A few of us were sitting in the backyard around a small fire. Branches crackled and sparks flew in a light breeze. None of us wore masks; we were all, except for Marc and Jon, who were a couple, sitting at least six feet apart, and we were outside.
The only rule for the evening was “no politics.”
That lasted about ten minutes.
“You voted, didn’t you?” Cally asked, looking around the circle.
Jon put his hands over his ears. “Shut up about it already! We’ve talked it to death.”
She pressed her lips into a flat line. “If Red wins, we’ll lose rights, so this is important.”
“Yes, but it’s done now. Can’t we have a few hours of peace?”
Silence fell. My stomach hurt from the stress of the last several weeks. I’d come tonight because I wanted to be with my friends, but the elections had driven a wedge between us, despite being on the same side. It had been talk, talk, talk, and like everyone else, I was fed up with it.
Someone came around the side of the house and joined us. “Hey, all.”
“Hi, Ryan,” we mumbled weakly.
“Such enthusiasm.” He hauled a deck chair into the circle, and everyone else re-spaced to maintain distancing. “Good thing I brought the good weed.” Even that didn’t perk us up much. “Wow, tough crowd.” He offered me a joint. “Light it up, Will.”
Marc tossed me a book of matches. I placed one to the tip of the joint, inhaled, then passed it to Cally.
It went around the circle and back to Ryan. “Be glad we live in a state where this is legal. My grandfather was busted during a traffic stop for having half a lid in his car. His lawyer got it down to community service.”
“He’d have been thrown in prison if he was Black,” Cally said.
Ryan nodded. “White privilege. Definitely a thing.”
Marc, who was Black, raised an eyebrow at him. “Ya think?”
Ryan attached a hemostat to the joint and sucked in the last of it, then sat back. “Why so tense, everyone?” When Cally opened her mouth to respond, he held up a hand. “Enough. I’ve heard it until I’m blue in the face.” He chuckled. “Blue. Get it?”
She didn’t want to be derailed. “Don’t you care who wins?”
“Of course I care, but it’s out of my hands now. It’s out of yours, too, so goddamn relax a little. We marched, we called, we protested, and we voted. Let it the fuck go now.”
She crossed her arms and pouted. “Asshole.”
They glared at each other a moment, though Ryan’s expression was put on; he was still trying to get her to calm down.
I snickered to break the tension. “You two. If you were straight, you’d be a couple.”
That made everyone laugh. “No way,” she said, though she was smiling. “He takes nothing seriously—”
“And you are nothing but serious,” Ryan countered.
“Opposites attract,” I said.
“Good thing we’re queer then.” She stretched her legs to the fire and crossed her ankles. “Unlike these two”—she gestured at Marc and Jon—“Ryan and I would fight all the time.”
Ryan’s eyes twinkled. “Think of the great makeup sex we’d have, if only you had a dick.”
“I’ve got a strap-on. Will that do?”
There were mock cries of “Ew!” Ryan passed another joint, and moods improved.
This time almost an hour went by before politics came up again, but by then we were stoned and drunk on wine.
Ryan had just returned from taking a piss, and after he flopped in his chair, he said, “‘Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies.’ Groucho Marx.”
“Oh, I love the quote game,” I said. “You all know this one: ‘Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.’ Who said it?”
“Lincoln,” Jon said.
Marc straightened. “I’ve got one. ‘The Democrats are the party of government activism, the party that says government can make you richer, smarter, taller, and get the chickweed out of your lawn. Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work, and then get elected and prove it.’”
We shook our heads, and I said, “No idea.”
He smiled beatifically. “P. J. O’Rourke.”
Cally poured herself more wine. “How in hell did you remember all that in your compromised condition?”
“You call this compromised? Ha. Jon was sucking me off in a supply closet on the second floor of Brown Hall when someone opened the door.” He patted Jon’s thigh. “A secretary had come in search of staples.”
My laughter had a ragged edge, and I realized I’d passed a certain stage of inebriation I’d pay for in the morning. “‘Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.’ Plato.”
Jon leaned against Marc. “‘We have the best government money can buy.’ Twain.”
“That man was a genius,” Ryan declared. There were sounds of agreement.
He threw another log on the fire, and we all knew it was the last one. It was getting late, and we were turning into unmotivated puddles of serenity. Even Cally looked like she couldn’t be bothered to kill a mosquito.
Ryan lifted a finger. “Listen.”
A bird was singing. The song was long and varied, and in my altered mental state, I thought I’d never heard anything so beautiful. “Mockingbird?”
Ryan nodded. “Don’t get so wrapped up in the bullshit humans create that you forget what’s important. We’re here, we’re alive, and there’s beauty all around us. Voltaire said, ‘Men argue, Nature acts.’”
I snorted, remembering something I read recently. “‘When hiking, bring a compass. It’s awkward when you have to eat your friends.’”
“That is funny on so many levels,” Cally said.
I decided I’d go to the beach with the camera and film the sunrise.
I left my friends sleeping it off and took off. What happened, happened. We’d deal with it then. Now? Sunrise was glorious, and I felt just fine. Better than I had in a while.
Genre: political fiction
Word count: 1039