The little bastards were at war again, carving out chunks of meat, prodding, beating and jumping on them until the pieces were soft and tender. The metaphors were his own. This was how he saw the invasion into his normally good health; little bastards who came up out of nowhere in particular and turned his internal organs into punching bags. He took a deep breath, placing both hands under the fold of his belly, and massaging upwards, kneading the roll of fat between his fingers and thumbs. It seemed to help somewhat; a little better than the Rolaids that he kept popping into his mouth like candy. His secretary kept urging him to find his happy place. Apparently, happy places were easy for her to access, but perhaps he was just too much of a realist. The mountain vision he tried only reminded him of cold, windy weather and bears lurking in the woods. Beaches; too much salt, sand and gritty dirt feelings. The gurgling creek only made him think of going to the bath room.
“What does make you happy?” His secretary had asked in frustration.
“Cleanliness. Orderliness.” She had cleaned the office into almost Spartan orderliness, tucking away all unfinished business with notes to herself on when they should be introduced once again to his desk, dividing his work schedule and appointments into neatly balanced hours, replacing the landscape art on his walls, left there by the building’s interior decorator who had imagined a uniform theme of sunset, sunrise vacation spots throughout all the offices, with one large abstract drawing in green and white. The drawing, he supposed, which appeared to represent nothing at all, was meant to help him find his happy place.
The phone rang and he stopped massaging. He almost felt surprised. So many of his calls had been screened and circumvented, he had almost become accustomed to having uninterrupted mornings. “Representative Neil Bradley speaking.”
“Neil!” The voice was sharp and furious, causing him to wince, adding a hot poker to the troops already possessing his stomach. “How could you do this to me? How could you cut my budget?”
Sara Collier, school superintendent. She always asked for more than she needed, and the public always screamed about how much he gave, no matter how much fat he trimmed off the budget. “Sarah, you’ve got to understand the times we’re living in. There’s a giant push to move away from public education and into private or alternative schools. It’s pointless to invest huge amounts of money into playing fields, additional science lab equipment and music auditoriums only a very small percentage of the population will be using.”
“We only wanted one lousy football field for a school that’s been scuffling on the same patch of earth for twenty years, and a room designed specifically for acoustic music at Benton Junior High. As well as some updated lab equipment, but I can handle that. I can also handle the reduction in hours for the pools to be open, the dwindling down of library staff… Nobody ever uses the libraries much anyway, and the pools are a huge responsibility. I’m disappointed in the amount cut back for art programs, but it’s the fundamentals of education we must be concerned with, right?”
She paused and Neil waited, clutching at his belly with one hand, listening for the bombardment of words that would send his little bastards into a prodding, poking feast. They came. “What I don’t understand,” her voice raced upwards, “is how you could cut so much funding from the underprivileged children’s program.”
“I didn’t cut all of it. There’s a half a million grant for free meals. But, Sara, Sara. Look at all the other requests that go along with it. They are privilege grants. One hundred thousand for field trips the parents might not be able to afford to pay. Scholarships for poor but gifted children to get into the arts or sports academy. There are middle class children who can’t always afford to go on field trips or pay their dues for extra-curricular activities. Why should their parents be the very tax payers who are allowing the poor to do what their children can’t?”
“At one time, we were able to make sure that all the children who wanted into an extracurricular activity were able to do so, regardless of income. The middle class could afford to get in. The poor were helped to get in. All it took was a little interest. How could you do this to them?”
“I did it for the money, okay? What do you want me to say? Bleeding heart legislation just isn’t going to work anymore. People want something for their money. If we have children who can’t afford extra curricular activities, than let’s see the other parents of the schools show a little support. That’s what the PTA is for. Get them involved in fund drives, raising money for extra equipment and scholarships. Then we’d be obligated with matching funds. But there are no more free rides.”
“Neil, I don’t know how you live with yourself. I used to think I knew you pretty well, that you were someone I could work with, made constructive plans with for the future of the children. Who’s got you in their back pocket? Private investors?”
The little bastards were jumping up and down with joy, pounding away at the pieces of meat they’d carved and shredded from his stomach. His internal organs were jelling. Even though there was no one watching, he tried to suppress the grimace of pain that contorted his face. “It’s the public, Sara. You’ve gotta believe me. This is where we’re at today. The tax payers only want to see what’s directly beneficial to them; roads, plumbing, increased policing. This is solid. This is something they can put their fingers on.”
She hung up before he had finished. His fingers marched across his stomach, just below the belt line. He remembered an earlier conversation in which she had said, a representative was the decisive direction of a community. If there was nothing solid for the people to want, than it was his lack of decisiveness that lead them there. He was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t on any decision he made. Who could blame him for choosing the routes of least resistance?
The little bastards steam rolled over his internal organs, backed up and smashed into them again, piercing with needles the little globs of blood and tissue that floated up. What had been intestines, kidneys and a liver were softened pieces of shredded meat, tenderized and blended together. It was enough for an involuntary cry of pain to spring to his lips. He stood up, grasping at the desk that was suddenly shrinking away from him as the room around him grew darker. He believed he buzzed his secretary. He believe something fell to the floor; whether a paper weight or himself, he couldn’t be sure. There was an interval when his ears stopped roaring, and he heard a voice. “You still with us, sir? We’re moving you onto this stretcher. One, two, three, go! That wasn’t so bad, was it?” No, it wasn’t bad. It was comforting to have these masked faces peering down at him, dripping battalions to fight the little bastards in clear, plastic tubes. He wanted humor. After all, these were his constituents. He should say something to let them know he was still in charge. “Do you think,” he murmured sleepily as they trundled him down the hallway to the waiting ambulance. “We could have such a thing as bleeding gut legislation?”