Frederick lifted the paper from the desk and set down the black marker. He walked it over to the final line, waiting his turn. He handed it to the clerk a moment later, making brisk eye contact as the marked ballot, covered in a folder, made its way into the counting machine. He did not stop to say thank you. The clerk merely peered back at him, sombre and seriously, and then moved his eyes to the next paper advancing towards him. Frederick turned for the exit and walked out, entering the limited crowd of the street of fellow voters as they made their way home.
The polls were still open for another hour, but Frederick did not believe he should keep the process waiting just to the conceivable legal end. On his short walk to his apartment, he stopped at a convenience store, marched to the back coolers, took out a tall can of beer and brought it to the counter. He purchased the beer using a few coins from his front pocket, only exchanging the most guttural of sounds with the clerk, and exited. He cracked the beer and sipped thirstily from it, grimacing at the bitterness on the first gulp.
As he looked around, the street appeared to be further deserted. What remained of the campaign lingered on walls, on billboards and wrapped around the concrete pillars supporting the bridge above. The gleaming faces beamed at him. The candidates all looked the same. No matter the party affiliation, they all had unifying traits. Their teeth? Brilliant white. Their skin? Perfectly tanned. Their eyes? Calming. Their slogans? Clever. Their colour? Sharp and on full contrast. Identifiable. And yet, and yet. Frederick sighed. He hoped he had made the right choice.
He finished three quarters of the beer before he opened the door to the apartment. He tossed the remainder in a bin near the elevator as the man working security eyed him up and then returned to the screen of monitors in front of him. Frederick looked over at him but said nothing. After waiting a small moment, the elevator doors opened. He entered, alone, and pushed the button for the 17th floor. He waited the minute before the doors opened again to his hall. He fumbled for his keys, turned the lock, entered the suite and at 1705 and closed the door swiftly behind him. His entrance triggered the automatic lighting above and the room became delicately lit. As he dropped his shoes in a pile and headed for the kitchen, a voice called out.
“Daddy?” came the young cry, from another room.
“It’s me,” Frederick replied. “What have you been up to, pumpkin?” he shouted back.
“I made a fortress out of building blocks. Come and see!” the voice bellowed.
“Just let me check on dinner first, son,” Frederick replied. He opened the oven and took out a small casserole dish, steaming and warm. “It looks finished. Go and wash up and come and eat.” The boy ran into the room. He hugged his dad from behind as Frederick laid the table in a nook to the side of the kitchen. “Did you miss me?” he said.
“Of course, kiddo,” Frederick replied. “Hope I wasn’t gone too long.”
He turned to the old woman who followed the boy into the room and showed her a smile. “Thanks for watching him again, Ms. Harrison,” Frederick said. “Anytime. He is a good kid. I think he needs a bath though. Have a good evening,” she answered, as she headed for the door.
Frederick thanked her again and leaned in to his son and sniffed him. “Yes, definitely in need of a bath. When was the last time you took a shower, Adrian? When we finish eating I’m throwing you in the tub! You’re a little stinker!” Frederick said.
Adrian looked to whimper, but his dad’s stern facial expression suggested he better do otherwise. The door closed from Ms. Harrison’s exit and the boy rushed over to the table to await his meal. As he sat patiently waiting for his father to load up his plate, he took out some of his toy bricks and set them on the table.
“Is it going to be like they said at school today, daddy? Are we going to have a new king?” Adrian asked, as he looked at his father.
“The President isn’t a king. But no one will know for a little while if he is going to be replaced tonight. Why are you interested?” Frederick said, scooping some of the casserole onto his son’s plate.
Adrian paused but then spoke. “Our teacher said the new President will be much better for the country. She said the current President has done a lot of bad things.” “And you think that’s the truth?” Frederick asked, his mouth chewing on his first bite. “I don’t know. What do you think?” Adrian asked, while pushing the food around his plate with his fork.
“I think politics is a bit big of a conversation for us tonight. Tell me about your fortress.”
“I used every single block except these ones to build it, daddy! It is the biggest construction I’ve ever made. You should come and see it.”
“After your shower and before you get in bed.”
