I’d gotten old.
Didn’t take long. Hair once dark and thick turned grey and thin. Eyes sunk right into the skull. Hallowed looking sockets. The shine all but gone. Fevered and enveloped in deep violet. Violently. Wrinkles line the outline of a frown.
“A clown without the makeup,” my reflection said. “The sad jester of the court.”
Yet somehow, this is the world’s oldest profession. Selling yourself. Or some version of yourself.
I should have known better. Should have seen it all as it was happening. As it happened, rather. Past tense. It’s all past tense now.
Top of my class. Best law school in the country. Yet still too thick to see there was never a chance. Not for me, at least.
Like any addiction, I got to this point through reasoning.
Just a little more.
This will be the last one, I promise.
A magical spaceship made of fucking rainbows and excuses. Just get there. Get the job. Whatever means. Just get it.
But once I got there, oh! How all my moral boundaries would come surging back!
Save the day.
The people’s champ.
And so on.
Busts would be made of my stupid head so stupid little school kids could see how stupid I looked. Maybe they too could look that stupid someday.
A big phallic symbol in some national park, bearing my name.
Maybe in a hundred years, I would even get some down-on-his-luck actor to portray me in a holiday car sale commercial.
It was all supposed to be so grand.
Quite the limp dick executive I ended up being. Not that I was much worse than the last few. Maybe I was. More likely, I was just the same. After all that, I ended up being nothing special. A lifetime of getting patted on the back. From how it looked, everyone must have thought I was choking.
I suppose I was.
None of it matters. Now or then.
The whole capital had been bought and sold before I had even been elected debate club president. Then bought. Then sold again. Then bought and sold. And again. Everyone knew. No one cared. Elected official and citizen both. They still don’t care.
None of them. None of you. None of us.
I won’t see the day anyone starts giving a damn again. If that day is ever to grace humanity.
I held out in the beginning. I even fought back the tide for a good while. But like the intentions of most young men, I ended up curdling rank with cynicism.
The temptation is always there. It’s easy enough to look past when you’re still small time. Probably because they have no interest in you then. Only big fish.
A lesson in politics for you. And most of life in general, for that matter. The small fish must eat the other small fish. Then they can play up top with the big fish. No other way around it.
Twenty-five years old. I had broken a record. Youngest mayor of a city that size in the whole nation. Not a big deal. It wasn’t as though I was the youngest mayor of all time, or that my city was the biggest in the country. It wasn’t even top fifty. Most people couldn’t even find my city on a map. But then again, most people can’t find any damn thing on a map.
A modest population of three hundred twenty-six thousand, four hundred and nine. Registered population, that is. The actual was somewhere closer to five hundred thousand. There were so many wandering homeless in those days. More now, I’d figure. I haven’t been home in years. And the squatters that sat in the worst parts of town, fought viciously to remain. It was a condition of crumble.
From up atop my shiny new soapbox, the muckraking began. You could smell the hope like an open sewer. The horrid stench still lingers about my nose. Hope. One of my more disgusting memories.
An old timer on the city council. My first target. Always taking chunks of change from here or there so that company could do this or this slumlord that. Nobody thinks building code is important until the emergency exit is left unlabeled. And illegally blocked off. And locked. All while the building burns.
Old Marty Bird. That was my first victory. And at such a cost.
That mean bastard had been on city council for longer than I’d been alive. He was no big fish. He was fat, though. He thrived on harvesting bullied pilchards.
He campaigned for my opponent with everything he had. He had also regularly called the cops on our house parties back in the day. Neighbors. In response, I would often frequent his lawn as a bathroom. So we had a history.
Marty was your go-to guy if you wanted to cut corners around town. Shady developers and contractors all sought his assistance. He could make fines for failed building inspections disappear. He gave you a place to get rid of a bit of what would otherwise be called toxic waste, here or there. Nobody ate the fish anyway, he figured.
Then there was the one slumlord who thought his new buildings downtown didn’t really need smoke detectors, or sprinkler systems, or fire escapes. He just didn’t see the point. Turns out, Marty agreed with him.
So three months after the building illegally opened, there was a fire. Old Bird tried to cover it up. He would have made the thirty-two burnt bodies disappear. If he could.
Turns out, he couldn’t.
