Michelle released a long, pent-up breath as the mai-tai spread its magic through her limbs, making her skin tingle with a warmth that matched the rays of the sun. Through her closed eyes, she heard the ocean rushing against the pebbly beach, the occasional cry of a gull. There were no horns, however, no screeching of brakes. This part of Oahu was private compounds whose high walls cushioned the expensive homes within from the noise of civilization. With her eyes still closed, Michelle sniffed the evening breezed saturated with the soft fragrance of hibiscus. What did the locals call that flower? Oh, yes – Ahe, breath of the sea.
A piercing scream split the air! Instinctively Michelle clutched the side of the lounge chair. She tensed, waiting. One second, ten, fifteen, twenty…then she exhaled. Good. Her rage was under control just like the doctor had ordered. "Trust me, ma’am, the less you hate every human on this planet, the better you’ll feel." He was an asshole but sometimes it paid to listen to a white person. She felt her pulse calming.
But then the glass door behind her opened with a bang. Michelle grimaced. You lousy bitch! I told you not to do that!
"Miss Michelle, I can’t no more work for da kine man. He hehena." The maid used the Hawaiian term for someone who sees ghosts. "We got enough ghosts here, we don’t need no more."
"Stop talking, Lani! Tell me what happened!"
The maid blinked. Which order should she obey? Looking at the bitch on the lounge chair, Lani decided to obey the first. Her lips pursed shut–until Michelle’s fingernails glistening menacingly. They were sharp enough to slash a person’s jugular. Lani’s mouth opened. "Ma’am, it just what I tell you. He scream now ’cause he say he see ghosts everywhere." The maid stiffened. "And I quit. Hehena bad luck. I no want ghosts."
Michelle hissed. "You leave and you’ll never work on Oahu again."
The maid made a nasty face. "No! I work again, just not for you. I work for you, I be cursed. You get hu hu. Not me. I go home."
Michelle’s fingernails lunged for the woman. "Damn it, you don’t leave unless…"
But Lani flung the lab coat in her face. As Michelle clawed at the fabric ensnaring her face, she heard the maid’s taunt through the folds. "I no give his meds. You give it!"
By the time Michelle ripped the coat off her face, the doorway was empty. There was the sound of running footsteps, than another door slammed in the distance.
The maid was gone; the second one this month.
Michelle vibrated with rage. "Damn that Reggie." He’d always done the meds before, always kept the bastard from screaming.
But Reggie Love wasn’t here anymore. He’d been one of the first to die six years ago in the Great Pandemic. After they’d examined his body…once they’d pulled her bawling husband loose from it…the doctors had told Michelle that Reggie had died of…but she’d shut them up. She knew who’d killed the prick. It had been the filthy Teabaggers, the scum of the earth. The shock of their takeover of the CDC had given Reggie a heart attack.
Yes, it was the Teabaggers. They’d unleashed the Pandemic over all of America, a hellish reign of terror in which people lost their will to live once they realized they’d have to work for a living. It had been chaos, utter chaos. When the Teabaggers told Congress to pay for its own medical insurance, three fourths of the politicians had curled into a fetal position. Many had forgotten to put out their cigarettes. From her front seat in the chopper, Michelle had seen the smoke curling up from the dome in thick black clouds. It had probably been either burning congressmen or burning copies of the healthcare plan…or maybe both. She hadn’t cared. She’d been too filled with disgust at the fools who’d brought this all down upon themselves.
How could they have thrown away all that she and her husband had given them? Free cell phones, hair extensions and scissors sharp enough to get rid of all the babies that would just mess up your life once they were born. She and he had fought for this, given all this to the people by the sweat of someone else’s brow. But had the people been grateful? Had they appreciated the sacrifices Michelle had made in choosing to work for the people, a choice that had forced her to wear mink instead of sable? Had the bastards been grateful? No, dammit! Everything she’d sacrificed for was now gone, vanished in a puff of smoke, leaving her stuck on this damn island with no maid and that….
The howl split the air again.
She padded down the hallway to his room. Holding her breath, she peeked in.
The bedroom was bare save for carpet and a bed bolted to the floor. All the loose objects had been removed long ago because he’d kept throwing them.
