Liz A. Stratton Closes the Store:
Maren Bradley Anderson
Maren Bradley Anderson
This is the third chapter of Liz A. Stratton Closes the Store.
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Click here for Chapter One.
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Published by Maren Bradley Anderson
Copyright 2011 Maren Bradley Anderson
PRUDE ALERT: This book contains ADULT CONTENT. Enjoy!
Liz tried to keep from shaking from nerves. She stood on the stage with the other candidates waiting for the “show” to start. The debate was about to begin.
She had spent the month week stumping all across the country during the day and cramming for the debate at night. She didn’t expect to win the election, but she would be damned before she looked like and idiot on national television.
There was so much to learn! She had had plenty of guests on Spare Me! who talked about the economy and the military and so on, and she had done her prep work for them. She’d read the books, the briefings, and the research from her team. But she’d been the one asking the questions! It was much different being on the other side.
She allowed herself a stack of ten index cards to help her remember the talking points and facts that she, Zeke, Cal and the various advisors had constructed as the platform for the WAP party. The rest of it was in her head, she hoped. She cleaned her glasses again to hide her restless hands.
Her opponents were chatting with each other amiably. As senators and governors of middle-of-the-road states, they had all met before at one time or another. Liz had never interviewed any of them, nor had she met them at any other events. One detached himself from the group, ambled over to her, and thrust out his hand.
“Ms. Stratton? I’m Oscar Beckinger, Senator from Indiana. I’m the Democratic Party candidate.” He was tall and handsome and 40-ish. His impish charm reminded Liz of every successful politician she’d met.
“I know who you are,” said Liz shaking his hand and smiling.
“This is quite a set-up, don’t you think?” Senator Beckinger said conversationally. “There’s a few more people on stage than I expected.”
Liz nodded. “I certainly didn’t expect to be here,” she said. “The WAP and Green Party candidates don’t usually get invited to national debates.”
The Senator rocked back on his heels, hands in pockets, and smiled. “It’s a sign of the changing times,” he said.
“Could be,” Liz said, smiling back. She tried to remember if the good Senator were married and blushed when she realized she was doing it. She pretended she didn’t notice her rising color, and the Senator had the good taste to pretend he didn’t notice, either. But he did.
The lights on the cameras blinked and the audience began applauding. Patriotic music swelled and a disembodied voice announced the opening of the show. Senator Beckinger smiled in farewell and ambled back to his podium. Liz realized she had been holding her breath and tried to regain her composure before she was introdu...
“Ms. Elizabeth Stratton, talk show host from Los Angeles, California!” the announcer shouted. Liz smiled cheerily and waved to the polite applause.
“Senator Oscar Beckinger!” Liz let out the rest of her breath and dabbed her forehead. She looked up just as Oscar winked at her. She willed herself not to blush again as the other candidates were introduced. Then Liz focused all her energy on answering the questions.
The moderator, Robert McNally, was an old friend whom she had met early in her career at a journalists’ party when she first got to LA. He was a venerable warhorse, and he wouldn’t pull his punches for her, but she could tell from his smile that he was pleased she was there.
“Welcome to the first nationally televised debate of the election season featuring not only the Democratic and Republican parties, but also candidates from the WAP and Green Parties!” Robert announced to applause. Liz felt a little chill run between her shoulder blades.
The first questions were warm-ups. First, Robert asked them to give a brief statement on how they would improve the economy.
“We need to eliminate the glass ceilings of this country either by legislation, or regulation, or cultural revolution. Frankly, I think the last option would be ideal, but I’m not opposed to the first two. If women and minorities can compete with everyone else on equal footing, productivity will increase, as will consumer spending,” Liz said when it was her turn. The audience applauded politely, and the next candidate ignored her comment completely.
Next was the obligatory question about alternative energy solutions. Jack McNerny, the Green Party Candidate went on a while about all of his party’s ideas about alternative energy. When it was finally Liz’s turn, she said, “The less petroleum this country uses, the better, given that we cannot seem to produce enough to fulfill our needs, and most of us are unwilling to continue this war to fuel our SUVs. I think women especially are willing to try alternatives that will ultimately save their households money like solar power and wind turbines, as well as fuel-cell and electric cars. Funding this kind of research is vital.”
