They say the average American thinks about Abraham Lincoln once a day. I laughed when I first heard this, but after, it was an infection. He was everywhere.
When I took out my coin purse to give some to the homeless man that sat by the river, I rolled a penny between my thumbs, coppery and warm and cold at once, and saw his face. I wondered if the pillared structure on the tail side was his house. Was that something I’d be taught in school, or just something I’d heard? Did Abraham Lincoln really live in a Roman temple, pillared like the colosseum?
When I went to the local movie theater that showed the old classics, I sat in the very back row, because I remembered that Abraham Lincoln got shot for sitting too close to the screen. They were playing Gone with the Wind and when I watched Scarlett O’Hara get carried up the stairs by her husband as she protested, elegant Southern women and refined men trapezing through acres of fertile land, repelling caricatures of slaves singing, moss hanging off trees, I looked behind me and I thought I saw him there, watching me, six feet and four inches tall.
When I went to visit a friend’s home, his son laid on the carpet, building tower after tower with Lincoln logs. I thought, so that was where he’d lived – a log cabin, built with his bare hands, placed in the woods with a rifle and a stream of smoke blowing out the chimney. I asked my friend how often he thought about Abraham Lincoln. He said, Not often. He was our best president, though. He was honest. Honest Abe, right? I asked my friend, what was he honest about? And he said, the truth. So I said, didn’t he say that he didn’t support the equality of black and white people? And he said, the truth was different back then. Why are you asking me this?
When I read Walt Whitman, he was there, hidden in glorious allegories of a vessel anchored safe and sound. A weathered storm of a civil war now over. A voyage closed and done. I printed the poem out and taped it to my fridge. Then I took it off and put it in a drawer, hidden away with the rest of my important documents, because I knew it wasn’t over, and would it ever really be after all that had happened? From somewhere deep in my closet, a black stovepipe hat that I only wore at funerals smirked.
When they took the confederate statues down, we all gathered to watch, clustered around the circle and staring up. The sounds of angry protestors and cheering filled the night air like we were in an enclosed stadium. We all cheered for whichever team we supported. Someone said, they should replace this statue with Abraham Lincoln, and someone else said, he did about as much good for this state as that fucker up on the statue did. And I said, well, at least he was honest. Then a black Lincoln Ford with tinted windows drove past and tossed an open canister of tear gas over the banister and into the crowd of people, and over the deafening roar of the stadium, water welling in my eyes, I wondered – if everyone was honest, who was right?
Kaylie Saidin lives in New Orleans. She is an assistant fiction editor at Pithead Chapel. Her work has appeared in Okay Donkey, After the Pause, Atlas and Alice, and Jellyfish Review, among other places. She was shortlisted for the 2018 Into the Void Fiction Prize and won the 2018 Dawson Gaillard Award for Fiction at Loyola University New Orleans. She is currently writing a collection of short stories. You can read more of her at kayliesaidin.weebly.com.