Short Story: Election Day

Bare with me here. I’m experimenting with new ways to make fiction relevant and timely (which in many ways isn’t the purpose of fiction), so I submit to you this story, which revolves around Tuesday’s election.

Got any comments or critiques? Let me know.


Election Day

It was election day. Election day! All that morning the whole fourth grade had been talking about it. Everyone was voting for Romney, even though he was a Mormon. Evan didn’t understand that word: Mormon. (What was a Mormon? Someone who didn’t drink sodas? What was so wrong with a coke?)  But still, Romney was better than Obama. Obama was stupid. Obama was a fartbag.

Evan’s sister Caroline was voting for Obama. Their dad had flown her in to

Houston the day before, all the way from Vermont, where Caroline went to college.

“She didn’t fill out an absentee ballot,” Evan’s dad had explained. Then he’d called Caroline on the phone. “I’m spending three hundred dollars on a ticket, and you’re going to vote.  This isn’t just any election. This affects your future.”

Evan and his mom went to pick her up from the airport, and she was all wrapped up in winter clothes. In Houston, it was warm out. Evan had worn shorts to school. That was one of the only things Evan knew about the North. It was cold and there was lots of snow.

On election day, Evan’s dad picked him up from school (this alone was exciting, because Dad normally worked late, sometimes until after Evan had gone to bed). Caroline was in the car, and together, the three of them drove to the polls. Evan’s older brother Paul, who was a consultant (just like Romney!) would meet them at the voting station.

Paul was voting for Romney. Mom was voting for Romney. Evan was voting for Romney, though only through Dad, and Caroline—Caroline had been brainwashed by her professors, like Paul had guessed. Caroline was voting for Obama.

The voting station was at the neighborhood community center, next to the neighborhood pool where Evan’s babysitter took him to swim. When Evan walked down the white plank of the diving board, he could look over through the community center windows, where the old white-haired ladies jazzercised in the afternoons. Evan’s babysitter, who was also training to be a nurse, was voting for Obama. She was the only person beside his sister who wasn’t voting for Romney.

When Evan’s dad pulled the car up to the polling station, there was a long line of people waiting to vote. Paul stood at the curb, wearing his work suit and a bright red tie. They parked the car and Evan skipped up to Paul. Caroline and Evan’s dad followed behind.

“Hey look, it’s our little lib,” Paul said, giving Caroline a hug. She laughed and punched him in the arm.

“Nice to see you, too,” she said. Caroline was wearing leggings and a college sweatshirt, and she didn’t fit in next to Paul and Evan’s Dad, who was also wearing a suit. She looked too young to vote, even though this would be her second voting election.

All the time they were standing in line, Paul tried to convince Caroline to vote Romney. “Just tell me one good reason why Obama would be better.”

Caroline had just laughed and shook her head. “I’ve got lots.”

“Let her vote for who she wants,” Evan’s dad said.

But Paul didn’t stop bothering her.

“You’re a hippie!” Evan said, and that was mostly to make Paul laugh. Paul gave him a high-five. Evan’s Dad laughed, too, but Caroline crossed her arms.

When they reached the doors to the community center, Caroline had to go to a separate table to sign in for voting. There were only two other people in line at her booth. It made Evan feel embarrassed. Everyone in line was looking at Caroline, or at least it felt that way.

But soon enough they had reached the Republican sign-in table.

A little old lady with bright red lipstick and an American flag pin looked up his dad’s name in the roster. She smiled at Evan when she’d found his dad’s name.

“And who are you voting for, young man?”

“Romney!” Evan had squealed, raising one fist in the air.

The woman had laughed. “Good boy. You’re smart.” Then she gave him a sticker that said “I Voted” to put on his shirt. That made Evan feel proud. He grinned and puffed out his chest, and then he went with his dad to the booth, where they found Romney’s name on the computerized ballot. Evan’s dad even let him do the voting. He felt a little surge in his chest when he touched his finger to the ballot, and after they left the polls, Dad took Evan and Caroline out to ice cream.

That night they had an election party. It wasn’t much of a party—just the family—but it had been a long time since everyone was home, and they ordered fajitas, Evan’s favorite, that came in round cardboard boxes, greasy on the bottoms with oil and heat.

The whole family took their fajitas to the living room, where CNN was forecasting the election. Paul insisted that they flip to Fox, which he said would have better coverage. And look, look what was happening! Romney was in the lead!

