America's Most Critical Journal (since 1999)
The Voice God Gave Her
2 October 2016
Before she stepped to the podium, Lizbeth closed her eyes and mumbled the same quick prayer.
Until this moment, she had agreed to follow the sage advice of her team, forgoing any public appearances for the duration of the race. If she kept her mouth shut, her council members reasoned, she was a shoe-in for another term. Lizbeth wasn’t convinced. How could she win without showing her sunny dimpled face, without delivering one of her awe-inspiring speeches? Pre-surgery, her last speech on the plight of the working poor and the right to raise free-range chickens within city limits had the Practical Poultry Princesses on their feet.
Lizbeth’s husband of twenty-two years had threatened divorce if she didn’t abandon the whole godforsaken charade. Like their kids and the handful of friends and staff who were privy to her sudden “change,” he believed Lizbeth was suffering from menopausal delusional psychosis, having some sort of mid-life crisis or nervous breakdown, or worst of all, turning Republican.
What they all failed to recognize was FAS (Foreign Accent Syndrome) was a legitimate disease, albeit rare.
“Look it up on Wikipedia!” Lizbeth had screamed at her husband. “It’s as real as radical Islamic terrorism and the Muslim nose on Obama’s face! You need to be smarter, Frank. We all need to be smarter!”
The words, not to mention that squawking, condescending timbre, terrified and repulsed Lizbeth, but for her very life, she couldn’t quiet them. Lizbeth was born and raised in Michigan. She went to church Sundays and bled Midwestern values. Why couldn’t she have awakened in the recovery room with the refined accent of Margaret Thatcher? Why was God punishing her? A straightforward procedure to correct her overbite. Less migraines, and yes, straighter teeth. Was it really too much to ask to feel better and look prettier?
Perhaps it was retribution for her affair with Councilman Shelby, but their awkward lovemaking at The Celery City Motel had lasted only two weeks, and Lizbeth swore nobody knew about it, so what harm had been done? Or maybe it was karma for pocketing some of the funds from The Sizzling Summer Bazaar? She had returned the money though, immediately after hitting it big on Double Diamonds. Plus, she’d completed the 12 steps of Gamblers Anonymous.
No more infidelity. No more letting it ride on anything (save for this particular speech). Should her voice, Lord have mercy, be hijacked forever by that bullying bigoted crescendo, Lizbeth’s soul would remain intact. She loved her insipid husband, she loved her two sons, in spite of their sense of false entitlement, and although some would consider it prideful, sinful even, she loved serving her Fair City above everything.
For Greater Depth, Vote Lizbeth. That was her campaign slogan. She had amassed years of direct experience addressing law enforcement, education, homelessness and health care. These would endure as her key priorities. Black Lives Matter. This she took to heart as something far more meaningful than a pound sign on social media. ISIS: an acronym Lizbeth had dedicated herself to not merely deciphering, but wiping off the map.
Yet with her defiant New Yorkese, her uncontrollable desire to rant about the liberal media, the status quo and the so-called rigging of “The System,” how would anybody without a lobotomy take her seriously?
Early on, Franklin had been sympathetic. “Relax, sweetheart. Take your time,” he’d said. “I’m sure it’s nothing more than a temporary side effect.” As the weeks and months staggered forward, however, his patience waned.
“Lizzy, that’s quite enough. It isn’t, well, remotely funny anymore. What on earth will the neighbors say? What will your constituents think? I’ll tell you what they’ll think. They’ll think about packing their bags and moving to Sagebrook.”
“Adios amigos!” Lizbeth had shouted. Sagebrook, their adjacent rival city, had an influx of seasonal migrant workers. Many were Hispanic and many worked grueling hours in the blueberry fields for what Lizbeth had once proclaimed were unacceptable and unjust wages. “We’ll build a wall to keep ‘em out! Sagebrook will pay for it!”
Franklin had looked at her with wide-eyed horror. “Who the hell are you?” he said. “Where has mon petit chou gone?”
Lizbeth opened her mouth, then paused to brush a tear from her cheek. If only her husband of over two decades could understand the scope of her isolation and despair. She evaded mirrors for fear she’d see the lunatic who matched the crazy voice staring back at her.
“I’m here, Frank,” she said, almost in a submissive whisper. (A fleeting moment of clarity, of tenderness?) “I’m right here.”
And here she would stay, if he would still have her, for better and for worse, in sickness and in health, till her prayer was answered for the voice God gave her to return.
At least Franklin stood among the small, but growing gathering of folks who came out to hear her thoughts on restoring the Voting Rights Act and the urgency to comply with the Clean Power Plan. He brought their sons, too, the three of them together in their navy sport coats and red, white and blue-striped ties to complement her crimson Chanel pantsuit. While they appeared to be as uncomfortable as she did (the morning’s overcast canopy had burned off, leaving an oppressive sun in its wake), they were the united, happy portrait of small-town America.
Lizbeth opened her mouth, then paused to dab beads of sweat pooling at her silvery hairline. In the crowd, especially in the restless gaze of her family—the husband on the verge of deserting her, the sons who yesterday both insisted 1) they had to have new iPhones and 2) she had to have cognitive-behavioral hypnotherapy—she searched for a sign of reassurance.
“I ... Will ... Make ... Middlebury ... Magnificent ... Again!”
With all her will and might, Lizbeth had tried denying those alien words from spilling out, but when the applause came, first as a smattering of claps, next jolting her like thunder, she couldn’t hide her fabulous new smile.
Amie Heasley (The Voice God Gave Her) received her MFA in fiction from Western Michigan University.
Her fiction has appeared in Fiction Southeast, Monkeybicycle, Juked, The Boiler Journal and Prick of The Spindle.