Liz was feeling pretty good about herself at the midway break. She sipped some water and smiled at the commentator. So far the debate had been friendly enough, although all the candidates’ answers were predictably similar.
The music swelled again, and Liz put her water bottle away. Robert looked up into his camera and said, “And now we’ll turn our attention to the war in Mesopotamianstan. Candidates, the question we put to you is how will you end the war?”
Liz was ready for this one, but she wasn’t prepared for Robert to look at her and say, “Ms. Stratton, you may go first.”
She smiled at him and reminded herself to rib him about this later. “Of course, Mr. McNally.” Liz looked into her camera and thought to herself, I am ready. “This war must end. Now. The drain on our national resources has been obscene. The drain on our populace has been devastating. A whole generation of young men and women have been sent on this fool’s errand so a very few people can become immensely wealthy. Reinstating the Draft has ripped apart families already under the strain of the bad economy and mortgage crunch. This needs to stop.
“Ending the war will take aggressive negotiations with the warring parties in Mesopotamianstan, and as President, I’ll personally spearhead those talks so that we can get our people home and focus on repairing our own country, not someone else’s. Thank you.” She heard her supporters’ heartfelt applause in the back of the auditorium over the more polite clapping.
Robert grinned at her and turned to the next candidate. “Senator Beckinger?”
Oscar Beckinger rocked back on his heels and smiled warmly at the moderator. “Robert,” he said. “I know that the WAP party candidate has her heart in the right place...”
Liz’s face froze and a chilly knot seized up in her gut. Oh, no, she thought. Please don’t let the handsome man patronize me.
“...but,” he continued. “I don’t think hosting a talk show has prepared her for holding talks between the Iranians and the Mesopotamian separatists.” To Liz’s horror, there was a general chuckle from the audience. “I mean,” the Senator continued, smiling. “Can segments on celebrities and novelists be any sort of preparation for negotiating with terrorists?” Another chuckle of approval.
Liz felt the color draining from her face as Beckinger went on to babble about not negotiating with terrorists and measured response. Suddenly, she wasn’t in a packed auditorium full of members of the press and privileged audience members, she was in her seventh grade science class with her old nemesis, Mr. Tory, standing in front of her with a mean grin slashed across his face.
“Sat that word again,” he said.
“I can’t,” Liz had said, blushing.
“An-nem-o-ne,” he said, a look of triumph on his thin face. He had finally found one thing Liz couldn’t do. She might ace every test he gave her, but she couldn’t pronounce the name of a soft-bodied sea creature. That was not the first time Liz had seen red, but it was the first time it had landed her in the principal’s office. Throwing the book at Mr. Tory had felt good, though.
Robert McNalley turned to the Republican candidate. “Governor Ostrem?”
Bill Ostrem shook his jowls in mirth as he chuckled to himself. “Mr. McNally!” shouted the Governor of Georgia. “I am also not one to negotiate with terrorists, nor interview novelists!” The audience was now warmed up and laughed outright at this pathetic joke. “In fact,” the Governor went on. “I’d venture to say that I’m in a unique position to help Ms. Stratton learn how to negotiate a lot of things...”
“That’s it!” Liz shouted. Her head pounded and the world had a distinctive scarlet cast. She was so angry that she didn’t know what to say, so she just started talking. Or shouting. Whatever.
“Ostrem, you sack of shit. You are in a unique position to kiss my ass, and the asses of taxpayers. You own fucking Nortramal! That company beat out Haliburton for the school building contract in the Middle East! There aren’t any schools there yet, and it’s been five years! We all know that you’re neck deep in this war because you’re making so much money that you can’t afford for it to end. How would you keep your mistress in new furs if it did?”
“Ms. Stratton, will you wait your turn?” Robert McNally was trying to regain order, but Liz ignored him.
“And Beckinger? You voted to reinstate the draft. Why did you do that? You have two sons! Could it be because you have ties with the industrial military companies that make their livings making body armor and tanks and gas masks?”
“Liz, please,” Robert McNally was standing, pleading with his eyebrows.
“Robert, I’m sorry, but these two patronizing assholes have no business running for President. They are up to their armpits in dirty money, direct profiteering from this sticky, smelly mess of a war. They have no intention of ending it because they are making too much money and they have no moral fiber at all.” The Green Party candidate started clapping, but Liz shot him a withering look that made him stop.
