If there were a face for the worst humanity has to offer, it would be the face of one mister Gerald Haymitch. Representing old money, he is a land baron, patriarch of a large family, and quite possibly the puppeteer of our great nation. That is what I’m pondering as I sit in my study, in the dark, just staring at a picture of him on my phone. A picture I found after only an hour or so of googling, might I add. He’d hidden so well beneath the super PACs, charities, and off-shore accounts. The photo is of him and some of the most powerful political figures on both sides of the aisle, leaving a private dinner at one of the many restaurants that are part of Haymitch’s holdings. This particular establishment is by invitation only. It has no official name and is only referred to as a restaurant by the glen in the caption beneath the picture. The part of the photo that has enraptured me is that the rich and powerful seem to be lining up to shake his hand as they leave. He is the proverbial big man on campus around these parts, yet no one talks about him.
Since I met with Geiss, I’ve had several other meetings with both my supposed friends and supporters as well as those from the other side. All of them told me the same thing, more or less. Get on board or get off the tracks.
A feeling of helplessness has gripped me, and I don’t know how to fight it. Is this what I fought so hard for? To be just another pawn in the grand machine? All the fire and vigour with which I ran my campaign feels extinguished. I sit here, and all I feel is nothingness, a swirling black void threatening to swallow me whole. As this thought passes through my mind, I hear a faint tapping sound.
I look up. There, on the windowsill, is a rather large crow. It is not a common bird around here, but not unusual by any means. Yet, something about it catches my attention. I just stare at the creature, and in turn, it stares right back at me. Its eyes search mine, and for the briefest of moments, I swear I sense it trying to talk to me. Fight back! Do something. Break Free!
An idea occurs to me…it’s impetuous, and I shouldn’t. Yet something in the bird’s eyes makes it all I want to do. I flick record on the phone before I can change my mind.
“From the beginning of my campaign,” I clear my throat and get my bearings, “I’ve been called a lot of things, many not worth mentioning here today, but some even my supporters chose to adorn me with. I’ve been called the only honest politician or the social media god. While such superlatives may be appealing, not to mention quite flattering, they also serve as a gauge of what my constituents expect from me, and more importantly, what they need from me. In the spirit of that honor, I feel it is my duty to keep you abreast of the truth, and nothing but, while my journey through the halls of political power in this country continues.
“I’ve been approached by people representing what they refer to as The Family, also called the Fellowship, more specifically representing a man whose name people seem to refuse to say: Gerald Haymitch. He heads a supposedly religious organization that instead acts as a watchdog group, controlling and manipulating the political landscape. These people come from both parties and include people I’ve long looked up to and come to trust. It has revealed, to me, that our fight for change is fraught with greater perils than I could have ever dreamed of as a young candidate.
“As I sit here, I feel lost at sea, unsure of my next move. Whatever that move will be, I can assure you that it will be based on my utmost respect for what the human race can be and the power of the truth. Thank you.”
As soon as I stop the recording, I press upload on every social media I have, both official and unofficial, before I can talk myself out of it. The brief manic rush ebbs. As the emptiness threatens to swell once more, I click the phone off, set it down, and walk to my and Eggplant’s bedroom. I refuse to think about it for a second longer. Instead, I focus on him, resting so peacefully and waiting for me. I remove my shoes and jacket, gently lift the covers, before lying down beside him. I rest my head against his chest as I let sleep take me at last.
A mountain of notifications wait for me the next morning, and my phone is ringing off the hook. I go into the office, and Audrey is in a complete panic. Aides are running up and down the halls. It is total havoc. Somehow, this seems to give me greater confidence rather than making me second guess myself.
Audrey practically tackles me onto my desk as I enter, launching at me with two phones in her hand as she simultaneously screams into both and at me all at once.
“The Senator is not a conspiracy theorist. They do not currently feel they need psychiatric evaluation!” she screams into one. “No, I was not implying seeking out mental health services was a negative, Ashley. Don’t print that.”
She slams her phones down and turns on me.
“What the hell was that?”
“It was what I needed to do, Audrey. When the world is trying to cloud you in confusion and delusion, you need to cut through that fog with a ray of truth.”
“Don’t get all Maya Angelou on me.” She rolls her eyes. “There’s a way to do this. There are expectations. There’s this whole unspoken routine around here. You know that.”
“I don’t want to hear any more about the way it is. The status quo is just another tool of these people who manipulate and control. I want to be different than that. That’s why they voted for me. We’re gonna do what we said we would…represent the new face of politics. The party will see that and rally behind us.”
“Oh, will they?” she says knowingly, which causes me to pause. She rounds my desk, flipping on my laptop and typing something into YouTube. She brings up a clip. It’s of Senator Glenmann, my closest ally and more or less the current, most prominent face of progressives in America.