You see, I had gone through my undergrad with a local TV reporter. We became friends after I stopped sleeping with her roommate, strangely enough. Made sure she had as much access as I could allow to the scene. The whole tri-state area saw the consequences of Marty Bird’s money grubbing. In the form of crispy human remains. Unrecognizable to anyone who couldn’t compare dental records. You can still tell which ones were the kids. They were the smaller of the smoldering piles.
And the smell. There is no smell like that of freshly roasted human flesh. All fat and full of chemicals. Blood boiled and blistered through shrunken, cracked skin. The salted sobs and wails of those who knew anyone one trapped inside, huddled about the flashing lights as ceilings and walls were torn apart to make sure the fire had not spread any further through the building.
Once the story ran, I hunted the trail leading it all back to Bird. I had a good bit of a case against him already, I had just been waiting for something bad to happen. To seal the deal.
Good for me. Another pat on the back.
Fruitless though. He stepped down from the council when the charges were made public. Walked away just like that. With a massive pension he had made for himself. Two years prior, he had helped to rape the pensions of the firefighters and cops. Funny, right?
So his trial began. And then it ended. Quickly. Guilty of the lowest possible crime that his greasy law counsel could haggle. No jail time. House arrest and a few fines he could piss on.
I know. Poor guy. Must have been hard, living all cooped up in his million dollar home.
Marty Bird was small time.
And I had my first taste of blood.
I wanted the big time. Big fish. More blood.
As you already know, I made it. Highest office in the land.
I made it to the federal legislative branch in a few years, with my own ambition and the help of a few of my more enthusiastic peers. All clean. Integrity still intact. I was keeping my mind on the end game. The executive branch. The big seat. But grassroots guys and girls rarely got very far with that.
That’s where she came in.
I met her in May. Exactly five thousand days before swear-in.
My wife. My loving wife.
The trophy bride for the trophy candidate. Cold and plastic, even if she seemed to be strewn from gold.
If only she had ended up a bit more like Marie Antoinette.
We had met at a fundraiser for a senior senator’s re-election. He was other guy representing my state. He was alright. Been there for decades. Didn’t do much of anything, but people liked when he walked around and shook their hands. An elected mascot, if you will.
She was perfect, in the least poetic sense possible. As though she were calculated. Programmed.
Mia Alexander she was called then. Mia King is what the world knows her as now. Gold medal performance. First Place Lady. Eat your heart out, Jackie O.
Intelligent, well spoken, charming, good height, sandy blonde hair, green eyes, a very robust physique- the works. Went to great schools with perfect grades. A personal trainer turned “life coach”, turned author (of what might as well have been a coloring book), turned philanthropist. All by twenty six years old.
A list of charitable work, designed to disguise how little she cared about anyone else. She was a vicious success machine. Relentless and graceful. A terrifying combination.
The girl didn’t even have a trace of hair on her cooter. Laser removed, I assumed. Never asked. Always wondered though.
Thousands of teenagers have blown loads onto pictures of her by now, I’m sure.
She was perfect.
She was evil.
Don’t forget boys and girls, marriage is a business transaction. That’s why it ever came into existence to begin with, thousands of years ago. It’s not about love. It’s about trading land and goats for brides. Dowries, and such. Nothing to do with love.
If you are in love, you are probably having an affair.
Her (Mia’s) love and adoration did not inspire me to reach for the unattainable. This is no underdog story. She was not part of my grassroots following. She was a lobbyist for hire. A political mercenary, if you will. A damn good one, too.
So we met at that fundraiser. I don’t know how she had heard of me, but she had. She played her part to perfection. We talked. We politely danced. We drank. We talked more. She asked all the right questions. About where I had come from. Where I would like to go. Hopes. Dreams. Ambitions. All that crap.
I took her home so we could take our clothes off and be less polite. She was very good at that. An artist, really. Cannot say I regret that. Just everything that followed.
So sweet, her venom dripped into my ear.
We got married later that summer.
Upon her recommendation, I ran for governor of my state.
Not because I was a good guy. Or that I deserved it. I won because I played dirty. We played dirty. My opponent’s career ended that election season. Poor Lucius Pinto. His nickname was Lucky. He would have been a better leader than me.
My campaign ran brilliantly base smear material, funded by a huge hydrolic fracturing company under the guise of some nicely named political action group. The Freedom Fucks, or whatever it was called. I never had a say on any of it, really. I was legally forbidden to tie myself directly to any of the planning or advertising. Everything was paid for by friends of Fred King or Good Citizens for Freedom or some other shit. Some fucking friends.
