The Incumbent

I voted stickers
Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Guy on your doorstep. His name is Leo. You know this because he taps his nametag, the one attached to the official party lanyard. He whiteknuckles his clipboard, green-eyed flinch when you opened the door. They don’t expect you to open up on election day. If you do open up, they expect you to be angry. He stumbles through a pep talk about his guy. The incumbent.

“Big Joe will choose health care over, um, highways,” Leo says.

“Health care sounds good,” you whimper, lip trembling. “Fuck highways.”

“Right,” says Leo, with a pitchy laugh. “Fuck highways.”

Leo definitely wishes you hadn’t opened the door. They trained him for shouting but not for tears. He tried to say oh is it a bad time I’m sorry but you wouldn’t let him, said not at all let’s hear it. There isn’t another time to come around, anyway. Big Joe’s team told him E-day is vomit-on-your-sweater-already-mom’s-spaghetti shit. Do or die. He’s here to peddle his cheek-slapped, caffeine-tapped Big Joe show and goddammit, you’re gonna listen.

“Big Joe really cares about his riding,” says Leo.

“I’ll bet,” you snivel. “I’ll fucking bet he cares.”

“Sixteen years of care.”

“Sixteen years,” you joke, “of ridin’ for my riding.”

It falls flat because you punctuate it with a sob. And bless him, Leo laughs. Laughs even as you suck a wet ball of phlegm into the back of your throat. Eyes bloodshot red as the dress you put on today. Face too, probably. You answered with your cellphone in one hand, planted the other on the doorframe to stop it from shaking. Door propped on your hip. Thumb pressed against the glass, email still on the screen. Lean forward. Frown hard. Nod aggressively because Big Joe cares, goddammit, and so do you.

“Big Joe’s also big on bike lanes,” says Leo.

“Bitchin’,” you sob. “Bike lanes are so good.”

“So good,” Leo agrees. “Do you, uh, use them?”

“No,” you sniff. “I don’t own a bike.”

You will be an anecdote later. Cheap laughs for a tired campaign team. Leo will label you a real nut job. You want to explain that you’re not usually weepy over bike lanes but you checked your email, right, cleaning your inbox and you wouldn’t normally check the spam folder but today you did. Okay? You did. Now your eyes are as bloody red as your dress. The dress makes your tits look good. Leo is not a hair over twenty and he stares at them because you are leaning out your doorframe crying over your mother’s email.

“It’s important to vote,” says Leo, clearing his throat. “There’s a lot at stake.”

“Big time,” you say.

“You don’t have to vote for Big Joe,” says Leo. “But we’d really like it if you did.”

Leo doesn’t know but Big Joe already got your vote. You went to the polling station in your red dress. Curled your hair, gold jewelry. The polling lady told you that you looked nice, then looked at your ID. Said you were not on the list. You gave her your old last name. Mother’s name, father’s name. Oh there you are, she said, flipping papers. Congratulations. Did you get married? You smiled and said you didn’t, actually. You want to explain that you changed it because you couldn’t bear its weight. Because they told you that you’d been a bitch, and a bad daughter. You changed it because you did. Okay? You did.

“I don’t wanna take up your time,” Leo says.

“Of course,” you sniffle, wiping your nose on the back of your wrist. “Big day for Big Joe.”

“Big time,” he says.

Your mother sends the emails to an old address. Doesn’t know you changed your name. Uses the word gut-wrenching a lot. Maybe it is. Says it’s been three years; isn’t three years enough? Maybe it is. She asks you to open up but you know better. The last time you did, they left you sobbing on your apartment floor. You don’t open up for anyone, anymore. You marked your ballot and smiled when the polling lady struck out your old name. First born, maybe. But no longer the incumbent.

“Can we count on your vote today?” asks Leo, offering a pamphlet. Big Joe’s smiling face on semi-gloss.

“Yes,” I say. “Big time.”

“Do you have any questions?” he asks.

There used to be a man in your bed. He knew about your mother, your father. He heard the emails ping on your phone. Heard your breathing change, your lip tremble in the dark. He would roll over and say: Delete it. Don’t cry. But that man isn’t here now. The only one here today is Leo. You opened the door because you weren’t thinking. Because you needed to ask someone: Am I a bitch? Am I a bad daughter?

But you don’t. You strip your hand from the doorframe and reach for Big Joe’s glossy smile. Phlegmy and red-faced, a real nut job. But not shaking, anymore.

“No,” you say. “I have everything I need.”

Scroll to Top