So we were given a challenge: Either Shakespearean tragedy or sitcom with a laugh track. My one friend is still working on her play, but the other chose sitcom and took it in a delightfully absurdist direction (think waiting for Godot). I on the other hand quake in the face of outright humor (I can do banter, I can do self-deprecating, I can do dry — but put me in front of actual humor and I run for the hills). So of course I chose Shakespeare. SO HARD. I thought for the first time I wouldn’t turn anything new in. But PUSH FORWARD. YOU CAN DO IT TOO! Stretch and bend and grow and suck and fail and succeed and be you. My current whiteboard status: “you don’t have to be perfect.” A good reminder, I think. Anyway, hope you’re having a lovely week! Here’s my April Prompt.
*Trigger warning: I tried to stay true to Shakespearean themes, but through that the writing below has references to self-harm and violence against women. If today is not the day to expose yourself to such imagery please skip this post. BE KIND TO YOURSELF*
“Have you thought about running, Jim?”
There it was. The question Jim MacGregor had been waiting for all night. His drinking partner was sunk deep into the rich mahogany leather cushions, his small stature all but swallowed by the aggressively masculine cushions. Jim couldn’t even make out his face in the shadows, just the sharp cut of the straight, patrician nose and the quick flash of light reflecting off the whites of his eyes.
Jim didn’t sip the whiskey he’d poured them both, just watched the firelight play off the amber liquid. He didn’t particularly like the drink and wondered why he kept it around. For moments like this, he supposed.
His visitor had shown up just as Martha’s knife had sliced through the thick, sweet, cream cheese frosting of the carrot cake she’d slaved over all day. Jim had all but felt the pool of saliva that had gathered in his mouth trickle down his chin in anticipation.
But then the doorbell had rung, a sharp cacophony breaking up their pleasant familial scene.
“Marks is out,” the voice slithered now from the depths of the darkness that permeated the den. “This is the time, Jim.”
Marks had been an idiot. If he hadn’t let himself be followed to that hotel, Jim would be eating cake right now. Instead Marks had been oblivious of the spunky little reporter who had been on his tail, and the whole district had seen first-hand just how their beloved congressman spent his Thursday lunches.
“If not now, when?” His visitor sensed his opportunity to pounce. “If not you, who?”
Jim had not said a word since settling in his chair. But Childes was relentless.
“And once you’re congressman, why stop there,” the snake in the Garden of Eden came disguised as a short, balding man with wire-rimmed glasses dressed in Armani, wearing a thick gold ring that looked out of place on his thin elegant hands. Jim didn’t like men who wore jewelry.
“You could be great.”
Jim easily called up the image in his mind. It was never far from this thoughts. It was what he saw when he closed his eyes at night. If not now, when? He wondered. If not him, who?
His visitor’s lips tipped up, almost imperceptibly, knowing that victory was only a hairsbreadth from his grasp.
Jim finally nodded, biting into the forbidden fruit. “Alright. I’m in.”
“You and I in a little toy shop, buy a bag of balloons with the money we’ve got,” that first line of the lyrics wouldn’t stop running through Jim’s head as he watched the cascade of red balloons freed from the confines of the mesh that had been holding them in place above the screaming splotchy faces of his supporters.
Instead of Nena singing about war, though, it was Tom Petty refusing to back down that piped out of the speakers, barely audible over the roar from the crowd. Martha clutched his right hand as he held up his left, and neither of them flinched, as they once had, from the wave of sound that beat against their chests like a tidal force. They had almost been overwhelmed by it that first time. Years ago.
Martha wrapped an arm around each of the boys’ shoulders and they stood perfectly angled behind him, gazing adoringly at his back. Their hero. At least that’s what the cameras would catch.
The crowd laughed at the right moments, gasped, teared up and cheered. A tightly choreographed dance, a give and take, a communal experience that made each one feel special and part of something larger at the same time.
“Congratulations, Senator McGregor.” Childes said, as Jim left the podium. The man’s slight body disappeared into the thick velvet black curtains that flanked the stage. Jim spared him a single glance, before taking the bottle of water from a redhead assistant who always seemed to position herself at his elbow.
“We’re actually going to get things done this time, Childes,” Jim said, his voice harsher than he’d intended. Maybe some part of him had wanted this. This rush of victory. But what he really wanted, what he’d always wanted was to make a difference. All they ever seemed to do, though, was campaign, he thought with frustration. Even when they weren’t campaigning. “Did you look at that proposal I sent you?”
