Friday, September 16, 2011

Liz A. Stratton Closes the Store: Chapter Four

Liz A. Stratton Closes the Store:
Chapter Four
Maren Bradley Anderson

This is the fourth chapter of Liz A. Stratton Closes the Store.
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Published by Maren Bradley Anderson
Copyright 2011 Maren Bradley Anderson

PRUDE ALERT: This book contains ADULT CONTENT. Enjoy!


 Cal shook Liz awake at 7 a.m. “Dearie, I’ve let you sleep as long as I dare. You’ve got to see this!” Cal held a newspaper by the masthead in front of Liz’s unfocused eyes.
Even without her glasses, Liz could read the headline. “LIZ STRATTON CLOSES THE STORE!” it exclaimed in gigantic capital letters.
“Oh, God,” moaned Liz and tried to roll face-down in her pillows.
“That won’t do,” said Cal, pulling her back. “Here, have a mocha. Chocolate will do you good.” She thrust the hot paper cup into Liz’s unwilling hands.
Liz sighed and took a swig of the chocolaty goodness. “I still don’t feel up to this,” she said. She put her glasses on anyway. “Gimme,” she said and read the article on the front page.
It read, in part:
"Ms. Elizabeth A. Stratton, Presidential candidate for the Womyn’s Achievement Party, called for women in America and Mesopotamianstan to give up sex until the war is over during the first Presidential Debate last night. The call to “close the store” seemed to be in response to condescending and patronizing remarks made by the Democratic and Republican candidates, Oscar Beckinger and Bill Ostrem respectively, during a question about ending the war."
Liz skipped the painful recap of what she said, and scanned ahead in the article.
There have been unofficial anecdotal reports of women actually denying their husbands access coming from many parts of the country. A quick survey of staff at the newspaper implies that the idea of a sex strike may have more staying power than most pundits may think.
Liz put the paper down and looked at the grinning Cal. “I don’t believe it,” she said. “Am I reading this right?”
“Yes!” Cal was giddy. “It’s a positive review! Plus, it looks like women might actually do it!”
“Or not do it, as the case may be,” said Zeke as he stepped into the room. He noticed with disappointment that Liz slept in full-length pajamas, but he could still see her cute little toes. “You know, this hasn’t won you any friends in the male camp,” he said, sitting in a chair.
“Oh, pooh,” said Cal. “What man would vote for a WAP candidate, anyway? And like I said last night, winning isn’t everything. In fact, we probably shouldn’t be trying to win at all.”
“Why’s that?” asked Liz.
“If we try to win, we need to make as many people happy as possible. If we just attack this one issue like a tenacious pit-bull, we could end the war without having to appease the majority.”
Liz sat silently for a moment and then reached for the yellow pad that still lay on her bed. She flipped through her increasingly incoherent notes until she found the page she was looking for.
“I think we might be able to do both,” she said.
“Both?” said Zeke.
“Yes. Both. I’ve got a list here of, well, basically everyone I know with connections. And their wives.”
Even Zeke had to smile at the idea. “That’s kind of a cruel thing to do to your friends, isn’t it?”
“The girls will understand, and the boys will understand when their sons come home from the war,” Liz said. She lifted her cell phone from the bedside table and scrolled through the numbers.
“Who are you calling first?” asked Cal.
Liz grinned and held the phone up so they could read the name. Zeke’s jaw dropped and Cal began to giggle. “Hello, Liz,” said the voice on the phone in a slow drawl. “I was expecting you to call, just not quite so soon.”
The sex-strike phone tree quickly spread support for the idea among many of the wives of the most influential people in the country. Ginny Ostrem, the dear Governor’s wife, was instrumental in launching the operation. Liz had met her at a fundraiser for a women’s shelter and they had bonded lightly over stories of various cats they’d each had. They had traded cards and worked together peripherally on shelters for both humans and animals. They had not crossed paths since then, but Liz had read the accounts of the Governor’s affairs for years, and guessed that Ginny might be a willing participant.
In fact, Ginny was more than willing, and she said she was pretty sure she could “convince” Bill’s current mistress to jump on the bandwagon as well. If Ginny had concerns that Liz might threaten her chance at being First Lady, she overlooked them and sent Liz an email bursting with the contact information for the wives of members of Congress south of the Mason Dixon. Cal made a note to send Ginny the deluxe WAP gift pack.
Liz’s other sources were just as fruitful, and soon they had the unofficial support of women attached to other governors, Senators and even more local officials. By early afternoon, the WAP headquarters were awash with phone calls offering support from women from all walks of life.
By evening, it was certain that the newspaper reporter had been right: this idea had legs that could carry it. The question was, how far?
Liz had to admit, it was fun watching the news that night. The male anchors seemed distinctly uncomfortable on the topic of the sex strike, but the anchorwomen could barely contain themselves. Even Katie Curic couldn’t keep a smirk from curling her cute little mouth as she described unofficial reports of groups of congressmen’s wives suddenly going on week-long spa vacations together. 
