Senator Mal Milon-Manzana, the door says. I allow myself a millisecond to admire it before my team and I push on through.
Meeting after meeting, setting up this new office, hirings, firings, speech writing, interviews all in the first day. I was frankly forgetting what my home even looked like. My chief of staff, Audrey Wilkes, was buzzing in my ear throughout, so not even the sweet balance of silence was able to find me. You’d think it would be overwhelming, drowning me in the overstimulation but something in the chaos speaks to me. I am enjoying every moment of this.
This is what I had prepared for. The downfall of this broken system. There is an image I keep in my head. My goal, personified as a fiendish woman and when things seem rough, I can hear her egging me on.
Get ’em, Mal.
“Mal, you listening?” Audrey laughs.
“I’m always listening. Tell your friends.” I wink and motion for her to continue.
“Planned Parenthood is living up to that name. They’ve got you scheduled until at least the 20th. You may want to talk them into spacing these out a bit more. You don’t want to shove that agenda too much in short bursts. Make it more palatable.” Audrey breezes by in my peripheral vision.
“Nothing wrong with a little shoving now and then. God knows the other side does a fair bit of that themselves. Then they play it off by letting one of their crazier members do something nuts to distract people for a hot second while they move shit around.”
“We don’t want to be like that, though, right?” Audrey pokes. “Shit shovellers and the like.”
“Well, as a wise man once said, you gotta play the game a little before you cheat.”
“In my defense,” I hear my partner Dashell Hills-Crosby, also affectionately called Eggplant as part of a long-running inside joke, before I see him. “That was a very heated game of Trivial Pursuit,” he says with a smirk as he carries two armloads of various items into the office. He unloads them at the side table as Audrey continues.
“The snake oil salesman from the Family First Foundation should be here any sec,” she snipes, rolling her eyes. “He’s gonna want to get you on board with the addendums to proposition 313. You don’t want to do that.”
“Oh, I don’t?” I laugh as Dash begins to fix my tie.
“You know what I mean.” She smirks.
“I do, I do, don’t worry, I know what I’m doing. Always.”
“You hear everything. You know everything. Quite the god complex, kid.” Dash winks, kissing me on the head. “I gotta head out, be good.” He smiles.
“Never.” I stick out my tongue.
“I know, I know.” He laughs. “Actually, I almost forgot. I got you this to put in your bowl of plastic fruit, you know, just to freak people out.” Dash laughs as he pulls a shiny apple from his pocket and drops it in the bowl on my desk. “Red Delicious, they taste like crap but are so shiny they’ll fool people.”
“Really? Not an eggplant?” I wink at him flirtatiously.
“Har, har.” He smiles and gives me a quick, annoyingly closed-mouth kiss—damn office decorum—before sauntering out. I enjoy the moment before Audrey leans in behind me, clearing her throat.
“Remind me to talk to you about his insta-presence later,” she says. I roll my eyes.
“Sure, Audrey, sure.” The minutiae of all the little things you have to do to remain mediocre are one part of this I will never get used to. That’s not why I came here from… Images rush in, clouds, columns, men in dresses? Togas? Harps…there are definitely harps… Where I’m from doesn’t matter, it’s why I’m here now.
I’ve always been drawn to Washington D.C., or at least what it represented. The system. The invisible rules and pretend laws that bind our mockery of a society. The men, women, and others who conspire, cajole and coerce their own opinions onto the whole country. It is still preferable to when such actions boil down to naked greed, especially since it is the greed of those who already have more money than they ever could spend. It is all so meaningless, and that was the meaning for me. That is my purpose in life: to destroy that monster once and for all from the inside. I belong in this city and not just because the statue of Lady Justice always did something for me. My reasons have nothing much to do with justice, unless you mean just us. Wink, wink.
Audrey’s phone buzzes loudly.
“Okay, he’s here.” She sighs. “Seymor Geiss, Family First’s attack dog.”
I take a moment and look around and make sure my area is set up, decisive, strong, my personal seat of power. I round my desk to take my seat and make sure I’m looking him right down the headlights when he enters.
“Send him in,” I say confidently, though that confidence wavers as my eye catches the apple Eggplant gave me. It is yellow. Wasn’t it a Red Delicious, not Golden?
