“I gathered up all the campaign signs like I was supposed to.” Tank knocked on the back door of the cafe. It was just after closing, but Tank was scared of Angie seeing him. Curly verified his fears. “Best you not let ‘er see you. She’s still pretty mad.”
Tank lifted the trunk of his grandmother’s old Chevy Impala and started bringing Angie’s campaign signs into the cafe storage room. Curly helped him, “You know, Randy said she’d hafta run three times before she’d win. This is only twice.” Tank nodded. “I remember you sayin’ that to me. I think you were worried that I’d be disappointed if she didn’t win after helpin’ her so much.” Curly wiped some frozen mud off the thin wires. “Didn’t think she’d lose to you, though.” Tank replied, “Me neither.”
“How’d A.S. take it?” Curly had been dealing with the fallout of Angie’s defeat. He wanted to hear that A.S. had thrown a bigger fit than his wife. “Surprisingly well. She gave me all the paperwork. She said that she thought she was going to lose to Angie, so she had it all ready.” Tank was quiet as he stacked the campaign signs neatly. “Tort said I did a good job on TV.” The two of them headed back to the car to get another load. Curly spoke up, “You did real good on TV. I liked it that you said that Angie did good on Onion Days. It was good.”
Tank stopped pulling signs out of the trunk. “It was?” Curly nodded and ran his huge meaty hands over the top of his head. “Now let’s get these signs put away. It’s cold out here.”
They brought in another load, but between them and the storage room was Angie. “Lettin’ in all the cold leavin’ the door open like that,” she said. “Won’t be a moment. Got one more load after this one. Tank gathered up the signs, just like he said he would.” There were tears in Angie’s eyes. “Thanks for helping, Tank.” Curly dropped his load in the room and took Angie in his arms. “There, there, now, baby.” Tank finished unloading the car and snuck out the back of the cafe, closing the door behind him.
He sat in the Impala. It smelled like fifty years of cigarette smoke and snow. It just didn’t seem fair for Angie to be mad at him. He had helped more than anyone besides Curly. The only reason people even wrote him in is because he was helping her.
He turned the key in the ignition and the car ground to life. Its noisy engine spoke to Tank, “Need an oil change and check the belts.” The only reason that old car had survived so long is because Tank had babied it, nurturing it back to health each time it failed. He suddenly felt grateful for that cranky old automotive teacher he had in high school. Time to take a trip up to Emigration tomorrow to thank him.
As he pulled out of the driveway of Mt. Zen Cafe, he peeked into the windows. Angie was cleaning tables, scrubbing furiously. Tank felt a welling of anger. It wasn’t fair. Why did Angie even want to be Mayor? She didn’t care about Merriton or its traditions. In fact, this campaign, Tank felt like he did MORE than Angie did. He didn’t see HER out there in the cold, knocking on doors.
“No wonder I won,” he mumbled to himself as he pulled the big car out of the driveway. Then Curly’s words hit him. She’ll have to run three times to win. “To heck with that,” Tank said out loud to the emptiness of the red vinyl seats. “I’m gonna be the best mayor since Tort. I’m gonna be an even better mayor than Tort. No one’s gonna even think about votin’ for anyone but me next time.”
He glanced at the box of paperwork that A.S. had given him. Right in the front was a folder of applications. She had told him that they were state grant applications for rural towns. As soon as he got home, he was taking that box in the house and filling them all out. He was gonna get money for Merriton to make it a better town and he was going to figure out how to “fix the Junco problem,” just like A.S. told him, whatever that means.
“What I need is A.S. to help me like she helped Tort,” he thought, but then he immediately felt guilty. Just like he had his nana at home, slowly dying, she had Tort, who was worse off. A.S. didn’t have time to help him. I need somebody who will help me with all of this. He felt completely lost and alone and all he could think about was Angie, scrubbing at those wooden tables as if they were contaminated with the plague.