I can see now that my wife was right in saying that I am not fit to be President of these United States. The Lord has cursed me, that is to be sure, but I see myself with no choice but to continue in these offices. It would not be fit for me to resign as I have never been a man to shirk my duties. Still, most days I find myself lost and alone and then my only real choice is to soften my pains with whiskey.
If I have a vice- that is to say, a fault in my own character rather than my fortune- it is that I am too much like my countrymen. My opponents can call me a doughface or say Franklin Pierce is a slaver or what-have-you, but I see no harm in being like to a Southern gentleman, excepting of course my love of whiskey. I would call it another factor in my curse if I did not enjoy it so.
And so today while searching for drink to distract from my sore duties as a public servant I found a reminder of the only thing worse than the abolitionists knocking at my door. It was a letter from my wife, Jane.
My precious child, Benjamin, I cannot stand that you are not with us to-day. How dear were our days together and how short. The agony suffered in the rail cars was surely an effect of the Curse of the Lord due to pride of your father though I am sure that Jesus has received you regardless. I wonder have you met with your dear brother, or your uncle, or any of the countless others who have passed us by? I feel now the guilt of our wasted days and pray for a chance at holding you again. Bennie, my dear, God forgive me for this bitterness in my heart at your wasted life. I have taken the blessing of you for granted and for that I must still suffer, all my days, all my days.
It is but a single lamentation among many. One of the shorter ones, in fact. They are found in nooks and drawers and every imaginable corner of the building like an infestation. While not a day has gone by without the memory of Bennie haunting me, I must admit that I am offended at how little I am ever mentioned in these letters. Although we have only been in this House for a few weeks I have seen too many messages to my dead son and too little of Jane. I imagine that someday a future president will find one of Jane’s letters hidden in his drawers and he will know about the ghosts that haunted the White House- Bennie, of course, but also Jane. She is a specter, withered and clad in black.
The story of my election is not an exciting one. I was asked by my party to campaign and I saw good opportunity for my family, but Jane fainted at the news of my acceptance. She does not enjoy much out of life, but most of all she dislikes being too much in the public eye. Jane prayed for my defeat. Even Bennie sent letters saying he’d rather stay home than move to Washington, but I thought it would be better for him. My father was a politician, after all, and I turned out the better for it.
And I won in a landslide, which would surprise me if it weren’t for the Whigs showing such incompetence at everything they do. They called me Handsome Frank and covered up my drinking and touted my war experience and in the end all was well.
But the train, the train; it should all come back to the story of the train.
Jane and Bennie and I were returning from Boston where we had been attending my brother-in-law’s funeral. That is a constant theme, it seems, in my story. Tragedy begets tragedy. As it was, we were enjoying the train ride back. I remember showing Bennie the countryside out the window and Jane sitting quietly in the corner, watching her child with joy and me with contempt.
I have never told Jane why I am President. I acted surprised to hear of my nomination, but in truth I encouraged my connections to put my name forward. But of course I have never found ambition an undesirable trait despite any protests, so we disagree quite a bit on my decision. She is mad enough at me without the truth of my involvement. I even lied in my inaugural speech as to my true intentions, but those details are best left to the judges of history.
Bennie was the liveliest child I have ever seen. There is a bias with one’s own children, of course, but in this case I would argue to the death that he was spectacular. He was eleven and although funerals are of course not a happy affair for those his age, Bennie made the best of it. He was the perfect child.
Our others, Franklin Junior and Frank Robert, died much younger. Franklin Junior can’t really be said to have lived as he only reached three days and Frank Robert struggled with Typhus until he died at four years. Bennie was our golden child. I am convinced that he would have made me proud. Maybe he could have brought a light into Jane’s eyes.
Jane has never been happy, but I never noticed her sad before our poor attempts at children. It’s like her head is in the clouds, and the clouds full of rain. I think that she was happiest in these last few years before the election, with the three of us living peacefully in New Hampshire and the Pierces, for once, out of the public eye. Even though our two youngest had died before they lived, Bennie kept us happy and healthy. I scarcely drank and Jane enjoyed regular outings. I am quite sure that she has not seen the sun since my inauguration day when she retired to her chambers without a word.
It was on that train that the curse my wife wished on me hit all three of us. The car went off the tracks so suddenly that it was like God had reached His hand down to pluck us out. The lights were extinguished and we were tossed about and beat like a nigger gone missing. When I came to I saw Bennie’s body by his window, his neck severed and blood caked out all round him. His head was nearly crushed except for the top where tears of blood rolled from his eyes, our healthiest boy cut down so fast. Those eyes were wide-struck with terror. I have served this country in war and seen some gruesome injuries in my day, but this was the only one to ever make me sick. So there in the belly of that great metal beast I sat wide-eyed with my mouth aching and the smell of death and sick mingling in the air, hoping against hope that Jane would never have to see the bloody sight.
A boy dying three days after he’s born is just nature’s way sometimes. Four years of sickness before his life is cut short, well, that’s the Lord looking the other way. I’d be fine with ignorance from the Almighty as long as I have something to hold onto, and Bennie was that something. No, that day I realized fully that I was not meant to walk in happiness on His earth. When such a brutal death can occur to a child, in sight of his parents on the eve of the greatest promotion of living possibility, that’s when the Lord has borne a grudge against you.
It is another great disservice by our Creator that He has made our minds in ways that can be broken. I do not remember my first step taken, nor can I pinpoint the best day of my life in my memory, but every second of that day on the train is branded into my mind. Jane’s letter only forces the sight more clearly into my tired eyes. The only thing, I believe in my heart, that kept me going since was the knowledge of my fate, for I was very soon to be the President of these United States, curse or no curse. That day I told the Lord that whatever His curse, I would weather it in service of my country, for nothing in heaven or on earth could make me a quitter. And that was the last thing I ever told Him. I cursed my God right back and vowed in my heart that I would pay Him the same respect I had received. I try to be a patient man, but I will never be weak-willed enough to be called Job. Jonah, perhaps, trapped in a metal belly with my bleeding child, remembering Franklin Junior and his three pointless days of life.
I do not know why the Lord has cursed me so. Jane seems to believe it is due to my pride, but I see no logic in taking Bennie for it. This God is no longer my God. My only duty now is to my country, as my God and my wife have left me to wallow in lonesomeness.
As soon as I could move I covered Bennie in my coat for fear that Jane would see him, but I suspect she did without ever letting on.
Even my country does not favor me, though. Congress and my Party are always hounding after me for decisions while I slip into a melancholy indifference. My Vice President, Mr. King, has fallen ill while overseas and I strongly suspect that he will be the next victim of the curse. I can scarcely handle my own life right now so I shudder to think what I would do if I held any real power over the nation. It has weathered worse conflict and survived so I am sure that I may take some time to myself.
But I cannot see how long this time will be. It does not seem that my mood will ever lift again. My greatest fear now is that I will never recover and go on to live in darkness forever.