A collection of short pieces written by Rumpus readers pertaining to the subject of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” We chose this subject in light of last Friday’s inauguration.
Edited by Susan Clements.
* * *
I couldn’t hear him because he was yelling and shaking me at the same time. Ever been shaken by a White House Press Secretary? It makes listening difficult.
“I don’t have time for this,” he said and before I could reply, he called for an intern to shake me instead. She was much smaller but she shook me with quiet focus.
“You had one job: make the guy a suit he can wear for the inauguration.”
The Press Secretary took a seat and crossed one leg over the other. In the background, the President-elect was busy looking at his naked self in the mirror.
“I emailed you the specifics.”
“And I followed it to the ‘T’—you said, ‘Make him look strong’ and I totally did that. Especially along the cuffs. You said, ‘Make him look confident but also stern’ and, well, he does.”
The intern seemed tired but she didn’t complain.
The Press Secretary looked back at the man by the mirror and then turned back to me.
“I see his scrotum.”
“We all see his scrotum. That’s the point.”
Just then, the President-elect joined us by the couch. He crossed his arms over his nipples.
“I’m naked. Why is she shaking him when I need to talk to him?”
Both the intern and her boss were sent to get lunch. Leaving me with… him.
He stood there at first and I, from where I was situated, was forced just to take him in. I could see that whatever wasn’t orange was worn, like a piece of luggage left out all winter.
“Can you fix the hem here?” he asked, pointing at nothing.
I plucked out my invisible thread and swiped at air.
Finally, I asked, “I… I’m sorry. You do know that you’re naked?”
He blinked slowly. “I do. And I know you have a job to do.”
“Yes. You have to dress me appropriately and then watch in awe as I walk out on stage with everything dangling in the wind. Then I go on social media and claim that I was, in fact, wearing clothes and it was all a ploy by the establishment.”
“But aren’t you—?”
“Fits nice. God bless America,” he said and he shoved me right out of the door.
I stood there for some time, still unsure of who this man was.
– Alcy Leyva
* * *
President Nixon needs a nap. He yawns and holds tiny fists to his drooping eyes. He hopes the woman will notice and remove him from his high chair to the crib in the room he shares with her and her husband. President Nixon likes the mobile that spins over the crib—jet planes with American flag decals on their wings. They always help him fall asleep.
President Nixon does not know how he ended up here with this woman, in the body of an infant. He knows that he is President Nixon, remembers his life in the White House. Well, he remembers most things; there are inexplicable gaps in his memory.
He is frustrated with being a baby. Impatient for words, he makes cooing noises that the woman finds cute. She laughs and tickles his belly when he makes them. President Nixon hates her. He is embarrassed when he soils himself and she changes his diaper. He always makes sure to aim a stream of urine at her face.
President Nixon can’t wait to grow up, to run for office again. He knows that this time will be different. He’s been watching TV and can’t believe the clown they’ve elected now. President Nixon knows he’d never grab a pussy, though he’d latch on to a breast to feed. No one could blame him for that, not even the Washington Post. Oh how glorious his return will be! He can see the ticker tape parade, the people cheering. He’ll show them all, his enemies.
But right now, President Nixon needs a nap. The woman comes over to him. For a moment, he thinks that she bears a slight resemblance to Brezhnev, but attributes this to his sleepiness. The woman carries him to the crib and lays him on his back. President Nixon watches the jets go round and round and dreams of his empire-to-be.
– Read Trammel
* * *
I was late for work because my son thought he was going to throw up.
I forgot what day it was, and I don’t read the newspapers, or watch the news. If I did, I would have brushed my hair a little more carefully. I had to wait in the hallway because the Secret Service told me to wait, and so I have to do what they tell me to do. What I wanted to do is to get on with my work. I have a routine. I clean the rooms on the left, then the rooms on the right; first the dresser, then the bed, skirting boards, bathroom. But today, because he is here on his Inauguration Day, I have to wait.
When the door opened, everyone stopped talking. He walked out of the door, and large men in dark suits walked in front of him. He didn’t look at anyone standing in the hallway, pressed against the wall. He walked a few steps, then he stopped, to read his phone. All the men stopped. He is right in front of me. What do I see? That he is just a man. What surprises me the most, though, isn’t that he is shorter than I thought he was, or that he smelled of… nothing. It is his suit. The fabric is slightly shiny, thin. Cheap-looking. I see lint on the side of the sleeve, wrinkles, the back of the collar is slightly ruffled.
When a woman kisses her husband goodbye, she also looks at his face and checks for crumbs or shaving cream. She smooths his collar and his sleeves. One last act of care before he goes outside. But no one has done this for him.
He moves away, and what I see as he walks past me makes me start to raise my hand to my mouth. But I stop myself. As he swings his arm, I see a tear in the sleeve, where it meets the shoulder. I should say something, I should tell someone. But I don’t. Another woman has signaled to me that he is unlovable.
– Noelle Girard
* * *
the emperor wear no clothes / the emperor wear no clothes / the emperor wear no clothes / he don’t like none of those
The Emperor wears no clothes. He is a peeled blood orange. His nudity folds like crimson robes. He pretends to be all-encompassing Star Wars. But there is a Force preparing to dress him down.
