(*nominated by Hobart for a 2004 storySouth Award)
Standing in the enormous walk-in closet, he drew his finger languorously over the shoulder seams of over a dozen jackets, deciding. What was appropriate for a trial? Surely not red. They would draw the wrong conclusions. Also, nothing in leather.
On the shelves along the far wall, a pair of Italian-made shoes, covered to the tops of the soles in rhinestones, glittered with self-assured opulence. There was a confidence in these shoes, a silent fluency that would speak so that he would not have to. There was always the obvious predominance of images over of sound-bytes to consider, and he had put these shoes out the night before because he felt they said ‘royalty.’ They should not forget who he is, after all. And royalty no longer need fear the guillotine.
Black then. Yes. A velvet suit coat with rhinestone buttons at the cuffs, a white shirt with a mandarin collar and pleated front, black pants. Sublime, yet funereally tactful.
His oldest sister had called before he’d come in to dress. She’d offered a long sequence of reassuring coos and chirps into the phone in her characteristically insipid and avian way. Again, she told him how much the family believed in him, that they were behind him one hundred percent. “Thank you . . . thank you . . . that means so much.”
He wondered if his sister had actually called out of her own good will or if his mother was standing nearby, if she had perhaps even dialed for her, sticking her long metallic-toned nails into the silly rotary of one of his sister’s Princess phones. He and his sister had had breakfast together the morning before, he taking nothing but grapefruit juice with a sprinkle of Splenda, she nothing but hot water with lemon. She spoke endlessly, tweeting like a songbird, unnatural in her enthusiasm and artificial in her affections. Under the table, he observed how her ankle bones protruded so elegantly and felt a distressing stab of envy. He thought of this now as he searched for a suitable pair of socks.
As he was applying his eyeliner, a maid came into his quarters again, carrying a Mickey Mouse phone with the receiver lying on the tray by the phone’s feet. “Excuse me, Mr. Jackson. Your lawyer is on the line. He’s eager to know when you will be at the court house.”
He turned on his vanity stool to look at the clock on the wide mantle ledge. It was 7:25.
“Tell him I’m indisposed at the moment. I will be there when I arrive.”
“Yes, Mr. Jackson. Thank you.” She curtsied awkwardly and stepped backward several paces before turning to go out.
The eyeliner went on too heavily, leaving small globs in his false lashes, and he was forced to take it all off and begin again, with a foundational swab of pancake. Getting ready was a painstaking process, but he would not be seen any less than perfect under these circumstances.
As he finished, inspecting for fractures in the surface, for imperfections, he felt the draw of the special room. Its strong aura was pulling him, like so many little fingers, toward its oak paneled door. He smoothed his jacket and reluctantly left the vanity mirror. The door was not locked, which upset him at first. But he remembered having lain on the floor prior to bedtime the night before and felt sudden relief. As he turned on the light inside the door, an entire world of childrens’ images, photograph upon photograph, each framed and perched on a tiny wall shelf, reached out to embrace him. He felt an enormous amount of positive energy, and he then became aware of the need to touch each one, but knew that he would not be able to do this in the amount of time he had before departing. There were well over a thousand to acknowledge, and he could not, he felt, leave out a single one. They would remember his thoughtless favoritism and retaliate, as they had so potently done during his last surgery. And he could not afford this today. He smiled at them instead, directing his beneficent gaze slowly around the room’s expanse, like the sun traveling across the sky, encouraging the flowers. He bowed then, pushed aside the little white stool he used in an adjacent room when he wanted to spend time with a special one alone. He closed the door.
As he made his way downstairs towards the ballroom, he could hear the SUV engine idling outside. There was, he felt, still sufficient time left. He owed it to the servants. Also, he considered it fairly imperative to carry out the ritual performance today.
“Bring them in from outside…outside in the truck. They shouldn’t have to miss it.” He motioned towards the front windows, through which the SUV’s tail pipe could be seen expelling defensive plumes of exhaust against the cold. Someone went out the grand front door to retrieve the chauffer and body guards.
Standing a respectful distance away from the king was a young man, no more than thirty, dressed in a white jumpsuit with Mylar stripes shimmering down the sides. “What will it be today, Mr. Jackson?”
Mr. Jackson clasped his hands, considering. “Today, Jeffery, I think it should be Bad.” He smiled, feeling his lipstick crack slightly. He cast his eyes downward. Jeffery nodded and disappeared into a wall booth.
After the modest crowd had assembled, the music began. With the first finger poke of the air, he began an animated display of backwards toeing, hip gyrations, and a uniform collection of angry glances at the floor. He gave particular emphasis to the threatening portions of the song and added some additional growls and rumbles after ‘your butt is mine.’ He was, it was clear, preparing. As he finished, a modest round of applause echoed into the room. He smiled at them and bowed, so much more like a court jester than a king. “Thank you. Thank you,” he murmured with abashed humility.
The crowd of servants then parted like the Red Sea in order to let him pass, along with his body guards. And, at 8:15, he finally headed towards the SUV, requesting a parasol before leaving. In the midst of a small, family-conducted motorcade, he made his way to the Courthouse. Admiring his dapper feet in the foot wells of the SUV, he was assured by the inspiring, affirmative scintillations of his shoes.