The last thing on his mind was voting. There was a pandemic on and rioting in the streets, he had no desire to risk his life for something that he clearly had no control over, let alone any impact on. November 3rd got closer and closer and he just walled himself off from the political process. He was invisible as far as the politicians were concerned.
Every day he walked out of his condo precisely at 6 AM, walked to the street and turned left. He had to catch the 6:15 bus and it took him almost exactly 14 minutes to get there. Fortunately the bus was never early, just late. He would then ride the bus into downtown and and get off of his stop at around 6:50. Work started at 7:30, which gave him plenty of time to get his coffee and get settled. He liked to watch his coworkers straggle in at different times every day. His evenings were far more sporadic as he usually stayed late for the overtime hours, something his other coworkers were unwilling to do.
He had been doing this for years and saw no reason for him to change his morning routine at all. Since the election started however, there was a woman who was seated in a lawn chair along his route whom he had never seen before.
She was never there in the evening, but every morning she was out there. Only when it was still relatively cool. She had an oxygen tank and a little American flag that she waved in the humid air. Every so often a car would come by and honk and she would wave back swinging her red hat in the air.
“Mornin'!” She would say cheerfully as he passed.
Every so often he would smile back. Eventually he said “Mornin'” back to her. This seemed to please her to no end and he would sheepishly grin and go on his way with a little wave.
What began as simply greetings, developed into a mutual respect for the early morning street and the other people who inhabited it. His delight at seeing her had blossomed, to where he would actually look forward to his morning routine and going by that little patch of grass in front of a house on his way to work. She was such a vibrant person and she totally believed in what she was doing, campaigning in her own small way for the president.
The weeks passed. He grew more confident in their short conversations as he went by each day. He decided he would do something nice for this woman. It had been a while since anyone had done anything nice for him and adding a little good karma to the world seemed right.
Halloween morning came and he pulled a pan of brownies out of the refrigerator. He had baked them the night before for who he thought of as the Lawn Chair Lady. He grinned as he separated them into a small disposable Tupperware that he wouldn't ask for back. He drew little smiley pumpkins on them in orange icing.
As he walked up to her that morning, they exchanged their “Mornin'!” ritual and he extended the plastic bundle to her, careful to stay 6 feet away because he didn't have a mask and she only had her oxygen. She was looking a little paler than usual, but was as exuberant as ever.
“Well bless your heart, young man! I ain't been given a Halloween present from anyone but my husband in years.” She said as cheerfully as can be. “You make sure to stay that 6 feet away hun, don't need us trading germs.”
“I will and you are welcome.” He said in slightly accented English, a big smile on his face.
“You have time to eat one with me?” She asked.
“Not today, but I have little skull cookies for tomorrow. I got the day off because I work Halloween today.” He said back.
“Well sweetie, I have no idea why you would bake skull cookies the day after Halloween, but you bring those darn cookies around and we can snack on them together.”
“It's the day of the dead, Dia de los Muertos. It's a Mexican holiday where we celebrate the lives of all of our relatives and people in our lives who have passed on.” He said.
“Well whoever said we learn something new every day was right.” She said with a laugh. “I ain't never had cause to celebrate such a holiday, but I will see you tomorrow and you can tell me all about it.”
“I look forward to it” He said and went on his way to the bus stop.
He turned around to see her pulling her oxygen closer into her nose and breathe deep.
He woke the next day fifteen minutes early with a grin on his face. He had gotten a children's book about Dia de los Muertos from the bookstore after work the night before. It was in a thin paper bag. He thought she would get a kick out of it.
He pulled out his cookies form the refrigerator and decorated them with small candies and icing. Each one was as unique as each person in his family back in California and he was proud to bring his heritage into the life of someone else. He set about putting them in another disposable Tupperware, careful not to damage any of them.
He put the Tupperware into a small paper bag with some napkins and a couple of extra disposable masks he had. The book also went into the bag. She would appreciate it all, he was sure. They could wave to cars together from six feet away.
As he left the house at 6 am, he saw the weather had turned and it looked to be getting darker from cloud cover. But not even the bad weather could put a damper on his mood. He had not felt as light as he had that morning in a long time.
As he walked down the side of the road, he saw her lawn chair was empty. That had never happened before. He slowed to a stop next to it and glanced around. The house behind the grassy spot was lit up and had far more vehicles around than he had ever seen. He bit his lip. He needed to know if she was okay.
He walked up to the house and knocked. After a moment an elderly man opened the door, wearing a disposable mask.
“You here for the wake?” He asked, his eyes red.
“No, I just walk by here every day and wanted to give the lady who sat out here every morning in the lawn chair these cookies.” He said.
The old man's eyes glistened.
“I know you now. Marilyn spoke highly of you. Called you a nice young man.” The old man said. “You should come in for the wake. She would have wanted that.”
He walked inside of the house and saw dozens of people inside all dressed in black, except for the old man, who was dressed in a gaudy Hawaiian shirt and beige slacks. Many of them were crying silently. Many more of them were laughing. Possibly about stories of the Lawn Chair Lady.
“I never knew her name.” He whispered.