“Don’t you worry about that trivial matter, Senator,” Childes murmured, keeping pace with Jim through the tight hallways. Every so often Jim stuck out a hand, grabbing one clammy palm after another, not even seeing the faces.
“We have to go hard on this. I’m not taking no for an answer. I know Blythe will push back but I think we can get her if we support her amendment to H. 145,” Jim could hear Martha’s heels clipping against the linoleum behind him.
“Senator, this is your night, just enjoy it.”
“And I’m trying to do just that by concentrating on the work these nice people elected me to do,” Jim bit back, the fuse lit, even if he knew it was a slow burn.
A thin hand patted his back like he was a child. “Plenty of time for that, Senator. Plenty of time for that.”
Martha’s hand slid over the nape of his neck as she pressed her soft body against his. She smelled of the lilacs that grew like weeds around his old family’s barn. He hadn’t been back there since they’d shot B-roll for the launch of his first Senate campaign. He tried to remember the last time he’d called his father.
“You’re voting no?” Her voice was a purr, hot against his ear lobe. She nipped at the flesh there and he felt himself grow heavy and hard, even after all these years.
“Must we talk about work?” His hand slid down to her derriere, which was so prettily clad in black silk and lace, the only fabric on her slender body.
“I just want to protect you, Jimmy,” she pouted up at him, and he noticed that the red of her lipstick had bled into the crevices around the edges of her mouth. He rubbed a thumb over the grooves wanting to erase the obvious sign of passing time. She ignored the gesture. “If your enemies sense your weakness they will pounce.”
“When did they become my enemies? Do you remember?” Jim was tired. He just wanted to make love to his wife and slip into a deep sleep he knew wasn’t attainable. He hadn’t had a good sleep in years. Ever since he voted on that first bill Childes had nudged him toward. A few families would suffer. But the ones that depended on the oil industry for their livelihood wouldn’t survive without his vote. And if it happened to net them a sizeable donation on his reelection campaign, well that was just icing on the cake.
“Of course you’ve made enemies, Jimmy,” Martha said, sinking to her knees on the plush, beige carpet in front of him. She undid the gold buckle of his belt, her nimble fingers working the clasp like a pro. “You’re a powerful, strong man. If you didn’t make enemies you’d be doing something wrong.”
Jim let his head fall back as her wet mouth slipped over him. He knew she was right. Making a stand in this town meant pissing people off. He just wished he didn’t always feel like he was making the wrong stand. Pissing the good guys off.
She paused just as his balls tightened, pulling back. “I don’t think you should vote no, Jimmy.”
His teeth clenched until he could swear a fine dust of bone had grinded off of his molars. “That’s what Childes says.”
“He isn’t wrong,” she said, her mouth hovering just at his tip. He wanted to dig his fingers into her perfectly coiffed hair and bring her lips flush up against his groin. “He’s gotten us this far.”
“I didn’t realize you were such a fan of his,” he snapped, and suddenly he couldn’t shake an image of Childes’ hand at the small of his wife’s back, whispering in her ear.
She shrugged one delicate, lily white shoulder, then got to her feet with the grace of a cat. She slipped a finger under the waistband of her panties and walked toward their bedroom as they sank to the floor. She looked back over her shoulder. “So. How are you voting, Jimmy?”
“Murderer,” spittle flew from the woman’s thin-lipped mouth. The rage in her voice clawed at the nape of Jim’s neck, but he met her gaze straight on. Her pitch black pupils all but swallowed up her irises. She was crazed, he knew.
“Get her out of here,” Childes voice has sharp. Someone would be fired for this, Jim thought ducking his head to slide into the limousine that was waiting at the curb. Secret Service surrounded the woman, forming a human blockade that did nothing to shield him from his own torment.
Childes settled in the seat across from him, next to Martha. Jim couldn’t take his eyes off the woman who was now caught, horizontal, between three agents, still screaming obscenities, one of her feet managing to land a solid blow to one of his best men.
But out of the periphery he saw Childes rest a hand on Martha’s thigh, just below the edge of the fabric of her powder blue Chanel dress suit.
“I’m sorry you had to see that, Mr. President,” Childes said. His hands were clasped back in his own lap now, as Jim turned his gaze directly on him.
“She isn’t wrong,” he said.
“Don’t start that again, Jimmy,” it was Martha who spoke this time. Her voice wasn’t soothing. It was sharp, and annoyed. She was tired of his shit. Too fucking bad, he thought. She wasn’t the one with blood on her hands. He looked back at Childes. Or maybe she was.
“The first lady’s right. If you let every whackjob get in your head, you’re not going to last your first 100 days, let alone 8 years,” Childes said.
