“Simon’s home.” Mattie felt it even before she heard his footfalls on the stairs.
“In the kitchen.” She closed her laptop. Depending on which site she’d opened, she was either a freedom fighter or a terrorist, someone who should be recognized as a hero or locked up as a threat to society. She needed to talk to Simon.
“Why didn’t you call me and tell me you were home?”
Simon was wearing khaki dockers and a blue blazer over a white cotton shirt. He’d got a haircut as well. A short one.
“Look at you.”
“Anne told me you were safe, but she didn’t say when you were returning. I would have been here.”
“It’s okay, you’re busy?”
“It’s not okay.” He walked toward her.
“We need to talk, Simon.”
“Sure, but first…” He took her hands, pulled her out of the chair, and wrapped his arms around her.
“That’s better.” He let her go and touched her face with his fingertips.
“You smell different,” Mattie said.
“It’s the hair stuff the barber put on.” Simon hugged her again, a fully body press.
“I look a wreck.”
“You’re the best thing I’ve seen since the last time I saw you.” He kissed her neck. “You want to talk?”
Mattie had heard that proximity to death was an aphrodisiac. They were right. Now, under the shower’s scalding stream, feeling very much loved and alive, she wondered if a talk with Simon was a good idea or even necessary? It never seemed to change anything. He did what he wanted, told her what he wanted, and, for the most part, she accepted it. When she thought about it, she realized she treated him the same. Maybe you didn’t need to know everything about the person you were with. Who got turned on by familiarity, anyway? On the other hand, if you were going to be judged by the company you kept, it might be good to know if your boyfriend was training terrorists.
“So, you weren’t going to the conference to train Zapatistas in the terrorist techniques?”
“Civil disobedience, Mattie, and not techniques, just the philosophy.”
Mattie wasn’t sure if she believed him, but it didn’t matter since he’d never made it to the conference.
“The conference is held every year, and there’s never been any violence,” Simon said. “Please believe me, I would never put you at risk. Nothing is more precious to me than you.”
“Sweet talker. I’ll bet you say that to all the women who risk their lives for you.”
“Since you’re the only woman who has, I guess you’re right.”
“Do you want your naan?” They’d ordered from the local Indian restaurant. Mattie had devoured a foot long dosa stuffed with grated paneer and a multitude of vegetables and now was eyeing the naan that had accompanied Simon’s lamb curry.
“No, I had lunch at the Terminal City Club.”
“And some big contributors.”
“I thought she might have you licking envelopes in a back room in the campaign office until this blows over.”
“It’s weird, Mattie. The more Wendy’s opponents go after me, the more the media stalks us, the more attendance there is at events and rallies. It’s like there’s no one else in the race.”
“No wonder she’s keeping you so close.” Anne was right. Simon was a social media magnet, the blood that sent journalists into a feeding frenzy. It was Wendy who would win on his coattails.
“I’m glad there’s only two weeks left. This is really not my thing.”
Mattie nodded. Did he just tell a second lie in one conversation?
* * *
“I can stay home if you want me to, Mattie?”
Construction started early and Simon was usually on the job site by 7 A.M., but politics was the opposite. They’d slept-in together and were having coffee at the kitchen table, but Simon’s cell phone was incessantly summoning him and with every call he became increasingly impatient.
“Why? You’re too distracted to have a conversation with, anyway.”
“I’m sorry.” He gave her a perfunctory kiss. “Only ten more days.” He was out the door and heading for the road to meet the Uber driver.
Ten more days and then what? Wendy would release him from his service to her and the cause? It wouldn’t end with the election it would only begin.
Mattie’s voicemail was full. Most of the messages were from media, including three from Blake Chisholm. She deleted them all except Chisholm’s, then called Jonathon.
“Being the Bird Witch wasn’t enough?” he said. “You had to go and create another social media persona?”
“Not funny, Jonathon. That woman died.”
“Sorry. And believe me I was worried, but it’s the tragic authenticity of that picture that has really caught the world’s attention.”
“Not the world’s, Jonathon.”
“I’m afraid so. It’s appeared on mainstream news feeds as well as fueling Facebook fantasies and Instagram imaginings which portray you either as a female incarnation of Ché, or an acolyte of Mother Teresa.”