“And she never knew yours.” The old man mused. “She was always trying to help as many people as possible and she didn't need to know names to do that.”
“I am sorry, my name is-” He said with his hand extended.
“I don't need to know your name, son.” The old man said, smiling with his eyes. “Marilyn trusted you and I do too. But you better put a mask on.”
“Sorry.” He said and put one of the masks in his bag on.
It was then that it all hit him. She was dead and her name was Marilyn. He choked back a sob as the realization washed over him. The old man put a comforting hand on his back as he bent over and drew in a long, shuddering breath.
“You alright son?” The old man asked as he straightened up.
“Yeah, I'm fine. But what happened to Marilyn? She just seemed a bit pale when I brought her the brownies yesterday.”
“The virus got her son.” The old man said, blinking back tears. “She sent me away after she got it. No chance of me having it because I was away on business when she tested positive yesterday. Stayed at the Best Western down the street. I came back yesterday afternoon and found her on the floor.”
“I am so sorry.” He whispered.
“Yeah, I am too.” The old man said, wiping away snot with his hand. “If I had just been stubborn like her and come back sooner I could have done something. She died terrified and alone as her lungs stopped working.”
He grabbed the old man and let the tears flow as Marilyn's husband bawled for his dead wife. The two of them were the center of attention for the wake, but eventually the other guests lost interest. The two of them pulled away.
“What do you have there, son?” The old man asked, gesturing to the bag.
“A few Day of the Dead cookies, a book on Dia de los Muertos, some napkins and a few masks.” he mumbled.
“If you want, you can leave them here. I know Marilyn would want to share everything with everybody.” The old man said with a sob.
He went and set the paper bag on the table, leaving the book and cookies out. He then went and sat in an overstuffed chair in the corner and he listened to everyone around him. The old man mingled away from him.
“What a shame.” One woman said.
“She could have just gone to the hospital like everybody told her.” Another man said.
“I am surprised she didn't put bleach in her veins.” Another woman said.
“She should never have believed him.” The first woman said.
“Marilyn believed what she wanted to. She was stubborn and not even Richard could convince her otherwise.” The man said.
“I still remember when she would get all of us together the day before Christmas Eve for carols, rain or shine.” The second woman said with a few tears in her eyes. “I always looked forward to her eggnog with extra nog in it.”
The three of them laughed. They had all known her better than him. He was just someone who said “Mornin'” on his way to work. He sat there for a while, hearing stories about Marilyn and what a shame it was that she passed form something terrible but curable.
Eventually, he couldn't take it anymore. He got up and turned to leave.
“Young man.” Came a voice from behind him.
He turned around and saw the old man standing there. Richard, Marilyn's husband.
“Yes?” He asked.
“I know you didn't know her very long or very well, but Marilyn had a way of making an impact on people's lives, whether they wanted her to or not.” The old man said.
“I know what you mean.” He said, smiling under his mask.
“You just need to be able to remember that she is up there and looking down on you, expecting you to spread the joy that she loved so much to every corner of the earth.” The old man said.
He just nodded in response. The old man's face screwed up into a grimace.
“I wish she had listened to me. I wish she had with all my heart. I told her not to believe the president. I told her he didn't know what he was talking about. 'Listen to the doctors' I said. I couldn't convince her and it got her killed.” The old man said bitterly.
“Do you have a picture of her I could have?” He asked suddenly, startling the old man.
“Why?” The old man asked.
“For my Dia de los Muertos shrine. This way she will still get to be a part of it, like she wanted.” He said shyly.
The old man nodded and put a finger to his lips.
“I know exactly the one. You just wait here a moment.” The old man said and hurried deeper into the house.
He looked around the house, seeing the Native American art for the first time. He saw photos of happy relatives. He saw Marilyn when she was younger, slimmer and did not need oxygen. He saw her kids in the photos and saw them milling around the house. What he saw were the little bits of Marilyn in the house and all of the people that she had touched, including himself.
The old man came back with a small envelope.
“Here you go son,” He said, handing it over. “This was a photo I took of her when she saw snow for the first time. We were in Disney World because she had never left the state before and wanted to see snow. No real snow here.” The old man said, a tear leaking from his eye.
“Thank you.” He said and left out the front door before the old man could say anything else.
Once he was outside, he opened the envelope. The picture was dark, but the dancing motes of snowflakes could be seen around a smiling Marilyn. She looked to be in her early forties and her eyes were wide in wonder. Her smile was genuine, just like the joy of any kid who sees snow for the first time.
He sat down heavily on the porch and sobbed. This woman who he had barely known had lost her life and he was devastated. He had no idea why this woman's death affected him so. Then it him. It was because she didn't have to die.
This woman was out in her chair for months, campaigning for the man in office. She had trusted him, even over her own husband. She had trusted him and she died. He crumpled the empty envelope and held the photo close to his heart.
“No more.” He whispered as tears leaked form his eyes.
He called out sick the next two days. He had the vacation time and his supervisor was annoyed but there was nothing hiss boss could do about it except say “Get better”.
He sulked around his house the entire time. His altar was still up, even though he was out of candles. Marilyn's picture was front and center among his various relatives. She seemed so full of life that she could just spring from the photo. It made him angry. It wasn't fair. He cried each time he saw it.