Jim stared out the window. They were passing the Capitol, its white dome a blinding beacon against the setting sun. Jim remembered his first day there. He’d had a fresh-pressed suit and his American flag pin on his lapel. He’d had one goal. One. To get his town enough money in the budget to get the bridge leading to the interstate repaired. His critics may have called it pork but he called it saving Westbrook from economic ruin.
He shook his head at the image of his eager young self at the base of those stairs. The picture wasn’t quite right, as if it were an old family movie that jumped and cut the scenes so the viewer saw what he wanted and not what actually happened.
He’d wanted to get money for the town. But he’d sold the first chunk of his soul for it.
Did he have any of it left, he wondered. Certainly not enough to get him through eight years.
“As the country wonders how this could have happened, critics are already pointing fingers to the relaxed gun legislation President McGregor signed just last month …” The newscaster reported, managing to strike the perfect balance between concern and censure.
Jim fingered the pearl-ivory handle of the pistol. Owned by President Jackson, he’d been told. Loaded up, ready to fire. He had a back up sitting on his leg just in case the person who had told him Jackson’s gun would still work was full of crap.
“The death toll has hit 16, one teacher and 15 kindergarten students …” he’d flipped the channel but there was no escape. There would never be any escape. Or maybe there would be.
“Think about reelection,” Childes had said when Jim had balked at the bill that had sailed through Congress. “You don’t want to tell the NRA to go fuck themselves 8 months out, Mr. President.”
He’d signed it. Of course he’d signed it. He’d known, back on that night that Martha had made his favorite carrot cake with cream cheese icing. If not him, who. A mantra. You and I in a little toy shop. If not him, who. Buy a bag of balloons with the money we’ve got. If not now, when? Set them free at the break of dawn. Why them? Panic bells, it’s red alert. The blood, they had to have been so scared. To worry, worry, super-scurry. Sixteen faces. This is it boys, this is war. Sixteen bodies. The president is on the line. If not him, who? As 99 red balloons go by.
And then the music stopped playing, abruptly as if it had been a record player in his head rather than his own chaotic thoughts. He powered off the never-ending stream of empathetic news anchors with a flick of a finger. Then there was blessed silence.
Except the whimper. It gurgled out of Martha’s throat, muffled by the tie he’d shoved into her mouth to stop the incessant pleading that had started when he’d tied her hands to the bed posts and her legs to the foot board. She was spread eagle, stripped down to a silky negligee of ice water blue.
Her eyes, with black racoon mascara smears encircling them, kept darting to the figure that was bleeding out on the floor. She didn’t beg him to save her lover. She knew now that she couldn’t manipulate him like she’d done for their whole marriage, leading him like a dog on a leash. Instead she could only whimper. A pitiful sound that made his testicles tighten.
He pushed himself out of the deep, leather chair, not unlike the ones he’d sat in when Childes had first visited him. He walked over to her, with Jackson’s gun in one hand and the semi-automatic in the other.
He ran the mouth of the pistol over her hip bone, and dipped it between her thighs pressing slightly at her core before running it over her smooth belly, up toward her breast. He finally rested the barrel under her chin, the cold metal harsh against her soft, warm skin.
“You told me I should sign that bill, my love, didn’t you,” he cooed at her now. Her watched the little pulse point flutter at the most delicate curve of her neck. “Their blood is on your hands.”
He nudged the gag out of her mouth, not satisfied with just seeing the terror in her eyes.
“We can say he attacked us, Jimmy. This doesn’t have to be the way it ends. We’ll just say he had a gun and you defended us.,” her voice was wild, the words rushing together, with almost no break in between them. “There was nothing else you could have done.”
“Ah, darling. That’s where you’re wrong. There’s almost everything I could have done. And I never did it.” The gun still pressed into the underside of her jaw, forcing her head to tilt back.
This is what we’ve waited for, he thought, and in a quick move, he swapped the Andrew Jackson pistol with his semi-automatic, his finger already squeezing the trigger almost before it even got into place.
The hammering on the door began, as the secret service agents tried to break through the barricade. He’d used a pillow to muffle the shot that had taken out Childes, but they’d heard the one he reserved for Martha.
It’s all over and I’m standing pretty
He waited until the wood of the doors splintered and gave way to the force of his men trying to get to him. To protect him from danger. He wanted them to see it happen. To know.
In this dust that was a city
They crested the breach, their weapons drawn.
‘Til one by one, they were gone.
He wrapped his lips around the cold barrel of the gun, then pulled the trigger.