Back and to the Left

Ryan Werner

Aside from his relations with Marilyn Monroe and being the most powerful man in the United States for a little bit, JFK wasn’t the luckiest guy around. He was accident prone, more than anything. Still, he kept his humor. He’d call me a few times a year and say something like, “I just slammed my hand in a car door. First I get shot in the head and now this.”

But he’s dead now. For real this time.

A few months before that car ride in Dallas, John decided he didn’t want to be president anymore, which would have been a hassle in and of itself, but he also decided he didn’t want to be JFK anymore, either. There’s a paper-trail a few miles long hidden away somewhere, but after it was all said and done, we managed to relocate him to Florida with fewer than half a dozen people knowing about it. He loved Scrabble and was big into anagrams, so he took the name John Zing, which, combined with the words “faked tenderly,” have all the same letters as the name John Fitzgerald Kennedy. I can only imagine how long he thought about all this before he finally brought it up to me.

Part of this is a history lesson, and part of it is just history. The guy who got shot was an ex-marine who figured it was a service to the country to let JFK have his way. A little plastic surgery later and he looked good enough to be in public for a few minutes before we shot him. While Jackie was picking up what she thought was the top of her husband’s skull, her husband was getting some reconstructive surgery of his own, reshaping his chin, filing down his cheekbones, bending his nose around like silly putty.

Flash forward several decades and John dies of pneumonia. He was in his nineties. He had a pretty Cuban wife — his way of making up for the Bay of Pigs, I guess — and some kids. (He’d send me some pictures every once in a while. That jaw. Goddamn.) Everyone got what they wanted, really. Jackie became a symbol of feminine strength and didn’t have a philandering husband anymore. Lyndon Johnson swore in as president. John was free. This is all his rationalizing. He told me that even America got what it wanted: a tragedy to unite it. “Only when consumed with grief can people wrap their arms around one another and be complete,” he said. “Like fingers rolling into a fist.”

“Back and to the Left” appears in Shake Away These Constant Days, a collection of short stories by Ryan Werner, published by Jersey Devil Press.

RYAN WERNER has got a body built for sin and an appetite for passion. He practices shameless self-promotion at his blog,

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