the following was my entry to the most recent NPR three-minute fiction contest, in which the challenge was to write about a president. the winning story was great; read it via the link above.
The ants travel in a single-file line down the wall to a small, churning pool of ants on the floor near the windows of the Oval Office. The President watches them, curious.
“…Then, at two, we have the meeting with the Joint Chiefs—,” his Aide says.
“We’ve got ants,” the President says.
His Aide looks up from the President’s schedule for the first time since she entered.
“We’ve got what, sir?”
“In the Oval Office?”
The President smiles. “That’s where we are, Jenna.”
His Aide has not yet gotten used to her name being called in the Oval Office.
“Sir,” his Aide begins, swallowing a smile, “that’s impossible. This room is impenetrable.”
“Well,” the President says, “it seems they would argue otherwise.”
“I’ll get the Chief of Staff,” his Aide says.
“That’s alright,” the President says after her, the door already closing. His Aide is a fixer, a doer. The President turns back to the ants. He sees one alone, walking across the clear surface of the window, well away from the others. He’s lost his way, the President thinks. Or perhaps he’d not gotten the memo that the action is down below.
“Jenna said you need me,” his Chief of Staff says, entering.
“I need some cinnamon.”
“She said something about ants.”
“We’ve got ‘em,” the President says, pointing to them.
“That’s what she told me.”
His Chief of Staff strides over to the windows and looks at the traveling, mutable line.
“What are they after?” his Chief of Staff asks.
“Maybe [REDACTED] left a peppermint on the floor.”
“[REDACTED] liked butterscotches,” his Chief of Staff says.
They look at the ants for a moment in admiring silence.
“I’ll be damned,” his Chief of Staff says. “I’ll get someone to take care of it.”
“We don’t need someone,” the President begins, but his Chief of Staff merely waves behind him as he opens the door and leaves. The door shuts for an instant before it’s open again. Two Secret Service agents enter.
“Get away from the window, sir,” one says.
While the President thinks this unnecessary, he does not second-guess the Secret Service. “Alright,” the President says. The other agent is already in place, bent over the ants. She puts a finger in her ear and speaks: “We’ve got ants, approximately 150, black, about an eighth of an inch long: send in Grounds.”
“I don’t know—“
“Sir, all due respect, you should wait outside while we deal with this.”
“Whatever you say,” the President says.
He walks over to the door and stops, turning back to the room.
“You know, my wi—the First Lady – she tried all sorts of things to stop the ants we had back home: lavender, ginger, garlic, cloves, cinnamon.” The President smiles. “They’d been coming in through the vents. When we turned on the heat, it smelled like the strangest cookie you ever tasted. Or didn’t taste. You probably wouldn’t want to taste them.”
“Yes, sir?” one asks.
“It was finally the cinnamon. Ground cinnamon sprinkled around their path. They were gone the next day.”
The door opens and the Groundskeeper enters (“‘scuse me, sir”), followed by his Chief of Staff and Aide, heading immediately to the ants.
“You just need cinnamon,” the President says, catching the door.
“We’ve got this, sir,” one says.
“We’ll let you know when it’s all clear,” another says.
“Alright. Thank you,” the President says, and steps out, letting the door close behind him.