Beverly Koval is in the car, en route to Allentown, Pennsylvania. Her friend, Patricia Herrara is driving. She can see better. Beverly searches the radio for Frank Sinatra or something jazzy like that. All she can find is country music and rap. She hears a grown man rhyme about a candy shop and changes back to a song about a dead man riding a horse.
“Who’d have thought this is all they would have on the radio,” she says.
“We’re not even far from home. You’d think they’d have something decent,” Patricia says. She signals right, even though they are a full mile from their exit.
Canvassing in Pennsylvania was Beverly’s idea. She is a fierce Democrat who needs to see John McCain defeated. She’s done all she can in her hometown of Highpoint, New Jersey, writing letter after letter to the editor of the Community Chronicle. She is published weekly and is well known around town for her vehement hatred of George Bush and her utter disdain for all those who proclaim themselves Republican. She’s even been issued a citation for uprooting lawn signs.
Beverly has known Patricia since the days of Camelot, when their husbands worked at the Fulton Plant on Highland Avenue. Patricia has also volunteered with the Democratic Party, passing out leaflets at the Puerto Rican Day Parade. When Beverly became assured that New Jersey was looking good, she decided they should go to the battleground.
They arrive at the Allentown office, where they meet a delightful young man. Matt is tall and blond and blue eyed and he thanks the women for coming down.
“Aren’t you cute,” Patricia tells Matt and he blushes.
Beverly thinks Matt is as handsome as her grandson would be if he lay off the prescription drugs. She thinks about taking a picture of Matt and showing it to her daughter.
Matt asks the women again, if they are sure they wouldn’t want to pair up with other volunteers. If they wait a few minutes, more volunteers will come and happily escort them door to door, where they can tell Pennsylvania Independents exactly what they know and love about Barack Obama.
Patricia thinks it’s a good idea. She doesn’t like driving in unfamiliar places.
Beverly thinks it’s a terrible plan. She thinks she and Patricia are best suited to campaign together as they’ve known one another for more than forty years. Beverly has the day decided. Patricia will drive and take notes. Beverly will do the talking.
But Patricia insists.
They go to Aurora, an Allentown suburb, to Zone 3 and Shrewsbury Street. Each single-family house is vinyl sided in pale blue, asphalt grey, or muted yellow and have porches or no porches. The narrow colonials sit on square yards distinguishable only by whether the grass has been mowed this week or last.
A row of Maple trees brightens Shrewsbury Street but Beverly is too busy surveying lawn signs to notice. Beverly and Matt take the odd numbers, while Patricia and Kelsey, a young woman with thick bangs, take the even. They will meet back at the car at 1pm, giving them two solid hours.
Beverly and Matt approach their first house, number 19. The previous block are registered Republicans and Matt says Beverly’s energy is better spent working on the undecided.
Beverly doesn’t like that. She spends her days writing letters in which she tells Highpoint Republicans to grow spines. She tells them that they drink George Bush Kool Aid and they hate old people like herself who depend on Social Security. She wouldn’t mind knocking on a few Republican doors but because Matt is there and he looks like her grandson minus a prescription drug addiction, she agrees.
Beverly walks well for an eighty-one year old. She clutches the railing and makes it up the cement steps. She rings the bell. Matt holds the clipboard with the Voter Registration Data Sheet and he holds the various flyers adorned with photos of Barack and Michelle, and Joe and Jill, and Hope and Change.
They wait a minute before Beverly rings the bell again. There are two cars in the driveway so even though Matt suggests they move on, Beverly insists they stay. She rings a third time and a shirtless man with white hair darting forth from his shoulders appears. He looks to Beverly like a radiated polar bear stuck on the wrong icecap – exactly what we are headed for if we don’t vote change.
“Good morning. My name is Beverly and this is Matt and we are local volunteers with Bare-wreck Aa-bahma’s presidential campaign.”
“I’m voting for McCain,” the man says and he shuts the door.