He wasn’t on the bed. He was curled up in a ball on the floor in the corner, long thin legs pulled up so high the knees touched the lobes of his ears. He was sobbing.
She exhaled. "Barry."
"Michelle, don’t step on the babies."
"Oh, damn." she thought. It’s that nightmare. She padded up to him and bent down to touch him. His frightened eyes saw the sharp nails. He flinched.
"They’re there." he moaned. "They’re hungry and cold." He keened, rocking slowly.
She sighed. "Barry, it’s time for your injection."
She got the syringe from the locked cabinet in the bathroom. The combination on the padlock used numbers bigger than 3 to ensure Barry couldn’t figure out the code. The dosage of the medicine was perfect; it had been concocted by the best doctors in Germany. Michelle hadn’t trusted American doctors to understand Barry’s ‘problems’ and sure enough the assholes had proven her right when they’d suggested her husband could be healed with strenuous activity. "He’ll get better once he starts working for a living." Assholes. The Germans had diagnosed psychosis and crafted a cocktail of SSRIs and antipsychotics. It had worked. Barry had stopped screaming. He still saw ghosts but at least he wasn’t screaming and throwing things.
With a practiced motion, she rubbed Barry’s arm with an alcohol wipe, then smoothly jabbed the needle in. Within minutes, he relaxed. "Better?" she asked. He nodded. "Well, let’s get in bed then."
His voice whined. "Television?"
She flinched. "You know you won’t like what you see."
"Television." Now his voice was petulant, spoiled, as if he was addressing Congress.
"Fine," she snapped. She waved her hand at the wall and the tv screen came to life.
". . . mahalo!" The anchorwoman had a flower over her left ear. "In the news today, President Palin signed another trade agreement with the Central African States, bringing peace to the troubled African nations for the first time in decades." The screen cut to Sarah Palin grinning in front of a mike with rows of traditionally-garbed African officials behind her. The wind was blowing, making the folds of Sarah’s dress hug her toned body.
Staring at the screen, Michelle felt her hands on her own waist, the fingers touching the bulging rolls of fat, all four, five, six of… Damn, Palin looked like shit!
On the screen, the president grinned excitedly. "We’re so proud to sign this document!" Palin motioned behind her. "The presidents of Mali and Kenya have worked really hard on this with me." She cast her beaming smile over the audience. "All they asked was if we could make one thing happen. Could we help small businesses and women in these countries create prosperity for all?" The former mayor of Wasilla beamed. "And I said you betcha!" Wild applause filled the screen, people were whistling and stamping their feet.
The screen switched back to the anchorwoman. "President Palin is the first American president to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize since President Barack Obama’s prize was revoked in 2014 following revelations of his role in the spread of military-grade weaponry throughout the Middle East and Central America.
Whistleblower Eric Holder was rewarded for his honesty with a suspended sentence and enough money to live where his wife couldn’t find him." The anchor woman grinned. "And in other news…"
The sulky voice whimpered from the bed. "Michelle, they said my name."
"Yeah, Barry." Michelle felt the folds of fat at her waist. God, Palin looked like shit!
The petulant voice began to cry in self-pity. "They don’t talk about me anymore."
"Sure they do." Michelle sucked in air but her potbelly receded only a quarter inch.
"No. They’ve forgotten me. They’ve forgotten all the good I did, the way I made sure everyone got medical care."
She was so busy holding her breath that she forgot to wave the screen silent. It was yammering awful things now. "Unemployment has fallen from 29% in the Obama administration to just under 4%. And it’s still falling, folks. Critics are complaining about the sharp decrease in government work force, the thousands who lost their jobs after failing tests instituted by the Paul Plan. Protesters have called the tests a violation of human rights, saying it’s unfair to deprive a person of his right to serve this nation simply because he can’t recite the entire alphabet. President Palin, however, totally supports Vice President Rand Paul’s agenda. According to the administration, the revitalization of this nation’s economy has been due to innovative plans like Paul’s, strong energy practices and the president’s "Open-But-Fair" trade policies favoring small business owners which are providing the good-paying jobs Americans need." On the screen, Palin and Paul shake hands.
