Josie felt sick to her stomach. It was only five minutes into the presidential debates and already the sitting president was acting like an uncontrollable toddler and the other nominee was faltering. They were both febrile white old men who seemed incapable of getting their facts straight or even completing a full sentence. The moderator seemed like an angry kindergarten teacher unable to assert control over the noise. How was she supposed to be excited to vote for either of these rich assholes?
“Just cut his mic,” Josie found herself muttering as the incumbent president once again interrupted the other nominee about some conspiracy theories around election fraud or the mainstream media being mean to him or something else incomprehensible to people who didn’t read the exact same blogs or websites he did. “Unbelievable,” Josie said.
All of the lights were off in the little apartment and it felt exceedingly dark, even with the glow of the TV over her face. She had the remote in her hand, ready to change the channel. But she couldn’t look away. Four years ago she’d watched this buffoon debate a woman on another stage and had hated every minute of it, but Sasha had been sitting beside her then, insisting that they watch. They had laughed when he’d said horrible things like, “Nasty woman” or “bad hombres” — words that no one would ever have thought a presidential candidate could say, let alone a sitting president.
Sasha loved politics. Josie couldn’t stand them. Sasha had studied political science in college before she’d dropped out to take care of her dad. Josie had met her when they tended bar together downtown, closing shifts bringing them closer and closer together as they wiped down counters and washed dishes and laughed at each other’s jokes.
During that debate four years ago, Sasha had just agreed to move in with Josie. They’d been dating for six months and Sasha spent all her time at Josie’s, anyway, especially after her father had died and it was becoming more apparent that Josie’s mom needed a smaller home to herself.
When the horrible man lumbering threateningly behind the woman on the debate stage got elected a month later, it became clear to them both that they needed to do more than just move in together. They got married the following week at the courthouse.
“He could undo our ability to be together,” Sasha had cried. “He could push us into the closet. Legally. He could get his goons to kill us.”
Josie had felt the truth and heft of Sasha’s words then, more than she had when Sasha was warning her that this man’s winning the presidential election could ruin their lives. Josie had considered his winning impossible. Americans weren’t that stupid. Americans weren’t that mean. He was a joke. His being president was a joke. Even the Simpsons had made fun of the idea years ago.
And then it wasn’t a joke anymore.
Josie knew what it was like to be unable to talk about who you loved or how you felt. She’d grown up in a small town in east Texas, going to the Southern Baptist Church and hearing about women’s roles as “vessels” for men’s pleasure. She didn’t like men. Her father was a drunk, even in a dry county, and the only times she saw him in her childhood, he’d been beating up her mother and older sisters. Josie herself took a beating or two in high school from some of the local boys when she cut her hair and flirted a little too heavily with a cheerleader. She ran away from home when she was 17, moved to Austin and never looked back.
And now it was 10 years later and Josie had not only lived as an out lesbian with multiple lovers; she’d also married a woman. And become a widow.
Josie put the remote on the coffee table and stood up with a huff. They were talking about the coronavirus now. The president wouldn’t take any responsibility for the 200,000 people who were dead or the millions who were sick. The nominee was talking to the camera and the viewers at home about how those people meant something to someone. He was jumbling his statistics. His heart was in it but it was like his mind was incapable of keeping up.
Sasha was one of those statistics, Josie thought. She laughed a little. What a ridiculous statistic, Josie thought. She knew Sasha would roll her eyes. Another black woman with no healthcare because she worked in the service industry catching the coronavirus because she was at work buying groceries for rich people who wouldn’t leave their homes. And then dying after weeks of agony in a hospital with her wife trying to get her last words in over Facetime on a nurse’s iPhone.
Josie was crying now while the two white men on TV kept blathering about nothing.
She went to the fridge and got a beer out. As she opened it she noticed the mail she’d picked up and left on the kitchen counter. She absentmindedly sorted through the advertisements and junk mail as well as the envelopes that blared “FINAL NOTICE” across the front as she chugged the beer down. Letting out a huge burp, she picked up a colorful postcard she hadn’t noticed before.
On the front was an old-style drawing with “Greetings from Texas” in joyous script at the top, with a cowgirl riding a longhorn steer, waving her hat in the air, all positioned over a cartoonish drawing of the state of Texas. At the bottom it said, “Get ready to vote November 3rd!”
She turned the card over. Some poor sap she’d never meet had handwritten a card for her for a get out the vote effort. “Josie,” it said, “we all work hard for our families, no matter our age, color, or gender. But some politicians divide us to block our access to affordable healthcare, good schools, and clean water. Let’s join together and vote in the Tuesday, Nov. 3rd election! — Matt”
At the bottom was printed a link to a site where she could check her voter registration status and polling stations. She looked up from the card to the TV in the living room, where the moderator was once again trying to get the sitting president to respect his opponent’s two minutes.
“Fuck that,” Josie said. She threw the postcard in the recycling bin with her empty beer can and went back to the fridge to get another beer. She slammed the fridge shut with a clang and stomped back into the living room where she picked up the remote, holding it like a weapon pointed at the TV to change the channel.
She heard a crash in the bedroom. Taking the remote and her beer with her, she rounded the corner from the living room into the little bedroom and switched on the overhead light. She looked around the room. Everything seemed to be in place. Then she saw the nightstand — their wedding photo in the silver frame was lying face down. Josie approached the nightstand and saw that the tiny espresso cup where Josie stored her and Sasha’s wedding bands had fallen to the floor.
The cup hadn’t broken, but it had fallen directly on the floor with the opening down. Josie put her beer on the nightstand and picked up the little espresso cup. Their wedding bands lay intertwined on the floor, gleaming in the light. She just stared at them for a moment, and then took a gulp of her beer. Finally she picked the rings up and held them. They felt warm, like someone had just been wearing them. A tear fell from Josie’s face to the floor.
She put the rings on — her own ring on her left ring finger and Sasha’s bigger ring on her right middle finger. She set the picture frame back upright and looked at the photo — Sasha and Josie laughing together, neither facing the camera, slightly out of focus, just after they’d gone to the courthouse and been married. It was a happy moment in a month of confusion and panic. It had been a bit of hope and building in a time when everything seemed to be at risk of falling down.
Josie gathered her beer and the remote and stood up. She turned off the light in the bedroom, looking at the joyous faces on the nightstand one last time, and returned to the living room. She watched the entirety of the “debate”, feeling more and more helpless against the carelessness, ineptitude, and vitriol on display. There was no plan to help her pay the bills for her dead wife. There was only talk about things that didn’t matter.
She got up for a final beer and tossed the most recent empty can in the recycling bin. When she got to the fridge, she noticed the postcard encouraging her to vote was up on the fridge, held onto the surface by Sasha’s favorite magnet, a mermaid with an orange tail swimming in an aquarium. It had been a souvenir from their little honeymoon getaway to visit one of Sasha’s high school friends in North Carolina.
Josie looked back in the recycling bin to make sure there wasn’t another postcard there she’d thrown away. There was no postcard in either the trash or recycling bins. She took the postcard off the fridge. It was the same one, the handwritten note from “Matt”. Josie put it back on the fridge, carefully putting Sasha’s favorite mermaid magnet back in place to hold it. She touched it again, then touched Sasha’s ring on her finger.
When she was back at the couch, she looked up the website to find out where her polling place was.