Marilyn. © Howard Evans 2023
Marilyn really didn’t expect to wake up again; the voices around her as she closed her eyes were still fresh in her ears.
“She’s a gonna, this one.”
“Yep, no point trying, her liver’ll be shot to pieces.”
“Better send a message to the president, he’ll be gutted; he really did love her.”
Those voices faded as a new reality took the space they’d held in her mind. Now she could hear the hospital hush in the distance, the soft tone of the heart monitor, the starched bustle of activity outside her room, the cleaner tut-tutting as she did her round, the clash of plates from the food trolley, the sound of the consultant’s watch tick-ticking time, precious time.
But this was no ordinary hospital room she realised, as she pulled back the curtain to reveal a security screen on the outside of her window. Not typical safety bars, but decorative, like the screen she remembered from childhood at her mother’s house.
She caught a glimpse of herself in the glass, a little heavier than she remembered. “Fuck,” she thought. “I expected to lose weight in a coma.”
She gazed out of the window, onto a patio, laundry hanging on the line. “I remember that shirt.”
It was the same plaid shirt Mr President gave her to wear when he smuggled her down to Camp David in the trunk of his car; that beautiful blue car, known only to his security detail.
She turned back from the window; not to a hospital ward, but to a bedroom in a cabin, floral eiderdown folded back, crisp white sheets still holding her shape, breakfast tray on the desk, a pot of steaming coffee.
She needed the coffee, poured a cup, sat on the bed to drink it. It was good and strong, cleared the cobwebs from her mouth and mind. She knew this room, had spent beautiful nights here with Mr President. But what the fuck was she doing here? She was supposed to be dead. Then she was supposed to be as good as dead, in a coma, her body kept alive with pumps and tubes.
A wet tongue licked her foot. She looked down at the little white terrier, his body shaking with excitement as if he were all one tail. “Mafia! Mafia Honey, how did you get here?” She picked him up, buried her nose in his curls. “Oh Maf, my beautiful Maf, did you die too? Did you die to be with me?”
“He’s not dead Norma Jeane, and neither are you.”
She responded to that familiar voice, “Arthur Miller told me there was no life after death.”
“Well Arthur Miller wasn’t the president of the United States.”
She turned to face the voice. “Is it really you, Jack? Are you still Mr President or are you dead as well?”
“It really is me, Norma Jeane, and I’m both dead and still Mr President”
“Can I touch you?”
He walked across, gently moved Maf’s head to one side, kissed her on the lips. A long slow kiss.
“Oh,” she said. “Dead or alive, that was good.”
She dropped Mafia Honey to the floor, pulled Jack close, kissed him more. “Is this for real, can I kiss you all I want?”
“All you want,” he said, softening into her love.
“We bought her silence; Onassis took care of that in return for his freedom, and Jackie got what she needed.”
“Who’s we? She asked.
“Mr President and his team.”
“What happened Jack, I don’t understand?”
“After you tried to kill yourself, I realised I couldn’t live a lie anymore. I couldn’t hide my love for you, and I couldn’t betray my beliefs to do America’s dirty business.”
“Tried to?” She said, stiffening up with indignance.
“I should’ve goddamn succeeded; I had enough practice when I was with Arthur Miller. I swallowed enough barbiturates to kill a horse!”
“Yes, but with practice comes tolerance. You were as good as dead, good enough for the doctor who signed your death certificate. I had you brought to Walter Reed medical centre where we kept you in a coma until you were stable enough to move here.”
“Here being Camp David?”
“Yes, Aspen Lodge, but we call it Camelot now.”
“Seriously, like in Knights of the Round Table?”
“It was Jackie’s idea.”
“This still isn’t making any sense Jack; did I damage my brain?”
He loved that about her; her innocence. He kissed her more, whispered in her ear.
“Your brain is just fine Norma Jeane Mortenson; you’re as beautiful and clever as ever you were. Now we can live in peace, here in the forest, in this cabin where you first felt safe. We faked my death, Norma Jeane – an assassination in Dallas witnessed by the whole world. We did it so well even Jackie believed. It could have ended there, but Jackie birthed the myth when she said, ‘Don’t let it be forgot, that for one brief, shining moment there was Camelot.’”
“But you’re still Mr President?” She asked.
“I will always be Mr President even if others sit in the White House and pretend.”
“But what if they want to come to Camp David and stay in Aspen Lodge?”
“Then they’ll stay in Holly Cabin and think it’s Aspen Lodge; they’ll only see what they believe.”
She leaned into his body, a deep sense of trust emerging, the same sense she only ever felt with him.
“And what will we do all day?”
“We’ll walk and we’ll swim. We’ll read and we’ll write. We’ll cook and make love. I still have the blue Ford Mustang if we want to go for a ride. We’ll build Camelot, and no matter what happens in the world, good people will remember us. Like King Arthur and Lady Guinevere we will become the soul of America.”