"Sir, you really don't need to do this."
The former president was silent.
His assistant, Ramona Ramone, had only 20 minutes remaining in which to talk him out of this latest piece of performance art. They were traveling in the back of a black Explorer, the gigantic vehicle's tires spitting gravel left and right.
"People were impressed last time you did it," Ramona chirped. "They were impressed like crazy."
The former president was looking out the window. He seemed so gentle, Ramona thought. So much at peace. So wise! Or perhaps not wise. What was the word she was looking for?
Old. He was quite old. She wanted to place her hand on his hands, folded together in his lap like two wilted sea creatures. They looked ancient, his hands, pink and blue and rubbery and yet fragile enough to cleave to the touch.
"You've got nothing to prove to anyone, sir," she tried.
The president said nothing.
"I know you were disappointed in the press coverage last time, and the time before that, but I can say that personally, I know at least a dozen people who were really stunned by your courage. I have e-mails to prove it! I saved a voice-mail message, too. From my college roommate Firoozeh. She was blown away, sir."
The president turned to Ramona Ramone and smiled gently. He knew she was talking to him, but he couldn't hear a word she was saying. The truck was too loud, the road grinding underneath them like a great beast chewing on rocks and gristle.
Former president J. Junior Inferior Sr. was determined to jump once again, from a plane, parachuting from the heavens, this time landing as close as possible to the parking lot next to tonight's debate between the GOP hopefuls. In one fell swoop he would receive the appropriate media coverage for such a feat -- because he was 81, for God's sake! He deserved some "props," as they say (and which he would say when interviewed in his jumpsuit) -- while also proving once and for all that the Republican Party was the more bold and badass and steel-balled of the two, hands down and forever, time eternal. The image of J. Junior Inferior Sr., flush with adventure, standing in his athletic and bow-legged way, with his helmet tucked under his arm, would inspire the party, would bolster his legacy and would create a clear contrast between the representatives of his own party and those of the opposition, who always looked so awkward in boots or flak jackets or tanks.
Ramona was doing her best to remain cheerful. She had been told by her boss' son, who was of course running for president again himself, to prevent -- at all costs -- his father from going through with this. He had tried to talk Senior out of it for weeks, to no avail. His father seemed almost autistic in his single-mindedness, in the distanced way he'd been communicating lately, repeating words like "respect" and "dissing" and "props," over and over, within and without context. He had always been one for knowing the latest terminology, but Junior was almost certain his father was misusing these words. One recent phone conversation had ended with these words from his father: "Son, I can't just step up to the disses! I'm out there propping you, respecting the shouting out! Get off my grill and let me take to the homeys, front!"
It was the first time in years Junior had cried. He cried softly to himself, in the back of a car taking him to Lincoln, N.H., knowing that this could be the end of so many things, one or two of which he cared about.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
The day was brisk but unseasonably warm. Though Senior had been willing to jump through cold sub-zero skies, the forecast today was for sun and temperatures in the 40s. It was fate, that the weather would clear for him this way. It reminded him very much of the way the French countryside, obscured in clouds and mist that fateful evening, appeared before him as he descended below the cloudbank. It was gorgeous, that land -- verdant and rolling, the sun setting beyond the hills, a herd of white cattle running from his approaching parachute--
Ramona inched her way closer to the president and leaned into his ear. "What about a trampoline?" she yelled.
He shook his head and pointed to his right ear. His left was useless.
"A trampoline," she repeated, her breath hot against his cheek. "You could set up a trampoline in the parking lot, right there in front of the cameras, and you could jump around a bit on it. You'd look very fit and virile, Mr. President."
Inferior Sr. didn't hear everything Ramona had said, but he heard enough to know that his young assistant, pretty and pleasant, with a good heart and scar running from her nose to her chin, didn't get it. He'd been a pilot in the war to end all wars! He'd been shot down over Provence! Trampolines would not do.