my coffee with nixon

In a diner on a crowded street in a city I could not place I found Nixon alone at a booth. He looked grumpy.

- Sit down, he said. I have something for you.

- You died years ago, I said. I sat down anyway.

Nixon nodded, rummaged through an old canvas rucksack lying next to him. His suit looked uncomfortable and a fraction too tight. The tabletop was scattered with crumbs.

- I have something for you, he said, his entire face inside the rucksack. Have a cup of coffee.

The waitress brought a cup of weak coffee, gave me a wink as she set it down. Her nametag said Delia.

- It took me a while to find this place, Nixon said again. Your directions were terrible.

I was about to say that I hadn't given any directions at all, that I didn't even know what city we were in, when Nixon set something on the table between us, a smooth glass cylinder capped with a stainless steel lid. Inside the cylinder a creature something like a salamander and a Disney creature circled, sniffing the edges of the glass. The colours of its skin shifted like rippling water. From one angle it had eight legs, from another five, and then from another it seemed to have webbed wings. I stared closely, trying to follow the changing colours across its back.

- This thing is a litmus strip, Nixon declared, tapping the glass. If you can see it then you have left the real world. From the expression on your face I can tell that you are not in the real world.

Nixon tapped the glass again. The creature swung its head around to track the stubby forefinger. Nixon let a snort escape his nose. His hair, full and black and held down with Brilliantine, had an iridescent sheen like the skin of the creature in the jar.

- Did you know that you were impeached in '74?

- I was trying to save the world, he replied. But it was not the real world.