Today we have another entry received for the Writers Forum 2020 Short Story Contest.
Since the contest judges are supposed to be judging the entries without knowing who wrote them, the author’s names will be withheld until after the winner selection. After the winners have been chosen, all authors will be identified, and the top three stories will be re-posted. The contest is only open to Writers Forum members. Click here for the complete contest rules.
There is still plenty of time for Writers Forum members to submit your own short stories. All submissions will be posted to the website and the Facebook page, and will also be considered submissions to the Writers Forum anthology, River’s Edge, to be published at the end of the year.
Stacey stood in the voting booth staring at the names on the ballot in front of her. She did not like any of them. She had turned eighteen in March, had graduated from high school in May, and had spent six months attempting to enlighten herself about political issues. Initially she had favored Senator Bernie Sanders but the super delegates from the Democratic Party had made certain he would not win the nomination. Super delegates? She did not understand why a political party would even want or need them.
Stacey had waited in line for nearly an hour to cast her vote, a line which had seemed to grow behind her. Others were still waiting in the drizzle outside. She completed the rest of the ballot first and then returned to the choices for President. Donald Trump had never held a public office of any kind. Stacey felt he was unqualified. She could not in good conscience vote for a Republican candidate anyway. She had learned that since 1970 executive compensation in this country had skyrocketed while wages, when adjusted for inflation, had flatlined. Stacey believed that the middle class was being hollowed out. She could not understand why any working person would still support the Republican Party. A Canadian economist had recently called American capitalism a system of exploitation – the exploitation of labor and resources. Stacey believed there was some truth in that.
After Bernie, Hillary Clinton had been her second choice until Wikileaks had exposed her a couple weeks earlier. Hillary had been paid over six hundred thousand dollars to give three speeches to the banking industry. Throughout the campaign she had adamantly refused to disclose the texts of those speeches, though other candidates had urged her to do so. Finally, Wikileaks released them. In those speeches Hillary told the bankers they should be allowed to police themselves and that she thought it was okay for a politician to state one view publicly on an issue but feel differently in private about that same issue. What? Stacey’s father had lost his job back in 2008 due to the worldwide recession caused by mortgage fraud. Police themselves? Stacey opposed that idea strongly.
Stacey had seen Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party interviewed twice on television and had liked her message. Though Stacey did not wish to throw her first vote away on a long-shot candidate, she quickly punched a hole in the ballot next to Jill Stein’s name. She was not thrilled about it but that was her choice.
Stacey exited the Veterans of Foreign Wars building and found her boyfriend Carlos waiting in the parking lot. He suggested they celebrate their first vote with a cup of hot chocolate and maybe a slice of apple pie. Stacey did not feel like celebrating but she did not want to dampen Carlos’s sudden burst of patriotism so she agreed. When they walked into Sammy’s Diner a couple miles down the road, Stacey was surprised to see a few people wearing those bright red Make America Great Again baseball caps. Stacey could not even begin to understand the support for Trump. Carlos told one of them that America’s greatness was not in the past, or the present, but in what it can become – repeating a line they had heard on Real Time With Bill Maher. A guy in a red hat turned around and flipped them the bird on his way out the front door.
They were seated in a booth and a waitress told them the hot chocolate was free if they could produce a stub showing they had voted. They dug around and each produced one and the waitress laughed out loud. She had thought they looked too young to vote. A couple of girls they remembered from school approached their booth and Carlos invited them to sit down for a minute.
“Carlos… Stacey… Haven’t seen you two in a long time,” Rebecca, a former classmate, said. “Did you to just come from the polling station?”
“We did. How are you doing, Rebecca?” Stacey asked.
“Good, I guess. You guys remember Abby?”
“Of course. Did you girls vote tonight too?” Carlos asked.
“Yeah. Stood in line for close to an hour. What are you guys doing this year. Going to college?” Abby asked.
“I am, yes. But Carlos here is working in the family construction business,” Stacey said. “How about you two?”
“I’m at the junior college trying to get into the nursing program. Abby is waitressing and trying to form or join a band,” Rebecca said.
“Really! How’s that going, Abby?” Carlos asked.
“My parents were folk singers when they first met back in the day and they still have some connections in the industry. Some scouts and agents are likely to be at the Silver Spoon just south of town on Friday night. My mom pulled some strings and got me on the list of performers,” Abby said.
“Have you guys ever been in there?” Rebecca asked.
“No, I don’t think I have,” Carlos said.
“Maybe we’ll come and listen to you on Friday,” Stacey said.
Their waitress returned with hot chocolate and apple pie and their friends said their goodbyes. While they ate Carlos suggested they call and try to get Stacey on that list of performers too. The last three poems she had shown Carlos were really good and he thought she should recite them publicly. He dialed the Silver Spoon and after a delay was put in touch with the person handling the list. Carlos put Stacey on the phone and after some small talk she recited a poem from memory. Stacey smiled and promised to be there Friday at eight.
“I’ll be damned. The guy loved the poem I just recited and added me to his list. He said a prize of two hundred dollars will be paid for the best performance and he confirmed that talent scouts and agents are expected to be in the audience,” Stacey said.
“No shit! You might win, too,” Carlos said. “It wouldn’t surprise me a bit.”
When they left the diner and started walking across the parking lot a guy in a red hat approached them ranting and raving about how liberal college students were destroying America. He took a swing at Carlos when he got close enough. Carlos ducked under the punch and gave the guy a shove. The red hat went flying and the guy lost his balance, falling into the side of a parked car, and then to the ground. He stood up again, lowered his head, and began to charge at Carlos as if to tackle him. Like a matador Carlos stepped out of the way at the last moment and gave the guy a shove. His head struck the tailgate of a parked pickup and he fell to the pavement, rolling onto his back. He did not move.
