CAMPAIGN BUTTON • by Joyce Barton

In class today, two guest speakers, a Republican and a Democrat, contradict each other for the whole period and leave us with a pile of campaign buttons. I take the President Nixon. Now more than ever. button because it looks like the Captain America shield from those Saturday morning cartoons I used to watch while waiting for Mom to get up or Dad to come home. Plus, Dad’s a Republican. Yesterday, when he was packing for another business trip, he told Mom that since he’ll miss Election Day, she’ll have to vote for Nixon, “for the both of us.”

I pin the small red white and blue shield to my coat collar.

At home later I pour a big glass of skim milk, add some Tab until it foams and drink it without breathing; it tastes just like an ice cream float. A diet tip and it’s working, because I’ve dropped five pounds in three days and the right people are noticing. A quick “hi” to Mom and then I go to my room, close the door, and pull out my diary for a quick entry:

Today at the bus stop, a cute college guy (surfer-blond hair, army surplus-store look) started a conversation with me! Asked me if I’d ever read The Drummer, then gave me his. What Dad would call a “commie hippie rag”—lots of protest stuff, plus x-rated personal ads (Mom would toss this if she found it!). “Drummer Boy” is anti-war, went on and on about the Movement and the election. I just nodded like I agreed, like I was old enough to vote. Mature. Ha! Next time, get his name.

By the weekend, it’s still just me and Mom. Mom’s got one of her headaches, the kind she wears like a badge. She’s in bed sitting bolt-upright, quietly watching the Mary Tyler Moore Show. I sit in the armchair beside her and watch also, trying not to laugh too loud.

The show goes like this: Ted won’t renew his contract without a raise, says he’s tired of being pushed around, taken advantage of (at this, Mom nods); Murray’s mad because Ted makes more money than he does; and Mr. Grant won’t budge. Of course, Mary’s in the middle.

“When’s Dad coming home?” I say, during the commercial break.

“I’m not sure,” Mom says. Her blue eyes look watery and her lower lids are red; maybe her allergies are acting up?

“So… I guess Dad’s happy?”

“What? Why would you say he’s happy?”

“’Cause Nixon won. Jeez, Mom. The election…”

She makes a don’t be fresh face at me, disapproving “duck lips” that always make me crack up; then shows me she’s not really mad by giving me a smile. “Don’t tell your father, but I voted for McGovern.”

“But… he told you—”

“I know what he told me, but I thought McGovern could get us out of this mess. Plus, it’s my vote.” She points the remote at the TV, shoots the sound off. “The light,” she motions, “it’s bothering my eyes…” I reach over and click the switch.

It’s a little boring, watching TV with no sound, in the dark. I daydream about Drummer Boy, how out of all of the girls at the bus stop, he talked to me; the way he looked at me at first, kind of shy, not into my eyes, but off to the side. And then I realize he was looking straight at my Nixon button! He didn’t give me that hippie paper because he thought I was cute, he was trying to convert me, to change my vote! Huh…

“Campaigns,” Mom says. “Promises, promises,” she sings softly. “Sit beside me. There’s something I need to tell you.”

Joyce Barton lives in Langhorne, PA and writes flash, essay, and blog posts that celebrate squirrels, self-actualization, and bad haiku.

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