compare this to the past, Michelle!” Chris stared at her in disbelief and wondered how Michelle could possibly justify the comparison. “This is hardly the same thing!”

“Why isn’t it? The game hasn’t changed! You’re just playing on a bigger field!”

“And you are the master of the understatement!”

Michelle did not respond immediately; instead, she took a few moments to collect her thoughts. She placed her gloved hands on Chris’s shoulders and chose her words carefully.

“I know you have doubts, Chris. You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t. I also know how difficult it is for you to talk about them. Everyone is afraid of failing, but you cannot allow that fear to stop you now. You never would have gotten this far if you had given in to every doubt you’ve ever had. And I have never known you to back down from a challenge regardless of how hard it was! Or have you forgotten all the problems you encountered thirty-two years ago when you were just beginning?”

“No, of course I haven’t.”

How could she? Chris has fought for acceptance in a predominately male field throughout her political career.

“And to you remember how determined you were to succeed; to prove everybody wrong, which is exactly what you did?”

Yes. But, Michelle, there is more at stake here, more to lose. Do you know how many people are going to be watching me, just waiting for me to fail?”

“Don’t fail!”

“MICHELLE!”

“Chris, I know you’re worried. You have every reason to be concerned about whether you are the right person for this job; but do you think I would have encouraged you if I had any doubt as to your ability to handle it?”

“No.”

“This is your chance to make a difference. To accomplish the things you’ve wanted to accomplish. Everything leading up to this moment has been a struggle. There were never any shortcuts, easy answers or stars to wish on.  This road has been the most difficult one you have had to follow, and no it’s not going to get easier. Yes, there will be people watching your every move and waiting for you to fail. But that’s nothing new. They have been waiting for the past thirty-two years, and they are still waiting!”

“Michelle, what would I do without you?”

“Oh, I think you would do just fine.”

“No, Michelle, I don’t think so. You are the reason this is a reality and not just a dream!”

“You’re giving me far too much credit, Chris.”

“I couldn’t give you enough credit. I can’t even begin to thank you, or tell you how much it means to me that you will be by my side today.”

“There’s no place I’d rather be, and I think it’s about time we headed back, don’t you?”

“Yes.” Chris replied softly.

Neither spoke again until they were standing midway between their rooms.

“Well, Michelle, I’ll see you in a couple of hours.”

“Yes, Chris, you will.”

Chris turned in the direction of her room, paused and turned back toward Michelle.

“Michelle . . .”  She whispered.

“I know, Chris,” Michelle answered as she hugged Chris. “I love you, too, and you’re welcome.”

Chris rarely displayed her emotions; Michelle understood.

How can I ever thank her? Chris wondered as she watched Michelle walk down the hall. What words could I possibly use?

This could have been Michelle’s day if Michelle had not made the decision long ago to work behind the scenes. She was the one who was more qualified. The one who had the doctorate in American History. The one who studied the Constitution. The one who knew more about how the political system worked than most so-called political experts. But Michelle had always tried to avoid the spotlight whenever possible, content to let Chris bask in the limelight. Michelle never sought recognition; that was not her style. That did not mean Chris was some sort of puppet controlled by Michelle behind the scenes. They worked well together, clashed at times over the best way to get legislation passed, but agreed on policy.

Chris walked into to her room and greeted her husband with a quick kiss.  “Good morning.”

“Good morning!” Michael replied, putting his arms around her. “Are you okay?”

“Yes, I’m fine. I’m going to take a shower.”

“Do you want company?” Michael asked mischievously.

“Not now. But, tonight I will!”

Chris slipped out of her husband’s embrace and walked into the bathroom.  As the hot water slowly massaged some of the tightness out of her muscles, Chris went over the speech she would give. She and Michelle had worked on it for several weeks, constantly writing and rewriting until they were satisfied. Although she had delivered numerous speeches throughout her career, few, if any, measured up to the importance of this one.

She dressed and joined her family for breakfast. Her oldest daughter, Jillian, had followed in her mother’s footsteps and entered politics. Jill had been elected to the United States House of Representatives. Ann, the middle daughter who had the strongest resemblance to her mother, was a high school English teacher. Youngest daughter, Michelle, was pursuing a degree in History and was leaning toward a career in politics but more interested in following in her Aunt Michelle’s footsteps than her mother’s.

After what seemed to Chris an eternity, the car arrived to take them to the United States Capitol. A large crowd had gathered, more than had been anticipated. The sound of cheers roared through the air as Chris stepped out of the car. Hundreds of reporters from around the world were focused on Chris. Photographers and those running the television cameras made last-minute checks of their equipment to record this moment for future generations. Television hosts and political pundits discussed the historic moment about to happen.

As Chris placed her left hand on the Bible her sister-in-law Michelle was holding, tiny snowflakes, acting almost on cue, started falling. Chris raised her right hand, took a breath and repeated the words which insured her a place in history:

“I, Christine Ann O’Brien Bradley, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of the Presidency and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Category: Featured, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing