"The former president paints portraits of dogs"
The Former President at his Easel
He uses the guest room, the one with the slanted ceiling. He positions his easel in the middle of the floor. The Former First Lady says don't make a mess. The Housekeeper places a clean beige sheet under his easel.
His Instructor says to paint the room. She says think about the spatial dimensions; use shading and depth; practice the techniques he's learned.
He looks at the blank canvas and looks at the room. He holds his thumb out to measure distance. He places paint in the center of the canvas.
"This is hard," he says. "We didn't go over walls."
Described by his Housekeeper
A: "The Former President is a nice man. He's very generous. When my son applied to college, the Former President made calls on his behalf. When I asked him how it went, he chuckled and said he hoped his word was still good for something."
Attitude Toward Painting
"She asked, 'What's your goal?' I said, 'Well, there's a Rembrandt trapped in this body. Your job is to unleash him.'"
The Former President Penetrated with Sadness
He hears weeping. He can't locate where it's coming from. It sounds like a woman. He worries that it's the Former First Lady.
He walks around the ranch. The sound is trapped in the walls. Muffled sobs.
He starts to cry. The weeping stops.
A Friend Comments: The Former President's Aloneness
"He's hard to understand. I don't think he wants to be, but that's the way he is. Things seem fine, we'll be laughing, I'll be having a beer; he'll be having a club soda, until he'll say something odd and get a far-off look in his eye. Then he won't say anything at all. It's hard to know someone like that.
"Once we were at a baseball game and a foul ball came whizzing past his head. I swear, he didn't flinch. I asked him, 'Didn't you see it coming?'
He looked at me and said, 'Of course I did.'"
The Former President tours his presidential library with his daughter, now a news anchor. His series, "The Art of Leadership: A President's Personal Diplomacy" is on show. He speaks about a portrait of his father.
"I painted a gentle soul," he says.
The video cuts to the news anchors in the studio with the Former President's daughter. One says, "Mmm."
"That is so revealing," says another anchor. "It really is. And unexpected."
"We were shocked!" says his daughter.
The Former President Puzzled by His Grandchildren
The youngest granddaughter is crying. The Former President frowns and wonders if he should deal with the crying or if it will pass.
"A book," the other one says. "Mom and Dad always read us a book before bed."
He sits in his daughter's nursing chair in her New York apartment and a book is placed in his hands.
"I'll need my glasses for this," says the Former President.
He removes his glasses from his pocket.
The city is noisy. The youngest continues to cry.
The book is Sun Tzu's The Art of War.
He hesitates, but then begins, "I. Laying Plans 1. Sun Tzu said: The art of war is of vital importance to the State."
The children become quiet.
An Iraqi girl reaches out from the grave. She tugs on the Former President's pants.
He looks down. The desert floor is hard with a thin layer of dust that covers the ground like crumbs.
When night falls, it's dark and there's nowhere to sit.
Light approaches from a tank.
Matters (from an Administrative Assistant)
"A lot of matters are coming to a head, moving to the front burner, so to speak. There's so much to take care of. Where is he? We're looking for him. He keeps withdrawing, making himself unavailable. There's one matter that's probably more pressing than all the others put together. Really crucial. We're all just standing around here wondering what to do. We're getting pretty nervous because the thing is… Oh, never mind. We got a call. Who is it? Oh, no. Not him. I guess we still don't know where he is."
Childhood of The Former President as Recalled by a Former Teacher
"Studies didn't come easy to him. He was often sociable, often chatting with other boys, but his work was behind that of his peers. Which isn't to say it was bad. We only take first-rate students here. But while some students show an understanding of material rather quickly, he required more time to comprehend central ideas. I asked him whether he thought he was keeping up in the class. He said that he understood the material, but that he had to work until very late at night. I questioned him whether this was true, given how social he was, but clearly life worked out well for him. He did have many positive qualities; he was kind and had good sense of humor. It just goes to show that some students will surprise you after they leave."
The Former President Explains a Technique
"I don't overthink it. That usually gets me into trouble. Instead, I act on instinct. I listen to my inner voice. Then I move forward with the utmost confidence. This allows me to be spontaneous and to consistently surprise myself. If I make a mistake, I don't go back. I keep moving forward. Then, if my inner voice gets quiet, I stop. There's nothing wrong with taking a break."
The Former President Paints Portraits of Dogs
The Former President in his gallery, alone. He walks past his portraits. There's no portrait of his mother. She won't let him paint her. When asked, she says, "Absolutely not."
I don't know how he feels about this, but I tell him I enjoy his paintings. He looks at me and smiles.
"Thank you," he says.
Jared Levy was born in Philadelphia, PA and he currently lives there, too. He is a proud member of the Backyard Writers Workshop and his stories have appeared in the Quotable, Apiary Magazine, and most recently, the Machinery.