As my campaign manager, Mia said we might have to help them in return.
Comical. Might help them. Fucking gangsters. Just more cunning. And somehow, totally legal.
Right upon my gubernatorial inauguration, the demand for reciprocated favors began. Mia warned that these people could end my career if I didn’t play ball. Just like they ended Pinto’s.
Lucius didn’t want to play ball, so they found some rumors and made them into facts. Enough to trick voters. Some prostitute that claimed to have his child. Refusing the DNA test enraged the corn-fed masses. His poll numbers dropped. Voters turned on him. He started hitting the bottle again after ten years sober. Died two weeks after the election. Drove his car into a tree. Drunk.
I’m sure Marty Bird is laughing it up from his thirty thousand dollar casket.
So I paid back the corporate campaign help with polluted water and destruction of rural communities. The bills I signed shut down family farms, robbed pension funds and closed firehouses. Laws I fought for gave the police the tragic job of enforcing laws that made them villains to the average citizen and the unwilling muscle for the scum of the world. Take from the needy, give to the rich. Mortgages were increased, homes were foreclosed and public schools were left to crumble. A cog in it all, after all.
But still, the constituents had not a clue that I was part of the cause of all their trouble. My PR team was top notch and all the shady business was slipped into longer and vastly more boring bills, as to not arouse suspicion. It didn’t really even need to be a secret. The sheep didn’t care. As long as the TV stayed on.
I pretended as though I did not know any of this. It did work too. For a while.
Four years passed and I had done nothing even as much as a piss in a positive direction. I had broken many a campaign promise. But only those made to the voters. Poor dopey sheep. Mia said we could get back on course. We could help all those people again. I just had to get reelected. Time flies when you’re a pandering stooge.
And to do that, I would need more help.
By this point, I didn’t care. I couldn’t. I hadn’t even noticed the transition from small city freedom fighter to full-fledged monster. Mia suggested other groups who might want to help the campaign. I said yes. After all these favors, I’d have many a powerful friend. And with friends like that, who needs a soul?
She certainly did not require one. Her friends got her more friends who helped her own power grow. Like she wanted. Like she planned. All disguised as a charity. I can’t tell you what her not-for-profit actually does, but I know it doesn’t help anyone that it says it does. She got full credit, all the same.
Re-election was a blink. The lady the opposition put forth to try to knock me out of office didn’t stand a chance. My shiny, brand new campaign team made sure of that.
Once the people who bothered to show up and vote reaffirmed my office, I stopped caring about my home state all together. I let my re-election friends pillage as they wanted while I focused on the next step.
Mia had proposed the idea. I agreed. I had always said that was my goal. And so, I ran for it. The big job. A national campaign with the best funded team available. Vicious. Cunning. Ruthless. All wrapped up in the costume of being genuine. Even people working for me believed the nonsense being sprayed.
One of those wonderful fools was called Lorraine Wright.
I may have lied before when I said I did know anything about love. I think I do. I think it’s awful.
Lorraine was Mia’s assistant. Selected for specific reasons, one of which might have been to make me feel young again. Light a fire under my ass. Play some heart strings as though I were a young man again. Mia would be so cruel.
She was twenty-six. I was just turning forty-two. It took some time before I ever paid her any mind. I was focused. Calculated. Cold.
But while heading out to the Midwest for a primary, Mia left us alone. She said she was going to scope out the next few states. She wanted to get a head start, as she crushed boner pills to put in my drink.
Lorraine was a good worker. Clever. Good humored. Wholesome, as the movies would say.
I terrified her.
Blonde hair curled long and tight around her face, void of any sharp angles. Blue eyes. A few scattered freckles on her full cheeks, air brushed with the lightest rosy blush. It wasn’t until one in the morning, some otherwise unnoticeable night, that I finally observed any of this. We were the only two on the bus. Other than the driver. She was busy at work, typing away on something important. I hadn’t a clue what it was, which I assume is rather typical for a career politician. Or any supervisor for that matter. Being clueless.
I poured my second glass of oak barrel aged poison and sat down opposite her. It was a small table. We hit a sizable bump on the highway. I spilled a bit of my drink. I swore out loud. She laughed.
I had never heard such a thing before. Nor since. Her laugh. It could have all been circumstantial. Then again, what in this world is not?
So we talked. I asked her about herself. About where she had come from. Where she would like to go. Hopes. Dreams. Ambitions. All that crap.