The Emperor can be viewed like a sun-dried tomato on a white napkin in a salon window with chipped gold-plate lettering leaving a rind of gilt grease stain across the slimy office chair he swallows whole grape clusters upon.
The Emperor is Sauron. His great eye so intent on everything in front of him, he doesn’t look back until his magic ring is jammed up his ring-of-fire ass. Burns, don’t it?
The Emperor glows like radioactive Sunny Delight in the worst tanning booth money can buy. Free Kool-Aid for the kids who call his bullshit out.
The Emperor is an imp. Pubehaired-knuckled-fingerstumped-nub-stub. The coarsest thread count imaginable. Which is good, since winter is coming. Raise fist, don hoodie.
The Emperor has no throne, nor featherers to fan him. Swift kicks from Rockettes are his best chance at BDSM. He won’t Make America Greaterer Again. His inauguration is a sham: tribute songs from unnamed bands. Salty old rockers who sound like their balls taste.
The Emperor is afraid of a lone soldier named Groo the Wanderer (who likes to fray).
The Emperor will be clothed: in the fur of Hobbit, the beard of Wildling, the skinned Rebel Alliance. He will be overdressed in infinite numbers, by magical beings; drowned in protest, thrown from the Wall he couldn’t sell. His pumpkin head will explode gloriously as Sleepy Hollows are woken. Countless stars will arise out of darkness following a scintillating (non-nuclear) sunset—smashing his shrunken crown because one size does not fit all.
200 years in which I spit / That’s too many years in Babylon / So you know we’re leaving it
(Lyrics from 200 Years by G. Love and Special Sauce, “Yeah, It’s That Easy”)
– Joe Amaral
* * *
The emperor stood admiring his image in the gilded mirror. His gentlemen smoothed his finest silk suit and combed his burnished hair into perfect obedience. After years of persistent dedication he had achieved his heart’s desire. Soon he would cross the Magnificent Chasm on the newly built Stupendous Bridge to claim the Golden Throne atop the Glorious Pinnacles.
His finest engineers insisted the bridge could not be built but the emperor would not be dissuaded. He searched far and wide and found other engineers.
“We will build your bridge,” they said. “Your bridge will be the most wondrous bridge ever built.”
They worked night and day, sending glowing reports of their progress. His agonized yearning increased with each report. Finally the bridge was done.
He left his chambers and processed through the town square to his claim his destiny. The tumultuous cheering of the people filled him with an unbearable pride. He waved to them and took his first step onto the bridge.
The people held a respectful silence as they watched the emperor tumble down the Magnificent Chasm, only beginning an excited discussion when he disappeared from sight. Perhaps the bridge did not exist, or perhaps it was just difficult to see and the emperor simply missed it. Perhaps he had survived the fall and would eventually return, or perhaps he had perished. After the initial enthusiasm of these discussions waned, the people engaged in passionate debate determining to continue with the celebration as the food was prepared; the children were anxious to perform their songs and dances, and the grandest fireworks display ever seen was installed. The people concluded that as everything was already paid for they might as well enjoy the celebration, even if the emperor was missing.
Some months went by and as talk of that extraordinary day began to diminish, something new captured their interest. The people began to see a curious thing. In the spring the birds had glittering strands that looked like burnished hair and beautiful silk threads woven into their nests. Everyone agreed it was truly amazing and the people took pride in the industry of the simplest of creatures of the land. This simple pride extended even to themselves for the good fortune of once having an emperor with a stupendous bridge and not just a fine suit of clothes like an emperor they once heard tell of.
– Lois Ann Goossen
* * *
The crowd cheers as he takes the podium. Finally, he gets his day. The streets are blanketed with signs bearing his name. Looking out at it all, he thinks maybe there is such a thing as the American Dream. The thought almost makes him cry, but he’s sure to hold back. How ridiculous would a crying head of state look to the rest of the world?
When he stands behind the mic, the crowd quiets down. As it should. Some people way at the back raise signs in the air. Stupid ones of his face made to look a ridiculous orange color, like the powdered drink he knows so many of the minorities like. The lips on the spray-painted face are puckered like they’ve tasted something sour.
As rage for such disrespect starts welling up inside, his red tie starts to choke him. It’s the one he likes so much. The first one produced under his name. He’s had it for so long now. He pulls on the silk to try and ease the compression.
It grows tighter. He’s convinced one of the sweatshop laborers at any of the piss-poor countries he’s helped bring industry to put some weird indigenous voodoo curse on it to sabotage him. On his day, no less. Backward people can’t appreciate a paycheck. It’s okay. Soon, he’ll bring their jobs to America and make it great again.
He’s so proud of himself, he snickers at the thought of an American superpower.
The tie grows tighter. With so many people in the street now, so many signs in the air, it’s hard to tell supporters from protestors.
Suddenly, almost magically, the tie loosens, giving him a chance to speak. Could the liberals be right? Do hippies actually know something? Does the Universe give you a chance to make things right? If so, he should make this count.
