Wake up, Jeb Bush. It’s time. You are the president. It is your Inauguration Day. Wake up.
Jeb yawns, stretches his arms, pops his knuckles, and reaches over to his bedside table to put his glasses on. He can’t find them, but that’s all right. He left them on the kitchen table. He rubs his eyes and hears his mother through the door.
Find your suit. My boys must wear suits to become president.
He stumbles groggily toward the closet for his suit, the one he’ll be wearing in the afternoon when he takes the oath of office. But it’s not there. That’s all right. The suit is simply at the dry cleaner’s, just a few blocks from the house. He throws on his old overalls and his boots and heads to the kitchen table for his glasses, but in the early light, he can’t find them.
I’m afraid you’ll have to do without. You’re in a hurry. Don’t make yourself seen. No one can see you like this.
He walks out to the porch, only to find that the sun hasn’t come out this morning in Washington. The sky is a heavy gray and the streets are flooded to obscurity from last night’s storm. The water is almost up to the porch. He lights a lantern, pauses to steel his nerve, and prepares to wade into the water for his suit. It’s a straight line to the cleaner’s, probably not even half a mile.
The water is thick and slimy, like a stew left out overnight, and for a moment Jeb is glad he couldn’t find his glasses. He’s glad he doesn’t know the filth of the swamp that surrounds him and brushes up against his legs. But just as this thought begins to soothe him, he stumbles from a hard and sharp impact, and he cries out in pain. He is suddenly overwhelmed by the sensation that there must be an alligator following him, and that makes him feel weak and small.
Go into the forest, Jeb. Your suit is in the forest.
Jeb crawls out of the swamp into the forest, fighting his way through the bugs and trees. His lantern casts strange shadows around him, shadows like starving men. He comes to a clearing in the forest and sees a steam engine with two coal cars behind it. There’s a man inside. Jeb approaches. Surely this man will know where to find his suit.
“Hello, son. I had an event to get to, but it got delayed.”
“Dad, why are you alone? Where is everybody?”
“They were supposed to lay the track, but they didn’t, and now I’m waiting out here.”
“Do you know how to find the cleaner’s?”
“I’ve been waiting out here for a long time.”
Jeb sees a distance in his father’s eyes, a distance he can’t travel, so he presses onward, north, through the trees, until he sees a flickering yellow light through the cracks in the branches. This must be the cleaner’s.
He breaks through a wall of saplings and thorny bushes with his hands, ignoring the cuts and the blood. Leaders must sacrifice for their country. They must avoid alligators and they must survive the vicious forest.
Sure enough, there’s the building, but it’s not like he remembers. The roof has caved in and a weeping willow tree stands in the middle, its leaves covering the building as if eating it. He goes through the door, but no one is inside. Only a painting is there, resting against the willow, a magnificent painting standing 7 feet tall, oil on canvas.
It’s a painting of him. By George.
Jeb smiles for a second but the smile turns to anger as he realizes the painting has no mouth and no ears, that he’s in his overalls and not his suit, that his glasses are grotesquely large, with big black rims. George is mocking him. How dare George mock him? George never escaped an alligator when he was president. Jeb attacks the painting, tearing and kicking and screaming with years of hidden pain, until he sees there’s something behind it.
You found your suit. Go be president. You’re so late.
Jeb rips off his overalls and sees that he is covered in tiny cuts. He knows that people will ask questions, awful questions, but he doesn’t care. He throws on his suit and picks up his lantern and begins barreling out of the dark and dripping green toward the White House, ignoring the mounting pain in his leg.
At the end of the forest, he pauses for breath at the trunk of an oak tree. He thought he would be able to see the White House by now, even in his ragged state, but with all this fog, and without his glasses, the endeavor is all but hopeless. He rests his tired eyes and puts his lantern to his side, and just as he starts to hear the peace of leaves blowing on the tree, he hears a voice.
Jeb awakes with a little scream that turns into a sigh of relief as he makes out the vague form of a small girl.
“I am lost. This city is not how I remember it.”
“I can tell you where to go.”
“Well, do you know the way to Pennsylvania Avenue?”
“Follow me. I’ll take you there. You won't make it on your own.”
Jeb gets up and dusts off his suit as the girl begins to escort him down a narrow winding trail.
“Do you know who I am?” Jeb asks the girl.
“No,” she says. “Who are you?”
“I’m a leader,” he says decisively, pointing his thumb toward his chest.
“No. I’m the leader,” she says. “You’re just lost.”
Jeb hangs his head in shame.
“Here we are,” she says. Jeb cannot see where they are — the fog is too dense for his failing eyes — but he can hear the sound of waves crashing.
“It’s time for you to complete your journey,” she says, and she leads him by the hand to a wooden rowboat. He gets in, carefully putting his weight on his good leg.
“I have a gift for you,” she offers.
“What is it?” he asks as he accepts a plain box from her.
“It’s for your journey,” she replies, pushing his boat off into the water.
Wake up, Jeb. It’s very, very late.
Jeb rows down the river, closer to the White House, closer to his inauguration, and the pain in his leg begins to fade, and his eyesight starts returning. He can see the river now, in perfect focus, and fish are swimming happily and jumping across his boat. He sees the Capitol and then the White House. The sun is even peering through the clouds. He just has to row a little bit more.
He starts to whistle a happy, stupid little tune, something about sheep and wool, and he opens the box. It contains a bag of tobacco and two tiny turtles whittled out of beechwood. And then he sees the truth. The fish aren’t swimming at all. They’re dying, rising to the surface of a sick river. And the White House is not the White House, but a fata morgana produced by some distant rotting mountain. And he’s not rowing anywhere. No matter how hard he tries, the boat stays in the middle of the river, and any shore is now invisible to him. He puts the tobacco and the turtles in his pocket, takes a deep breath, and sees an alligator’s head rising out of the water, looking right at him.
On January 13, 2017, Jeb Bush said it’s unlikely he’ll ever run for elected office again.