Now that Evan had finished his fajita, he worked on his Legos. Legos were his favorite. They taught him how to build things, and he wanted to be an engineer. He also had his pile of Halloween candy sitting on the table.

Caroline came over and sat down on the carpet beside him. “Look, Ev, you can make a castle out of the chocolate bars. That’s what Paul and I used to do when we were kids.” She took a few of the Hershey’s and began to stack them up on top of each other. But soon enough they lost balance and toppled.

“That’s okay,” Evan said. “My Legos work better.”

“Yeah, true,” Caroline said. She picked up a Kit-Kat as she stood. “Don’t mind do you?”

“No, I’ve got a lot,” Evan said, pointing to the pile.

“Gracias,” Caroline said. She plopped back down on a chair. Meanwhile Mom and Dad were discussing the election.

“Romney really might win this,” Mom said. “And I’m glad. We need this economy to change. We really do.”

But Paul wanted to argue. He’d been a debater in high school, and that was his thing. He especially liked proving Caroline wrong.

“So, Caroline, really, I want to know. Why would you vote for Obama? Because honestly, I just don’t get it.”

Caroline had said a lot of things. She didn’t believe in the tax cuts. She wanted to protect the environment. She wanted Roe-vee-Waid, whatever that meant, and she thought the stimulus was working. Besides, she believed in Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security.

“Evan, it’s like this book, The Catcher in the Rye. You’ll read it in high school.”

“Yeah, it’s about some loser wandering around New York feeling sorry for himself,” Paul said. “What Caroline’s going to do next year once she figures out the economy’s shitty and she can’t get a job.”

“No,” Caroline said. She raised both her eyebrows, like she did when she was angry—and most always with Paul. Now she turned back to Evan. “It’s like this. There’s this part where Holden Caulfield is listening to this song. ‘If a body catch a body, walking in the rye.’ And he imagines all these little kids, playing in the rye fields, but there’s a cliff. And all he wants to do is be the person to save them, to catch them if they go over the ledge. Isn’t that great? And that’s what Obama wants. All these people, getting too close to the edge. He wants to help them. It’s like when Holden thinks about what happens to the ducks in the winter in Central Park. He cares about them. He worries.”

Paul snorted when she finished. “All this liberal do-gooder bullshit. Who’s going to pay for it?”

“People like us!” Caroline yelled. “People who can afford to help!”

Paul smirked and turned back to Evan. “Okay, Ev, here’s how it really is. Do you remember that book you read when you were little? About that dumb mouse? Remember? If you give a mouse a cookie, it will want some milk. And if you give a mouse welfare, it’s never going to want to work another day in its life. You start with handouts, and people get lazy. They’ll never want to work ever again. And you know who pays for that? We do. People like Mom and Dad and me, who work, and not silly artists like Caroline, who’s going to milk Mom and Dad for all they’re worth.”

Caroline gritted her teeth. She made a noise like a train screeching across the tracks. “For the millionth time, I am getting a job. I’m going to get my PhD and I’m going to be a professor and believe it or not they make good money and do important work. How many times do I have to tell you that?”

Paul glared at Caroline. “Right, Art History. And I just hope you know that 1% of PhDs are on welfare. It’s people like you who are so selfish that you go after these jobs that aren’t useful to anyone. You don’t understand how the real world works. You’re living some little rich girl fantasy.”

Now that Caroline was a senior, one of the only things Evan’s mom and dad had been talking about was what she would do once she’d graduated. Paul would come over for dinner some nights, and he and Evan’s parents would discuss “Caroline’s future,” as they called it. Paul already knew what he wanted. He had just gotten engaged to another consultant, and they were already searching for a house. Paul had sent Caroline consulting job applications, and she hadn’t applied to a single one.

That’s because Caroline was a painter, and she was getting her degree in Art History and Studio Art. The whole family loved what she made—they had one of her paintings hanging in the downstairs bathroom—but still, they didn’t want her to be an artist. That made no sense. How was she going to pay for her kids to go to private school?

Evan liked her paintings, too. He didn’t understand most of them now, but he knew she was good, or at least he thought he knew she was good. When Caroline was in sixth grade, and he had just been born—a surprise, like his Mom said, for the family—Caroline had painted a picture of a mommy and baby zebra together in the Serengeti, touching their muzzles together in a horsey, sweet way. The painting was a little bit embarrassing, now that Evan was older, but it still hung in his room, underneath the silvery painted wings of model airplanes Paul had made with their Dad.

