Monday, November 30, 2015

Chapter 41 / Absentees

“I am pleased, and proud, and honored to have won this election!” Kathleen shouted to the fifty people packed into the one-room temporary Democratic HQ in Schuyler. 

“The vote is close! What does that mean, everybody?”

“Your! Vote! Matters!” they shouted back to her. 

Years later, Annie would be able to recall that night in an instant—the astonished joy as districts phoned in and Jaime filled in boxes on a huge grid with precise, undeniable numbers.   

“Yes!” said Kathleen. “Your. Vote. Matters. And, for those who voted on absentee ballots, your, vote, matters. My opponent has called for a recount, and in his place, I would too. Then absentee ballots will be counted. The results may change.

“But tonight, integrity won. Tonight, a candidate won who listens to the voters. A candidate won who takes a fresh look at the strengths and challenges of our region!”  

Another cheer went up, and Kathleen beamed, without a trace of the fear that had haunted her eyes for a week after the car incident on the parkway. She had been careful, riding always with someone else, but nothing more had happened—not even a weird phone call—and Kathleen had picked up her shoulders, meditated every morning and evening, and gone on.

“Does she have anxiety attacks?” Andrew had asked. 

“She’s always been the steadiest person I’ve ever known,” said Annie. 

Tonight Kathleen was also beautiful, her “TV haircut” sculpting her face, her alabaster skin flushed with the surprise—the truly amazing success—of an unofficial win by 132 votes. 

“Last night,” Kathleen was saying, “I realized that the campaign part of this autumn was over. I had done what I could do about that. So I sat down, and I documented my plans—”

Next to Annie, Andrew stiffened, and Kathleen 10 feet away, seemed to feel it—

“I wrote down, everything I plan to do—”

Andrew relaxed again.

“When I want to do it, and how.”

Annie would remember the presence of everyone. Absentees were in the distance. Here, they all touched—no, held one another. Up front, Kathleen was surrounded by her family; on her right, the little twin girls grinned, their arms around each other’s waists. They had been told to choose a dress for the evening, so Katrina looked like she was off to a dance, with a double skirt, while Katy might set out for a dinner party, in emerald velveteen. 

On Kathleen’s left, Conor, in his blue blazer, stood with his arm in Liam’s, and Doug, with his trimmed “TV beard” stretched his arm across the boys. Standing between Liam and Katrina, Kathleen sometimes touched their shoulders as she spoke. 

“I have so many to thank,” she said now, “starting with the Democratic committees of our four-county election district, who took me in and then took me out, to meet the voters. With their house parties and their road snacks, their bottled water and their gas money for the van, we, did, this.”

Another cheer. Annie and Jaime stood side by side, arms around each other, hip to hip, ribs to ribs. On Jaime’s right, George stretched his arm over them both. On Annie’s left, Andrew did the same, so that she was banked by the bodies of her two best friends, until the camera of the one local TV station that had showed up began to pan over the crowd. Annie and Jaime stood tall, ready to look unblinking into the round eye. Andrew squeezed Annie’s shoulder and slipped away. 

Glancing back after being filmed, Annie saw him standing with Glaron and Theresa, Billie and Tiaje, another black man she hadn’t met, maybe the one who liked to play basketball on their lunch break, and a shorter white guy—Steve, the boss, who had given $1,000 to Kathleen’s campaign. 

“He hates the Neanderthal,” Andrew had said as he carefully folded his voter registration form and the eight others he had extracted from his neighbors and coworkers, before he delivered them to the Board of Elections. 

Now the camera headed toward that group, to show that there actually were African Americans in this rural backwater, and they took an interest in this election. Annie turned back to Kathleen, knowing Andrew would absent himself again, moving around or slipping outdoors.

“. . . Now, let’s dance!” said Kathleen. “And if you’ll forgive my sounding like a candidate, God bless us, every one!”

The crowd cheered and clapped, whistled and yelled “woo-hoo!” George reached right to the boom box on the table, started Johnny Nash in “I can See Clearly Now,” and gathered Jaime and Annie for a three-way dance. 

Andrew returned, scooped Annie off her feet, and twirled her around, on camera. “He got us,” said Annie as they danced. 

“It’s OK. He got me outside, having a smoke, for my fifteen seconds of fame.”

In fact, the party went short because everyone wanted to watch the 11 o’clock news. There, Annie and Andrew danced, and Glaron made the audio cut, saying, “She listens to everybody,” as did Jaime: “Did we take a page from the Clinton bus tours? You bet we did! And it worked!”

By midnight in Andrew’s house, a few blocks from HQ, Annie and Chloe had fallen asleep, but Andrew couldn’t rest, getting up and coming back to bed, prowling around in the dark, trying not to wake her, always waking her. 

“She’ll lose it in absentees,” he muttered. “Nobody’s prayers are going to change that.”

Annie squeezed his hand, trying not to fully wake. She had to be at the newspaper at 8:30, and the Witches would ride hard herd on them today, for election results in the next day’s paper. 

“Should have got that story out earlier.” 

“Spokesperson,” murmured Annie, envious of Chloe, motionless in her crate. 

About three Andrew settled down, curling himself against her. “TV,” he said. “Radio.” 

At daylight he walked Chloe and returned with newspapers, coffee and hard rolls from the Pakistani bodega around the corner. He fed Chloe and made a day’s worth of peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches, two for Annie, four for himself. 

“Thank you,” said Annie, as he poured her coffee out of paper into ceramic, which she preferred. “Refocused?”

“Don’t make fun of me.”

“I’m not! You’re wonderful.”


“Really. You changed Kathleen’s campaign from a romp—a ride in a VW bus—to something real.” 

“We still don’t have the numbers.”

“But she did tremendously well for an unknown candidate from a low-population part of the district. And we have the Neanderthal on our side, right? In a year, he’ll be divorced. He may not even run again. You said it first.” 

“You’re right. And I did. But the question is, do you love me?”

They were standing inches apart in his galley kitchen, Annie leaning along the refrigerator, Andrew against the counter where he had packaged up the sandwiches. In three minutes, they had to leave for work.

“No gotcha questions!” Annie put down her cup and reached up for his face. He encircled her with his arms. Inside they were both laughing, giddy, almost hysterical with fatigue and release. They’d got through this. Now something else was about to begin.

“Answer the question.”

“—Is it safe?”

“Not with another question!”


“Arrgghh! I made you two sandwiches,” he said, indicating them without letting her go. 

“You did. And for that I love you.”

Two weeks later, after the candidates and their lawyers had watched the absentee ballot count, Kathleen lost the election by 196 votes, out of 96,509 votes cast.

“Hardly a mandate for him,” Annie told Kathleen in a quick phone conversation from work, and that became their slogan for the next year.  

Kathleen used the concept in her gracious-but-firm concession speech, filmed outside the kids’ school by all three TV stations: “I wish my opponent well, as he joins the State Senate for another term,” she said with a smile. “But I would point out that his mandate comes as much from our side as his.” 

Copyright © Debby Mayer