Ken exhaled. The dim light caught the smoke flowing in his room. He leaned against the balcony wall and looked out at the city, mostly asleep. Dark apartments, some lit ones dotted about; police sirens in the far distance; streetlights, a murmur behind everything. It felt troubled, but maybe that was just him. He looked up, thinking about something, but he could not see the stars.
He was working it all over. How would he write it? Heck, what would he write? How was he going to fill these four pages for the main feature for next week? Covering this election was a poisoned chalice and no number of free drinks at the bar courtesy of the various campaigns was going to change his mind.
Politics was fucked. When hadn’t it been? This wasn’t what he was paid to write about, but what added to the irredeemable nature of the race, even as early as the Initials was the lack of meaning in this apparent madness.
Arms gently came around him; her scent filled his senses and she whispered “come back to bed.” He touched her hand but did not answer. “Let’s not waste this night.”
“What makes you think I can last another time, eh?”
She slowly slithered her hand down his body, past his chest, past his belly. “Because you seem like the kind of guy who can.” He loved it when she whispered in his ear. “Oh, look at that. Guess I am right.”
“Uh huh.” He chucked his spent cigarette over the side and saw the orange glow fall onto the ground outside the hotel. He picked her up by her arse, she instinctively wrapped her legs around his waist and he carried her over to the bed, collapsing onto it.
How long had it been since he could dip his toes into this level of aggression, this ability to assert? He felt unnerved how politics seeped into sex. His mind drifted. It was weird how Hugh Beaumont had a better record on women’s issues, yet strongmen figures like Harry Oswald were the ones that were polling higher with females during the Initials. But now was not the time to think about politics, now was to enthral oneself in simple raw pursuits of the flesh. Sometimes you just need to drop the nice guy act, the decorum and indulge in a good hard fuck.
There was something here, in the space between, between his fingers and the type writer keys. There was too much emotion for there to be nothing that was not important, but why was it important? Answering THAT question would help to answer what the hell he was thinking in the first place. That is what deserved to be written, after all. He could feel it that it was close, as close as Mindy, if that was her real name. He was as close as you could be, but he was not ‘there’ and if you do not win, does it matter if you came second or fifth or tenth? Win by an inch or win by a mile, a win was a win.
Would this even get printed? There’s always worry of ‘burning bridges’ but it’s their fault for being made of wood. Ken was more concerned over Carter – the chief editor – who everyone knew was leaning heavily for Beaumont’s campaign.
“What’s wrong?” she had asked.
“You wouldn’t get it.”
“Oh, how come? I might, how do you know, I’m not just a pretty face and a pair of tits.”
“You wouldn’t get it because I don’t get it. But I know it’s there, shapeless but valuable.”
“So… writers block, then?”
“Uh, kinda. It’s a bit more… well I don’t know. This whole thing, my whole thing. Everything seems not aligned, everything”, he sighed and her hand rose and fell with his chest, “everything is fucked.”
“I’d read that article. Everything is fucked by Kenneth Ashleigh.”
“Only because it was brief.”
Her voice in his ear. “And of course, highly insightful. Anyway, you’re not getting paid by the word, are you? So, it’s fine.”
And you’re not getting paid by the hour either, but her smile melted his cynicism in the moment.
She asked, “Surely Beaumont will rack up the 2300 national districts enough to win the party’s nomination?”
Ken was surprised by Mindy’s sudden political insight. “Well, at the moment, but he will lose his current lead when the campaigns move West, and maybe even large parts of the North. Word is, he’ll haemorrhage in Galia and Los Negros.”
“Really. Hmm, kinda liked him, if I had to pick one that is.”
“You know he said he wants to criminalise prostitution, right?”
“So, let’s not waste this night then.” And with a wicked smile she mounted him.
You mean, let’s not waste my money. Good customer service at least. He better enjoy it; he didn’t have enough for another tomorrow night. Yet once again, his cynicism was vanquished as he entered her and both of them groaned simultaneously.
Like the candidates, she said all the right stuff and at least you could fuck a girl like Mindy. She wanted something, you wanted something. A simple exchange, but with this election, which Ken was fearing was becoming more and more similar to him as all the others, was all one way. The politicians both received what they wanted and got to fuck the electorate. Sounds like a bad date in my opinion.
No, no, it was not a bad date it was… like an endless game of sport. You could bet in both and each team seemed to be distinguished only by their colours, colours which may be changed for another for the next season. Scratch the paint and that blue Liberal might turn to orange Federal.
Move players here, transfer someone there, pay a certain figure and all the while there is recycled commentary on what is quite simply just a game. What was going to change? What has changed? I am balding, in a marriage that is in terminal decline with a job that is…what was it…
He’d seen them, working the crowd like Mindy worked him. You knew it was theatre, a production for the sake of something but district to district, county to county, bus trip to bus trip and man to man it was the same. Am I in Goswhich or Harlston? The guy on stage has just said the same shit. Is today today? Did someone hit rewind, or something?