“I look forward to making America gr—“
The tie clamps and he drops to the podium floor, pulling the mic with him.
He will have the last word.
“This inauguration has been a disaster. To-tal disaster.”
– Hector Duarte Jr.
* * *
The mountain doesn’t move
for me. Stands with its head stuck
in the clouds, leaving me
moss child. Leaving me
apostate. Leaving me
to pick words from between my teeth
and pink ooze to bleed out
indignantly. Did you hear
last night, the roughshod sky
breaking over us? Did you hear
the gloom? Did you hear
the immovable mass of nation
and its resolve of hate, how it threatened
to quiet us with exile, how it asked
to stone the streets of dissent?
Are you listening now?
Cut a passage. Help me
clear the stones.
There’s a path I will be making
in the undergrowth.
– Addison Namnoum
* * *
Expectation is a funny thing. Eight years ago, I expected Barack Obama to lose the election to John McCain. I hoped Obama would win but I’d grown up expecting to be disappointed. I’ve come to expect that my vote would not make a difference. I voted each time anyway, of course. And then he won. And then he won again four years ago. I didn’t realize until this recent November how much it meant—how much President Obama’s win all those years ago had made me believe there was hope for equality for all in the United States. Despite the violence in recent years, the heart-ache and despair of police brutality, the mass shootings, despite the hate speech all over Twitter, there was still hope—we still had a president who told us to be our better selves as a society. I held that secret expectation inside me.
And then November 8 happened. The outcome was familiar—so familiar I said to my friends who wept that I was not broken up by the result. I said I knew this monstrosity well, the gaslighting, this obliteration of the truth. As a Korean American woman growing up with a sexist father I know it too well and I’m feeling nothing—I’m in survival mode. I’m not crying, I’m not raging. I’m getting up in the morning and doing what I always do to keep moving. My daughters are different from me though and I’m scared for them. They’re shocked that the election could turn out this way, that someone could be rewarded, applauded for being hateful and even lie outright. That’s new to them. The bigotry that seemed to go underground in many places is out in the open again, showing its teeth. Maybe this election will teach our children something different than what past elections taught me—maybe they will be able to recognize deception earlier and strategize, maybe they will not expect ever to lose to it.
– Jimin Han
* * *
And so we go along—
You and I standing side by side watching this absurd procession
I nudge you; you nudge me
Passing hushed truths back and forth
But these are merely whispers between the like-minded
And so we go along—
The trick revealed; sleight of hand slapped across our faces
Loom of lies spinning endlessly, while we sit captivated by the spectacle
Speak honestly and be cast out: unfit
Speak nothing and be cast out: undone
And so we go along—
Determined to attach normalcy to lunacy
A charade like any other, we say
No more preposterous than before, we say
Ridiculous is our resting pulse, we say
Don’t you see?
Look into the mirror and see
We are seated before our looms
Weaving our own false thread
Who are we now?
Deceivers disrobed, parading our own lies
And so we go along—
Because though the throne is exposed
Stripped naked before our eyes
You and I stand by in frightened silence
Gradually becoming invisible
Cry out, innocent child, cry out!
– Ryan Fox
* * *
Late December, a package is left outside your door. A small brown box tied with gold ribbon. The shipping labels have been torn off leaving rough patches of exposed cardboard. You check for a tag, see nothing, but figure there must be a note inside so you place it under the tree. And when you unwrap it later, what do you find? A red ball cap with four words embroidered in stark white and a slip of paper that reads “Merry Christmas,” underlined twice, “and a very Happy New Year!” Ah, you think, someone’s idea of a joke. A neighbor sending a little message in response to the campaign signs still displayed in your front window. Because apparently this is the world.
Then, something you notice in an article about the election: pollsters received drastically different responses to the same question depending on whether it was posed by a person, live, or an automated recording. Major swings in opinion between right track and wrong track, candidate A and candidate B, because shame was part of some unseen equation.
But still the hats sold. So many hats. Made in Los Angeles, where Hollywood is filming the end of the world on a loop. Down goes the Golden Gate Bridge. Down goes the Statue of Liberty. The apocalypse always starts at the coasts and never seems to reach Des Moines. Maybe it’s wish fulfillment, or just self-hate. Either way, the audience applauds, buys hats, wears them to rallies in high school gymnasiums and community hockey rinks.
And now there’s a presidential seal on everything. The Marine Corps band plays and it’s hail to the hate and bigotry, the smallness and paranoia, sexual assault and corruption. A great big wall to keep the ugliness in and victory merch sold in the lobby of every towering conflict of interest around the world. Branding, you realize, will destroy us all. What a letdown to know that the world ends not with a bang but with an infomercial. An insecure, third-rate variety act plugging steaks while the species goes extinct.
Or not, right? Because you still find time to hope. Maybe we learn and resist and survive. Isn’t that how disaster movies end, anyway? With a hard-won calm. Put the hat in the trash. Break the box down and save the ribbon for next year. Say it out loud, and convince yourself. There will be one.
– Alex Peterson
Rumpus original art by Miss Pussy.