Thursday, April 07, 2016

When Bennie Met Mallory: A Short Story



The two esteemed statespersons sat across from each other for the first time since the last of however many godforsaken debates they’d had. Right before I destroyed him in New York, thank god, thought Mallory Roadhouse Clemmons, former cabinet secretary, former senator, former First Lady, former also-ran. They both shifted in their suits in the not-very-comfortable chairs in the lounge area of a nice but not excessively nice hotel suite commandeered by the Clemmons campaign for its pre-convention headquarters. Mallory suppressed the urge to verbally crush him, the “indie” Senator Bennie Saunders, hero to idealists, revolutionaries, and also a bunch of assholes on the internet. She wanted to yell out, “Who’s unqualified now, bitch?” She didn’t fancy receiving one of his moralistic scoldings, though, so she decided to rely on her tact, AKA her hard-won battle to completely destroy her own gag reflex.

“Bennie, weren’t we once collegial colleagues in the United States Senate?” Mallory asked, a little too ambitiously.

“I suppose we were, Mallory,” Bennie replied, his voice suddenly rising to “Grandpa talking on a cell phone” volume. “Until your friends on WALL STREET bought you the Secretaryship of State-Funded Cronyism.”

“That’s really unfair,” Mallory said. Her castrating blue eyes glistened with tears. Hurt? Anger?

“I don’t mean to impugn your character,” Bennie said, lowering his tone but raising his Wagging Finger of Justice. “But, like, it’s true. Why do you think all the superdelegates are loyal to you? You’re all beholden to the same corrupt influences.”

Mallory composed herself and sighed heavily like she had to do every single fucking time she spoke to a man. “If that’s what you need to believe. But we don’t need to be friends, Bennie. We need to hammer out what you’re going to say when you endorse me next week at the convention.”

Now Bennie sighed, running his hand through what was left of his signature free-flying white Doc Brown-style locks. “IF I endorse.”

“You can’t NOT endorse me,” Mallory snapped. She wished one of her millennial media managers was here to call up one of those amazing gifs (jifs?) of her looking Exasperated But Presidential during that last 11-hour show trial hearing. “You at least have to concede. That’s how these things work. If you want to join in on party politics so you can get media coverage and into debates, then you have to PLAY party politics when the time comes. So. What do you want in the platform?”

Mallory sat poised with her pen ready at her legal pad, an aged Tracy Flick, finally Getting Hers. Bennie took a sip of seltzer water, savoring the brisk bitterness. For just a few months, he’d felt what it was like to be in the In Crowd, approved-of, popular, even winning at times, and he would Get His before he returned, tired but not trampled, to his Righteous Caucus of One. Mallory stared at him and picked at some nonexistent food particle in her teeth with her tongue.

“If I were to endorse you. IF... Slavery reparations.”

Mallory cackled. “Mmhm. Sure.”

Even Bennie had to smile. She knew he was fucking around. “JK, JK. But for real, we gotta break up these big banks. That’s my number one.”

“Bennie, you can’t even tell tabloid editors how we’re supposed to do that.” Mallory was unsurprised but still annoyed.

“You’re the policy wonk. You tell me.” Bennie’s eyes wandered to where French doors opened on a king-size bed strewn with beautiful mandarin-collar jackets in all the colors of the rainbow. Wardrobe planning for the Big Moment. One thing he could be grateful for: they’d told him in the general election, he’d have to get a haircut and start wearing new, non-rumpled suits or some bullshit. The General. The real beauty contest.

Looking up from her notes, Mallory offered dryly, “I’ve got an advisory group I can talk to about possible modest reforms we might be able to insert into our economic plank. I mean, we are going with the nationwide $15 minimum wage and can emphasize giving Dodd-Frank more teeth. We could probably punch up some of the bank stuff in there.”

Bennie knew she couldn’t realistically offer more than that. Still, he couldn’t resist. “You know these big banks you love giving speeches to are a real scourge! The middle class in this country...”