“Together”; “forward with our values”; “I think that that is very important”; “we must consider that”; “with you”; “a better tomorrow” or, Ken’s favourite, “I’ll fight for you.” But he had to blame the voter for that one too. They had been spoilt. Like the man with the badge and tie on the stage would wave a wand and sort it out for them. Who were they kidding? Every time, every time, enough people fall for this, too caught up in the blur to notice the direction.
He’d hear the candidates say they would sort their problems out.
“I have erectile dysfunction, lost my job, and my milkman hates me – what are you going to do?”
“Well good sir, I’ll personally give you Viagra and give you head as long as you tick the box with my name on it. I’ll hire you to cut my grass, never mind you used to build ships in your home town, as long as you tick the box with my name on it and as for your milkman, I’ll milk the cow myself if it means you tick the fucking box with my name on it.”
Ken was quite the liberal type – heck – he was so liberal he had even voted for Harrison with the ULP coalition back in 76, but take some responsibility for yourself.
He did not want to add to the complaining. Enough were doing that already. Whining and moaning and protesting and arguing and saying their piece – the ‘truth’. What a silly thing THAT was. He wanted answers, but what were they. Our desire for them is what has led us into this thing we call politics.
Still wrestling with nothing, still awake. He had to make some progress on this piece at some point. How he had had such high hopes when joining the National Times. This is what years of Journalisms school gets you…
Sitting, type writer, smoking, desk light. Mindy was sleeping half covered by the sheets. Her red thong just visible against the white bed sheets. Was his wife like him? Was her bed – their bed, she didn’t own the house…yet – filled with a stranger? He bet she didn’t have to pay.
Why couldn’t he fuck a busty fit just turned twenty something. He had always wanted to feel a pair of double D’s in his hands, why should his wife have all the fun? He was young enough to try and believe that maybe girls like Mindy might at least like fucking guys like him. Maybe they did? There it is again, that hope and longing for maybe if…
Why had he gone for her? Lia Rivers from N24 would definitely have done him, he sensed, if she was horny, drunk or thought he had a scoop – or all three. She had that kind of reputation. Fucking was part of this business as much as typing. Plus, one could always use it to create a sex scandal in ten years’ time and get that ‘daring’ book published.
Marriage and nation alike, they were ill. It had stalled. Something, some gear or component was amiss and something new was wanted. But while the ULP would say it was Morgan for the working classes and the Populists would say it was O’Donaughy for patriots, he was unsure what his answer was.
The country was messed up, but maybe, in this case, the nationalists were onto something? This sense of what was before possessing value. He remembered when he had kissed his wife, then girlfriend, for the first time. Saying goodbye on the station, whistles blowing, slight snow falling down. She shivered and he held her tight, both feeling a greater warmth as they embraced. Where was that? Surely that was worth holding onto? If only we could go back, if only we could rekindle these ‘better days’ and forget the mess of the present. Corrupt officials; frustration with the other; stagnating economy; different schedules; foreign wars; the sense of distance under the same roof; political violence and more frequent arguments. He looked down at his notes and read out something he had scribbled earlier. “We all add to the collective sickness.”
He tried looking out the window again, yet still saw nothing. Only his reflection, half his face caught in the light.
At some point sleep got him which he only realised when he awoke in bed, not remembering how he had got in there. He turned over to the warm comfort before he had to face the circus yet another time and sadly not the last. Yet the warmth he had enjoyed the night before was no there to meet his outstretched arm. Only the lingering smell of her cheap perfume. He smelt the pillow where her head had been.
Fuck. What was the time? He rolled over and looked at the digital beside clock. 09:14. Not much time for what he needed to do: shower, shit, shave, change clothes. He may have to skip breakfast if he was going to get all the way downtown to the Wagram hotel where the convention was being hosted.
On the way down he decided to screw it and get some breakfast. Politics can wait. Let Tim get mad, he was sure to be over something regardless of when Ken got there or not.
The food hall was full of politicos, mostly press. He kept himself to himself besides a few hellos and nods, wolfing down toast, bacon and beans with some coffee. Heading through the lobby, it seemed it was one way – Out. He was not the only one cutting a fine line with his times. These journos were birds on migration, but that was optimistic. No, these were vultures sensing a chance to peck at fresh meat. Another candidate gone, another round of delegates declaring for Beau or Ossie or Fitz.
Heading outside of the lobby and seeing the moon visible in the blue sky. He’d have to share a cab. As long as they didn’t talk it might be bearable. He hailed one and got in, hoping it would drive away as soon as possible, but before the driver could set off the door was opened and Lia Sanders entered.
“Sorry Ken, do you mind?” It was not really a question. The tall brunette had not even sat down before engaging in conversation. “What do you make out of all this then?”
“Oh me? I’m just along for the ride.”
Their taxi sped off, joining the traffic heading downtown, merging with throng of vehicles.