Matt makes a notation and they continue two houses down to another address marked I. This time, there is no answer. They continue marking the many addresses where no one answers, or they say they are for McCain and there is no convincing them otherwise and the others, where people tell them they just don’t have time to talk.
Matt jogs across the street to check in on Patricia and Kelsey, but Beverly rewraps her leaf-patterned scarf, adjusts her bifocals and starts on number 25, an ivory-sided house with a pumpkin on the porch. She climbs the steps, rings the bell and when the door opens a few inches, asks, “Does Bare-wreck Aa-bahma have your vote?”
The door is chained but a woman’s hand reaches out. She tells Beverly to give her a flyer.
Matt bounds up the steps and shares the good news. Patricia and Kelsey got three houses in a row.
Beverly doubts it has anything to do with Patricia, who likes to fashion herself a regular Jackie O but only opens her mouth to make little quips about Beverly needing to have her hearing checked. Let her be pleased with her easy wins, Beverly thinks. She puts her hand on the railing, ready to take on the next house, when the door opens.
Two young women wearing army green bath towels and clay face masks stand before them. Their shoulders glisten like amazon warriors. Their hair is also wrapped in towels and they smell like rubbing alcohol and gardenia. The young woman on the left is tan and chunky and she says hello to Matt. The young woman on the right is tall and fair and she wiggles in the wind.
Beverly is miffed that the girls didn’t open the door for her but she understands. Matt is dreamy. From his collared shirt, to his waxy cotton jacket, to the way the Hope button is pinned upon his heart, he’s nearly an image of JFK himself. Beverly can’t help wonder why her own grandson didn’t turn out this way.
The tall girl invites them inside but Matt says they really shouldn’t and Beverly says they really should and the two stand on the porch going back and forth about it, until the tan girl says she has no problem with Muslims but doesn’t believe one would go after another.
Matt and Beverly stop bickering.
“She’s talking about Osama Bin Laden,” the tall girl says. “Obama won’t kill Osama.”
Beverly begins to ask if one Christian couldn’t go after another but Matt waves his hands in the air.
“Obama is a Christian who was born in Hawaii,” Matt says, “a state in America.”
“Christian, Jew, Muslim? What does it matter?” Beverly asks.
“But he’s not a Muslim,” Matt says. “Barack Obama is not a Muslim.”
The young women look away from Matt to Beverly.
“I used to be Christian,” Beverly says, remembering how her husband Hank, may he rest in peace, tried to make her apologize to the rector so she could attend her grandson’s Christening. “I’d been told to keep politics out of the coffee hour, that I couldn’t say anything about Ronald Reagan because the other parishioners fled Soviet occupations and loved him with all their heart. Well, guess what I told them?”
Matt runs his hand through his hair like he’s plowing a field of wheat.
“It’s getting nippy,” the tall girl says, inching herself inside.
“I told him their hearts were steely as Joseph Stalin himself. I told them that if Jesus were on Earth today, he would be a Democrat. Now, have we convinced you?”
“There’s a lot we have to look up,” the tan girl says, “starting with Jesus.”
The girls ask Matt if he is sure he doesn’t want to come inside and when Matt says that he is sure, that they’ve said so much already, the girls say they think it is sweet of Matt to walk around with his grandma.
“He’s not my grandson,” Beverly says, picturing her grandson on her daughter’s couch, pointing a toy gun at a video game imitation of one of the very conflicts Reagan or George W set into motion and with his other hand grabbing from a plate of Hot Pockets. “My grandson is more concerned with having the latest gizmo than the fate of our country.”
The girls and Matt are quiet.
Afraid to lose the young ladies’ votes, Beverly asks them what, apart from Matt’s telephone number they can say to convince them. The girls don’t know but tell Matt he is welcome back any time.
As they walk to the next house, Matt tells Beverly that it’s important that they have their facts straight, that Barack Obama is a Christian, not a Muslim. Beverly tells Matt that a president doesn’t represent one religion but one America. Matt agrees but says what’s important is that Barack Obama be elected. Beverly asks Matt why he thinks she got in the car in that morning. She asks, would it not have been easier to spend the day on her orthopedic bed calling in death threats to Rupert Murdoch. When he says, yes, it would have technically been easier; she says it would have also put less strain on her hip.