As he launched into his stump speech, in tiny letters, Mallory wrote “KILL ME” over and over again in the same spot until she tore the page with her pen, which was custom-made from Arkansas oak that an especially sexist and curmudgeonly old colleague had given her when she became their firm’s first female partner. She’d been buying expensive replacement ink for it all these years, dreaming of holding it in her capable hand when yet another powerful man would have to concede that yes, she could, yes, she DID do it after all. Her dreams had been dashed eight short (long?) years ago by that Chicago upstart. Terrible, awful timing. But they’d both moved past their bitterness over the nasty campaign and become something like friends. She knew the President would expect her to call him later and he’d laugh as she recounted the meeting in detail, leaving out none of the meanest jokes. He loved hearing gossip. Stored it all up, never spilling a word--too high-minded to indulge in that--but everybody knew that he knew all the dirt.

Mallory finally interrupted, “I’ve heard the pitch, Bennie. What else do you want?”

Bennie hesitated a moment. He knew he often came off as impractical, whimsical even, in his ideas, but this was important and he needed to plant the seed. “I want federal funding for an educational cartoon series starring me, but as a bird: Wrennie Saunders. You know, like that time a bird landed near me and everybody acted like I was fucking Snow White? That was the best day of my campaign. I think I could harness that joyfulness to inform the public.”

Mallory stifled a laugh. “You want, like, a PBS series?”

“Sure! Or a web series. On Netflix or whatever. You know, my campaign staff tells me a lot of young people don’t even own televisions anymore. I mean, I haven’t had one since I marched with MLK myself. But I’d do the voice. Of the bird. We’d teach kids about corruption and corporate greed and Citizens United and--”

“Yeah, okay. That’s going to be a tough sell with the other Dems after you refused to help fundraise downticket, but I’ll do what I can to help you get the funding in the next congressional session. We’ll tack it on to something bland. Modest infrastructure funding. But for real, what else do you want in the party platform?”

“That’s it.” He savored more of the room temperature bubbly water from the can he’d brought with him.

“Seriously?” Mallory was sure he was playing her. She pushed back a nonexistent stray hair into her impeccable blonde bubble.

“You’re running against a literal circus clown! Why bother pushing left?”

“But isn’t that why--” Mallory stopped. She stared and tapped her beloved pen on her notepad. “You’re not even going to show up to the convention, are you?”

The left corner of Bennie’s mouth betrayed the flicker of a smile. “I may have some urgent family business in my home state.”

“You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me.” Tact Time over.

He really had considered falling in line properly, but that just wasn’t him. Always the contrarian. Happy to be unpopular. Principles are the most loyal friends, after all. “I’ll send a proxy endorser.”

“Who. Susan fucking Sarandon? You’re completely fucking me.”

“Well, like you, I’m not sure I’m even a Democrat.” He smiled to himself and finished the can.

Mallory tossed her pad and pen on the coffee table between them. So tired. So, so tired of this. “Get the fuck out. My staff should’ve taken this meeting for me to begin with.”

Bennie shrugged and got up to leave. “I wasn’t kidding about the bird show.”

“Go pitch it to Viceland, asshole.” (She could thank her daughter Kelsey for that reference.)

He looked at her, bemused, but quickly left, satisfied to be on the Establishment’s shit list once again. After all, he’d been in it to inspire, to provoke. He’d never really wanted to be the next Jimmy Carter. A single aide met him in the lobby--he was finally free of Secret Service detail--who traded him his empty La Croix for a full one.

Back upstairs, an exhausted Mallory went over to the bed and collapsed on top of her fine silk jackets, fingering the cuff of that gold one she loved so much but people told her she wore too often. She’d call in the team in a moment. She'd pretend to care what her husband had to say, call the President and talk it out, and just keep gritting her teeth through the next few months still between her and the throne. But right now she needed to just sigh for a bit. Men.

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