“It’s the day after Christmas, what do you want?” Tank was at A.S.’s door, dressed in clean jeans and a collared golf shirt. His hair was perfectly clipped, instead of clipper-shorn by his grandma in the kitchen. He shivered a little on her doorstep. “I know that John is bringin’ back the kids tonight, but I didn’t want to bother you on Christmas. Can I come in and talk?”
For a terrifying moment, A.S. feared that the kid was going to ask her on a date. He had dressed up and was smelling like men’s cologne. She couldn’t imagine that this boy could have any affection for her, but at the same time, it was all so strange. She pointed at the couch in the front room and she sat far from him in her mother’s chair.
“Umm… last Saturday, I kind of created a city council.” He rubbed his hands together and then ran them through his perfectly coifed hair. It stayed despite the disturbance. The boy continued, “I crashed that secret meeting they’ve been having, broke it up, and asked for volunteers for a city council.”
She snorted, “Councils are elected positions.” Tank nodded, “I know that, but the mayor is allowed to delegate council positions in the event of a vacancy of more than three months.” His response sounded rehearsed. “We haven’t had council members since 1983. They just stopped running.” A.S. just looked at him and he continued, “That’s a little more than three months.”
She retorted, “So, you’re saying my dad did a shitty job? That he shoulda delegated council members a long time ago?” Tank held up his hands, “No! No! Tort was such a good mayor that we really didn’t need a council, but I’m not that good.” A.S. rocked back on her mother’s chair and the smallest puff of dust escaped the back of it. She realized that no one had sat in the chair for years and this made her profoundly sad. “We needed a council as soon as we started havin’ trouble with the Bowen house, but those cowards don’t want to volunteer.”
Tank nodded at her. “Yeah, it was kind of hard to get volunteers.” A.S. was curious. Did he get volunteers? He said he “created” a council last Saturday, so he must have. Who were they? “So, I bet Angie was chompin’ at the bit.” The boy’s face fell with grief and he shook his head.
“Let me get this straight. You offered council positions to anyone who would volunteer. They didn’t have to campaign or be elected and she DIDN’T volunteer?” A.S. couldn’t believe it, but their new mayor was nearly in tears over it. “No, she didn’t, A.S.” The idiocy of it astounded her. “Why did she run for mayor, then?” Tank shook his head.
A.S. smacked the arms of the chair and a legitimate puff of dust came out. She immediately felt embarrassed by her lack of housekeeping and vowed to make the youngest vacuum that chair for his next chore. “She just ran to piss me off.” She stood up and stomped to her father’s bedroom, but he was peacefully sleeping. She watched him for a moment, checking the oxygen lines with her eyes, looking for kinks. When she found none, she closed the door. She had wanted to scream at the top of her lungs, but the sight of him sleeping so well calmed her.
By the time she returned to the front room, she was relaxed. “So, who volunteered?” Tank looked surprised and she realized he had been cringing away from her slightly before she had spoken. “Um… Well, Dr. Chinsky volunteered right away and then Mrs. Palomino.” A.S. interrupted him, “Dora, Tank. You hafta call her Dora. She’s not your art teacher anymore. You’re her MAYOR. ACT like it.”
Tank shook his head, “No, you’re wrong. Mrs. Palomino will ALWAYS be my art teacher. And she’s always gonna be the art teacher of everyone in Merriton who graduated from 1993 on. Those people are gonna expect her to be given the respect she DESERVES.” A.S. was taken aback. He was right. The stupid kid had it right AGAIN. Every time she saw him, she was surprised at how easily he handled all the intricacies of being a mayor.
She nodded, humbled by his outburst, and Tank continued. “Sorry, well, there’s Dr. Chinsky, Mrs. Palomino and James Sebastian.” A.S. returned to her mother’s chair, sitting gently to prevent any embarrassing dust. “So, that’s three. There were four spots back in ’83.” Tank replied, “Yeah, but I wanted to leave one open just in case you wanted it.”
A.S. had been running all of Merriton on her own for the last few years in addition to taking care of her father. She had felt an incredible shame at losing the mayoral race, but also a huge relief. Now, she only had one unpaid job instead of two. But, a city council position would be WAY easier than before. She would have help.
“I might be willing to volunteer,” she ventured, “What would I have to do?” Tank replied, “Isabelle and I have been working on getting funding for Merriton, so that aspect is in progress, but I’m really interested in understanding what the ‘Junco Problem’ is.” A.S. shook her head, “Oh, no! I’m not taking on that beast.” Tank held up his hands. “I’m not asking you to take it on. I’m just asking you to explain the problem and give me some pointers on tackling it.”
“No, no, no,” She exclaimed and slammed back into the back of her mother’s chair, impervious to the dust. Tank stood up and paced around the room. “Ok, so the Junco Problem isn’t something you’re willing to work on. What would you like to help with? Why did YOU run for mayor?”
There it was. Out there in the open for Tank to see. She was just like Angie. She hadn’t run for mayor to help Merriton. She had just done it to make her father proud. After that huge campaign and election, she was spent, but she felt as if she had done a good job. Her dad HAD been proud of her. Would he be proud of her if she was a city council member?
Tank put his hands on the back of her father’s old recliner. “I remember when Tort got this old chair. He was always complaining about his aching back and he made a big deal about goin’ Up North to buy it. Brought it back in John’s pickup. ‘Member?” A.S. remembered.
“I’ll help you fix the Junco Problem, but I’m gonna be clear. I’m doin’ this to make my dad proud, so you gotta come here, like, every month and just go on and on about how helpful I am to you. I don’t care about money. I don’t care about the fame in town. Heck, I don’t even care about Merriton. All I want is for you to tell my daddy how you couldn’t survive bein’ mayor without me. You good with that?” She didn’t need to hear whether he was good with that or not. She could see it spread across the boy’s face like a ray of sunshine, highlighting his eyes into sparks of gold.