“Should we take a break? Are you in pain?” Matt asks.
“No more than Hillary,” Beverly says.
As they walk to the next house, Beverly secretly wonders if Kelsey might be a stronger partner than Matt but remembers her initial hesitation with Bare-wreck. Long an admirer of Hillary for standing up to Republican bullies; Beverly was disappointed she did not secure the nomination. Over time though, she has come to love Bare-wreck.
Beverly chuckles to herself wondering what Hank, may he rest in peace, might say about a black president. Hank wasn’t racist. He had buddies at the plant of all colors but boy times have changed. Everything is possible, Beverly thinks. One day her grandson might even get off that couch.
A paper skeleton is taped to the front door of 37 Shrewsbury Street and three foam tombstones are in the yard. Matt rings the bell and it isn’t long before a middle-aged woman with bobbed hair and wearing a roomy sweater comes to the door. She leaves the storm door shut but greets them with a warm smile.
Matt introduces he and Beverly and asks if Barack Obama can count on her vote. The woman says she’s leaning toward McCain but doesn’t have time to talk. She has to pick her children up from soccer practice.
Beverly thinks of her daughter, who for years told her it was only a matter of time before her grandson stopped playing soccer, that she was missing something special in his life. Beverly, who reserved Saturday afternoons for the Passaic County Democrats, asked what it mattered if he grew up with no job prospects and no clean air to breathe. “I’m sure you want to get your children,” Beverly says, “but what you really should be thinking of is the kind of world you are going to leave them.”
The woman tilts her head. Matt also listens.
“Sons or daughters?” Beverly asks.
“I’ve have one son and one daughter,” the woman says, “but I’ve really got to be going.”
“Don’t you want your daughter to have healthcare?” Beverly asks. “And McCain says he’s going to continue the war in I-rack. Any more wars and they’re going to need to implement a draft. I’m sure you don’t want that for your son. I remember Vietnam. Some of those drafted were as strapping as this young man,” Beverly says, gesturing to Matt.
“Democrats put us in Vietnam,” the woman says. “McCain was a P.O.W. Look, you’re very nice but I don’t have time to talk.”
Beverly takes the clipboard from Matt’s hands. “Put down what time we should come back,” Beverly says, pushing in the storm door.
“Midnight,” the woman shouts.
Beverly steps aside as a black cat dashes past. She can’t come at midnight. She goes to bed at eight. She thinks of telling the woman to pick another time but the woman runs out.
“He’s an indoor cat,” she yells.
Matt runs into the yard to help but Beverly looks across the street at Patricia and Kelsey who walk arm in arm. As Matt crawls behind the tombstone for Rigo R. Mortise, Beverly goes to the next house and rings the bell for change. The sixth time she reaches for the doorbell, Matt is there, advising her to tone it down.
At 43 Shrewsbury, Beverly takes the compact from her pocketbook and reapplies her rosebud lipstick. On the porch she tells Matt to stand behind her. She tells him their tactic is all wrong. Instead of standing next to one another like some circus show, she should be in front. It will give the appearance that she is somebody important. “You’ll look like my body guard or my Secret Service Agent,” she tells him.
Matt complies and the strategy appears successful because Ed at 43 Shrewsbury invites them inside.
“Please sit down,” Ed says, gesturing to the pale blue and white striped sofa in his family room. His daughter Julie is testing out her Halloween costume. She skips along the hardwood floor in a long red cape carrying a basket that she will presumably fill with treats. Ed goes to the kitchen to bring Matt a glass of water and Beverly, a cup of tea.
Matt checks his phone. “Sounds like Patricia and Kelsey are doing great.”
Beverly wonders if in all his finger chatting he has relayed their morning. She wonders if when she gets back in the car, Patricia will have a little chuckle about how many cats she signed up.
Julie takes the cushions off the loveseat opposite them. She lies in the fetal position, placing her head in the now empty space and squishing the cushion over her face.
