The Victim

Chapter Three: Ascent

Defeated

The interview is a powerful advertisement in my favor. I paint myself as a victim of the patriarchy, with rich white males gunning for me at the expense of the state. Unfortunately, it may be too little too late. When I get into my limousine, the driver pulls down the window that separates the front from the back. Or how I like to think about it, the commoners from the aristocrats. “Ma’am, you should hear this,” he says turning on the car’s radio.

“… she cannot be allowed to continue in office after these outrageous charges have come to light. We have no option but to pursue the impeachment of our governor!” My heart skips a beat, and my throat almost shuts down. “Wh—” I choke. “What charges are those?” I ask the driver. The door at my left opens and my secretary comes in, sweating from running to tell me the news I already know. I show her my hand so she doesn’t waste time.

“They’re accusing you of insurance fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud while you worked at tol.” I feel the world spinning. I knew this day would come, but I thought I would have time to prepare, that I would see it coming. Everything is crumbling down on me. And the limo won’t stop spinning. I take the first thing I find, my secretary’s purse, and puke on it.

“Oh god, I’m so sorry, really,” I say to her. She looks at her purse with disgust. “It’s… fine, don’t worry.” I lie on my back, taking up a whole row of seats. “I still believe in you ma’am, nevermind what those senators are saying,” says the driver. I smile. “Thank you, you’re too sweet.” “What do you want to do?” asks my secretary. They’re both waiting for me to return to life, but I don’t feel like it. I feel defeated, dead even. I can’t do anything. “Call tol’s leader, tell her I’m on my way,” I say. My secretary nods and pulls the phone from her pocket, luckily untouched by my vomit. “Yes ma’am,” says the driver. “Uhm,” says my secretary, “your uncle asked you to come home, he wants to talk to you.” Great, like I want that right now. I shoo her away with my hand.

As we speed across the city, I feel like I’ll soon wither and disappear. The charges are real. When they dig deep enough, they’ll find gold. Then I’ll be impeached and convicted, and I can’t let that happen. Oh god, how did I get here? I’m on the cliff, looking at the abyss. No, I have to resign. I have to spare myself all this. Maybe my daughter will have a shot that way.

She’ll have to distance herself from me though. Since resigning is as good as admitting I’m guilty, she’ll have to… avoid any memory of me. I won’t be able to appear in public with her. Maybe she’ll even refuse calls from me. I feel so much pressure, it’s like I’ve sunk to the bottom of the sea. I explode in tears. It just pours out of me in gushes of salty pain.

Finally we get to my friend from school’s apartment. “You both have the day off,” I tell my secretary and driver. They barely nod and I avoid any eye contact. I go up, my eyes red, and step in. She opens up in sweatpants. She’s been crying, and has no makeup. She looks awful. I hold her as we cry. “We reached for the stars…” I say. “No one can say we didn’t try.”

She holds me tighter. After a few minutes, we step inside. We sit down in the couch in front of the tv. She has opened a bottle of freedom vodka and is already halfway through it. I join her drinking. She lays her head on my shoulder. Tv is showing reporters waiting for me at my apartment. “Look at these fools,” I say to cheer her up. “They think I’m going back there.”

She smiles, and for the moment that’s enough for me. “You know what the good thing is?” I say. “Hmm,” she murmurs. “After I resign tomorrow, there’ll be no investigation. You can still make it.” She takes a gulp straight off the bottle. “I don’t think I have the strength for it,” she says. I take her shoulders in my hands and force her to look at me. “Yes you do,” I say. “You won’t let this or anyone stop you. I’ll be there for you, just not as we’d hoped.”

Tomorrow everything will change. I will be confined to private life. Maybe some company will want me… but to work as what? At least we have enough money for this life. I sigh deeply, partially to stop myself from crying again. I compose myself. I think of all the things I don’t have to do or worry about anymore. “You know,” I say, “there’s a kind of peace in knowing it’s over.”

“You mean because you don’t have to fight it anymore?” she asks. I nod and we stay a minute or two in silence. “Maybe I’ll write a book,” I say. “You could travel…” she says. “We could travel,” I reply. “And take my daughter with me. She’s growing up so fast and I barely know her. Oh god. I’m a terrible mother—” She takes the bottle from my hands. “Now, I think that’s the alcohol speaking. Let’s take a walk, try to clear our heads.”

“Ughh,” I complain, but she’s already up and helping me get up. I’m a little dizzy, the room spinning around me. “You know,” I say beginning to tear up, “you look just as beautiful as the day I met you. I still remember that little girl who talked to me even when I was a social pariah.” She takes my hand. “Come, let’s walk.” She hands me a redhead wig and sunglasses. “So they don’t recognize you.”

