“The Art of Being and Branding,” by Brian Cox

Aug 20th, 2015 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

Lincoln—that cocky bastard, he thought. Look at him. Sitting there. So sure of himself. Long legs crossed confidently, black stovepipe hat in his lap. Lean angular head slightly bent, tilted to one side. As if pondering some great thought when really he’s just trying to catch the conversation going on behind the door.

It was so convenient being Lincoln, thought William. So… unoriginal. Like a still life of a fruit basket.

Lincoln sighed. Pulled out his pocket watch, flipped it open to check the time.

William detailed the face. Sandpaper skin appropriately worn. Heavy brows and deep-set eyes. Creases like eroded canyon rivulets running from the nose to the corner of the mouth. The mole expertly placed. Concave cheeks. Coarse beard.

Damn, he was spot on.

Wait—the shoes. Were they period? William stared hard. Black leather ankle boots, creased across the toes. Yes, he supposed so. There didn’t even appear to be lifts. Lincoln was perfect. Of course.

“Lincoln,” said Lincoln.

William looked up. “I’m sorry?” he said.

“I said I’m Lincoln.”

“Oh. Yes, I gathered,” said William.

“And you are …?”


“Riiight, Taft. Sure. The moustache and the…” Spreading his hands. “Right, gotcha. Good.” Lincoln nodded his head. “Taft… Taft… Taft—wasn’t he buried in a piano box?”

“He was, in fact, buried at Arlington Cemetery. The first of only two presidents to be buried there, I might add.”

“But in a piano box, right?” pressed Lincoln.

William ran his tongue across his top teeth. Patted at his moustache. “…Yes,” he said.

“That’s what I thought,” said Lincoln. He looked at the closed door. “You here for the commercial?”

William nodded.

“You get much work as Taft?”

“Some,” said William.

“Because I’d think being Taft is tough.”

“It’s very rewarding.”

“Oh, yeah, sure, no, I mean marketing-wise. Marketing-wise, it’s gotta be tough.”

William blinked. Of course. Slick—that’s what Lincoln was. A poser. Just in it for what he could get out of it. The beard. The hat. The mole. All a façade. An image. Just like the others. Why should he be surprised?

“I don’t market myself,” said William.

“Oh, you got to,” said Lincoln, suddenly excited, leaning forward. “Are you kidding me? You gotta brand yourself you wanna really make it work.” He sat back. “Some advice? Taft isn’t much of a brand. You got no props—” lifting the stovepipe “—no taglines. Nothing you can put on a t-shirt. You got a website?”

William shook his head.

“You know,” said Lincoln, wagging his finger at William, “I’ve been looking at you and I bet —listen to this—you’ve already got the moustache—you drop a few pounds, get the right glasses, you know, with the cord or whatever it is, and the hat that folds up on one side and you could be Teddy Roosevelt. I’m telling ya, it’s perfect. You got props. Even a tagline. Say ‘Bully.’”

“I’m Taft,” said William.

“Go on, just once. Say, ‘Bully.’ Try it. Waggle your cheeks a bit. ‘Bully.'”

“I’m Taft.”

“I’m just saying,” said Lincoln. “You could turn that into a real brand.” He leaned forward. “A bit healthier, too, you know what I’m saying?”

The door opened and the casting director stepped out. Lincoln and William looked at him.

“Thanks for coming by,” he said, “but we’ve cast the role. Sorry.”

William looked past the director. In the room, shaking hands with people was a tall man in a white wig.

Washington, thought William. Of course. That bastard.


Defenestration-Brian CoxBrian Cox is a newspaper editor in Detroit. He’s received a variety of journalism awards and has published a handful of short stories, mostly mysteries. He’s recently taken up playwriting. He’s got two great kids and a wife, who is also great. He can be reached at bcox1001@gmail.com.

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