From the bed, the voice howled. "My people! My people! They need me! They’re nothing without me! They can’t make it without me."
The television screen boomed. "Black unemployment is down to seven percent." Pictures showed sweating but determined black kids loading a truck. Then the screen flashed a picture of black men operating the heavy machinery, pouring the cement for the construction of the massive three story high wall that would replace the flimsy plywood and barbed fence between the United States and Mexico. The border guards patrolling the clanging, noisy construction sites were fingering weapons with real bullets and an expression that said they were praying for the chance to fire at least 10 rounds.
The anchorwoman and her ear flower were back. She looked serious.
"Today, as you all know, is the anniversary of the Mule Pandemic, which tragically killed 1.3 billion people and brought many world economies crashing to the ground." She went on with the familiar description. It had been a silent disease, spread by infected illegals who’d coughed germs in people’s faces on the subways or sneezed onto food served in restaurants. The plague had decimated America overnight. One day the people had been screaming ‘yes, we can’ and the following morning firemen had burst into houses to discover dead people slumped on their couches, sightless eyes staring at the wide screen TV Barry had bought for them. Bodies had also littered the welfare offices, corpses clutching food stamps meant to reparate years of oppression with nail extensions and Louis Vuitton handbags. Bars, street corners and meth labs were also littered with dead. As the pictures flickered across the screen, one could see that a few people had survived. Curiously, all of them seemed to be holding something, a briefcase or shovel or spatula, etc. All of them also had some kind of uniform, a pin-striped suit or hard hat with thick gloves, an apron with a spatula, etc.
The announcer’s voice continued solemnly. "The plague did not infect those who moved. As the doctors explained it, physical movement kept the virus from infecting one’s body. Sweat from constructing a building, the exertion from typing, lifting files, composing briefs, the labor of cooking over a hot stove or teaching math, planting crops, even studying for an exam was enough to ward off the illness. Only those who were inert, who did nothing, who lolled lazily from sun up to sundown were those who fell victim to the plague.
The announcer quipped. "If you worked, you lived; if you didn’t, you died."
"No, no, no! That was a lie!" Michelle screamed. It wasn’t laziness that had killed her and Barry’s people, it had been the Tea Party that’d done it. They’d developed a virus that they’d spread throughout the ghettos to wipe out black people; her people, her and Barry’s. And it had also been that damned book with its stupid stories about the Red Sea and a guy named Moose and some carpenter who hammered nails onto wood and got infected and died or something like that…anyway, it was their fault, not hers. It was never her fault.
"If you worked, you lived. If you didn’t, you died."
What a stupid, shitty phrase. If you wor….
Suddenly Michelle blinked. Who was that voice inside her head? "When was the last time you worked?" She stiffened. Damn, she’d worked her ass off ever since she and the Won had landed in this place, screaming at the secret service guards to pick up her luggage and move it into her bedroom, screaming at the cook to prepare the meals, the maids to clean the rooms. That had kept her blood pumping all right. She’d sweated a ton that whole time. But lately…again she heard that voice again.
The secret service had gone. The last one out the door had tossed her luggage through the window. She’d screamed at the cook to clean up the glass but the cook had thrown a skillet through a different window and quit. When Michelle screamed at the maid to clean it up, the woman had thrown a broom at her and walked out. Michelle had broken two nails dialing for outside help. They’d arrived to clean up the mess and look after Barry…but they hadn’t lasted long. Nobody had. The house had gotten grimy, empty but Michelle hadn’t done anything. No First Lady did shit like that. Instead she’d leaned back on her lounge chair and had another Mai Tai. She’d needed them because…because she’d started to feel funny these last few weeks. Some sort of strange lethargy that was choking her throat and making it a little difficult to…
"When was the last time you worked?"
And just like that, the world went her favorite color–black.
As her dead body hit the carpet, the voice whined from the bed.
"I gave them hope. I gave them hope. I gave them hope."
Read the next Maureen Dowd contest winner:
By Karina Fabian
Patsy gripped Malcolm’s arm, halting his footsteps. "Are you sure this is the right thing? We could get in so much trouble."
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