Now that Evan was older, he was good at drawing, too, but he wanted to be an engineer. That’s why his parents gave him so many Legos, even if they liked his drawings, too. The Legos would help him think like an engineer, they always said.

Now Paul brought up Evan, who was busy putting gray, blue, and black lego pieces together to make a helicopter.  “See, Evan’s going to be an engineer, but he can always draw for fun, right Evan?”

“Right,” Evan said, grinning. “When I’m an engineer I’m going to make sure you get enough to eat, Caroline. I’ll buy you a house.”

Paul laughed, but Evan felt bad—just a little bit—because even though Evan was being nice, offering to help, he felt guilty for some reason, too.

“Don’t do that, Paul,” Caroline said. “That’s not fair to Evan. You can be whatever you want, Evan. And besides, this isn’t even about me. Don’t even worry about me. There are people with real problems. People who can’t afford to go to the hospital. Who don’t have the money to feed their kids.”

“Maybe they shouldn’t have had kids in the first place, then,” Paul said.

“Well maybe you’re right, but maybe they won’t be able to decide in the future. I’ve had a lot of friends who have been in that situation. What do you want them to do, drop out of college?”

“Because they’re sluts.”

“They’re not sluts,” Caroline said. “God, you’re such a fucking asshole.”

Evan’s Mom stood from the couch. “Jesus, you two. Ev’s right here.”

But Paul never stopped talking, not unless he was sick of everybody. “You wouldn’t need an abortion,” Paul said.

“What’s an abortion?” Evan asked. But his sister and his brother weren’t looking at him. Maybe they didn’t hear him. They were looking at each other—like they were in a staring contest—and all the time they were blinking, but the staring contest didn’t finish when they did.

Caroline didn’t say anything, and for a second everything was quiet. The only thing Evan could hear was the news in the background. Romney pulling ahead. The closing of the polls.

Then, what was it—a smile?—flickered at the edge of Caroline’s mouth. “You think you know everything,” she said.

And then there was another pause. Evan looked down at his Legos. He squeezed the edge of plastic block between his thumb and  his forefinger.

What?” Evan’s dad said.

“Nothing,” Caroline said. “It was a joke.”

“Jesus Christ, Caroline,” Paul said.

“It was a joke!” she said, but her face was red and her eyes were shining.

“Some fucking joke,” Paul said.

“Fine,” Caroline said. “I’m done.” She grabbed a pack of cigarettes and a lighter from her purse and wrenched open the front door. She didn’t have a car, though—she’d flown in—so Evan didn’t know where she’d go.

“Jesus,” Evan’s mom said.

“So she smokes, now, too.” Paul said. “I bet she expects Obamacare to pay the cancer bill, huh?” It was meant as a joke—he was grinning—but nobody laughed.

Evan’s mother finished her glass of wine. Evan’s father cleared the plates and took them to the kitchen.

Evan looked at Paul, who was still looking at the screen.

“She’s our sister,” Evan said.

But Paul was distracted. “Oh shit,” he said. “Oh shit. Obama just got Ohio.”

Evan turned back to the screen, where blue and red and white confetti was falling around Obama. People were cheering. He’d won?

“It’s over,” Paul said.

Obama had won. Was he supposed to have won?

Caroline was outside. She didn’t know yet. Evan stood and went to the front door. She stood in the middle of the driveway end, smoking one of her cigarettes. Evan walked up, quiet, behind her.

“Hey,” he said.


“You won, Caroline. Obama won. Aren’t you excited?”

But Caroline didn’t say anything. Above them, the sky was a dark blue, skidded with clouds. There weren’t any stars. It was hard to see the stars in Houston. Evan could see the moon, though, the silver of its light behind the trees.

“You’re a good brother,” Caroline said.

Evan smiled at her, but she didn’t smile back. She looked sad.

“Okay. I’m going to go back inside now,” he said, but he didn’t go anywhere.

Caroline nodded. She smoked the cigarette down to the orange and then pulled out another. Evan didn’t want to leave her, but he didn’t know what to say. Finally he turned and made his way up the sidewalk to the front door.

When he got inside, he didn’t know what to do. He didn’t want to play with his Legos and he didn’t want to draw. All he wanted to do was go to sleep. He went upstairs to his room without saying goodnight to anybody. He didn’t ask for his mom to tuck him in, and he didn’t ask for his dad to tell him a story. He just pulled his covers up to his chin and looked at the ceiling for a long time. He’d stuck glow-in-the-dark stars up there, a few years back, and they glowed a dim green in the dark.

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