“Mx. Milon-Manzana!” he says with good-natured excitement as he bursts into the room while I’m momentarily distracted. “I represent the Family First Foundation, representing the Be Here Initiative on behalf of the Lansbury Trust,” he says, jogging over, offering me his hand to shake.
“She swallowed the goat to catch the dog, she swallowed the dog to catch the cat, she swallowed the cat to catch the bird, she swallowed the bird to catch the spider, she swallowed the spider to catch the fly. Perhaps she’ll die!” I laugh as I try to give a strong handshake. Guys like this only respect empty macho gestures.
“Yes, well, you’ll find most of this town is just one long relay race.” He laughs, taking a seat.
“Indeed, Mr. Geiss, please let’s get into it.” I waggle my eyebrows at him. “Hit me with it. Why’d you come to see me here today?” I smile, miming booping his nose.
“Ah.” I sigh knowingly.
“I know, I know. You can see the carny picking your pocket.” He laughs. “But you’re seen as the hip new thing. If we attach some of the harder-to-pass stuff to your momentum, then it will kill two birds with one stone. Get your message out there and get some stuff off the back burner and on to the books.”
The way he said message is what did it for me.
“Listen, Mr. Geiss. That’s not how I intend to do things.” I see a look cross his face, but I press on. “I’m not gonna be that kind of politician who gives up on everything I believe, every position I ran on, the minute I get into office,” I say with no small amount of self-satisfaction.
He starts to laugh.
“You don’t get how it works yet, do you?”
He grabs the apple Dash gave me and bites into it with no hesitation. Something about it throws me off. He sees the opening and goes in for the kill.
“The people who really run this country will come calling soon. Tell them that Disney story you just threw at me when they do. See what they do,” he says darkly. “You ain’t family yet, but you will be, or you’ll be nothing.”
“Oh yeah, go watch the documentary on Netflix. It literally spelled it all out, and no one cared. They don’t care that they are mindless drones whose lives are at the whims of shadowy old white guys with more money than god. They just care if Snyder gets to write a superhero movie or if Bridgerton will be any good without that hunk. You see, we let you guys have stuff sometimes. We’ll put up a big stink about shit that doesn’t matter, like letting two dudes play house. Fight it for years even though it doesn’t matter to anyone. Then we’ll let you have it, and you’ll think you got some big victory and just ignore all the shit we got done in the meantime.”
“Look here, Geiss.” I tried to get a second wind. “Senator Glenmann, one of my personal heroes, just held the entire senate in rapt awe as she spoke about a lot more than bodice rippers and R-rated cape and spandex snuff films. There are people out there who don’t fit into your idea of this town and your precious family.”
“Yes, Glenmann has given such wondrous speeches about corruption, gun rights, LGBTLMNOP whatever rights…and yet? What decisive action has she taken? What risks? She has ensured her reelections by doing exactly what you saw. She gave a well-written and rehearsed dramatic speech with all the flair of Shakespeare and zero action. You think she’s gonna back you up? You’ll be lucky if she doesn’t have you shot. If she doesn’t, Haymitch will.”
“You don’t know him? I’m not surprised. Only those who know how this town works know him, and you’re obviously clueless. You’ll get there. One way or another.” He stands. “We’ll talk after that. No need for a last retort. You’ll need to conserve your wit for later.” He mimes tipping his nonexistent hat at me before swiftly walking out as I am left speechless.
I hold it in my mind again that image of that woman, representing the downfall of the patriarchy, the very symbol in my mind of the status quo coming crashing down. Long black hair falling down her back, and a serpent around her shoulders as she laughs. The Ruin.
Audrey enters sheepishly. Maybe she heard, or maybe she just saw the look on my face.
“If you’re up for it…your meeting with Gerard is next.”
“I’m sorry?” I say, finally breaking my concentration on my mental image of ruin.
“I said your meeting with Calvin Armando is next.”
I don’t immediately respond, and when I start to, the look on Audrey’s face stops me cold. Something about the way she is looking at me.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
“I was about to ask you the same,” she says softly. “I’ve never seen you look so…conflicted. You’re always so sure of yourself. It’s a little unsettling.”
“Yeah,” I sigh. “I know what you mean. Push that meeting and the next five or so. I need to think.”
The cluttering chaos fills me once more, and this time it’s not such a rush, but more a sucking riptide threatening to swallow me whole.