Books and reading

Short Story (some winter whimsy)

This was my effort for the https://www.writerscentre.com.au/category/furious-fiction/ contest in June. The parameters for the month were:

The story (500 words or less) had to have a ‘party’ of some kind in it, as well as a ‘button’, and include the words ‘The air was thick with…’
Australia had not long concluded a Federal Election so I guess that theme was foremost in my mind.
Here’s my entry:

I Care by Denise Newton

‘Vote One for the I Care party?’ The volunteer’s face was hopeful. She clutched narrow black and white leaflets close to her chest like a protective shield.

I watched people pass by her on their way into the polling place. Some shook their heads in a curt dismissal. Others gave an apologetic smile. Most simply ignored her. None took the proffered paper. I was intrigued. She didn’t falter, even when a young man made a rude gesture at her with his finger and knocked the papers from her hand, scattering them like clumsy confetti on the ground. At that point, I stepped across to help her pick them up.

“Thanks!” She gave me a wide smile as I held out the leaflets to her.

“Hope you don’t mind me saying, it looks like no one’s interested in your party,” I said, as gently as I could. Why was she persisting in the face of such apparent disregard?

“I know.”

“So why do you bother?” My question was blunt, but I wanted to know what drove this young woman to volunteer her time on a chilly election day, standing in a blustery wind that nipped at the edges of comfort.

“Oh, well…” she undid a button on her coat, before slipping some of the leaflets into an inside pocket. “I want people to know there’s a point to it all, you know?”

I shook my head, bemused. “A point?”

“People get all riled up about things. I just want them to know that some people care.”

“Care about what?”

“Care about them.” She smiled at an approaching couple, and held out a leaflet. They sidled past. Her smile didn’t falter.

“But…what does your party promise to do?”

“Oh, we don’t promise to do anything. Just care about people.”

I began to chuckle. “Don’t all parties promise that?”

“Of course not. They promise to build roads, or employ nurses, or turn back boats. No one promises to care. But the I Care party—that’s the only promise we make. Everything follows from that.”

I examined her. She didn’t appear to be psychologically disturbed, but then I was no expert. Perhaps the I Care party was a cult of some sort? She was dressed normally, no weird hippie gear, and she didn’t look undernourished, as I thought a cult member might.

“And what would you do if your party won a seat?”

She gave a small shrug, as if the answer was obvious.

“We’d care, of course!”

I gave a little shake of my head. “OK, well, nice to meet you. And—er—good luck.” I held out my hand. She shook it, her blue eyes crinkled in another smile.

I left her then, entering the polling place to cast my vote. The air was thick with the odour of antagonism, carefully hidden beneath a screen of civility.

In the voting cubicle, I watched in disbelief as my pencil marked a ‘1’in the box next to the I Care party candidate.


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