by Kate Todd
You’ve been standing in this little cardboard hollow for a few minutes now. It would be so easy to leave – all you have to do is make one little mark. One diagonal line from left to right, another from right to left. The pencil hovers and dips between the boxes, like a bird riding the air currents.
The returning officers have noticed. There’s a lull in the queue and they’re whispering, debating whether to approach you, whether they’re allowed to while you are cloistered here making your decision.
Several people have come and gone in the time you’ve been standing here. In the quiet of the hall you’ve heard the confident scrape of their political instruments, the faint rasp of the ballot slipping into the box. They came, they marked, they left. They knew. The decision had been made long before they reached the polling station.
You thought your mind was made up, too. Sure, you read both pamphlets, the one left out on the coffee table, the other rescued from the recycling bin, but there was never much of a question, was there? Your mother shook her head when the wrong colour leaflet came through the letterbox. ‘Why do they bother? They can see the sign outside.’ Your older sister, over for Sunday lunch: ‘Wasting campaign money the way they’ll waste our taxes if they’re allowed in.’
You remember the conversation with the new neighbour yesterday, all of you gathered out on the pavement. ‘It’s our girl’s first vote tomorrow,”’ your father says, his hand clapped on your shoulder. Your political coming of age is for your parents as great a milestone as your recent graduation.
‘Oh really?’ your neighbour says. ‘And you’ve done all your research and decided which way you’re going to vote?’
Before you’ve formed the words to answer, your father points to the sign strapped to the gate. ‘She’ll be following the family tradition. We’re a one-party family, no political divisions here.’
Your neighbour has been watching you as your proud father speaks and beams at you. You’re uncomfortable under her gaze, but smile politely and nod as everyone goes his or her separate way.
Now here in this booth you remember what that gaze felt like, you feel the heat of it. But that’s not all you feel. You feel the weight of expectation on your shoulders, pushing down through your elbow, putting pressure on your fingers. You hear a multitude of voices: your parents; your neighbour; the TV pundits; the friend who said, ‘Who cares, mate? It’s not like one vote will make a difference’; the teacher who once said in a history lesson, ‘To not vote with both your head and your heart is a dishonour to the women who fought for you, girls.’
Your hand is starting to shake from the grip you’ve got on the pencil. One of the returning officers is getting up and looking in your direction. Graphite meets paper, one diagonal, two diagonals. You hear the ballot swoop the short distance down, whispering as it settles against the other marked papers in the box.
By the time you sit down at the supper table, you’ve managed to avoid most of the election talk, but between passing the veg and the butter, the question is asked jokingly, the answer expected.
‘So, love, how’d you vote?’
You take a deep breath.
Kate Todd | @KTodd_Writes
By day, Kate Todd is a business analyst for an international fine art firm. In every other spare minute, she is a reader and writer. She is represented by Carly Watters of P.S. Literary. Always up for a challenge, she is currently editing her first novel and working on a new manuscript.