On this chilly November morning in 2016, I stand in line to vote because, most days, I feel like my voice doesn’t matter. I’m not sure it will matter in this context, either, but still, here I am. Here we both are, you and I. You’re too young to vote, of course, but I thought if you could be here with me, if we could do this thing together, you might grow up unafraid to use your voice.
The truth is, though, I’m not really sure what I’m here to say. I know who I’m voting for; I don’t mean that. I mean I don’t know what to say to you about this election. How much do I explain? How much can you, at five years old, understand about why it was so important that we get up early today, wait in line for however long it takes? Why it’s so important that we defeat this man.
Questions like these will persist, in the coming four years. Two years from now, you will see a news story about children being separated from their families at the border, and you will ask me what is happening, and I won’t know what to say. Later that day, you will count the money in your piggy bank, then create a “Reward” poster offering exactly $2.76 to anyone who returns you to your parents should you be taken.
Four years from now, you will ask me what happened to the female presidential candidates. Why are there only men running now? I won’t know what to tell you then either.
I suppose what I really want to tell you right now is, There is always hope. But I’m not sure I believe it, and I can’t lie to you.
The lady at the elementary school signs me in and gives me a sticker, which I pass immediately to you. “A flag,” you say, too loud for the confined space, and begin waving it around. “Red, white, and blue,” you cheer, and salute.
“That’s right, honey,” the guy behind us in line says. “Very good.” He’s wearing a red MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN hat, discolored from sweat and frayed at the edge of the bill.
You don’t get to call her honey, I want to scream at this man. You don’t get to tell her what’s good. Instead I say, “She’s very smart.”
He leans down and puts his hands on his thighs. “Who you voting for, sweetheart?”
Without hesitation, without understanding that the question is invasive, you say, “Hillary,” only you say it in that way you have, mixing up the l and r, and it sounds like you are saying “Heralie.”
I watch the guy’s face contort a little. His eyes flicker from yours to mine. “That’s a big decision,” he says, his left eyebrow raised.
“She’s very smart,” I say again and force myself to make eye contact for as long as it takes, force him to look away first.
The line moves forward, and I take your hand to lead you forward too. Later, I will tuck you into bed before I get drunk and watch the map on my TV screen turn red. Tomorrow, I will avoid talking about the results to you on the drive to preschool because, once again, I won’t know what to say. Right now, though, I squeeze your hand, pull you a little closer to me, a little further away from the guy behind us, and, together, we wait for it to be our turn.
Ashley Cowger is the author of the short story collection Peter Never Came, winner of the Autumn House Press Fiction Prize. Her work has appeared in several literary journals. She holds an MFA from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and is an assistant teaching professor at Penn State Harrisburg.
STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/kgroovy