“Well, what do you propose?” sneered Ostrem. “Negotiating with the terrorists? That’ll work.”
Liz glared at him, but he did not cow like the McNerny. “Fine,” she said. “You want a stronger tactic? You want a tactic that will work? You want a strategy that will guarantee an end to the war, no matter which of us takes office in January?”
“I’d love to hear it,” said Ostrem.
“I spoke to a barracks full of women near an army base who said that they’d sacrifice anything to end the war. Absolutely anything. At the time, I couldn’t think of anything they could give up that would change things, nothing that would convince the powers that be that the population was serious about ending the war. But I now know what needs to be sacrificed to end the war.”
“What’s that?” asked Beckinger smugly. “Television? Eating out? Driving to work?”
“Sex,” said Liz.
The room was suddenly quiet. Then someone tittered. Then the whole room roared in laugher. Liz waited until they quieted down, working out in her head how this spur of the moment plan would work. Finally, Robert McNally, wiping a mirthful tear from his eye said, “Ms. Stratton, would you mind explaining how giving up sex will end the war in Mesopotamianstan?”
“I’d be delighted, Robert,” Liz said sweetly. “Firstly, let’s review something. What do men love? Fighting and sex and maybe a sport or two, in that order, I believe. If you take one of those things away, the man becomes unbalanced. I think that given a choice between sex and fighting, men will choose sex. It’s that simple.”
Robert McNally blinked at her. “You’re serious,” he said. “You’re seriously suggesting that women start a sex strike to blackmail men into ending this war.”
“Blackmail is such an ugly word, Robert,” Liz said.
Senator Beckinger was chuckling. “Well, it wouldn’t work, you know,” he said. “I mean, my wife likes our, um, recreation. Certainly too much to give it up for the war.”
“Oh? You’re willing to bet on that?” asked Liz. “She’s never ‘closed the store,’ so to speak, to get something she wants?”
The Senator looked uncomfortable. “That’s a little personal, don’t you think?”
“Ha-ha! That’s your answer!” laughed Governor Ostrem. “You pussy-whipped bastard!”
“Oh, Governor. It’s not like you’ve ever passed legislation to help out one of your mistresses, especially the one who dabbles in speculative real estate?” Liz had to remember to send her research department to Hawaii as a thank-you present.
“Robert,” she said, turning back to the moderator. “I am saying that if each woman in this country got a headache every night, if she were on the rag for weeks on end, if she suddenly needed to see her sick mother for a month, if she closed the store to her husband, those men would very much want to know how to open it again. And if the same thing happened in Mesopotamianstan, this war would be over in the matter of weeks—if not in A week.”
The cheering that rose from the crowd had a perceptively higher pitch than earlier in the evening as only the women were applauding. The men in the room and in the television audience had a sickening feeling of dread as, just for an instant, they considered what it would be like if, indeed, every woman in America decided to ignore them. Then they tried to laugh it off, but checked their stashes of porn once they got home, just in case.
When Liz stepped off stage, Zeke was waiting for her and fell into step beside her. His brow was so furrowed his eyebrows hit his glasses and pushed them down his nose.
“Liz,” he said, shoving up the black frames. “A sex strike, Liz? Really?”
“It just sort of slipped out,” Liz said.
Before Zeke could respond, Cal burst in from the green room where she’d been watching. “Liz!” she cried when she saw them, and ran over. Liz braced herself.
Cal flung her arms around Liz and laughed. “A sex strike, Liz? Brilliant! This is gold!” Liz and Zeke looked at her in disbelief.
“You can’t be serious,” Zeke said, closing the dressing room door behind them. “There’s no way this idea can help a serious campaign.”
“Oh, Zeke,” said Cal. “What if we aren’t out to win? We’re just out there to stir things up and maybe get one issue out in front?”
“But, isn’t this too, I don’t know, vulgar for politics?” asked Liz.
Zeke had to laugh this time. “I’m no political historian,” he said. “But I do remember a certain cigar and all the trouble it caused. Sex and politics go hand-in-hand, Liz. I have to agree with that.”