After Frederick cleared the plates, he walked down the hall and entered the narrow washroom. He waved his hand by the faucet to turn on the water. He left the room and chased down Adrian who was hiding under a blanket in the main den of the apartment. “Let’s get the stink washed off you, you moldy sock!” Frederick squeezed his son to drag him to the shower. Against his best physical protest, he managed to get him into the washroom and started to strip him off his clothes. He pulled back the curtain and set his quivering little boy into the water, making sure it wasn’t too hot. Once there, he pulled out a bottle of shampoo and rubbed it into Adrian’s hair, encouraging his son to wash.
“I’m just going to turn on the news. Shout if you need anything okay?” Federick said. “I left your towel right by the bath.”
“Okay dad,” Adrian shouted, annoyed he was in the shower. Frederick walked out of the washroom and sat down in the den. He reached for his control and turned on the television, and the news channel came to life. There were two commentators remarking on the closing of the poll hours. Ballot counting was about to begin, and the moment of truth was about to start. Frederick was absent-minded, as his own vote for the Freedom and Truth Party was not likely to mean anything. He had voted for the party since its start three years ago. The leader came from his home region and seemed to represent an actual force of change. He also knew, however, that change was pretty slow in this country. The incumbent Democracy and Strength Party hadn’t exactly swept away the voters with any remarkable policies over the last ten years, but Frederick seemed to notice a growing sense of complacency anyway. He imagined he was going to be in the minority. Still, he enjoyed knowing what would happen that night instead of waiting for the morning papers to find out tonight’s results.
The commentators cut away to another talking head at what looked like a large banquet hall. “Teresa Smith, we turn to you over at the Freedom and Truth Election Night Headquarters. What’s the mood in the room?” one of the men asked.
The blonde woman, dressed in a blue blazer with a large microphone held tightly in front of her chest, started to answer. “James, the mood here is surprisingly cheerful. People seem to really think the last few days of the campaign have made a difference. There has been talk all evening of the potential for a lot of wins tonight here for the party. I have here next to me -” the journalist signaled over to a woman – “Mrs. Eleanor Goldman, who came down to the party celebration for the first time in her life. Isn’t that right Eleanor?”
“That’s right. I’m 74 this year and this is the first time I’ve done something like this. I just really think our country needs a change. It’s about time. And I felt that Duncton, the leader, was really inspiring. I think he really will get us on the right track for once,” the old woman said. Frederick agreed, in principle, with the old woman, but he couldn’t help but think she was likely wrong. He watched more of the coverage on the news a bit passively. From the apartment he could see the lights of the city illuminate the streets below. Traffic seemed to be humming along just as ever. He did not feel, from here in his den on the 17th floor, that there was really a mood out there for change. He mulled over the day; the scattering of second-hand remarks he had heard on transit in the morning; the conversations in his drab office downtown; the expressions on people’s faces as he walked home. There hadn’t been any signs that a great upheaval of remarkable discontent was about to metabolize in a show of democratic change. Still, he held out that the old woman on the television was right. He wanted that off-chance to actually be coming true.
“Dad!” came a shout from the washroom. Quickly, Frederick jumped up and made his way.
“What is it?” he answered.
“I’m done!” Adrian shouted.
“Towel yourself off then,” his dad said. “I can’t get out without help, dad!” Adrian said. “At mom’s she always helps me out.” “There isn’t a step, Adrian,” Frederick sighed. “Just watch your step so you don’t slip.” He reached into the shower and grabbed his little boy and wrapped the large blue towel around his quivering body.
“Can you read a story tonight with me?” Adrian asked, his eyes closed as Frederick ruffled his hair with the towel to dry him.
“Just for five minutes. I want to catch the rest of the news.” “What happened? Do we have a new President?” “It’s too soon to tell. Why are you all of a sudden so interested my son?” Frederick asked calmly as he wrapped the towel around his boy’s body and started to lead him to the bedroom, tossing his discarded clothes into the hamper by the door.
“They said it could change everything. Will you still love me?” Adrian asked.
Frederick was, for once, shocked by what his six-year old was asking him. “Why on earth would all of this change my love for you?” he responded, as he helped the kid into his pyjamas.