Liz and her staff toasted themselves with champagne in the hotel lounge that evening. As the wine flowed, the songs got louder and the jokes cruder. Zeke was the only man in the group, and he was returning the light flirting of a intern when a group of men drunkenly approached them with mean swaggers.
“You’re that bitch from the debate last night,” said the leader. He was a tall, good-looking man in a rumpled dark suit, tie askance. Liz smiled sweetly at him and stuck out her hand.
“Liz Stratton, candidate for President,” she said.
The man swatted her hand away. “You bitch,” he repeated, leaning a little to the right. “You know my wife called me tonight to say that she’s going to visit her mother?”
“How would I know that?” Liz asked, her head muddled with bubbly wine.
“My wife won’t be there when I get home!” he said threateningly. “I can’t fuck her if she’s not at home, bitch.” He leaned in too far and had to catch himself on a chair. Somehow this didn’t diminish his menace.
It dawned on Liz that she might not be very safe, but she felt her staff close ranks around her. Still, no point in provoking anyone.
“I’m sorry your wife needs to see her mother...” Liz began, but another man in the group interrupted her.
“My wife is going to see her sister,” he growled.
“My girlfriend said she wanted some ‘space,’” said a third.
“Well, I’m sorry about that,” Liz began again. She saw the bartender on the phone and prayed he was calling security.
“We were thinking,” the first man said, a leaning tower of hate. “We were thinking that you’re a girl. And you’ve got lots of girl friends here. And since you all caused this mess, maybe you should finish it.”
Zeke suddenly pushed his way between Liz and the drunk. “Mister, I don’t think I like what you’re implying to my lady friend here,” he said, thrusting his chest out like a bantam rooster. “I think you should be on your way before things get out of hand.” Zeke, though a full foot shorter than his adversary, exuded “Do you feel lucky, punk?” juice through every pore. Liz was impressed. She didn’t know he had it in him.
The evil drunk swayed left, then right, and looked at Zeke with surprise. Then he vomited on his own shoes. His friends dragged him away. At the door of the lounge, the drunk managed to turn back and shout, “Bitch! You owe me a fucking...fuck!”
Once the men were out of sight, Liz sat down hard and started shaking. The room spun and she panted as the situation sunk in. Zeke put a protective arm around her.
Three security guards appeared at the bar and spoke to the bartender. Two quickly left to find the drunks while the third stayed to get a report from them all. Cal gave him the full details.
“If we catch these guys, do you want to press charges, ma’am?” he asked finally.
Liz looked up. “Press charges? Maybe. We’ll have to think about it.”
“Think about it?” Cal was shrill with indignation. “Those men are dangerous! How could we let them get away with this?”
“If we don’t press charges, the media doesn’t have to know,” Liz said. “I’d like to keep control of the issue, Cal. Besides, no one was hurt. Maybe they are just harmless assholes.”
“I”ll write down ‘maybe,’” said the guard. “We’ll at least tell the police that the hotel wants to press charges for disorderly or drunken conduct.”
“That’s fine,” said Zeke. “Just keep the campaign out of it for now, please.”
Liz rested her head on Zeke’s shoulder, grateful for his presence in a way she hadn’t been before.
The next morning, the FBI finally gave Liz the same security detail that they afforded to the “major party” candidates.
Liz stood backstage of the first rally since the debate, and she was nervous. The drunk men at the hotel lounge had really shaken her. Those men hadn’t been denied anything they had been expecting, not even for a day. But they were so angry. Liz tried not to think about the kinds of things that might have happened had Zeke not acted or if the aggressors hadn’t been so very wasted.
The crowd gathered in front of the stage was predominantly women, as was normal for a WAP event, but they seemed a bit more varied than before. A few more “regular” girls were in attendance in addition to the normal crowd of crew-cut women’s libbers and 1970’s era bra-burners. There as a anticipatory buzz that might have made Liz excited. Today it made her jumpy.
“Stop being so nervous,” Cal said, walking up behind her. “This is YOUR crowd. They LIKE you. They’re going to hang on your every word. You know that choir people preach to? Well, that crowd is about to sing out ‘halleluia!’”
“You’re right. I know you’re right,” said Liz. “Friday night still has me rattled.”
“I know,” Cal said. “But look over there.” She gestured to the far corners of the crowd. Liz could just make out men in dark glasses. Cal pointed out the others in the FBI security detail behind the stage.
“They kind of stick out in this crowd, don’t you think?” Liz asked.
“They’re supposed to be obvious, but not alarming,” said Zeke. “You’re safe, though. That’s the point.”
“Ok,” Liz said with a deep breath. “Showtime.”
When she stepped onto the stage and began waving, the crowd cheered. By the time she arrived at the podium, the cheering had dissolved into a chant. “Close the Store! No more war! Close the store!”
As she waited for them to calm down, her eyes scanned the crowd, looking for faces to talk to during the speech. She found the sunglass-ed face of one of her FBI agents standing close to the stage. She had shaken all of their hands when they arrived Saturday morning, but she had not slept that night and had a hangover to boot, so even though she recognized him, she didn’t remember his name. She didn’t him as so handsome, either.