“Where’s Julie?” Matt asks.
Beverly knows she should smile so she curls her lips while she studies the room. The only decorations are a braided rug in the center of the floor and a framed, black and white beach scene hanging on the wall above the loveseat. Is Ed nautical she wonders? Is there a nautical issue being debated? She can’t think of anything.
Ed comes in and pretends he’s about to sit on the cushions covering Julie. She lets out a scream and sits up next to him.
“Can we count on your vote a week from Tuesday?” Beverly asks.
Ed shrugs. He is not a bad looking man. He wears a Steelers T-shirt, has thinning hair but his fat face is youthful and the way he plays with Julie makes him rather endearing. “Honestly, I’d like to tell you yes but I just don’t know.”
“Who do you want to win?” Beverly asks Julie, in her cooing, storybook voice.
“The black one.”
Beverly nods like the fifth grade teacher she once was. “Very good.”
“His name is Barack Obama, honey. We shouldn’t call him the black one,” Ed tells his daughter.
Beverly has her opening. “Why do you like Bare-wreck Aa-bahma? Why should daddy pick him?”
“Have you been learning about them in school?”
“I think your daughter is on to something. This election is about change. Bare-wreck Aa-bahma is the change we need. Think about it, why are we in trouble right now?”
Ed looks to Matt.
“We are in trouble because of George Bush. These Republicans are wrong about economics, war and women’s rights. McCain is more like George Bush than Bare-wreck is.”
“Ba-rock,” Matt says.
“Yes. Bare-wreck will end the war in I-rack. Not McCain. He even said it.”
Ed looks into Beverly’s eyes, still bright behind her bifocals. He doesn’t see the way Julie, whose head rests on his knee, rolls her eyes back and sticks out her tongue. Ed is unaware that these silly faces force Beverly to lose her train of thought. No one is saying much so Ed asks, “Would you like to see my Halloween costume?”
“We’d love to,” Matt says.
They wait a few minutes. Julie rambles on about how to play Candy Land.
Matt checks his phone. “Patricia and Kelsey got four people signed up to drive the elderly to the polls on Election Day!”
Beverly sips her tea but in her heart she is seething. She did not spend two hours in the car bracing herself as Patricia crossed lanes to learn about Candy Land. She is here to make a change and somehow she ended up with the wrong partner.
Ed comes down the stairs wearing a leather collar and skirt with matching armbands. “Sorry it took me so long. These sandals are difficult to get on,” Ed says, lifting his right foot off the stair.
Julie laughs. Matt opens his mouth but says nothing. Beverly squints, forcing her eyelids into an uncontrolled twitter.
“I thought you’d like it because it’s about democracy,” Ed says. “It’s called the Athenian Man. I got it on EBay.”
Beverly sees the way Ed’s black chest hair curls around his brick colored nipples. Her husband Hank, may he rest in peace, had patches of black hair from his breastbone to his navel. In the early years of their marriage, long before the hairs turned white, on Saturday mornings, she’d lie next to him. She’d put her head on his chest and feel the wiry curls tickle the corner of her lip.
“My,” Beverly says. She needs to stop being sentimental. “That’s quite the costume. Seems you’re all ready for next week.”
“Halloween is the one holiday Julie and I really celebrate together. She goes to my ex for all the others. We do Christmas the day after but it’s not the same, you know.”
Beverly nods. She hasn’t spent the holidays with her children and grandchildren in three years, since Bush’s win, which she refuses to call his reelection lest anyone forget that 2000 was a fraud. She misses holidays from the pre-Reagan days when her children agreed with her. Every Christmas she hung Hank’s gym socks on the living room wall and stuffed them full of odds and ends.
She misses sewing her children’s Halloween costumes. She turned Gloria into Pipi Longstocking one year and made Raymond into a Crayola Crayon the next. He was yellow. She constructed a narrow tube from a large cardboard box, cut two holes for his arms and sewed fabric all around it. She stapled the sides of a used cereal box together for a pointy tip hat. What a fun day that was. Poor Raymond had the hardest time using the toilet. She’d lift the tube above his belt buckle but he nearly toppled over from the extra weight of his costume.