Election day came bright and early. The bus was late to his polling place. Even though he was registered, he hadn't thought he would vote so he hadn't ordered a mail-in ballot.
“Stupid.” He cursed himself as he stepped off of the bus and onto the curb nearest his polling place, a middle school gym.
There was a crowd out front, with people yelling and chanting and waving signs. He was too short to see over everyone, so he made his way through the crowd to the source of the commotion.
About thirty white men with guns were blocking the entrance to the polling place and were in a stand-off with about half as many police. The militiamen were split into 2 groups. One kept the crowd and cops at bay while the other half surveyed ID cards of people headed into the school gym to vote. He saw them turn away an elderly Pakistani woman, who just stood there speechless as she cried.
“No Indians allowed.” One of the men said a big smile on his unmasked face.
That got his blood boiling. He broke free of the crowd and walked straight up to the man who had spoken.
“How dare you.” He said. His voice was low but carried menace.
“She didn't have the right papers to vote, beaner. No citizenship, no vote to cast.” The man said.
“She has a birth certificate right there! She was born in Brooklyn! I am six feet away and I can see that.” He said, his voice raising in volume.
“It isn't worth it young man.” The woman said sadly. “Their kind only knows brute force.”
“It IS worth it!” He yelled. “Everyone has the right to vote for who they want in this country and no jerkoff is going to tell us otherwise.”
He tried to push past the militiamen, but they shoved him back.
“You cannot touch anyone or that is assault!” Said a police officer in riot gear that approached the militia man.
“Who says?” The militia man said with a cocky grin. “The President said to watch the polls for illegals and cheaters and I am sure you don't outrank him.”
“And even he doesn't outrank the U.S. Constitution!” He said, still angry as the policeman motioned for calm.
He tried to force his way back in and the police officer pulled him back.
“Don't antagonize them. There isn't a way you are going to get in there today. We are arranging for people who can't get in to get mail-in ballots” The policeman said.
“But you don't understand, I HAVE to vote today!” He pleaded, clenching his fists.
“You don't have to vote because you can't vote you wetback scum.” The militiaman spat at his feet.
“I am warning you sir! If you hit him with spit that is assault. We are already going to arrest you for illegal assembly once more officers get here, so just let these people through, huh?” The policeman pleaded.
“Make America great again!” Shouted the militia man and all of his friends cheered.
“Stand down and stand by!” Shouted another.
“It is what it is!” Yelled yet another.
It was all insanity. In the chaos and chants, he managed to slip around the militia man and get inside the gym doors.
“Hey!” Yelled the militia man and he raised his assault rifle at him in the doorway of the gym.
He froze and turned slowly around. He heard the metallic clicks of about thirty safeties being taken off.
“Oh boy.” He said.
“Weapons down!” Shouted the Policeman, who had drawn his own weapon.
“Like hell!” Shouted the militia man, who refused to take his eyes off of him.
“I just want to vote.” He said, tears leaking down his face.
“Illegals don't get a vote!” Screamed the militia man.
“My name is Julio Gomez. I was born in Los Angeles twenty three years ago in July. I am a citizen and I am allowed to vote.” Julio said.
“Bullshit! You are an illegal and a cheater and I am not going to let any of that crap fly while I have breath left in me!” Screamed the militia man, his mouth frothing. “Nobody is going to cheat the president!”
Julio let his hands drop, but a fire came over him and he took a deep breath.
“Look man, I am here because the president's advice killed a friend of mine. A nice white lady died because the President said the virus wasn't a big deal.” Julio began to cry. “I can't let that man take even one more decent human life from this earth. To do that I need to vote. Honestly, if you want to shoot me, go ahead.”
The militia man aimed his gun.
“I am an American citizen, and I am here to vote because it is my God-given right. If you shoot, if you kill me, you are the villain. You are the one who is pissing on the flag and everything America has fought for. America has always been great until recently. We don't need to make it great again, we have always been great. Don't be like him. Don't be a villain.” Julio said.
Julio turned around and headed into the gym. Something he said must have gotten through, because no shots rang out and he wasn't dead.
As he came out form voting he saw that the police had all of the militia on their knees and disarmed. The militia man saw Julio.
“I am not a villain.” He said loud enough for Julio to hear.
Julio nodded in his direction and headed to the Denny's across the street. He was shaking and needed a place to calm his nerves. A grand slam and a bus ride later he was standing in front of Marilyn and Richard's house.
Richard opened the door and came out.
“I voted.” Julio said simply.
“I saw on the news.” Richard said with a smile. “Good for you. I sent mine and Marilyn's ballot in weeks ago.”
“She voted for the president?” Julio asked with a smile.
“Of course, but I canceled her out.” Richard said with a smile.
“Would you mind if I watched the election results with you?” Julio asked.
“Of course, son.” Richard said kindly.
“The name is Julio.” He said proudly.
“Nice to meet you.” Richard said and they both went inside. “She would have been proud of you, no matter who you voted for.”
Two weeks later, the headline of the New York Times read “President Defeated By 1 Vote in Florida”. The byline read “Contest decided by Florida Electoral Votes”.