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Alexandra Pajak

Alexandra Pajak

Alexandra Pajak has been published in North American Review, Grab-A-Nickel and Chicken Soup for the Recovering Soul: Daily Inspirations. She lives with her husband in Atlanta where she works as a mental health counselor at a county jail.

Election Day

The night was dim and sullen with the quiet weight of a mid-winter night, the ground powdered with gray ash and the trees bare. The people of what remained of the town slowly assembled between the flagless pewter pole and the cinderblock building near what was once called eight o'clock. The people did not used to meet like this, back when several thousand still inhabited the town homes and trailers and some electricity remained. Now the days blurred, the sun barely visible. Some of the older men recalled days of orange skies and silvery flashes of life in water and the brilliant glare of city lights far north against the night horizon. But these men were few and often silenced by others in despair or in disbelief.

One of the older men paced grimly and aimlessly on the cement walkway leading to the building entrance and gripped his pockets which rattled with coins he insisted would one day regain their value. Two nervous looking young men with matching blue, worn letter jackets placed an old tackle box on a square plastic garbage can. The women afar and silent watched through their eyes' corners the smallest children wrestle and tumble in the dust, the children's shouts and laughs dying sharp and flat without the earth providing so much as an echo.

Doc ran the elections, as he did food distribution and medicine rationing. Doc possessed a fine collection of firearms, with which the townspeople trusted him because of his title. Doc could and would talk endlessly about pistons and cylinders, water purification and crystallized iodine, and about Leviticus and Ephesians. He was a wiry, serious man, a good orator, and he wore a pair of glasses with one lens split and shattered like a spider's net. People felt bad for him because he could see out of only one eye and his leg and hand curled under and knotted into themselves like warped oak roots exposed beside a creek bed. When he stooped toward the tackle box, he removed a key from his pocket the people quieted one another and he waved the key and smiled broadly and said, "Another month, another election."

Some of the people stepped far back, instinctively, with jaws locked tight. Others stepped forward wearing odd grins. Mrs. Hesbani, a short woman, stood with her hands wringing in endless incongruent circles. "It's not right," she said to a woman near her, but the other woman did not respond. The townsfolk stared straight ahead and became gray and rigid as wax.

A young boy came up next to Mrs. Hesbani. "My grandmother said they had no elections like this when she was a kid," he said.

A young girl who took a great liking to Mrs. Hesbani, probably because Mrs. Hesbani knitted mittens for her, said, "My dad said this isn't really an election but it's really a drawing and they're calling it the wrong word. My dad was real smart. He taught adults all day instead of children so you know he was really smart."

"Grandma said there used to be plenty of everything back in her day and they had no elections like this one," continued the boy.

"My father said elections were about choosing a leader. He said this is a drawing and a cruel one at that and we're bastardizing the word election. But when I said the word bastard, his mom slapped my face." The girl pointed at the boy and they both stifled a giggle.

Doc stared over the rims of his spectacles at the two children. "There are those who teach their children different than our ritual here. I hear others in the darkness each night. Do we want to be like them? Scavenging then turning on our own? Killing the able-bodied? Uncivilized like dogs in the night?

Doc held up the tackle box to reveal a multitude of plastic strips with photos set upon them next to what looked like miles of numbers and letters. Much clearing of throats and shuffling of feet and whispers distilled into silence. A low breeze and slight shaking of branches added an eerie emphasis to Doc's words.

"Mrs. Hesbani, why don't you help us today," smiled Doc. His one good eye peered through the glass, his other eye a kaleidoscope of piercing blue and dull gray.

Mrs. Hesbani walked to the mound and the young men wearing letter jackets stared at the ground. With shaking hands she reached into the box. With a flat face she read the name on the band, then her eyes shot upward like glistening coals.

"You set this up!" she shouted, then knocked the box of armbands onto the ground. Everyone gasped at the toppled fates strewn onto the sidewalk. Some of the children sprang forward and threw the armbands back into the box. The two young men looked at the photo on the band and walked rigidly into the grey building.

"You selected it yourself," said Doc.

Mrs. Hesbani said, "My son did nothing to you."

"He killed a man!" shouted a man in the crowd.

"Ignorance in those that criticize the elections," Doc said. "No use applying old ways to new times."

"My son killed no one here. He is not well."

"But he was sentenced to die long ago," spoke up a woman with a steely stare and loose skin.

"All of them are criminals. We have fed them our food daily and given some a second chance but they continue to steal and refuse to follow the rules of society," said Doc calmly.

"He's not all there. He's not right in the head!" the man with the coins shouted. "He helped me years ago. Ran some errands for me and cut my lawn for me. Back when I had business to mind." He threw his face into his hands and began weeping.

"We are performing what would have been inevitable," said Doc. "He would harm others if we released him. Mrs. Hesbani, your son set your own husband on fire with gasoline and matches cut from his own hand."

"But he is ill!" Mrs. Hesbani was shrieking now and trying to grab something from Doc's back pocket.

The two young men exited the building and led a smiling, dazed young man in front of Doc. The young man smiled broadly and said, "Hi Doc! Contact the masons. There is never a favor or flavor style worth playing down for the mile." Mrs. Hesbani ran toward him with outstretched arms. Doc knocked her to the ground and reached into his back pocket.

First the gunshot, then the axes. Bright flames licked the air in orange tongues well into the night. The children played hand games and hopscotch, watching the adults thrash in a frantic huddle. The two children who loved Mrs. Hesbani ran to some nearby woods, grabbed a stick, dipped it in ash, and wrote her son's name on a flat rock, just as their father and grandmother instructed them to do, then cried alone together.

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