“I think Senator Milon-Manzana is a wonderful talent. I think if they’re still in office, they could be a great political force in a few years. But this kind of melodramatic show has no place in our country’s seat of power. Presenting this kind of immature, slightly unbalanced image is not the right move for the party at this time.”
Of course, all the hashtag warriors and Faux News junkies picked up most on the negatives between the positives: if they’re still, could be, melodramatic show, immature, unbalanced, and not the right move. They took her response, amplified it over and over until the country only saw the leader of my party basically calling me crazy.
I’m speechless, and Audrey uses the opportunity to go for a second round.
“This also hit earlier today,” she says more quietly, sympathy returning to her voice as she clicks over to an article titled Gender Non-Binary Senator’s Lover’s Drug Scandal.
It was Dash/Eggplant’s face from five years ago, after his stay in rehab. A stay that, up until today, I thought only his parents and I were aware of.
“What the fuck?” I gasp, my eyes tearing up.
“There’s talk of him being put on suspension from his job at the start-up,” she says.
“For going to rehab? That’s not illegal.”
“They’ve had a rough year, with two previous execs being mired in drug and sex scandals. They need to distance themselves.” She shrugs with pity in her eyes. “There’s more.”
“Oh, great.” My hand goes to my head.
“This link,” she gestures to the article, “Was e-mailed to me before it went public.”
“Geiss. Along with this message.” She hands me a printout with nothing but directions and a time to meet. “What are you gonna do?”
I sigh, deep and heavy.
“For now? What they want me to.”
I arrive at the pre-chosen location. It’s an exclusive parking garage near some of the high-rises and higher market housing in the city. I’m early, yet somehow they’re still here…waiting for me. Three figures, typical white cis-males, as if they would be anything else. One I haven’t seen before, even though he holds an odd familiarity. Then there is Geiss, who has the gall to wave at me. But my eyes go straight to the third man sitting in front of them, Haymitch.
“I bet you thought that was cute,” he says by way of greeting. “Well, so did I.” He chuckles.
“It was simply the truth,” I say. He laughs all the harder.
“There is no truth,” he spits at me like bile. “There is only what people like me decide the rats out there should believe.”
“And what is the endgame?” I ask, with a hint of desperation in my voice. “You can’t live forever, Mister Haymitch. When you die, someone else who wants slightly different things will take your place, and so on and so forth. So you spend your entire life to get things the way you want them, not to mention accumulating the money you’ll never spend, and for what?”
“That’s your problem. You think too much about tomorrow and not enough about today.” He sneers.
“Well, maybe I want to serve something bigger than myself. Put humanity as a whole above the needs of one.”
“You’re a child.” He laughs again. “You talk like a 3rd-grade history report. You wrap yourself in your liberal virtue signals and hot topic buzzwords like armor but, hear this, you hermaphrodite freak, we can crush you with a text. You think Glenmann’s reproach was a stroke of bad luck? It was delivered on cue and with great gusto by a loyal cog in the Family’s machine. Written, directed, and produced by me.” Haymitch sneers. “You think we’re supposed to help people?” he continues. “People help us.”
For a brief moment, I feel a fire grow within me, a shard of something. In that moment, I feel like maybe I can turn this situation around, use this feeling of being overwhelmed and outgunned as fuel. I can feed on the strife and discord…but for some reason, I lock eyes with that stranger next to Geiss, that man my brain tells me I haven’t seen before, yet my heart tells me otherwise. The part of me that can fight back breaks.
“Fine,” I mumble pathetically. “You don’t think I understand how to play your game? That’s fine. In truth, it’s that I chose not to play it, but whatever. Believe what you believe and call me a child. Leave Dashall out of it, at least. I’m an elected official. He’s not. I chose to put myself here. He didn’t.”
“Here’s a lesson for free, kiddo.” He laughs one last time. “By asking us that, you’ve just made him target number one. You give away too much. You wear your heart on your sleeve. That just makes it all the easier to cleave it in two. You see, the damage is already done. We gave you a chance to get in line and do it right, but you wanted to be a rebel. Well, I hope you’re still happy with your choices when you make it home.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” I snarl. But he’s no longer looking at me. He turns to the unknown, oddly familiar aide with a dismissive gesture, the man winking at me with a sinister smile.
“Gerard, see this thing out.”
I race up the steps of our small little house with a new sense of fear in my chest. What did he mean? What has he done?
“Eggplant? Dash?” I screech to no answer. I run through each room, tears now freely falling from my face. I finally come to our bedroom, as I did last night in my yearning to escape the din of chaos that haunted me and always had. I always sought him out when I needed a respite, his warm embrace, his calm to my storm.
And as always, there he was.
“Dash?” No answer. “Dash?!”
I move closer, and I see it. He lies there, peacefully as he had last night, but his eyes are open. His face is frozen, and as my eyes travel downwards to see his sleeves rolled up, my heart shatters as I see the needle in his arm.
Outside, a crow caws.