Adrian shrugged. “I just don’t want to lose you again,” he said to his dad, with a tinge of sadness.
Frederick swallowed hard. He knew what his son was intonating. “You’re never going to lose me. I promise. Maybe we should read a short story before you go to sleep.” “Turtle power 1 2 3!” Adrian shouted. It was his favourite book. The two of them must have read it a hundred times together.
“Fine,” Frederick said, as he sat on the edge of the bed and opened the hard-cover book to the familiar lines. He read aloud as Adrian tucked himself into his airplane-laden covers. “It was a rainy night when the turtles found their magic powers,” he started. He read the book for five or so minutes until he could see Adrian’s eyes drifting closed. Frederick leaned in, kissed his son on the forehead and got up from the bed. He flipped the switch by the door to shut off the main light, leaving the glow of a nightlight in the corner to illuminate the shadows of the boy’s bedroom. Frederick closed the door part ways as he left and returned to the living room. The television showed him a remarkable scene he wouldn’t have predicted. There was jubilance; the same banquet hall was bright and cheerful, with shots of ecstatic people. At the bottom of the screen, a ticker showed the remarkable results. The party – the same one Frederick wanted to support – had somehow pulled ahead and had won government. He couldn’t believe it. He sat on the edge of the couch and leaned in to the screen. The commentators were just as awestruck, remarking how practically no one had seen this coming. Frederick hadn’t either.
There was a commotion. Frederick couldn’t tell from the pictures precisely what was happening, but it appeared as if the leader of the party – Duncton – was making his way through a swelling crowd to a podium at some place in the hall to address the room. There was so many people swarming the room. Frederick pondered for a moment if there was any way for him to find a way to the celebration. He hadn’t ever been involved, politically speaking, but it did seem like a moment. He thought of calling back Ms. Harrison to watch over his son. Perhaps he should awake Adrian to watch this moment? He had, after all, expressed some interest in the race, remarkably. However, the thought lapsed; he knew the six-year old had school in the morning and he would be incredibly moody if he was awoken. Frederick stood, his excitement for what was about to transpire impressing even himself, a man who did not get that excited over anything anymore. The newly elected President made it to the stage, his grin as wide as possible, surrounded by throngs of his family and well-wishing supporters. He was signaling to the crowd to give him a moment to speak. He couldn’t calm the room. Frederick felt such excitement for the change that was about to happen.
The President-elect took the microphone in his hands and pulled it closer to his mouth. Across the wide, expansive noise of cheer, he had to shout.
“Friends!” he said. It was barely audible.
“Friends!” the same reaction. There was more cheering.
“Friends, we’ve done it!”
Frederick’s anticipation was melting with that of the entire celebratory room. In the distance, he could see a firework shoot off from his window. There was perhaps more enthusiasm for change than he had ever imagined.
“Friends, as I said at the beginning of this campaign,” the President-elect said, drawing in his audience, “we will make history. We will take this opportunity to right a new course for our country. And that is precisely what we will do.” The crowd erupted once again. Frederick started to smile. Against even his best wishes, he didn’t anticipate tonight’s results.
“I heard from so many people during this campaign that there was an appetite for change. But sometimes people want change and do not know how to get it. They asked me if it really could be done. If we really could all pull together and really make a difference. I said to them: just watch us.” Screams. Cheers. The positivity just kept coming.
“My fellow citizens, I stand before you, honoured at the task you have bestowed upon me. To become your next President!” the room was in a spontaneous moment of joy. Frederick could feel the hair on the back of his head stand up.
And just then, confusingly, a bang. Not simply a bang, however. The sound was louder than the crowd could have ever cheered, the screen was consumed with radiant colour. At first, it was confusing. It was wave after wave of white and red and orange, the oxygen in the room consumed in the millisecond before the screen went to static. The station cut back to a stunned, gasping news room. Frederick blinked his eyes, startled enough by the shrieking sound of the explosion and the encompassing shrieking yells that immediately filled the speakers.
“Viewers, there has been some sort of explosion at the Headquarters of the Freedom and Truth Party. We have lost contact with our reporters on the scene.”