Flo called in sick that Friday. She waved off the bus that stopped near her house cleaning job, and instead hopped on one that went downtown. By the time she got there, spectators were six deep along both sides of the street. Her cousin, Margaret, had picked a meeting spot near the end of the route, where the crowds would thin and the motorcade would have to creep around a long slow turn. Flo weaved her way past men and women dressed in their best, several with cameras ready. A nun shepherded a group of small children, and a teenage boy held up a home made sign asking to shake the President’s hand. When she got to the meeting place, Margaret had not yet arrived.
Flo stood on wet grass; it had rained earlier, but the sun came out–it wouldn’t dare hide on that day. Nearby was a man with a little boy, and she played take-away over a miniature red race car that the round faced boy held out for her to admire. He giggled at the game. Margaret’s son, Johnny, was about the same size as the boy. Flo was not able to have children of her own.
She had tried to talk her cousin into calling in sick too, but Margaret, who was an office secretary, was going to ask to take a longer lunch time. Her own boss wouldn’t have been flexible like that. Flo was excited to see him too, but as in all things, her cousin’s devotion was greater, so when Margaret didn’t show up, she hoped it wasn’t that Johnny was sick. Whatever the reason, Margaret’s tongue would wag forever about having missed it.
Workers leaned out of building windows, probably ready to toss confetti when the car passed underneath. There was no traffic, except for police patrolling the route. Some people, who didn’t like him, had complained about the inconvenience, but so what, it was a once in a lifetime occasion. Thankfully, troublemakers hadn’t shown up.
A herd of motorcycle officers came around the corner. When someone pointed and shouted, ‘Here he comes’, the man beside her swung the boy onto his shoulders. The boy batted a small flag back and forth. Another man held up a movie camera, ready to capture the next couple of minutes for a lifetime. People stretched their necks as a car came into view, but it turned out to be an unmarked police sedan. Again, a voice shouted, “Here he comes.” Another surge of excitement hung over the scene, followed by another let down when it was not the car they had waited for. A third car of officials was followed by a dozen more motorcycle policemen. With all that protection, surely his car was next.
A dark blue convertible rolled out, barely in motion, like the start of a slow dance. She could see the driver, and then the governor and his wife. At last, there he was in plain sight, sitting in the back seat, hatless, youthful, and heavenly handsome, even more so than on television, and beside him, his Guinevere, elegant in a strikingly pink suit and hat. They were buoyant and effortless, as only those with a charmed life can be. Maybe they always looked like it was the best day of their lives.
Flo cheered and raised her hands above her head. She stood out with her pumpkin colored hair and her height, five feet ten, even with slumped shoulders. When he looked directly at her, she was no longer an outsider peering in. The sun’s rays sparkled down upon her while the most important man in the world raised his fingers in a well-bred wave. She was as alive as she could remember. Wait until she told Margaret that he smiled at her and had the straightest teeth she had ever seen. Her cousin had always been petite and pretty, the reason things fell her way, but now she was the one who stood in the perfect place on a flawless day, and their beloved president was just out of reach. She became aware of those around her––people waving, smiling, and applauding, everyone having a joyful time, something they’d always remember. In the slowness of the moment, she heard a pop. It hinted of a fireworks display. Turning in the direction of the sound, she expected a burst of red, white and blue streamers floating out of the dazzling Dallas sky. Just wait until Margaret heard about that.