“He’s out cold and he’s bleeding,” Stacey said after taking a closer look. “We’d better call 911.”
“No. I don’t think so. He’s white. I’m black. I’ll be arrested,” Carlos said.
“You were acting in self-defense. I’m your witness,” Stacey said.
“It won’t matter. You’re my girlfriend. You’re biased in the eyes of the law. Let’s get out of here,” Carlos said.
When they got back to Stacey’s dorm room she turned on the local ten o’clock news for the election results. The election was being described as too close to call. The next story was about a dead body that had been found in the parking lot of Sammy’s Diner. Clyde Andrew Thomasson, aged twenty five, had sustained head injuries and had most likely died from a broken neck. Anyone with information about the incident was being urged to contact the police department.
Stacey turned off the television and told Carlos he had only been acting in self-defense. She knew he had never intended to harm anyone. Carlos began pacing back and forth in front of her, tears beginning to roll down his cheeks. Neither one of them could believe the guy had died.
“Fuck! I’m in big trouble now,” Carlos said.
It occurred to Stacey that there may have been security cameras outside the diner. She told Carlos to take off his jacket and shirt and she gave him an old sweatshirt he had loaned her a couple weeks earlier. He put it on and decided he had better disappear. Stacey kissed him once and reminded him that he had not meant to harm or kill anyone. She told him again that he had acted in self-defense. After he left, Stacey put his shirt and jacket into a plastic shopping bag and walked across campus to where dumpsters were lined up behind the cafeteria building. She reached into one and carefully dug a little hole first so her bag would not be visible on top of the heap. She then covered the bag with other garbage.
She returned to the dormitory a few minutes before eleven when security guards were supposed to lock the doors. She had not seen anyone. She prayed that no one had seen her. When she entered her room again her roommate Ophelia was stretched out on a bed.
“Did you get a chance to vote today, Stacey?” Ophelia asked.
“Of course. After months of preparation I wasn’t going to miss this. How about you?”
“Yeah, I did too. Voted for Secretary Clinton even though Wikileaks burned her a new one a couple weeks ago,” Ophelia said.
“Too bad Obama couldn’t run for another term,” Stacey said.
“It is, too. For the past eight years it’s felt like we had a friend in the white house.”
Stacey’s cell phone chirped with a call from Carlos and she answered it. She went into the small bathroom for some privacy and to clean up after handling the garbage. Carlos told her of his half-baked plan to call Sammy’s Diner the next morning and impersonate a security company salesman. If they were not interested in the product, it probably meant they already had cameras in use. If they were interested and allowed him to set a sales appointment, it most likely meant they did not already have security cameras in that parking lot. If the result of his call was inconclusive he might have to cruise through the parking lot again and take another look. But he did not want to risk being recognized if he could help it.
Stacey told him to be careful and filled him in on her trip to the dumpsters. Carlos said he had never cared much for that jacket anyway. Stacey urged him to consider borrowing someone else’s car and wearing a disguise of some kind if he returned to the scene. Carlos thanked her for the suggestion… told her he loved her… and hung up. Stacey could hear him sobbing between his last words. She loved a man who cried.
The next morning they all learned that, by the thinnest of margins, Donald Trump had won in the Electoral College and would be the next president. There was shock and disbelief on the college campus. Hillary had won the popular vote by close to three million but that did not matter. Ophelia reminded Stacey that the Electoral College had produced unjust results before. In the very beginning the policy had been to severely restrict the right to vote. Only white males who owned property were permitted to do so. At least eight times in our nation’s history the candidate who won in the Electoral College had not won the popular vote. Thomas Jefferson, Rutherford B. Hayes, John Kennedy, George W. Bush, and now Donald Trump were among them. Stacey asked Ophelia how she knew all this. She was Native American and had grown up protesting against oil pipelines on a reservation in South Dakota. Studying America’s shortcomings was a passion for her.
At lunch in the school cafeteria that day an informal discussion took place about the Electoral College. No one was able to defend it. What were our founding fathers thinking (or drinking) when they had come up with that gem? In over two centuries why had it not been dissolved? It had clearly subverted the will of the people on multiple occasions. The students all agreed that the Electoral College was a relic from the past, from the days when the outcomes of elections were decided in smoke-filled rooms by a select, corrupt few.
Stacey had found inspiration. A poem about American injustice? Why the hell not. You did not have to look far to see it. She was dating a great guy who happened to be African American and her roommate was Native American. The consequences of racial discrimination were all around her. Growing up white in the suburbs Stacey had rarely even seen a police car.
After dinner that night Stacey took a walk by herself and called Carlos. He said he had scrapped the idea of impersonating a salesman out of fear that a suspicious call might be traced back to him. His uncle had been awarded a contract for a construction job in a neighboring state and he was thinking about asking if he could join that crew. It would get him out of town for a few months. Stacey told him he might be overreacting but she understood. He promised to call her as soon as he knew more. Carlos suggested that maybe they both should stay clear of Sammy’s Diner. Stacey agreed.
They confirmed their plan to patronize the Silver Spoon on Friday night and Carlos said he would come and get her at about seven. Patronize, good word, Carlos told her. They also talked about how shocked they were that Trump had won the election. It was a little frightening to think about what a Trump presidency might look like.
Stacey was approaching the school library and she went inside after their phone call had ended. She pulled a small notebook and pen from her purse and sat down in a remote corner surrounded by bookshelves. A few phrases morphed into a couple lines and before long she had the first stanza of a new poem.
She tried to envision what America could become.
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