“How were the kids?”
“Perfect angels. Though Pickles doesn’t like Lulu.”
“She was in my house?”
“Her house, Mattie. And remember, you said it was okay for her and a design team to look at the house and the studio while you were away.”
After she thanked Jonathon and disconnected, she wondered if Simon’s offer to build them a house was still a consideration? Either way, she needed to find a place to live and soon.
Simon called at five and said he’d be attending a rally and not to expect him home until midnight.
“Do you know a reporter named Blake Chisholm?” he said.
“I know of him. Why?”
“He keeps showing up, press briefings, scrums, and such and keeps asking me about you?”
“What about me?”
“Are you supportive of Wendy’s polices, and if you are why aren’t you taking a more active role in the campaign?”
“What do you tell him?”
“Wendy says you and I shouldn’t talk to him.”
“Because he’s a reporter. Do you need more reason than that?”
“Tell your master I’ll speak to whoever I damn well please.” Mattie disconnected.
What the hell was wrong with Simon? He must be under intense pressure to be so abrupt, not to mention out of his mind to think she’d comply.
* * *
Mattie waited up for Simon to come home. She was too upset to sleep and besides the longer she waited to confront him the worse it would be, and as it was, it was going to be bad. She turned on the television and there on the regional station was Blake Chisholm, hired as a talking head commenting on issues in the local election campaign.
Wendy Walters says her campaign is about integrity, or more specifically the lack of it as demonstrated by her political opponents, which by the way, is everyone since she’s running as an independent. Walters has focused on the failure of the government’s truth and reconciliation initiatives with Indigenous people saying they have achieved lots of words but little action. With media celebrity, Simon Issac, at her side to ensure maximum media coverage, she rails against systemic racism and promises to purge it from the laws of and institutions of this country. It’s a message that surprisingly resonates with non-Indigenous voters as well, many of whom just want to register their opposition against the old guard. When I asked the candidate and her accessory, excuse me, campaign assistant, why Issac’s partner, Mattie Saunders, of Bird Whisperer fame wasn’t more involved in the campaign they both offered no comment. I reached out numerous times to Saunders for comment, but she did not return my calls.
Is Walter’s embarrassed that her closest advisor, someone who has become a hero to the Indigenous people because of the documentary casting him as an underground leader in their fight for justice, is partnered with a non-indigenous person? Has Saunders been told to keep out of the spotlight less she alienates those voters, both white and indigenous, who find mixed race relationships distasteful or worse, an affront?
It appears the truth speaker, as Walters refers to herself, isn’t beyond bending it for political gain.
Mattie clicked off the television. So that was it. She was still processing Chisholm’s remarks when Simon arrived home.
“You’re still up?”
“I was watching Blake Chisholm on the news.”
Simon frowned. “If we’re going to get into this let me get something to drink. Can I get you something?”
Simon returned with a diet Ginger Ale. He slumped into the chair across from her. A bad sign. Usually, they talked sitting on the sofa facing each other, her feet in his lap.
“Blake is of the opinion that–”
“I know what he said. Mattie. He asked us if we wanted to comment.”
“We didn’t, but Wendy thought you might want to set the record straight.”
“That’s not what you said when you called.”
“You talking to Chisholm might only make matters worse.”
“Because he’s right?”
“The issue hasn’t come up. You haven’t wanted to get involved.”
“But if I did?”
“If you did, then I’d respect your decision and welcome your support. Anyone who spoke against you would be speaking against me as well.” Simon drained the can of soda and stood. “But this is not your fight, Mattie. You don’t really care, so why would you get involved when it might make it more difficult for me to achieve the goals I want for my people?”
“I do care.”
“If you do, then call Blake Chisholm and tell him he’s wrong.”
Simon threw up his hands, stomped out of the room only to return a second later.
“I ask you to do one thing, one small thing that could help the future of my people who’ve suffered physically, emotionally and spiritually, who are discriminated against socially and economically, who’ve experienced cultural genocide and you say no. Why Mattie? Is it political? Is it philosophical? Is it because you feel your position of privilege is threatened? Or, is it because you’re jealous of Wendy Walters?”
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