“I think we need to get going,” Matt says. His cheeks are paler now that Ed is about to sit back down.
“I’d like to hear Ed say he’ll vote for Julie’s future,” Beverly says. Julie is upside down on the loveseat, toes pointing to the ceiling, her head tilted backward to the floor. “Wouldn’t you like to hear that sweetie?” Julie looks at the tip of her nose, making her irises nearly disappear.
“Can I ask you a question?” Ed asks.
Beverly is afraid to look at him now that he is seated. The leather skirt was only knee length to begin with.
Matt drops his forehead into his hands but Beverly musters the courage.
“Is it wrong to hate someone just because your ex likes them? What I mean is, my ex-wife loves Barack Obama. I remember we watched on television his keynote speech at the last convention. She kept saying how smart he was, how handsome. I thought it was a good speech. He did a good job but I wasn’t like oh, he’s so great and worshipping him, you know?”
“It was a good speech,” Beverly says.
Matt’s face moves back and forth within his hands.
Ed takes a large breath, heaving his round stomach over the top of his skirt. “I guess what I’m saying is, I can’t get past how much my ex loves this guy. It makes me sort of hate him. It’s not Obama’s fault that he’s smart and handsome. I know he means well. He may even be the person we need to lead but I can’t get past how passionate she feels about him.”
“How long have you been divorced?”
“We’re not divorced yet. It’s just easier to call her my ex-wife, like if I say it aloud enough times, it’ll be easier to get through. We separated two years ago. This one was only four,” he says, patting Julie’s stomach.
Beverly presses her lips together. She thinks of 1960. It was a bad year for she and Hank. “Maybe you guys will get back together,” Matt says.
“I’m not smart enough or cute enough for her. She’d think you’re cute,” Ed tells him.
Beverly wants to get up, to go, to make change happen but even she can’t bring herself to leave at this moment. She looks at Ed, who apart from the chest hair looks nothing like Hank. Still, she can’t help wonder if the pitifulness in his eyes was what Hank took on at night.
“I hope I didn’t upset you,” Ed says to Beverly. “You’re so quiet.”
She shakes her head. “I was just thinking that sometimes it takes the better person to make change, to make a better nation.”
“I’m not sure what you mean,” Matt says.
Ed, too, waits.
“It’s easy for some of us to get out here and walk door to door. It was easy for me to volunteer for Kennedy.”
“You did?” Matt asks.
“I was so in love. Every evening I would turn on the television just to get a glimpse of him.”
“Sounds like my wife,” Ed says.
Beverly remembers how Hank wanted her to spend more time with the children. He wanted the floor swept and the beds made. It wasn’t his fault, she thinks. Those were reasonable expectations for the times. Afraid of seeing any more of Ed’s weighty thighs, she looks into his eyes. “You know my marriage suffered too. My husband wasn’t ready for change. He wanted things to stay like they’d been, like what he signed up for.”
“Did you work it out?” Ed asks. He looks at Julie who is covering her face with her cape.
“Like Hillary and Bare-wreck. She didn’t get the nomination but she ended the fight. My husband loved me more than I loved Kennedy. He didn’t think in terms of winning and losing. As angry as he was with me, he wanted what was best for our family and our country.”
“I do too,” Ed says.
Beverly and Matt are walking back to the car. It’s 1pm, time to go to lunch. Beverly sees two figures in the distance. They are so small and in the sunlight, difficult to separate. She is sure Patricia and Kelsey will have much to say about their morning.
Beverly became so warm recalling her first campaign. She unzipped her jacket, unrolled her scarf and it is only now that she feels autumn’s brisk air again. Its cool breath blows lightly up her arms. The breeze awakens her. She got Ed, he’ll do the right thing, she thinks.
Beverly wants to get to the car, to rest her feet, but as they pass Midnight’s yard she slows down. The woman who was leaning toward McCain rakes leaves into a pile beside the foam tombstones. Beverly makes eye contact with her but she drops the rake and runs inside her house.