He gave her the slightest of smiles and a wink.
Liz didn’t have time to try to interpret this as the crowd quieted and waited for her to speak.
“Kind supporters,” Liz began. “This is, indeed, a new day. For millennia, women have taken a back seat in shaping world politics. But that “backseat,” shall we say, has been a place of influence for women everywhere.” The audience tittered appreciatively. “Acknowledging the fact that pillow-talk has shaped policy since the beginning of time, we are willing to undertake a coordinated effort for one purpose: the end of this stupid war and the resulting draft that has torn our families apart!” Liz waited for the clapping to subside. “In order to end this fruitless war, we need women everywhere to give up the one thing we hold more dear than anything except our children. Intimacy. Women are creatures of intimacy. We create strong, intimate bonds with other women, we have those bonds with our children and, yes, with our lovers. To give up the intimacy with our loved ones is very painful for us, so to give up sex is also very painful for us. We live for that intimacy.
“However, the greatest sacrifices for the greatest causes are painful, but worth it. By giving up the intimacy with a lover, we might bring back the son or father and re-kindle those bonds anew.
“But why sex? Why must we give up this particular joy? Well, it’s because of the male. He lives to fight and fuck. No, no, really, that’s what men are programmed to do, and we forgive them just like they forgive us for being programmed to wear shoes that match our purses and to turn off the television during dinner.
“The American male is highly competitive and wants to win. They have the mistaken idea that if we decide not to fight in Mesopotamianstan, that we will lose, and that is anathema to the American male, especially the ones in politics.
“The answer is in their dicks. No, really, it is. The one thing men like better than winning is fucking. They would rather fuck than anything. Try this: make a man a steak dinner and as you serve it, offer to fuck him on the kitchen floor that instant. The dog might steal the steak, but the man will be happy.
“So, ladies and other audience members, remember this: leverage. No fucking until there is peace. We might love being intimate, but we have the resolve to win this stand off. Use the time to pick up a new hobby...knitting perhaps? Sharp needles in bed to make your point? Or go on vacation with your girlfriends. Or, better yet, your mother. I’m sure she misses you.”
When the cheering died down, it was time for questions. Liz watched as a thin girl approached the microphone. She held herself carefully and spoke softly. “Ms. Stratton, what if, what if he’s...stronger than you?”
Liz felt her blood boil. “I don’t want anyone to get hurt because of this,” she said firmly. “But, my friend, I think you have been hurt before, haven’t you? No, don’t answer, there are cameras. Anna! Get over there and help her.” The crowd closed in around the woman protectively as she began to cry. A few WAP staffers made it to her and lead her away to talk to one of the campaigners who specialized in abuse.
“Let me repeat, ladies. I don’t want anyone to get hurt here. I don’t want a litany of martyrs in my wake. But you can always call the WAP campaign and be put in touch with people who can help you. This kind of abuse is the kind of thing that I will fight against if I am elected!”
The cheering subsided when another woman approached the microphone set up in the crowd. “Ms. Stratton, I have to be frank,” she said. “I like sex. I mean, I really, really like sex. I’m not sure I can give it up.”
Liz smiled. “I know what you mean.” Her eyes flitted to the FBI agent standing in the front row. He grinned at her, and she tore her gaze back up to the questioner. “We had a show on Spare Me! about that very topic. You know, some people might say things about me, like how I’ve been single for so long that I don’t remember what it’s like to have sex. Well, it hasn’t been THAT long,” Liz laughed. “But it isn’t by choice, and I certainly wouldn’t ask any of you to do something that I couldn’t do myself. In case you were wondering, every person on my staff has sworn off sex until the war is over!”
The next speaker was a man...a flamboyant gay man. He leaned in close to the mike and said, “But Liz, honey, are you ‘master of your domain’?” The crowd laughed at the old television reference.
Liz grinned. “Well, I never said THAT.” Wild cheers and applause. “I mean, it’s a sex strike, not a pleasure strike, lovey.”

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About the Author
Maren Bradley Anderson is a writer, teacher, podcaster, blogger, and alpaca rancher who lives in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. She has written short stories and plays for years, and has recently taken to writing screenplays and novels. She teaches live and online classes on literature and writing at Western Oregon University. She has Master’s Degrees in both Literature and Teaching Writing from Humboldt State University and a B.A. in English and Studio Art from Mount Holyoke College. Maren hosts a podcast about alpacas (Paca Talk) with her husband, and blogs about alpacas and writing. Her alpacas win ribbons for conformation and fleece, plus she thinks they are darned cute. 
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