I try them on. I look like a porn actress. An aged porn actress… We get out of her apartment and just stroll across the city. I check my phone, more than eight lost calls from uncle. There’s all kind of people outside, rushing past us. We walk for a while before we sit down in a bench on a park. I’m cracking up, she can barely hold her laughter as well. Finally we burst laughing. “You—” I start, still laughing, “… you’d think we’d have some kind of revelation after this big defeat, that we’d be humble and down-to-earth.” I stop for a moment. “But oh lord, how fugly can people get?” We both start laughing again. My ribs hurt from laughter, something that hadn’t happened in a long time.

“Right?” she says. “To tell you the truth,” she says before whispering into my ear, “they kind of disgust me.” I can’t stop laughing for a while. It feels good to let myself laugh without control. Finally our laughter trickles down into a smile. “We’re not like them and never will be,” she says looking at the city. “Well I’m glad,” I reply. “I’ll help you run tol, you do my part. It’s what we are, what we’ve always been.” “A predator’s heart…” she says. “… knows no remorse,” I finish.

We eat hot dogs from a street vendor, then we walk for a hour or two, most of it in silence. Finally I stop. “I think it’s time to go home, face the music,” I say. “Want me to join you for dinner?” She asks. I shake my head, barely moving it as my whole face trembles. “Hey. Keep your chin up,” she says, holding my chin with her hand. I smile and say. “Thanks for everything.” I haul a cab. We hug before I step inside it. “I’ll get to your apartment tomorrow,” she says. I wave her goodbye as the cab speeds away. I give the driver the address and he nods.

After I take off the wig and glasses, he throws glances at me, realizing who I am. “Yes, I’m the governor,” I say. “Oh, what an honour.” He seems nervous. “You know, my wife and I don’t believe you’re guilty and really admire how you stood up to those unions.” I smile and say “thank you but—” “I can’t wait until you prove them all wrong,” he goes on. I feel bad disappointing this man and all the people on my side, but I can’t fight impeachment.

When we get to my apartment’s street, I try to pay the cab driver, but he refuses. “You ride free with me. Good luck,” he says. “Wait,” I say. “Give me your business card, if you have one.” He pulls out a small card from his wallet. It has all his info. “My people will contact you,” I say before I start making my way to my apartment. I feel silly having asked that man for his card out of routine. Tomorrow he’ll be disappointed in me, like so many others.

Finally I get to my apartment and open the door. Uncle is in his office, my daughter is with the babysitter. “Mommy!” she says when she sees me. I take her in my arms and say, “I’ll spend more time with you from now on, I promise.” She stares at me with a weird look. She doesn’t exactly trust me, and that’s scary. “Pinky swear?” she says. We pinky swear. “Now let’s have some dinner, sweetie.”

I step into the kitchen and start preparing salad, with my daughter assisting me. The kitchen’s door opens and uncle comes in. “I was worried sick, where have you been all day?” he asks. “I had to… clear my head.” He’s anxious, fiddling with a spoon, but he tries to conceal it. “Sweetie, can you give pops and mommy a moment to talk while you watch some cartoons?” he asks her. She extends her hand so uncle gives her his phone and she can play. He obliges. She takes it and runs out of the kitchen to turn on the tv. Uncle closes the kitchen door. “I called, several times,” he says. “What are you going to do next?” He sounds concerned.

“I’ll resign tomorrow,” I say, determined. He sighs with relief. “Well, you know, it’s what’s best for everyone,” he goes on and kisses my cheek. “You know,” I say as I cook. “This way I’ll have more time to spend with my daughter. The truth is I’ve been neglecting her and…” He puts his hands on my shoulders to stop me. “Now now, you’re the best daughter-in-law an old man like me could’ve asked… and you’re also a terrific mother.” I turn around to look at him. “Thank you uncle, thank you for your support through all this. I’m sorry I couldn’t make it as governor…”

He kisses my forehead and leaves to join my daughter on the tv. A while later she comes to the kitchen, looking for sweets. She pulls up a chair, climbs on the counter and opens the top kitchen cabinet. After a few seconds she pulls out a package of cookies with pride in her accomplishment. I get her down and sit her on my knees and we both eat cookies. As I think of the things we’re going to do together, I hear a vibrating sound. I look at the counter, it’s uncle’s phone, my daughter must’ve left it there when she went for the cookies.

It’s so close I can read the alert. It’s a text message from “fisherman” that reads: “if the fish isn’t cooked by tomorrow, the fire is ready.” Immediately I look away. My heart beats faster. I reread the words in my mind. “Fisherman.” I know who that is, it came up as I was looking for my enemy in the party. It’s how his buddies talk about natdec’s regional commissar.

His buddies.