“What was it like to volunteer for Kennedy?” Matt asks. “Did you feel part of something great?”
“It was great,” Beverly says. “Every day I did something for the campaign.”
“You must’ve worked hard,” Matt says.
“I never saw my family. I left meals on the stove for Hank and the kids but I was always attending rallies or stuffing envelopes. Evenings, I turned on the news for the latest poll results. I looked at pictures of he and Jackie. Boy, sometimes I wished I could switch places with her.”
“Sometimes my kids would ask me if they could help make the posters and I’d let them color in the lines,” Beverly says. “Once my daughter decided the poster should have hearts all around his name. What a mess that was. I stayed up past eleven making another one.”
“Nothing wrong with a few hearts.”
“She practically ruined the poster. It was illegible,” and Beverly puts her right foot out to brush aside the freshly fallen leaves. They are so beautiful, deep crimsons, oranges and reds. She does not to want to ruin a single one. “I think she just wanted to spend time with me.”
Matt sees her moving the leaves aside and does the same. “Your family must’ve been proud of you. Sometimes my older brother tells me to put my degree to use, to make some money, but I think my family is happy I’m doing what I believe in.”
“That’s very important,” Beverly says, and while Matt waves to Kelsey, she feels around her pocketbook for a permanent marker. “You have to do what you believe,” Beverly says, and when Matt looks away, she turns around and goes back to Midnight’s lawn, where she kneels before a foam tombstone. Under Here Lies, she writes M. Cain. On the second tombstone, in big black letters, she scrawls G.W. Bush. Matt comes into the yard and tells her that this could hurt the campaign, that even Joe Biden wouldn’t do something so stupid but Beverly cannot stop herself. On the third foam tombstone, under R.I.P. she writes G.O.P.
The woman opens her door and says she has called the police, that she’s emailing Fox News, and that Beverly should apologize for tarnishing her children’s Halloween.
Beverly thinks of telling the woman it is she who should apologize for voting in George W, but her feet hurt and she needs to use the restroom so she dusts off her slacks and continues up the Shrewsbury Street sidewalk.
“We could get in trouble,” Matt says, when he catches up. “I can’t believe you did that.”
A siren sounds in the distance.
“I don’t even know what to do right now,” Matt says. “You can’t write on people’s
Beverly walks quickly. She can see Patricia’s dentures, bright white between red lips.
Matt stomps his feet and throws the flyers down. “This could hurt the campaign.”
Beverly stops and looks at Matt. His cheeks are engine red. It is like looking at a bigger version of her grandson the day she interrupted his cartoons to watch the Iran Contra trial.
Flyers scatter like leaves and though it is hard on her hip, Beverly walks into the street, bends down and does her best to catch them. She has done this before. In 1971, Hank opened their apartment window and shook out her bag of George McGovern buttons.
Matt picks up as many flyers as he can. Patricia and Kelsey walk toward them. On both sides of Shrewsbury Street, doors open. A police car flashes its lights. Hope and Change drift in the wind.
“You can’t get so upset,” Beverly says, remembering the Nixon administration. She hated Kissinger, Nixon, even Freckles, that stupid dog he tried to soften his image with.
The police car sounds its siren again and pulls to the curb.
Beverly’s hands shake. “It’s not worth it,” and she clutches Matt’s arm to rise. As Matt escorts her to the Shrewsbury Street sidewalk, she remembers Watergate. Those were the best days of her life. She and Hank hated Nixon together.
Alison Silverglad holds an MFA from the University of New Hampshire. Her work has appeared in Niche and Cecille’s. A high school English teacher, Alison is currently writing a children’s book about pet sitting.
Kaarel Mihk is an Estonian musician, whose music is mostly of experimental nature: noise music, musique concrète, ambient, free improvisations, etc. Though occasionally he also delves into music that is more traditional. “Tagasi” is an example of the latter. A simple chord progression backing up an improvised melody recorded on a cold winter day in December of 2013.
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