As a public figure, I hadn’t actually been asked about myself in years. It was all assumed. Already asked about and answered. A lie, but sold as the truth.
But she asked. I will never know why, but I did not give her the rehearsed response. The same reproduction of nearly two decades of facade. There was honesty. First time in a long time. It was strange. Strange because I didn’t feel sick. Almost twenty years, I’d been diseased and hadn’t a clue.
Nothing sexual. Not even as much as a kiss.
The next day I gave the best speech of my life. Then another. And another. Crowds grew as word spread. And every night, Lorraine and I would talk. Why she was here, working for me. What she really wanted. Where she wanted to go.
The night I won that seemingly important primary, the campaign threw a bit of a party. By three in the morning, only myself and Lorraine remained standing.
We sat out on the hotel balcony, looking out at the chlorine infested water set so still below. She said she admired me. I told her not to. She asked if this is what I wanted. I said I didn’t know anymore. She told me I was doing a great thing. I broke down and cried. Then she kissed me.
I can no longer recall any other memory of that night.
The next day, Lorraine quit the campaign. In the middle of our Midwest office. Tears in her eyes, she threw a stack of papers towards me. Upon contact, the paper clip sprung off and the scattered in the air. Like a fool, I picked one up.
I should have seen this coming. But I didn’t.
It was a list of my campaign donors. In addition, news articles regarding all the shady business these shady business participated in. Lorraine stormed out. Not a word was muttered.
Mia was across the room, arms folded. Her head shook once, twice, thrice. Then a small, vindictive smile crept upon her wrinkle free face. She walked up to me. Cruelly, she whispered into my ear.
Let’s get back to work, she told me.
Of course she planned it. The only person capable of something so impossibly brutally intricate. It may have been to keep me from getting distracted with the pursuit of integrity. Of justice. To keep me on the course she’d set us on. Or maybe she just enjoyed it. I never asked. I just got back to work.
We won the election. Historically high margins.
I’ve been in this office for three years now. The re-election team is already on the trail. Scouting. Scavenging. Half of the time of any elected official’s term is spent trying to get another term. The other half is spent paying back campaign favors.
As I did with my home state, I have done with my nation. It was nothing radical. Just the same downward spiral of the last several generations. Just inching further from the light.
I thought I was going to be different. I thought I was going to change everything. I did no such thing. I could blame Mia, but that would be inaccurate. I chose to submit to her will. I chose the cheapest way to the top. Quick. Easy. Turns out that way costs the most.
Opposite the hand that writes this, resides the means of execution. My paint brush, if you will. An heirloom. My great-great grandfather’s. The grand war hero, or so the stories went. Killing Krauts in the ditches of a faraway land. The great war, it was called by those alive for it.
Some legacy I turned out to be.
Cold metal, growing warm in my fingers.
If you’re reading this, it means you’re one of the first to see what I have done. The Coward-in-chief. I almost thought about going through with it in a clean manner. I decided it best to make a mess, if for no other reason than symbolism.
But before they come with industrial grade chemicals to clean up the blood cells and tissue I decorated this famous office with, you have a choice. You can say that you found this letter. You can tell your supervisor, whoever that might be. From there, that supervisor will go up to his or her supervisor, who will continue up the bureaucratic chain. Once it reaches higher altitudes of authority, someone will inevitably decide to destroy it. That such a confession is far too damaging to the wellbeing of the public. This letter would disrupt society. The status quo. The truth need not be known, not if we want to keep this charade going. And they would say that we all need the charade. It has become a cornerstone of our civilization.
And then they’ll ask you (rhetorically, of course) if you really want the truth to be known. That truth that has given you nothing. While these lies, they put food on your table. Clothes on your back. Roof over your head. A nice roof. And perks. Booze in your belly on the weekend and a nice wristwatch. A conversation piece. So you can tell women (or men) what you do, in hopes they’ll be impressed. Those glorious lies that made this whole life of yours possible.
You could do that.
You could put this letter in your pocket. Tell no one. Say there was no note. Carry on with your duties. And hold on to this letter and get far away from the liars and thieves. My headless corpse included in the aforementioned company. And once you’re far away, you search for the right person to share this with.
And maybe after that, all this wasted life of mine may end up being worth something. Even if it is small. Or maybe not. Clearly, I don’t seem to care anymore.
Frederick M. King
United States of America
Despite all of this, I got laid nearly every day since I was twenty-two years old.
Turns out, that is not the key to happiness.