“You did so good!” Cal said, hugging Liz again. “You should always say what’s on your mind. From now on, we’ll give you notes about the party’s position, but you are to tell it as you see it, darling!”
Liz was still flustered. “But haven’t I just ruined our chances of winning?”
Cal sat them both down on the moth-eaten couch in the dressing room. “Honey, we had a snowball’s chance before. So now we’re a melted snowball. Who cares about the office? Now we have their attention!” Her eyes sparkled. “I can’t wait for tomorrow’s paper! Oh!” she jumped up and switched the television on. “Let’s see what CNN has to say about you now!”
They watched the debate coverage for an hour in the dressing room, and turned it back on once they got to the hotel. They gathered in Liz’s room and marveled about what was happening in front of them.
While they were still in the dressing room, the 24-hour networks had stuttered and babbled incoherently in utter confusion. Had Elizabeth Stratton really just asked American women to stop having sex? Did she mean it euphemistically or literally?
By the time they were all sitting on the edge of Liz’s bed, the talk had turned to speculation about whether or not the sex strike was a planned strategy by WAP. A few pundits were adamant that Liz had simply gone off-script and said the preposterous idea as it flew through her head, as indeed, it had.
After room service had been ordered and eaten, the talking heads were wondering if people would vote for someone who flew off the handle like that and suggested such crazy ideas.
Around midnight, a pert blonde suggested that a sex strike might actually work.
Then things started to get silly. One ugly male pundit speculated that WAP had an agenda like the gays and planned to eventually have an Amazon-run government and castrate all the men in the country except for “breeders.” That was when Cal turned off Liz’s TV and shooed people back to their own rooms. She turned to Liz as she left her room.
“Honey, that was amazing,” she said softly.
“What?” asked Liz in a daze.
“The national news networks have just spent the last four hours talking about you and WAP.” Cal beamed.
“Cal, they think we’re nuts. They think I’m a crazed Amazon who wants to chop off their balls!”
“There is no such thing as bad advertising,” said Cal. “We couldn’t buy exposure like this. The phone is going to ring off the hook tomorrow! Get ready for the big leagues!” With that, Cal shut the door and left Liz alone.
Liz took off her stockings and brushed her teeth on automatic pilot. Before she knew it, she was beating her pillow and snuggling down in the cold sheets. Slowly, the day sank in. Cal was right. No matter how famous Liz had been before, nothing she had said or done had brought her the attention her performance tonight would.
She swore and whacked the pillow in frustration. Cal might be delighted by the attention, but Liz had worked really hard on not coming off like some harridan, or shrill harpy, or, worst of all, an idiot. The ugly pundit who was worried about his balls invaded her thoughts.
“How can I fight an image like that?” thought Liz.
Liz surprised herself by crying. Tears of frustration wet her cheeks as she sobbed into her pillow and mourned the loss of her credibility. She hadn’t realized that she had wanted this so much. This was the end of the campaign, and the thought of packing up and going home in disgrace made it clear that this whole time, Liz had wanted to win. Cal might be satisfied with promoting a message, but Liz wanted to walk into that big, white house and belong there, dammit.
Liz sat up in the big bed and turned on the light. She wasn’t going to sleep anytime soon, and she dreaded turning on the television again for fear some jowly monster would hurl her back into tears. She couldn’t concentrate enough even to read the trashy romance novel or study the policy notes she’d brought along. Finally, her eyes fell on a yellow pad cast aside among the papers on the desk.
Liz fumbled for her glasses and grabbed the pad and a pen. She went back to bed and turned to a clean page. She hadn’t written in bed since college when working under the covers was a compromise between sleeping and studying.
At the top of the page, Liz wrote her name and circled it. Then she wrote the names of key cities in the country: LA, Chicago, New York, Miami. She circled those and below them wrote the names of influential people–and their wives—she knew there. When Cal found her the next morning, half-sitting, glasses askew, snoring, Liz had filled eight pages with notes. It was the beginning of her plan.
This is the third chapter of Liz A. Stratton Closes the Store.
Did you miss a chapter? Click here for the previous chapter.
Click here for Chapter One.
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.
Connect with me online!
Twitter – http://twitter.com/#marenster
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Writing Blog – http://closingthestore.blogspot.com
Smashwords – http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/Marenster